I recently wrote a review for Hourou Musuko – another story by this same creator which is one of the most beautiful, wonderful, and special shows out there. It’s because of starting this that I finally went back and finished that review 2 years after actually watching the show, and now a couple weeks ago I watched Aoi Hana – so I figured this time I wouldn’t wait 2 years to actually talk about it. Instead it took me about 2 years to finally watch it in the first place because I’m really not a fan of lesbians in anime – they’re always presented in such an obnoxious pandery way. However, knowing this writer thanks to HM and how well she handled several more complicated subjects in such an incredibly realistic and mature way in that, along with hearing good things about this, I decided to finally give it a shot.
This is full of spoilers. This is very much a retrospective review about certain events in the plot rather than the overall quality of the show. If you haven’t seen it – I’m not really sure how I feel about recommending it or not, so I won’t advise you one way or the other about watching the show, but don’t read this if you have ANY interest in watching the show some day because I’m ONLY talking spoilers. I’ll also be saying Sugimoto, Fumi, and Achan a damn lot. Hell, most of this is just me FUMIing.
One of my favorite things about Aoi Hana is the big red herring slapping your face from the moment you start the very first episode or look up any promotional art. Two characters are all you’ll see and you’ll see them depicted in a seemingly very loving and personal relationship – these are Fumi and Achan. Fumi is a nerdy looking loser girl and Achan is a cute peppy orange haired girl who is one of the only characters in the entire show without normal Japanese colored hair which has no relevance to anything. You’ll also probably come into this show knowing that it’s shoujo-ai and romance.
The trick? Not only is one of these characters not even truly a main cast member but they never have a relationship further than best friends. Achan is a complete heterosexual and there isn’t even a single implication that she’s ever had a moment of confusion in her sexuality – not exactly what you expect coming into this show, yet something that’s incredibly effective because you don’t realize that until it’s completely over. Your expectations will keep you guessing and running down false paths that don’t ever take place and wondering by the halfway point “but wait, how are they going to have time to get them together?” while also feeling a bit upset that she “will” because Sugimoto is so great so you end up wanting her to be happy very quickly. It was a really unique way of fooling the audience and it really does make a lot of situations feel different at the time when you assume there’s no doubt they will end up a couple so you’re always trying to guess how that’ll start and how “oh this is what’s going to happen isn’t it” then it doesn’t at all.
The other thing I mentioned – Achan isn’t a main character. She’s a supporting cast member. She is a very well done “friend character” because her entire purpose in this is being that friend without ever being more than that. She has no real value to the plot, she has no development of her own, and she’s always just an outsider to absolutely everything going on. She reminds me in some ways of a character I mentioned (but not by name) in my Hourou Musuko review – as Achan too is surrounded by a bunch of crazy drama, angst, and very complicated personal issues and is the only “normal” and stable one in the group, albeit that character is INCREDIBLY important to the story unlike Achan. She does have a lot of lines, she’s around very often, but her purpose is really nothing more than being a supportive best friend for Fumi who accepts everything about her and is always there for her. Like a sister…which of course doesn’t stop Fumi from wanting to smack thighs with her because Fumi is not only a lesbian, but canonically into incest as well!
In truth, that’s one of my bigger issues in the show – the really fucked up and creepy relationship she had with her far older (and engaged to a man the whole time) cousin. The show treats this whole relationship as if it’s only bad because of the fact she was hiding her engagement and just completely glosses over everything else, which I just can’t really accept especially not from this author. We are shown very clearly, not a guess, that Fumi and her cousin were having sex, we also know this has gone on for quite awhile. Her cousin is in her 20s, Fumi is a freshman in high school when the show starts – which is also when their relationship stops, which means they were doing this while she was in middle school. Not only is this fucked up on it’s own, but when you actually learn about Fumi and especially how she used to be you see very clearly that without a doubt this woman completely manipulated Fumi into having sex with her time and time again and it worked because Fumi was a pathetic loser who was like 12 fucking years old who believed she was both of those things and wanted love and positive attention anywhere she could get it – and this cousin provided it at the cost of helping her get off while pretending to love her and be a trustworthy safe caring person. That’s not me making it up, that’s all awkwardly implied and much of it straight up stated and shown while at the same time totally pushed aside once it’s presented to you. Glossing over what is a clearly terrible situation is just bad form and comes off as very unnatural “forced drama”. Why set up this horrible situation then just have it not matter in the ways it should in a series where it should be incredibly relevant to the character?
I almost made a mistake and said “why set up this horrible situation then just have it not matter whatsoever?” – it does matter, not those specifics, but the fact she was rubbing roast beef with her cousin is an important element because Fumi views it as her first love and an important relationship she had (which is just made worse because of what the situation truly was). Whether it’s because of this traumatizing her or her just being a shitty human being, Fumi is very surprisingly the closest to a “villain” this show has. Yes, the lead character is actually for all intents and purposes the antagonist.
The series starts with her being in that very sexual incestuous relationship then finding out her partner’s married and getting dumped, two days later ending up going out with the first girl who shows any interest in her whatsoever (one she just met as well) and claiming to love her, and within about 12 hours of being asked for a break later in their relationship so that Sugimoto (said girl) can figure out her feelings and properly face this relationship Fumi’s already over it and mostly uninterested because she’s moved back on to her best friend from her childhood who she ends up deciding SHE’S the one she truly loves, not the others, even though she’s completely fucking hetero and has no romantic interest in Fumi one bit and views her as family. No doubt she’ll attempt to guilt trip Achan into lezzing out with her because she’s a shitty person before finding a reason to end that relationship and hook up with someone else a few hours later for a week before continuing this cycle forever. Fumi is a terrible person and is by far the least mature one in the entire cast – you’d think that’d be good because it’d be a story about her overcoming that and growing up, yet all that happens is you watch her continue hurting everyone around her while being treated by the show as the victim and her believing it – many of the fans I’ve seen also side with her at every turn, probably because of self inserting as a pathetic fucking loser and never wanting to accept responsibility for their actions.
Meanwhile, there’s the other lead who again is not actually Achan. Instead the main entire focal point of EVERY story element in this show, every bit of development for EVERY character, and the actual co-lead would be Yasuko Sugimoto. On her end of things there’s nothing negative really to say, both in terms of how her character is and in just how much I liked her from the moment she showed up (she was by far my favorite character in the show, and not just because she’s really cute). As I said she’s important and basically is relied on for absolutely everything in the show, and she does an incredible job at doing that throughout all while getting the most development of the entire cast and being the most tragic and sad character as well even though she appears almost always to be the exact opposite as she’s one of those handsome, cool, “playboy with his little lambs” (not that she ever calls them that), and very (outwardly, at least) relaxed and confident types.
She loved someone in the past, feelings don’t magically disappear so there’s still weird stuff for her towards him but she becomes completely and genuinely infatuated with Fumi. Nothing about her feelings for Fumi are forced or fake, and she’s open about the fact she’s got some baggage that she can’t completely break from – yet she never lets that get in the way. Fumi does. Fumi constantly forces it to be an issue when it’s not. I understand not wanting the person you’re with to have any feelings for anyone else – but life doesn’t work that way, there’s no way to erase serious feelings you felt for someone no matter what and regardless of the situation or amount of time it’s been but having remnants of feelings is not the same as currently loving the person. Sugimoto has no actual current real feelings for this, surprisingly, MAN – but she’ll always be awkward and sensitive to things involving him, of course she will, she even got rejected by him making things doubly awkward and then there’s the hilariously contrived shit in the story that makes it even harder on her. That being the fact he was her teacher and that literally both of her sisters also loved him and one is even marrying him – of course shit’s fucking weird for her right now and painful, it’s not because she LOVES HIM STILL but because she DID love him at one point and that doesn’t disappear no matter how far you get past it, especially not when your sister is banging him. Fumi is fucking childish, I can’t say I’ve never felt similar to her in relationships, but completely refusing to even try working through it at all or figuring something out and instead acting like a total cunt over it isn’t something I have experience with contrary to what I’m sure plenty of people would like to tell you.
