Aoi Hana (青い花?, lit. Blue Flower), also known as Sweet Blue Flowers, is a Japanese yuri manga series written and illustrated by Takako Shimura. It began serialization in November 2004 in Ohta Publishing's Manga Erotics F manga magazine. The first bound volume was released in December 2005 in Japan; as of February 2010, five volumes have been released. The story focuses on Fumi Manjōme, a lesbian high school girl, and her close childhood friend Akira Okudaira, who tries to keep her friends happy through difficult times. When Shimura was writing her manga Dōnika Naru Hibi, she became interested in a story between girls, leading her to create Aoi Hana. While she felt that the story focus should be on girls for yuri works, Shimura also wanted to introduce some males since she thought it would add an interesting aspect to the series.
An 11-episode anime television series produced by J.C.Staff and directed by Kenichi Kasai aired in Japan between July and September 2009 on Fuji TV. An Internet radio show to promote the anime was produced between June and October 2009 on HiBiKi Radio Station hosted by Ai Takabe and Yūko Gibu, who voiced Fumi and Akira in the anime, respectively.
At the start of Aoi Hana, Akira Okudaira, who is an entering high school student into Fujigaya Girls Academy, becomes reacquainted with her childhood friend Fumi Manjōme whom she has not seen for ten years. Fumi is attending Matsuoka Girl's High School where she quickly becomes friends with a handsome third-year student named Yasuko Sugimoto. Akira joins her school's drama club with her friend and classmate Kyōko Ikumi, who is in love with Yasuko, though Yasuko turns her down. Akira meets Kyōko's fiance (in name only) Kō Sawanoi. Yasuko and Fumi become a couple, and Fumi comes out to Akira who is at first unsure on how to act, but still tries to support Fumi's new relationship.
Akira's drama club does an adaptation of Wuthering Heights for a drama festival; Fumi helps out with her friends Yōko Honatsugi, Misako Yasuda, and Miwa Motegi. Yasuko breaks up with Fumi, who learns that Yasuko's older sister Kazusa is marrying a teacher at Fujigaya named Masanori Kagami whom Yasuko had fallen in love with. Time passes after the wedding, and Yasuko decides to study abroad in London after graduating. Miwa and Akira's older brother Shinobu start going out, and Fumi tells Akira that she was her first love, much to Akira's embarrassment.
When Akira and her friends enter their second year of high school, an energetic first-year student named Haruka Ōno joins the Fujigaya drama club. Akira and Kyōko are split into different classrooms, and Akira meets a tall girl in her new class named Ryōko Ueda. The high school division of Fujigaya does the play Rokumeikan with Akira, Kyōko and Ryōko playing lead roles, though Ryōko only agrees to act because Akira also agrees to act alongside her. Fumi and Haruka become friends, and Haruka confides in Fumi that she suspects her older sister Orie may like women. Not knowing how to respond, Fumi seeks advice from Akira, but ends up confessing her love for her instead. Kyōko does not want Kō to break off the engagement, but he ends up finally breaking up with her. The play goes well and everyone praises the actress' performances. Over summer vacation, Akira suggests to Fumi that they go out together after thinking deeply about it.
Matsuoka Girl's High School
- Fumi Manjōme (万城目 ふみ Manjōme Fumi?)
- Voiced by: Ai Takabe
- Fumi is a first-year student at Matsuoka Girl's High School, and is a tall, shy girl known to be a crybaby. Fumi comes back to the town she grew up in and she meets, without realizing it, her childhood friend Akira Okudaira. When they were much younger, Akira had been Fumi's protector, keeping her out of harm and consoling her when she cried. Not long after meeting Yasuko Sugimoto in the literature club, Fumi develops a crush on Yasuko, who later asks her out.
- Yasuko Sugimoto (杉本 恭己 Sugimoto Yasuko?)
- Voiced by: Chiemi Ishimatsu
- Yasuko is a popular third-year senior at Matsuoka Girl's High School. She is a cool upperclassman and the captain of the basketball team, though Fumi mistakes her for being in the literature club when they first meet. After visiting Fujigaya Girls Academy and rejecting Kyōko's confession, she asks Fumi out, who accepts.
- Misako Yasuda (安田 美沙子 Yasuda Misako?)
- Voiced by: Yuka Iguchi
- Misako, also known by the nickname Yassan, is a girl in Fumi's class with thick eyebrows and boyish-short, frizzy hair. She is a member of the drama club with Yōko and Miwa. She likes to test people's courage or scaring them by either participating in a game of "test of courage" or telling ghost stories.
- Yōko Hon'atsugi (本厚木 洋子 Hon'atsugi Yōko?)
