By Takako Shimura. Released in Japan as “Aoi Hana” by Ohta Shuppan, serialized in the magazine Manga Erotics F. Released in North America digitally by Digital Manga Publishing.
DMP’s digital only line of books has been cruising along for some time, with a broad selection of BL, hentai, and obscure shoujo titles to choose from. Lately they’ve pulled a couple of fan favorites out of their hat, as they announced Kimagure Orange Road, the old-school 80s romantic comedy that was a huge influence on North American fandom (in both good ways and bad), and Aoi Hana, released here as Sweet Blue Flowers, which is a yuri manga by the creator of Wandering Son, Takako Shimura. It ran in the oddball magazine Manga Erotics F, and to a certain degree feels similar to Wandering Son – we’re introduced to a cast of schoolgirls, two of whom are clearly the leads, and discover their psyches, problems, and crushes.
Our two leads are Akira, who is bubbly, straightforward, and easy to get along with, and Fumi, who is tall, cries a lot, and starts off the volume devastated to find that her cousin, who had been sleeping with her, is getting married to a guy and hadn’t told Fumi as she’d have taken it badly. Which she does. Fumi tends to be an emotional wreck for most of this volume, but to be fair she’s going through many things that would leave a delicate persona an emotional wreck – besides her cousin, there’s the reappearance of childhood friend Akira in her life, and recalling just how much Akira meant to her as a child (I suspect these two are the ‘end couple’, but who knows?), and her tentative relationship with cool beauty Yasuko, who seems to be hiding a secret relationship from her past.
The fourth member of our ensemble is Kyoko, who has a fiance already picked out for her (male), but clearly has a giant crush on Yasuko. She’s also there so that Akira can bounce ideas off of, as Akira and Fumi are at two different schools, though the two schools quickly end up working together on a stage play. If Fumi is emotional leaning towards tears, Kyoko is emotional leading towards anger, and I do wonder if we’ll see her blow up at some point in the future. As for Akira, she’s not sure what to think, especially when Fumi comes out to her, but resolves to be supportive like a good friend. There’s no indication that Akira has any romantic feelings towards Fumi as of yet – she seems more the level headed older sister type, though a bit flakey to truly fit that role – but we’re only at Volume 1 of 8.
As with Wandering Son, Shimura’s manga is matter of fact about both its school life and its relationships. I’m not sure how much of this is meant to be the akogare ‘it’s just a phase’ type of teen girl relationship seen in many Japanese manga – certainly the three ‘Greek chorus’ girls we see with our heroes fall into that pattern – but Fumi’s past and present relationships are treated with seriousness and a depth of sadness – it’s really clear that Yasuko is not the true love she was looking for either. It’s easy to see why this series is beloved, and I look forward to seeing Fumi’s growth in future volumes.