Sweet Blue Flowers (青い花 Aoi Hana, lit. Blue Flower) is a Japanese yuri manga series written and illustrated by Takako Shimura. It was serialized between November 2004 and July 2013 in Ohta Publishing's Manga Erotics F manga magazine and is licensed in English by Viz Media. Eight volumes were published between December 2005 and September 2013. 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 Sweet Blue Flowers. 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 Ken'ichi 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. The anime has been licensed by Right Stuf Inc..
At the start of Sweet Blue Flowers, 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.
When Takako Shimura was writing her manga Dōnika Naru Hibi, she became interested in a story between girls, leading her to create Sweet Blue Flowers. 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 Sweet Blue Flowers, Shimura noticed that, in her opinion, she felt like a person depicting sexual perversion for writing about yuri relationships.
Before starting to write Sweet Blue Flowers, 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 Sweet Blue Flowers, 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.
In 2005, anime producer Yūji Matsukura of J.C.Staff was meeting at Ohta Publishing for an unrelated anime project and told the editor-in-chief of Manga Erotics F, "U-mura", that he liked the Sweet Blue Flowers manga and would like to produce it into an anime in the future. Shortly after the first manga volume was released in December 2005, Matsukura went to a Media Factory producer, who also agreed to collaborating on a Sweet Blue Flowers anime. Matsukura went on to say that J.C.Staff is not the type of company to usually go out and make suggestions for anime projects and it was only because he liked Sweet Blue Flowers and later met U-mura by chance that an anime eventually became possible. Matsukura was in charge of choosing much of the staff. Ken'ichi Kasai was chosen as the director, because of his intuitiveness to make good-feeling anime according to Matsukura. For the series composition, Matsukura thought it would appear unexpected to pick Fumihiko Takayama, though he was asked to participate, because he likes shōjo manga. Takayama, who has experience as an animation director, would often make suggestions during the production of the animation steel water container, enough for Matsukura to joke that Takayama should have been staffed as the director instead, though Takayama flatly refused. Neither Kasai nor Takayama initially knew of the manga, but were approached by Matsukura dry pak waterproof cell phone case, because he thought they would enjoy working on the project. This was the same case for the character designer and chief animation director Masayuki Onji.
Takayama initially suggested to not produce an anime, because of the difficulty in maintaining the feeling of the original work, and wanted to let someone else deal with it. Further difficulty was cited in Sweet Blue Flowers not being a plot driven story, but rather character driven. After accepting and beginning work on the scenario, Takayama happened to read a poem titled "Hana no Oshie" (花の教え) by Bin Ueda which had the phrase "At this time, the lily in the tailwind" (この時、百合は追風に Kono toki, yuri wa Oikaze ni), and remarked that this was like the world was telling him he should write the scenario. At first, Kasai thought the entire work was going to be about yuri, but felt that an important point of the story was that Yasuko Sugimoto initially likes her teacher Masanori Kagami, rather than it being a complete yuri story if Yasuko had liked a female teacher. When writing the scenario for the first episode, Takayama found the length to be insufficient, and even after handing it over to Kasai, the episode was still about two minutes short. The missing material was filled in with various scenes of Fumi and Akira when they were younger, and Akira going to school. Where and how to end the anime was also an issue when writing the scenario, and it took a long time to decide.
Sweet Blue Flowers is a manga series written and illustrated by Takako Shimura. It was serialized in Ohta Publishing's Manga Erotics F manga magazine between the 30th issue sold on November 17, 2004 and the 82nd issue released on July 6, 2013. Eight tankōbon volumes were released between December 15, 2005 and September 12, 2013 in Japan. The manga has been licensed for release in French by Asuka under the title Fleurs Bleues. The series was released digitally in English on JManga, but after JManga closed down, Digital Manga Publishing took over the English-language publication rights. The series was later re-licensed in 2016 by Viz Media, who will publish the series in omnibus editions.
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 Ken'ichi 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 anime has been licensed by The Right Stuf International and was released on subtitled DVD under their Lucky Penny label on March 5, 2013.
The series has two pieces of theme music wholesale youth soccer jerseys; 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 exercises for soccer goalies. Fuji TV producer Kōji Yamamoto revealed that a second season is not planned due to low DVD sales of the anime.
Erica Friedman, the president of Yuricon and ALC Publishing, reviewed the Sweet Blue Flowers 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 Sweet Blue Flowers 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 Sweet Blue Flowers 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.
Sweet Blue Flowers 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. G.B. Smith of Mania described the anime as presenting the story in a "sincere and open way...without any gimmicks," as opposed to other yuri-themed series that are "either heavily comedic in nature, or have disguised the relationship in one way or another." The replay value of the anime was questioned, because of situations that "lack a certain amount of compelling drama that makes for a truly memorable experience." The Sweet Blue Flowers anime was selected as a recommended work by the awards jury of the thirteenth Japan Media Arts Festival in 2009.