- Voiced by: Sayuri Yahagi
- Yōko, also known by the nickname Pon-chan, is a girl in Fumi's class with a bright, frank personality and wears her hair in a shoulder-length bob cut. She is a member of the drama club with Misako and Miwa, and once invites Fumi to join too, but she declines. She is a bit on the clumsy side and has a hard time competing against Kyōko in tennis.
- Miwa Motegi (茂木 美和 Motegi Miwa?)
- Voiced by: Aki Toyosaki
- Miwa, also known by the nickname Mogii, is a girl in Fumi's class for their first year with a gentle personality and wear her hair in a shoulder-length wavy style. She is a member of the drama club with Misako and Yōko. She is the only one of her friends to be put into a separate class in their second year. Miwa becomes interested in Akira's brother Shinobu and the two start dating around the end of her first year of high school.
Fujigaya Girls Academy
- Akira Okudaira (奥平 あきら Okudaira Akira?)
- Voiced by: Yūko Gibu
- Akira is an innocent and cheerful girl in her first-year at Fujigaya Girls Academy. She is the childhood friend of Fumi and after meeting her again after ten years is friends again. She acts as a main source of advice for Fumi. Akira joins the drama club because her friend Kyōko Ikumi is a member of it. She often talks about food as well as give advice. Akira is uncomfortable around scary stories or things that test her courage. Unexpectedly and unintentionally, Akira usually spills secrets about her friends to other people when they ask her questions about them. Her intentions though are pure without any vice, and only says so to help her friends out.
- Kyōko Ikumi (井汲 京子 Ikumi Kyōko?)
- Voiced by: Yui Horie
- Kyōko is a reckless girl who has eyes only for Yasuko. She is in the same class as Akira and is a member of the drama club. She has been dubbed as Princess for her charm, and is also skilled in sewing, art, tennis and acting.
- Ryōko Ueda (上田 良子 Ueda Ryōko?)
- Ryōko is a tall girl in Akira's class in their second year. She has a gentle and quiet personality, and enjoys reading; she becomes a library aide at Fujigaya.
- Haruka Ōno (大野 春花 Ōno Haruka?)
- Haruka is a girl who joins Fujigaya as a student one year below Akira and becomes a new member of the drama club. She has an endearing personality that makes it easy for her to become friendly with anyone, though is prone to making silly mistakes. Since Haruka's older sister Orie is close friends with Hinako Yamashina (a teacher at Fujigaya), Haruka refers to her as Hina-chan.
- Hinako Yamashina (山科 日向子 Yamashina Hinako?)
- Hinako is a science teacher at Fujigaya, and the homeroom teacher of Akira's second year class. She knew Haruka's sister Orie since her high school days at Fujigaya, and is now in a relationship with her, though Haruka believes them only to be close friends.
- Masanori Kagami (各務 正則 Kagami Masanori?)
- Voiced by: Kenji Hamada
- Masanori is a teacher at Fujigaya and also acts as the adviser for the drama club. He marries Yasuko's older sister Kazusa.
- Shinako Sugimoto (杉本 姿子 Sugimoto Shinako?)
- Voiced by: Mamiko Noto
- Shinako is the eldest sister who likes to joke and tease Yasuko. She went to Fujigaya at the same time as Hinako.
- Kazusa Sugimoto (杉本 和佐 Sugimoto Kazusa?)
- Voiced by: Yukari Fukui
- Kazusa is the second eldest sister. She went to Fujigaya as a student and returned to work as an art teacher for a short time. While there, she met her future husband Masanori Kagami, also a teacher. She has a kind personality.
- Kuri Sugimoto (杉本 公理 Sugimoto Kuri?)
- Voiced by: Mai Nakahara
- Kuri is the third eldest sister. In the same way as her sister Yasuko, she was very popular when she went to Fujigaya. Also like Yasuko, she too fell in love with Masanori Kagami, but never told him her feelings. She wields a blunt personality and also smokes.
- Shinobu Okudaira (奥平 忍 Okudaira Shinobu?)
- Voiced by: Shinji Kawada
- Shinobu is Akira's older brother who attends university. He is constantly worried about his sister, and often takes her places in his car, though Akira often gets very annoyed at how protective her brother is towards her.
- Chizu Hanashiro (花城 千津 Hanashiro Chizu?)
- Voiced by: Fuyuka Ōura
- Chizu is Fumi's older cousin. She and Fumi have had sexual relations, but as soon as Fumi moves back to Kamakura, she finds out Chizu will soon get married.
- Kō Sawanoi (澤乃井 康 Sawanoi Kō?)
- Voiced by: Shintarō Asanuma
- Kō is Kyōko's fiance (in name only) who attends university. He likes to be helpful to those around him and has a calm personality. He and Kyōko seem to have a childhood connections, as shown later on in the series. Kō found a lost Kyōko and carried her home. It is shown that he has a great concern and disposition of Kyōko but knows that she is in love with someone else.
