- RECENT REVIEWS: SHAKUGAN NO SHANA *** FREEZING *** SHANGRI-LA *** ERGO PROXY
- STRIKE WITCHES *** KING OF THORN *** STEINS GATE *** GA-REI-ZERO *** DEADMAN WONDERLAND
- TENCHI UNIVERSE *** ONE PIECE *** WOLF CHILDREN *** RUROUNI KENSHIN *** [C]-CONTROL
- BLACK LAGOON *** SERIAL EXPERIMENT LAIN *** MASS EFFECT *** BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM
- A CERTAIN MAGICAL INDEX *** TORIKO *** RENTAL MAGICA *** BOOGIEPOP & OTHERS *** EMMA
- BLOOD C *** HEAVEN'S LOST PROPERTY
Shows like SWEET BLUE FLOWERS aren’t typically in my anime-viewing wheelhouse, and I’m starting to feel worse off for it. Call it teen romance, call it lesbian love drama, call it slice-of-life; these are not the descriptors normally associated with the series on my shelf. Which is sad, really, because I found SWEET BLUE FLOWERS to be a delightful show, with exemplary plotting, lovely art and some of the most adult perspective I’ve encountered via animation in a long time.
The premise is simple enough...
Akira and Fumi are long-lost friends who knew each other as young girls and meet again on the eve of their first day of highschool. Though they don’t attend the same schools, they’re neighbors with close family ties and they immediately fall into their old routine of closeness and confidence. The complication comes when Fumi begins to face up to her thus-far suppressed same-sex romantic interests, feelings that are only compounded by the fact that she goes to an all-girls school and is herself quite tall and beautiful, attracting the interest of her school’s most eligible bachelorette, Sugimoto.
What’s strikingly wonderful about SWEET BLUE FLOWERS is, ironically, the maturity with which it addresses the concept of immature love. As is so often the case in all-girls or all-boys settings, the fine line between admiration and adoration quickly disappears and emotions become confused, with no regard for sexual orientation. As the girls struggle to find their identities and their place within the hierarchies of their schools, they naturally slide into positions of dominance or deference.
Fumi is young, quiet, and introspective, while Sugimoto is an outgoing and charismatic upperclassman. No stranger to being loved, Sugimoto senses Fumi’s affection, responds to it, and leads her, quite gingerly, into her first adult(ish) relationship. This show, for once, is devoid of fan-service or over-sexed imagery, representing the romance between the two as mostly limited to walks home from school, late night phone conversations, and awkward glances through otherwise unsuspecting crowds.
It’s refreshing to see Fumi confide in her friend Akira that she senses Sugimoto is holding onto feelings for some past love of hers, and that makes Fumi jealous, though she knows the feeling is unearned. No sword-swinging fight scenes or slapstick pratfalls follow, just a thoughtful conversation that ends with two friends supporting each other. It’s all so damned sweet and earnest that you could get a cavity, and yet it works; small scenes like this are a testament to the show’s consistency of tone and message in a medium where prudence is so rare.
There’s more to be said of SWEET BLUE FLOWERS’ merits than just noting its keen portrayal of teenage love. The series also has excellent pacing and plot structuring. The consistency of the story and the feeling of completion that SWEET BLUE FLOWERS’ story arcs gave me was a welcome break from the schizophrenic divergences that I’ve noticed to be commonplace in other shows (perhaps as those programs pivot to keep fans’ attention in a competitive market). There’s no filler to be found, and each scene serves a purpose that will be fulfilled within an episode or two. The show’s creator and staff prove that they know when to withhold the conclusion of a conversation and call it back at a moment that is more powerful, a technique that can be beyond frustrating (and obnoxiously manipulative) in less skilled hands.
Watching the characters interact, coming together to explore the way they make each other feel before eventually moving apart, I never felt the creepy hand of exploitation reaching into frame, something I’m still struggling to believe.
If romance and slice-of-life are your genres of choice, I hope you’ve already sought out SWEET BLUE FLOWERS and can recommend me similar shows of this quality and maturity. (Hit the comments, stat!) But if you thought you were only into occult thrillers, science-fiction, or feudal blood-sports, I suggest you reconsider.
SWEET BLUE FLOWERS had just the right mix of intelligence, heart, and craft to make a believer out of me, and that’s not easy. Light and fun without being silly or inconsequential, it’s a great look at the oftentimes touchy subject of teen sexuality and a window into contemporary Japan that I’m grateful to have been able to peek through for a few hours.
Alexei Bochenek is a lifelong tech nerd and film buff based in Los Angeles. He writes for various online publications and edits the Los Angeles events website LALookout.com. Follow his Twitter: @alexeigb.