As fans of Yuri (Japanese animation and comics with lesbian characters and stories) know, there are a number of tropes that seem to be endlessly recycled in this genre. The most rehashed trope of Yuri is the schoolgirl crush at a girl’s school — a first love, requited or not.
Perhaps surprisingly to many, there is historical and literary precedence for this overused and abused convention of the genre. The origin of almost all Japanese "girl’s" literature can be traced to the early 20th century, to a series called Hana Monogatari, which translates to "Flower Tales."
I mention this because the first episode of this anime series is titled "Flower Tale" — a clear indicator that the creators of this series have not forgotten this literary tradition or their place in it.
Manjoume Fumi is a quiet, bookish girl, a crybaby who tends towards tears rather than confrontation. She returns to the town she grew up in just in time to enter high school. As a result, she is reunited with an old childhood friend Okudaira Akira. Akira and Fumi were inseparable as children, but have not seen each other for ten years — and are now going to two different girl’s high schools.
Akira, left, and Fumi in the anime series
Fumi joins the drama club to be closer to butchy and charismatic Sugimoto Yasuko. Yasuko and Fumi find themselves attracted to each other and, before she knows it, Fumi is going out with one of the most popular girls at the school. But, Fumi isn’t just another crush-struck teenager — Yasuko isn’t her first relationship with another woman.
Fumi comes to the inevitable conclusion that she prefers women, and her relationship with Yasuko provides the impetus for her to come out to Akira.
Aoi Hana: Sweet Blue Flowers is very much a "typical" Yuri drama in many ways but, within the framework of the girl’s school setting, it is in no way typical. The characters are extremely three-dimensional and likeable. We all can sympathize with protagonist Fumi and the inner strength that it takes for her to come out to her friend.
Fumi is not the only one dealing with her feelings for Yasuko — Akira’s classmate Kyouko has her own issues with regards to the uber-cool upperclassman. And Yasuko herself is not without conflict.
The manga (comic) for Sweet Blue Flowers is drawn by a well-known and popular artist, Shimura Takako. It runs in a magazine called Manga Erotics F which is one of the few magazines in Japan that is not specifically targeted towards either a male or female audience. This makes Sweet Blue Flowers an anomaly in a country in which most manga is targeted to a precise gender/age/interest range. (In fact, most western readers would probably be surprised at the more "adult" manga that runs alongside Sweet Blue Flowers.)
Unfortunately, at this time, no English-language version of the manga has been licensed.
Akira and Fumi in the manga
What makes this series particularly interesting to us right now is that has just debuted as an anime (cartoon). Not only is this entirely Yuri story on Japanese TV, but it is also available online to the United States, its territories and possessions, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand on Crunchyroll.com.
They are running the anime as a "simulcast" which means that, an hour after an episode has premiered in Japan, it will stream on Crunchyroll with English subtitles. No subscription is required to view the anime, but you will need to subscribe to see the simulcast.
Non-subscribers can see an episode a week after it has debuted on Crunchroll.com, or on AfterEllen.com. This means that you do not have to wait for a company to license the anime and put it out on DVD — it is available to you whenever you have 24 minutes free.
(Fans looking for more than just Sweet Blue Flowers to justify membership in Crunchyroll might also be interested in Saki, another anime running currently. The main plot deals with competitive Mah Jong, but there is some light Yuri feeling between the two main characters and another new anime series Kanamemo, which stars a "Yuri couple.")