When Takako Shimura was writing her manga Dōnika Naru Hibi, she became interested in a story between girls, leading her to create Aoi Hana. While she felt that the story focus should be on girls for yuri works, Shimura also wanted to introduce some males since she thought it would add an interesting aspect to the series. Shimura felt it difficult to balance the need for some males, but also not wanting to add too many. When depicting the characters, she did not want to write about them going through puberty. When starting to write Aoi Hana, Shimura noticed that she was like a person depicting sexual perversion for writing about yuri relationships.
Before starting to write Aoi Hana, Shimura went with her editor to Kamakura, Kanagawa with the main objective of visiting the Kamakura Museum of Literature. Shimura took many pictures during their trip, and thought Kamakura felt like a great place to set the story. With a guide book of Kamakura in hand, Shimura thought of various locations that would later appear in Aoi Hana, such as the café that the characters frequent. Many of the pictures taken turned out unusable, though there were some she used as references for the setting, such as modeling the exterior of Fujigaya after the Kamakura Museum of Literature. Shimura also used the Komaba Park estate in Meguro, Tokyo for the interior of Fujigaya, such as with the staircase featured in chapter eleven. A large Japanese-style house on the same property as the Kamakura Museum of Literature was used as a model for the Sugimoto residence. The Enoshima Electric Railway is also featured in the series.
Aoi Hana began as a manga series written and illustrated by Takako Shimura, which began serialization in Ohta Publishing's Manga Erotics F manga magazine in the thirtieth volume sold on November 17, 2004. The first bound volume was released on December 15, 2005, and as of February 18, 2010, five volumes have been published in Japan. The manga has been licensed for release in French by Asuka under the title Fleurs Bleues.
Internet radio show
An Internet radio show to promote the anime series called Aoi Hana: Sweet Blue Radio (青い花 〜Sweet Blue Radio〜?) was broadcast between June 26 and October 30, 2009 on HiBiKi Radio Station in nineteen episodes, and aired between July 3 and November 6, 2009 on Media Factory Net Radio. The show, which aired every Friday, was hosted by Ai Takabe and Yūko Gibu, who voiced Fumi and Akira in the anime, respectively. Chiemi Ishimatsu, the voice of Yasuko, also joined the show for three broadcasts in late August 2009. A CD containing a couple of parts from some episodes as well as newly recorded material was released on December 22, 2009.
An 11-episode anime TV series adaptation was produced by the animation studio J.C.Staff and directed by Kenichi Kasai. The anime aired in Japan between July 2 and September 10, 2009 on Fuji TV as the third series in Fuji TV's Noise timeslot. It was also streamed online on Crunchyroll. The series has two pieces of theme music; one opening theme and one ending theme. The opening theme is "Aoi Hana" (青い花?) by Kukikodan, and the ending theme is "Centifolia" (センティフォリア Sentiforia?) by Ceui. The single for "Aoi Hana" was released on July 22, 2009, followed by the single for "Centifolia" on August 5, 2009. The anime's original soundtrack was released on August 26, 2009 by Lantis.
Script error Erica Friedman, the president of Yuricon and ALC Publishing, reviewed the Aoi Hana anime and manga, praising Takako Shimura's original cover and interior art from the manga, and how that art style is "captured in the anime through crisp, realistic art." The story is also lauded for "far surpassing most Yuri in general" by its strength in a "character-driven" story, which is described as being both "aesthetically appealing" and "simple". Friedman cites that Aoi Hana could easily be compared to a Jane Austen story, and feels that the story is not "a melodrama or a parody, like Strawberry Panic!." Friedman later called Aoi Hana the best yuri anime of 2009, where she wrote how the series was one of the "most realistic portrayals of a young woman in love with another woman ever seen in an anime." Friedman also praised the faithful adaptation from manga to anime, including parts that she felt were done better animated.
Aoi Hana was featured as Anime News Network's Import of the Month in May 2007 where it was described as "the best of its genre" that "makes stuff like MariMite and Strawberry Panic! look like trashy dime-store romance by comparison." Takako Shimura's art was seen as "economical" with "clean layouts, sparse backgrounds, and everything that needs to be said contained within a single facial expression." However, the plot points are described as so calm that they are easy to gloss over. The relationships presented are seen as complex and the reviewer felt it was difficult to remember all the particulars in the story. The Aoi Hana anime was selected as a recommended work by the awards jury of the thirteenth Japan Media Arts Festival in 2009.
- Anime official website (Japanese)
- Aoi Hana anime at Crunchyroll
- Aoi Hana (manga) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia