Lena has previously reviewed the manga, so this is a stand-alone review of the anime.
After a 10-year hiatus, Fumi Manjoume and family have relocated back to their old hometown. Among the things that Fumi is returning to is the friendship she shared as a child with her best friend, Akira. When Fumi moved away, she and Akira promised to stay in contact with each other. That was a promise that wasn’t kept. A decade later, their parents, who were also old friends, reconnected and Fumi and Akira were reunited. Although they attend different schools, they regularly meet up at the train station in the morning, before going their separate ways. Fumi is involved in a relationship of sorts with her cousin, who unbeknownst to Fumi, is married. After her cousin moves, Fumi is left heartbroken and perhaps even a little jaded. As the new school year starts, Fumi and Akira will make new friends, meet new people, and perhaps the flame of love will ignite yet again. Throughout all of this, the one constant will be the unconditional friendship and support shared between Fumi and Akira.
Aoi Hana is primarily character driven, and the narrative isn’t all that complex. After Fumi’s return, the story mostly deals with Fumi and Achan adjusting to the complexities of high school life and all that comes with it. The premise may be predictable, but the engaging characters help to mask it’s shortcomings quite well.
Love hurts. Fumi is someone who unfortunately knows a little bit about that. Love plays a central role in the story and is responsible for the growth and development of those who it entangles. The plot moves along at a leisurely pace, taking it’s time to flesh out the trials and tribulations that the characters encounter along their journeys of self-discovery. Not all of the characters evolve markedly over the course of the series, but most at least learn a little bit about themselves along the way.
The intimate, personal stories of the different characters add enough depth to the narrative to make up for the familiarity involved with telling a simple and straightforward story.
Fumi was always quick to cry, even dating back to her days in elementary school, and that’s something that hasn’t changed one bit. It doesn’t take all that much to make Fumi turn on the waterworks and shed some tears. Her emotional fragility contrasts with her statuesque appearance and helps make her someone you’re emotionally invested in and someone you want to see persevere. I would give you a hug, Fumi, but I don’t want you to start crying (and I’m afraid A-chan will hurt me), so I’ll abstain.
Akira, or A-chan as she is affectionately known, is the more outgoing and outspoken of the two, while Fumi is more reserved and quiet. At one point, Fumi even lacked the courage to speak out while being molested on the train, but thankfully A-chan would come to her rescue and take matters into her own hands. In some ways, A-chan is like the glue that helps hold Fumi together through some trying times. Later in the series, Fumi shows some character growth and becomes a bit more assertive, which is a very welcome change compared to her earlier milquetoast attitude. All in all, Fumi and A-chan go together like chocolate and hazelnuts. They help bring out the best in one another and provide a stable surface for the other to lean on.
There are other characters that play important roles in the story, like Yasuko, the star basketball player and apple of many a girl’s eye. One of those girls is Kyouko, who follows Yasuko around like a lost puppy looking for a home. Even though Kyouko is engaged to someone else (albeit in name only), Yasuko is the one she truly desires. I didn’t care all that much about Kyouko. Compared to Fumi, her relationship woes seem more superficial and pale in comparison. Even though I was apathetic about Kyouko, it was decidedly easier to feel something for Yasuko. For me, those feelings aren’t positive, but at least they’re something more than indifference. While hardly original, the cast of characters are engaging and become the backbone of Aoi Hana.
It’s unlikely that studios were fighting over the right to produce a humble little anime with heavy yuri themes like Aoi Hana, so I’ll cut J.C.Staff some slack for the limited animation budget that they must’ve had to work with. At times, the rough sketch-like background art adds a unique artistic flair that’s aesthetically pleasing, while at other times, it looks cheap and quickly made. The character designs are solid, and in stark contrast to the backgrounds, consistently show a moderate amount of detail. Those who would be watching this series in the first place probably aren’t watching for the visuals, yet the background art can be a point of contention that might diminish the enthusiasm of some people.
The audio, on the other hand, is of a more consistent quality. The OP “Aoi Hana” is lovely, delivering a warm and comforting sound, while the ED “Sentiforia” might just give you diabetes, given how saccharine sweet it is. The casting choices are also spot-on, even though I occasionally picture Agiri from Kill Me Baby when Fumi speaks, but since they share the same voice actress (and a similar, breathy tone), it’s only natural.
The essence of Aoi Hana is the relationships between the various characters, and first and foremost is that of Fumi and A-chan. There isn’t much implication that there is anything more than a strong friendship between them, but Fumi’s realization at the end of the series makes you think there could (and should) be more, at some point. After Fumi’s short-lived relationship with her cousin, she serendipitously crosses paths with Yasuko, who was fresh off rejecting Kyouko, and Yasuko’s also busy crushing on her sister’s fiancé. And Kyouko’s engaged as well (kinda), so there’s a lot of yuri romance going on here. And Yasuko has yet to come out to her family, so she picks the best possible time to inform them… when Fumi visits. Oh, the drama!
All this talk of coupling, and A-chan has barely been mentioned. That’s because A-chan is the lone integral character who’s loveless. Her insistence that’s she not ready for that sort of thing is reasonable, and she’s likely lived vicariously through Fumi as well, so she should knows what that entails. With yuri that’s presented in a very practical and realistic manner that many can relate to, Aoi Hana‘s portrayal of young love definitely deserves some kudos.
It isn’t anything that hasn’t been done before, but Aoi Hana delivers a realistic glimpse into the sometimes tumultuous time known as adolescence, complete with the familiar situations that you and I have probably experienced at one point or another. The modest goal of telling a personal story was accomplished and results in a rewarding and worthwhile experience.