The worst part is how obvious it is from the very beginning that Sugimoto’s feelings for Fumi are totally genuine and real, even being the “cool unphased” type of girl she constantly lets that personality disappear around Fumi and treats her perfectly. She always goes out of her way for her, always asks her to do things together, makes special exceptions for her, invites her to all her stuff, always is so excited and happy whenever she sees her, and even invites her to her home and just outright admits to her family then and there that she’s a lesbian and that she’s in a serious relationship with the “friend” sitting next to her because she intends on this relationship lasting. She’s also VERY cute and surprisingly pure, she’ll take the first move but once she does it she ends up super embarrassed and blushy every time, and as far as the show mentions she’s never actually been in a legitimate relationship before this point so it makes sense she’s the way she is. She does so much for Fumi at every turn and pays such good attention to how she’s feeling, even calling her when she realized from the slightest thing that Fumi might be a little bothered by something earlier in the day and being open about how much it’s stressing her out and making her feel like a bad partner so she wants to talk about it and make sure she’s okay.
In return all Fumi does is act like a bitch, gets attracted to every girl she meets, obsesses over her best friend, obsesses over her cousin, blames any problems she can on Sugimoto, brags about being a homo like she’s doing it for some special status and a trophy, and eventually flips out at Sugimoto for absolutely no reason which is what leads to Sugimoto feeling like such a bad girlfriend that she breaks up with Fumi just to better herself for her so she can come back to her as a better partner…which of course Fumi takes as an insult and moves on to another girl within less than a full day. While Sugimoto on the other hand is approached by a girl she knows loves her, she’s very close with and likes very much as a friend, and not only turns her down on the spot (a second time, as she does more politely earlier in the show too when she’s single) but threatens to beat the shit out of her if she doesn’t stop because what a fucked up thing to do the moment she lost the person she loves. I know I’m really harping on it, but Fumi is a bad person, and I feel the show constantly puts a spotlight on that while then pretending she’s the victim somehow in every situation. It feels very much like the incestuous statutory rape I mentioned a bit earlier with her and her cousin where the show presents it in a realistic way – traumatic, fucked up, rapey – but then just completely ignores all it and attempts to make her a “tragic” character, while in fact Sugimoto is the most tragic of all.
She’s lonely, she’s been heartbroken by both people she’s ever loved and even has to watch her own sister marry one of them so even heartbroken by her family as well, she’s surrounded by people who adore her but don’t truly have feelings for her and she’s well aware of it – another girl coming up (and the one I lightly mentioned a minute ago) makes doubly sure of that at one point when she does something very stupid, and she’s constantly trying her best yet rather than moving forward or spinning her tires and getting nowhere she tends to somehow end up in worse situations because of it. By the end of the show she literally just fucking leaves the country out of nowhere because that’s how fucked up everything is for her, which is even more depressing when you consider the personality she tries to fit into all the time that’s always calm, cool, collected, and doing just fine – an act she doesn’t feel safe letting down aside from with Fumi who ditched out on her and very rarely her only friend, both of which betray her feelings and trust in them by the end, leaving her with nobody she feels safe with.
My second favorite character would be Kyouko, though I always referred to her as Victoria because she looks just like Victoria in Life is Strange and I had to google what her actual name was for this. She’s basically the only other character with weird colored hair (blond) and she’s also a “supporting cast” member, much like Achan, however unlike her she has some great development and a lot of connection to the main story. Kyouko’s another fairly tragic character, but she does do some somewhat underhanded things at times to deserve it. For example the thing I mentioned in the last two paragraphs; hearing Fumi and Sugimoto broke up and immediately the same day asking Sugimoto out. Somehow she avoids coming off as a cunt because she’s so honest and upfront about this type of stuff – even in this example admitting straight out to Sugimoto that she’s there to take advantage of the situation and be a rebound even if only for a bit. While that only hurts Sugimoto and messes up the value of their friendship, she’s never a purposefully bad person. She knows what she wants and she’s willing to use any chance she can to get it but she always tries to make sure it’s done without hurting anyone or betraying anyone while doing so, and yet she never gets what she wants regardless. Luckily, in the final episode, it seems she’s growing more interested in her originally forced marriage partner (yet another cousin relationship, though this one is with a great guy rather than an incestuous ephebophiliac manipulative lesbian) so she’s one of the only characters to get an actual happy seeming ending along with Achan, who still remains her best friend into the future.
I already kind of went over a lot of my problems and things I enjoyed about the show in all of that text but there are some less character-specific issues and the finale I still want to talk about. First off, I mentioned it earlier but the story relies on a LOT of coincidences. Almost every female in the show is a lesbian or a closet bisexual while not hiding their love for other women but being ashamed of their feelings for men. I can overlook this, it’s necessary for the story, but the setting just makes it feel cheap. They didn’t need to all go to two different private all-girls schools and just happen to meet a billion lesbians, they REALLY didn’t need to make one of them a fucking catholic school just to go all-in into the “generic lesbian romp location” as possible. Fumi and Sugimoto meeting literally the day after Fumi’s molester of a cousin and Sugimoto falling for her immediately even when she’s surrounded by girls in love with her yet picking this one on this day during this chance meeting after remaining single all this time. Kyouko who just happens to become Achan’s best friend at her school happens to love Sugimoto. Sugimoto’s entire fucked up situation with the man she loved and her entire goddamn family also wanting his dick AND him being her teacher (though technically not anymore), both things causing big problems though mostly the former. There are plenty of things like this that constantly pop up (including much more specific chains of events or character relationships that are really hard to imagine existing in real life) that feel a bit too contrived even for anime, but to tell the truth they are far from enough to ruin the show and even with them in mind I was planning on giving this probably a 9.
What it ended up with was a 7. I loved so much about it but then came that fucking ending which is where my biggest complaint is. The finale destroys the entire point of the series, the whole moral of it, the whole fucking reason and message this series exists to convey and the feelings it tries to get across. All the stuff about love, relationships, friendships, maturing – it all gets COMPLETELY contradicted in the final minutes of the entire series. Fumi suddenly realizes her love for Achan and that it is more than the close familial bond she felt…or, hell, knowing Fumi maybe realizing they are like sisters turned her on. I’m fine with this aspect in a vacuum, but when you consider the entire context it’s such a fucking hypocritical thing for her to do after everything she put Sugimoto through. It’s also implied she will try to become more than just friends with Achan eventually, Achan is hetero so unless she guilts her into it like I mentioned it won’t go anywhere – but the point is she’s probably going to pursue this. A love that to begin with is already stepping all over the value and meaning of friendship that the show loves to harp on, both because all Fumi sees her as is a sexual and romantic interest now and also because it’s kind of skeevy to be best friends with someone you want to bang and hide it, abusing your friendship to get all sorts of special treatment and benefits without that person ever knowing the truth.
Worse, even at this point in the story Fumi completely refuses to be understanding of Sugimoto having residual feelings from her own first love – ones she had no interest in chasing, ones she gave up and even locked away further specifically for Fumi and her sister who is marrying the man, and ones she never hid. In the other direction though, Sugimoto and the whole goddamn world can tell how Fumi feels about Achan and yet Fumi is constantly around Achan and treating her overly special even above the girlfriend she supposedly loves so much. Even then Sugimoto never complained a single time about it, in fact she actively tried befriending Achan and always invited her to go along with them, and had zero qualms with Fumi having some feelings both for Achan and for the other “first love” she learns about (or assumes was Achan, it’s never specified). Fumi is also the only confirmed non-virgin in the show, and she kind of admits this to Sugimoto as well…yet even then she’s fully trusted even with, as far as Sugimoto knows, whoever she used to fuck all the time. Plus don’t forget that Sugimoto isn’t the one who went only two days after a relationship before jumping into another one in the most direct rebound imaginable. Yet Sugimoto never lets that bother her either, while Fumi somehow thinks old remnants of feelings from further back than that aren’t something that’s okay for her girlfriend to have.
