Subtlety in Romance, Sweet Blue Flowers

by eternal on October 12, 2009

Aoi Hana

I often ponder the appeal of yuri. Is it the forbidden, exotic allure of a pair of pining maidens, begging to be fetishized and capitalized upon by the industry? On some level, yes – but making that claim would be akin to claiming that all romanticized love stories with attractive females exist solely for the lonely fan.

Yuri, like all settings and devices and what have you, is simply a premise. It’s something that can enhance a story if used effectively, something that can potentially add that extra push to cross the line between good and great. Recently, one such series stirs warmly in my memory as I recall it: Aoi Hana, a warm love story about crying lesbians.

Aoi Hana is, for lack of a better word, subtle. It interests me because subtlety is something that we often see in anime, from ambiguous symbolism to succinct dialogue. While that does come off as a bit of a blanket statement, I believe we’ve all seen our fair share of vague romance and it’s-about-something-even-though-it’s-about-nothing stories to know that a director who whispers rather than yells is not uncommon in the medium.

Coming back to the topic at hand, Aoi Hana seems like a perfect example of subtlety in anime. Furthermore, it’s not a bad example of subtlety in romance. Think back to your reaction to the sight of Kyouko’s tears during her discussion with Akira; as Baka-Raptor said, the lesbians of Matsuoka and Fujigaya cry about mostly insignificant things, and the rest of the cast cries when the see the first batch crying. It sounds like your typical melodramatic high school waterworks, bound to end without a shred of originality short of a Nice Boat bombshell.

But I can’t say that Aoi Hana is unoriginal.

It isn’t groundbreaking, I’ll give you that much. We’ve all seen the show before, and many of us have seen it three or four times: a group of high school girls talk and have fun and do girlish things and stop just short of doing the things they would need an OVA for. The show falls more or less perfectly into this category, minus the fanservice, but it’s the minor details that genre cannot account for. It’s the minor details that are overlooked by the one-paragraph synopses and brief episodic summaries.

Really, it’s the minor details that make the show great.

Aoi Hana (1)


Subtlety. What is subtlety? And what does it have to do with romance?

Unless you want to play the semantic card, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Subtlety in romance anime can be found across the board, from the bittersweet conclusion of Yuta Takemoto’s bike ride to the unspoken meaning behind Tsukimiya Ayu’s hairbands.  While the latter may not have been entirely unspoken, I think the point is clear: many romance anime rely on vague symbolism and roundabout dialogue to convey emotions and feelings, rather than a straight and to-the-point confession or a linear monologue. It’s this ambiguity in the characters’ actions that makes it intriguing to observe them, and when they narrate their feelings as they feel them rather than as they would write them, it heightens the viewer’s ability to relate and connect.

Aoi Hana is no exception to this. Remember the crying scene? Crying over a lost love is not entirely subtle, but when the words associated with that heartbreak are replaced by a simple but meaningful stream of tears, the audience feels an emotional bond before they get the chance to think it.

This is why I believe that the show is all about the subtlety – or to be more precise and less subtle about it, it’s about the presentation. The how, not the why. Everything about the show is soft, gentle, from the pastel colouring to the instrumental lead-in for the OP and ED. It works its way into the dialogue and story – Yasuko’s wistful gaze at her first love and his bride, Fumi’s memory of her library encounter prompted by the gentle breeze from the open window. The setting helps this, too: remember what I was saying about yuri as a setting and device rather than a genre? The purity and innocence that are stereotypically associated with shoujo-ai fits the show perfectly; not because it’s a pandering Strawberry Panic knockoff, but because it’s a humble story of an innocent first love. Nothing more, nothing less.

Aoi Hana (2)

An unspoken yet warming show of affection – the epitome of yuri as a device.

Aoi Hana will always be ahead of the pack in my view, and it’ll always hold something over the classics like MariMite and Kannazuki no Miko – although in keeping with my statement of yuri not being a genre, a more apt comparison would be Hatsukoi Limited or Nanatsuiro Drops. Though the summer season had many a gem to uncover and savor, it isn’t an understatement for me to claim that this emotionally ambiguous first-love story will remain in my memory for years to come: not because it was spectacular, or even particularly good, but because it succeeded in telling a delicate story in such subtle, poetic way.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

nekosasu October 12, 2009 at 10:03 pm

I don’t have that much experience with yuri anime, so I cannot really add to the device vs. genre issue. However, I agree fully with the major point of this anime being its rich subtlety, although story-wise, I regret some development here and there. But then again, I suppose the manga would provide me those answers.
In the end, Aoi Hana was good enough to make me want to delve some more into that direction. It wasn’t brilliant, but it was moving and highly enjoyable, to say the least.


