There are several qualities that make Sweet Blue Flowers a stand-out series. The manga is presented in watercolor images on the covers, and stark, clean lines on the interior pages. There is little action, uncomplicated backgrounds and a lack of heavy-handed "tones" (background design patterns.)
This is captured in the anime through crisp, realistic art.
Ikuhara Kunihiko, best known in Yuri fandom for co-creating and directing Revolutionary Girl Utena, a gateway Yuri anime a decade ago, worked on the opening credit sequence for this new anime. He brings with him a style and sensibility that will remind the audience immediately of his earlier work — yet another quality that places this anime firmly in the chronology of Yuri.
But what really sets this series apart from the pack is the story itself.
Fumi’s struggle to understand herself in relationship to the people around her, her growth and her brutal honesty transports this story from the realm of the typical into a sphere of storytelling far surpassing most Yuri in general. This is a classic "character-driven" story, in which the depth of the main characters strongly affects what little action takes place.
It would not be completely delusional to compare Sweet Blue Flowers to a Jane Austen story. In fact, on Japanese TV, Sweet Blue Flowers broadcasts in the "Noise" timeslot on Fuji TV. This late-night, weekly timeslot features animation geared at non-fans — people not likely to watch anime.
This particular series has an aesthetically appealing, simple story that will capture your heart — even if you have not previously watched any Japanese animation.
One of the defining characteristics of "Yuri" as opposed to "Lesbian" is that typically in Yuri, there is lesbian content — a crush, a relationship, a kiss, even sex — without any acknowledgement of lesbian identity. Rarely does a character verbalize they are going out with another girl, much less come to terms with the fact that it is women who interest them romantically.
Fumi will not be likely to self-identify as "a lesbian" in this series, but she definitely deals with her attraction to more than one other girl and recognizes that this may indeed be part of who she is. Not only will she have to come to terms with this, so will Akira, and the other people around her.
Sweet Blue Flowers is not a melodrama or a parody, like Strawberry Panic! There are no horse races; there is no amnesia, no Evil Psycho Lesbian ™ duo or helicopters, private or otherwise.
Where Strawberry Panic! paints everything in the bright colors of melodrama and huge brushstrokes of titillation, Sweet Blue Flowers is drawn in the quiet pastels of real life at a girls’ school, with club activities and personal drama, balancing time with friends and with lovers.
Above all, Sweet Blue Flowers is the story of a young woman who enters high school and comes to terms with her sexual orientation. A story that has been told a million times, but rarely with this sense of grace, beauty and strength.
Watch the first episode of Sweet Blue Flowers, and look for a new episode each week on Crunchyroll.com, and then on AfterEllen.com