Every step of the way in this show Sugimoto’s shown to be conflicted and yet very certain; she has confused emotions about a lot of things, but her feelings for Fumi never feel even a tiny bit disingenuous or lacking. Not fucking once do they appear anything less than incredibly sincere and they are never something that enters that arena of confused or conflicted. Yet, because she let her emotions get the best of her one single time causing her to basically have a little spat with Fumi about how she (herself) needs to mature to be a better partner to Fumi (literally minutes after her family harassing her about being a lesbian and her last love, and so of course her mind is going all sorts of bad places), she’s treated (by Fumi) as a selfish and inconsiderate child who is just using her because, uh…because! The show further abuses “because” with Sugimoto to completely close up her story by having her out of nowhere be moving to London without any mention of it prior or hints, it’s just something you hear like 2 lines about in the last episode.
Fumi is a terrible person, a terrible girlfriend, and someone who uses self victimization as a method to get pity and never take responsibility – she even continues to do this successfully through the ending wherein she continues to abuse her best friend for sympathy when she doesn’t deserve an ounce of it. Sugimoto is so damaged and heartbroken by her friends, family, and girlfriend that by the end she runs to another goddamn country just to escape all of them at once, she’s a sensitive person at heart and yet always risked putting others before herself so it’s not surprising it’s killing her. Achan is stuck probably being forced into acting like a lesbian to please her friend because she’d never tell her no. Kyouko, who I really liked so this was kind of nice, comes out probably the best off – she loses the girl she loves because of all this shit she had nothing to do with and no way to help with, but she’s getting more comfortable and interested in her fiancee and has Achan around still as her best friend too, until Fumi inevitably forces that to stop too.
Maybe it’s just me, but there’s very little about this ending to look at positively. I’m fine with messed up situations and “realistic, not everything is happy” endings, but it just feels so out of nowhere and pointless. Most importantly it’s got the problem I mentioned with Fumi at the end, and honestly she’s my biggest problem with the show. Once you get to the ending is when you realize the truth about her and that she was the core problem for absolutely everyone including herself. That’d be fine on it’s own BUT she’s victimized by the narrative and shown as this sad tragic character who at the end finally realizes it’s because she never appreciated what was with her the whole time, it undermines the entirety of what you just watched. It could have been done good, but instead she comes off as this really hypocritical and unbelievably selfish girl who’s unwilling to fix the same things about herself that she calls others childish and pathetic for trying to face down and change about themselves all while the show pretends none of that is true. Hell, it even glorifies the moment she shoots down Sugimoto who has finally figured herself out and wants to begin their relationship again now that she feels confident in her ability to only love Fumi and be even better to her (even though she was perfect already).
This is a show i wanted so much to love, and love it I did up until that final episode when all the realism, maturity, and meaningful character and relationship development ends up completely fucking meaningless and made null while a bunch of horribly cliche and dumb shit just pops up out of nowhere as well. Everything also returns to how it started and that includes everyone’s personal developments as well, it feels like the entire show is undone at the end along with Sugimoto’s entire existence. Excluding the ending I still love a lot about the quality of the relationship building, of the characters themselves, and especially the fact that this handles romance between two girls without feeling pandery or stupid about it. It’s just so unaware of itself and what it’s presenting compared to what the narrative is telling you that it sours the entire experience once more of the drama kicks in – the writing itself feels as immature and conflicted as the cast.