Baka-Raptor October 13, 2009 at 5:30 am

Just like you have real robots and super robots in the mecha genre, you have real lesbians and super lesbians in the yuri genre. I prefer super lesbians, but real lesbians are nice change of pace.


omo October 13, 2009 at 9:38 am

@Baka-Raptor: that’s one way to put it… nice deconstruction job.

I think yuri and subtlety are a good combination like science and fiction, too. But what makes Aoi Hana work for me is the science. Or the subtlety. Like hard sci-fi makes make believe easier to stomach.


Martin October 13, 2009 at 12:22 pm

My reason for appreciating what little yuri – or, to be more accurate, shoujo-ai in general actually – I’ve seen so far is that female anime characters are better written. More care is taken in not only the character designs but the personality traits, dialogue and the ways they express emotion. Male characters are dull at best and annoying at worst: I know I’m generalising here, but the Thickheaded Male Anime Lead is a notorious stereotype for a reason! It’s rare I sit down and watch an Anime Male Lead who doesn’t get on my nerves for some reason or other.

You’ve got me thinking about whether the reasons are more complicated than that though. Assuming you’re a heterosexual male viewer, your perspective is going to be more detached because no heterosexual males are likely to be involved in the relationships portrayed. Maybe there’s an escapism aspect at work here? I sure as hell can’t directly relate to something as far outside my personal experience as romance between girls and other girls. Maybe it’s a refreshing change in that sense too.


TheBigN October 13, 2009 at 12:27 pm

And of course, we haven’t gotten into the whole “yuri is hot” stereotypical rationale that I’m sure most of us (including myself) still hold a candle to.


otou-san October 13, 2009 at 12:40 pm

I’m with you on Aoi Hana, although I didn’t see too much of it. “Humble” is a great word for it — the series itself behaves like a sweet, soft-spoken lesbian. (Baka-Raptor is right on with real lesbians and super lesbians, I love it)

I disagree, though, that subtlety is anything but uncommon in anime. Ambiguity, yes, but subtlety, I dunno. I think that’s why I enjoyed what I did see of Aoi Hana.

If you’ll pardon me, please read these words flashing across the screen while I go blow up this nearby planet with my buster machine before this teenage god slips the bunny girl a mickey. Incidentally, I’m wearing a mask because it represents my hidden nature.


ETERNAL October 14, 2009 at 11:28 am

@ nekosasu: I haven’t read the manga, but I imagine the source material would help explain the details of the plot. Most of my enjoyment came from the telling of the plot.

@ Baka-Raptor: Quote of the day. You, sir, have won an internet.

@ Omo: See, it’s that kind of succinct ambiguity that makes you confusing! But I get what you’re saying , after a couple re-reads. It’s a good example though I don’t think I could paraphrase it.

@ Martin: Escapism is part of it, but I think it’s closer to the iyashikei type of escapism. Part of the appeal is in the fact that it’s unfamiliar.

@ otou-san: I lol’d. Well said. That’s what I meant when I said something or the other about semantics: you’re right, technically. It doesn’t change the show or the post, but yeah, subtle might not be the right word to describe most of the shows out there.


2DT October 17, 2009 at 6:03 am

Having just finished Aoi Hana myself, I appreciate this post.

I personally believe that Aoi Hana stands out (and above abominations like Strawberry Panic) because it mixes in just the tiniest bit of what homosexuality, and really any relationship, is like in real life. People are surprised when girls tell them they dated other girls. Flings don’t work out, and people don’t go hopping from one girl to the next without some tremendous baggage. It’s not “real,” but it’s a start at something.

Also: Did you ever notice at the very last second of the opening, one of the little fingers curls just a bit closer to the other? I didn’t catch this for a long time, but it tugged my heartstrings when I finally did.


ETERNAL October 17, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Yes I did, and it’s one of my favourite parts of the video! It was the little details like that that initially drew me to the show, when I starting thinking “this isn’t ordinary yuri, is it?”


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