Sweet Blue Flowers review

After slogging through Victory Gundam, a series that wasn’t bad enough to give up on but wasn’t good enough to enjoy, I wanted to watch something that was very different, and boy howdy did I ever succeed.  Victory left me wishing the show were 20-30 episodes shorter.  This series left me wishing it were 20-30 episodes longer.

A few months ago TRSI / Nozomi / Lucky Penny / Whatever-name-they-are-this-week announced they had the rights to The Rose of Versailles.  I could not thrust my credit card at them fast enough.  RoV is one of my favorites.  It is the only anime I own on R2 DVD, and the only reason I don’t own it on laserdisc is because the discs are insanely rare – those who already own it aren’t gonna part with it.

So I’m still waiting for that to arrive, but in the meanwhile I got a postcard advertising Sweet Blue Flowers, a series I had no previous awareness of.  The back of the postcard began:

Erik – “What if the one I love is a girl…?”

To which, I internally replied, “Awesome, let me watch.”  I meant it in the most perverted of senses, but my interests were truly piqued – its been a while since I watched any shoujo/josei works (does Madoka count?).  Well, those DVDs aren’t available yet either, so I downloaded it.  Don’t worry, TRSI, I already have the DVDs on my Amazon Wish List.  It isn’t an instant buy like RoV was, but few things are.  PROTIP:  Legend of the Galactic Heroes would be…

About the show itself:

Let’s start with the opening.  When I saw it, my first reaction was “OMG, fucking SPOILERS,” but as it turns out the opening is a total lie.  Maybe that’s the final outcome in the original manga, but it sure as hell doesn’t come anywhere near happening in the show’s brief run.

No, this is a prequel to what we are shown in the opening.  Our main character, Manjoume, is firmly in the closet and suffering from unrequited love for her cousin.  There’s no evidence she’s ever said anything to her cousin or made any moves on her, and vice-versa, but she’s fairly tormented over her cousin getting married.  Enter Sugimoto, who makes a move on Manjoume with little hesitation.  Manjoume has her first girlfriend, her first kiss, and comes out of the closet.

Now, Manjoume is, apparently, pretty much exclusively gay, and doesn’t seem terribly conflicted about it.   That’s still a tough position to be in when you’re young, since most people aren’t and might react badly to it to boot.  Kinda limits your dating circle (and maybe that’s why the attachment to her cousin formed).  Sugimoto is either bisexual, or she’s just experimenting, but either way she’s much more forward about it than Manjoume.  But while Sugimoto is very confident and intensely talented in everything she tries her hand at, inside she’s a bit of a mess, confessing, towards the end, that she doesn’t know herself very well.  That’s admirable – Socrates would be proud.  It give a little more meaning to her “prince” persona – one who does not know themselves may adopt any number of personas, and perhaps even sexualities.  In the last episode we learn she’s leaving to study in England.  Maybe she’ll find herself there.  Good luck, Sugimoto.

The really interesting part is that Manjoume’s brief relationship with Sugimoto really makes Manjoume a better and stronger person.  Sugimoto tries a passive-aggressive approach to getting back together with Manjoume, and Manjoume tells her she just isn’t interested anymore.  Its hard to picture Manjoume saying anything like that to anybody at the beginning of the series.

tldr version:  Manjoume is comfortable with her identity but lacks outward confidence, Sugimoto is the opposite, and it dooms the relationship.

Now, a brief series like this should not waste any time, but this show managed.  This is one of those shows where nothing happens in the first episode.  Okay, I can handle that so long as things pick up in the next episode (they do in this case), but at 11 episodes, come on, really?  Then there’s the last episode.

The last episode is the only episode where we have a solid idea of how much time is passing – its a frog-march through several months of time.  In a way it reminded me of the finale to Maison Ikkoku, of all things.  MI was 96 episodes long, but the climax was episode 92.  The final four episodes were a final tying up of various loose ends – a long farewell, excellently executed.  SBF tries to pull the same move in an 11 episode series in one episode, and it does not work nearly as well – episode 10 could easily have been a more “natural” ending to the series.  But it does give something of a sense of life moving on for Manjoume and the other characters.  She certainly seems happier.  Maybe I’m just projecting.

These are really the only negatives that jump out at me.  The artwork and animation is particularly beautiful.  I really like the narrative technique of conversations not happening in realtime, but overlaying with scenes after the conversation – even if we don’t see a character’s direct reaction, it really sets a tone.

This series was a little painful to watch, because it reminded me of my own feeble and douchey relationships when I was younger.  I used to watch anime like this all the time, as it helped me make sense of my pain.  I’m way past that point in my life now, so I think I might not appreciate a work like this as much as I once would have.

Now, a personal note to whoever subtitled this:  I have never read Wuthering Heights, BUT I KNOW WHAT ITS FUCKING CALLED.  And I know it isn’t “WITHERING” Heights.  You, apparently, do not.  I can understand a translator not knowing that, like if English isn’t their native langugage?  Maybe?  Even though its a really famous book that’s probably been translated into every language including Klingon by now?  But come on, unless Kira is a one-man operation, that really rustles my jimmies – probably more than it ought to if I’m honest.  Its the kind of thing that makes me question the translation of everything else, though I didn’t notice anything else glaringly wrong (I do speak some Japanese).

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