I want to preface this review with the simple statement: I love J.C. Staff. Toradora! and Nodame Cantabile occupy spots on my "Top 5"; I've been able to recite Lina Inverse's Dragon Slave chant (Slayers) for almost a decade; and I laugh heartily every week at the antics of Hayate and the gang (Hayate no Gotoku!!). Combined with my growing appreciation for shoujo-ai anime, I figured I would find their 2009 anime, Aoi Hana, enchanting. Wrong. Instead of adding another sterling title to one of my preferred genres, my favorite studio coughed up a pretty picture-book about a pair of girls' schools, and then marred it with a halfhearted story of heartbreak and friendship.
Over its too-short eleven episodes, Aoi Hana details the life of a high school freshman, Fumi, and her relationship with a senior at her new high school. To spice things up, the series throw the lead's childhood friend and a classmate who harbors a deep, unrequited love for the princely upperclassman into the mix, creating an odd love-polygon. Closely monitored, the interactions between these girls could have made for compelling drama, but the show's obsession with its own beautiful scenery and failure to flesh out its its main characters torpedoed the effort. Scenes of school and town life dominate each episode, forcing the story to the sidelines and causing the narrative to skip jarringly around without much context or reflection. Interesting bits of history do spin off the central characters, but the series refuses to chase their consequences, leaving any potentially rewarding plot threads hanging in the warm summer breeze.
The lax focus even sucks vitality from what little plot does mange to play out. When major dramatic moments arrive, the series seems to lack the guts to really drive them home and the show quickly cuts from any confrontational events to pan over more scenery. The fleeting and deft approach to these major interpersonal interactions does not generate the aura of maturity and realism that the series likely intends. Robbed of sufficient buildup and receiving only the faintest attention from the narrative, almost all the story's twists and turns arrive with a sigh instead of a bang.
On a positive note, it appears that J.C. Staff placed the fantastic art team of Nodame Cantabile at the reins. Whereas its predecessor uses the climatic concerts as excuses to flex its visual muscles in lock-step with its plot, Aoi Hana milks its relaxed narrative to trot out the sumptuous backgrounds and understated animation during every break in the action. The watercolor scenery here rivals any I've seen in the genre, and the series so flawlessly integrates its limited CGI into the frame that only under careful scrutiny can the viewer differentiate between computer models and hand drawings. Each shot's lighting is also superb. From the change in light quality when episodes transition between day, afternoon, and night to the tiny sparkles on falling tears, this series creates a sense of reality and place that contributes to the ambiance. However, the focus on the setting and heavy use of montage that flows from it causes some episodes to play out more like a series of paintings than an animated TV show. No matter how pretty, still shots of the school buildings and town get old after a time and their pervasive presence drains valuable screen time from the cast interaction.
Aoi Hana sounds pleasant enough. The OP swells beautifully from silence into an enchanting little melody, but the series once again chooses staid over melodramatic and the performance doesn't capitalize on the song's potential. Following the tone set by the OP, the rest of the gentle soundtrack, comprised mostly of classical piano pieces, perfectly compliments the series' laid-back visuals, but quickly fades from memory.
On the whole, the voice cast's approach to the script follows the musical components' level of uninspired competence. Chiemi Ishimatsu delivers Sugimoto in a listless monotone that perfectly matches her character's expression. In this case, Ishimatsu-san does the audience a disservice by failing to provide any nuance that would have given greater insight into the character. Additionally, the normally electric Yui Horie vanishes into Kyoko, which particularly disappoints given the actress steals nearly every scene when she appears in Kanamemo and Bakemonogatari (both airing in the same season). In contrast, Akira's seiyuu, Gibu Yuko deserves special mention for bringing her vivacious charge to life. Much of Akira's personality comes through perfectly in Gibu-san's interpretation, and her effervescence brings a smile to my face every time the she opens her mouth.
Akira's forthright nature, cavalier attitude, and friendly demeanor make her the only bright point in an otherwise completely lackluster main cast. While we're given a cute trio of girls and a pair of amusing boys to round out the auxiliaries, Weepy (Fumi), Beanpole (Sugimoto), and Fangirl (Kyoko) consume most of the screen time. The principal lead drifts through the series, substituting tears for positive action and allowing and her sempai's whims to run roughshod over her feelings. Mild mannered to a fault, the tearful girl abides and trusts when she should resist and question. Under normal circumstances, this young lady's thrashing and inner dialog would illuminate her decisions and consume the anime's quiet moments, but not so here. Instead, the anime locks Fumi's inner conflict behind inscrutable facial expressions aggravated by the series' understated artwork. Her mood appears to shift between listless melancholy and vague discomfort, neither of which betray any depth of feeling or aching love for Sugimoto. When the protagonist finally starts to change in the second half of the season, her pivotal moments arise out of nowhere and ring hollow as a consequence of this largely hidden emotional evolution.
Neither of the other two girls in the love triangle prove any more interesting. The writers had probably intended Sugimoto's stoicism and willfulness to come across as coy and capricious, but her stony-faced expressions, even-tempered voice, and extremely late-coming background portray her as merely mysterious throughout most of the series. Confused, heartless, and impossible to read, she doesn't even divulge enough of herself to either inspire hatred on the part of the audience or justify her admirers' affections. Kyoko similarly shows nothing to the audience save for her slavish love and devotion to her sempai. The few moments she shares with other cast members paint her as a typical high school girl and don't explain what makes her tick. Towards the show's end, she receives a small bit of back-story, but it only provides her the thinnest of motivations, generating an "I guess..." from the viewer instead of an "Ah-ha!". Given that the three main actors in this drama are ciphers, it's hard to empathize with anyone. Even the more interesting side characters like Sugimoto's sisters and the sponsor of the Fujigaya Academy's drama club can only bring so much to the story when the leads give the plot so little to work with.
There's no mistaking that Aoi Hana is exceptionally drop dead gorgeous. With watercolored backgrounds that appear to have been taken straight out of Iblard Jikan and a flawless mix of CG and regular animation, Aoi Hana would seem to be a must-see.
Except that it's so, so incredibly boring that I almost cried alongside the characters in Aoi Hana, who also incessantly cry.
To be clear, I like slow anime; Kino no Tabi, Haibane Renmei and Piano are three slice of life titles that I love to death. But Aoi Hana is easily in my top 5 (or maybe even 3) most boring titles of all time. It's soul crushingly slow and uninteresting to the point that I had to watch the last episode in pieces to remain coherent.
Preliminary reviews of Aoi Hana seem polarized - at least on the surface - between those who are avid readers/watchers of shoujo-ai, and those who aren't. Those who are have heralded Aoi Hana to be rich in character development, especially compared to other titles in the genre. I fully admit that it could be I'm not a conniseur of shoujo-ai; I don't mind it, as I watch romance/drama anime for the romance/drama, and not the sex of the couples. Regardless, I have no desire to compare Aoi Hana to other shoujo-ai titles - compared to other titles period, it's flat out uninteresting and slow to a fault.
Character-wise, it's difficult for me to understand the argument that Aoi Hana is filled with fantastic beings. From the get-go I was put off by Fumi's obnoxious, inappropriate crying, and the rest of the characters don't have nearly the amount of depth I'd expect from such a well-lauded show.
Romance-wise, by the end of episode three at least one relationship has begun to flourish - but frankly I didn't care at all. There's nothing three dimensional or deep here - same-sex aside, I found much more value and impact from a series like Paradise Kiss.
Maybe I'm just missing something, but I could barely get through three episodes of Aoi Hana, and I definitely won't be watching the rest. It's beautiful, but ultimately was a huge waste of my time.
First of all, if you were expecting hot lesbian sex action, this anime is defintely not for you. There's not even fanservice, or anything like that. Now that's not the reason of such a low score on this one, you see.
Overall the story is quite dramatic and tries to be mellow and sad, almost all the time. Even the happy moments are stained of tears, and heartbreaking memories. Personally I believe is ideal for people who love to get depressed but not for me.
The love scenes on the other hand are always soft, shy, dull or without passion. It's true that there's more chemistry in A-chan's and Fumi's friendship that in ANY other relationships here. Putting out when Fumi is pissed of with ... won't tell, Akira and Fumi's friendship and the borning love of Fumi's friend for certain brother, every other relationship is dull, pathetic or too mellow or freaky to my taste.
I just felt emotions two times, laughter in a ghost story cliche and sadness where the truth on Sugimoto's head is revealed to her.
The drawings are quite sweet but nothing that we haven't seen before. The only thing I must admit I like are the backgrounds and the soft colors used on every place. The use of light and dark is well suited too for every environment... what a pity for the characters that have as dull moves and simple animations as a paper bag floating by the wind.
Well the opening and ending were not very special but they are pretty kind and light, ideal for the job, as for the background music that makes you want to cut your arms several times with a little sugar on the top. Hated the voices... they had to choose between not having any emotion at all as Sugimoto's or screaming babies as A-chan and Fumi's friends.
And finally I come to the part where I hated this serie... every character is a selfish ... and I don't know if I can say the other word here... starts with W... let to your imaginations. The only character I give a point is for A-chan's sweet behaviour and maybe Sugimoto's sisters...
The others minds are trapped inside their own selfish needs and confused by their emotions. Every character, cuz I'm not stoping in love but I could include brother complex or maybe... just maybe this is too japanese for me. Its true its another culture and I can't understand their emotions but... still I hate selfish characters...I hate heroes that want to makes us believe they are in love or in pain but actually, they were the ones which produced that pain to others or are fooling their own hearts. So I just recomend this serie if you REALLY are ok with this way of seeing things.
Wery first of all..... i watched it like one or two episodes per day so i realy enjoyed it... i know in that week i managed to piss everybody off saying that this was an exelent anime ^^ Gomen.....
Anyway... the main point why i enjoyed Aoi hana was becouse it was the long wanted Romance anime without any ecchi or comedy or stuff like that..... The week that i watched it was wery stresfull for me a lot of studies (friging two schools) and i even had work (HUNTING) so this anime relieved the whole stress of my back whitch makes it the perfect for the ppl that have wery little time and a lot on nerves.
8/10 and dont even try to say anything about my bad english
It would have been fun to jump on the bandwagon and slap true shoujo-ai fans with a trout at what has been toted as the greatest failure since humans were created, but no. A proper review needed to be written to not just go with the crowd choice award.
The story has the usual setting; a school, with the main characters being schoolgirls. Pretty obvious stuff, but it needed going over. The anime centers around the life of a first year highschool girl, Fumi Manjōme and her relationship with a popular senior, Yasuko Sugimoto. Of course, there had to be a jealous fan who is also out to snare the popular senior, namely Kyōko Ikumi, as well as Akira Okudaira, a friend to support Fumi.
Their complex interactions in this twisted love quadliteral make up the bulk of the story.
Most of the major drama is skimmed over lightly and it is quite obvious that it is done purposefully, whether it works or not is up to you. It worked fine for me, since I knew this was not meant to be an epic story about saving the world but rather a small slice of life detailing a Class S relationship.
A visual treat. Bright, watercoloured frames with delicious backgrounds and smoothly detailed characters. (Supposedly there is CGI in there, but I could not spot it, I blame my age.)
The shadows are reasonably dynamic and the different times of day are displayed flawlessly with the lighting.
The only thing that stopped me from giving this section full marks was that some scenes were overly bright and hurt my eyes. (Again, must be my age.)
Not much to say here. The OP sounds nice and works perfectly for the animation it was designed for, but after you stop watching the anime it leaves your head. The same goes for the quiet piano instrumentals that echo through the anime at various times.
The voice cast was well chosen. Yasuko's firm unemotional tone, and Fumi's soft, shy voice, which has some sweetness in it is conveyed extremely well. However, Akira takes the cake. The emotion just bubbles out of her voice.
Will be filled in fully later. In short, Akira was undoubtedly one of the most entertaining characters to have on screen. Fumi was one of the most annoying, because of how much she cries, but that added to the anime. Yasuko was too cool and mysterious, and more was needed on her past for us to appreciate her. Kyōko was almost a complete flop, added in to bring an extra dimension to the story but the anime could have done without her. She needed to have her motivation for liking Yasuko explained.
The anime does what it is supposed to.
Detailed visuals with a solid soundtrack and voice cast chosen almost perfectly for the anime make it use up time and provide light entertainment just as it was meant to.
(In closing, this anime got rough treatment from the majority of reviewers, which it did not deserve.)