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Review: “Sweet Blue Flowers” Looks Nice, Does Nothing

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Sweet Blue FlowersBeing a girl in high school is tough for anybody. For Fumi Manjōme, she’s got an extra issue to come to grips with. As a student at Matsuoka Girl’s High School, she faces her feelings as a lesbian. Thankfully, this trying time is balanced by a chance encounter with her old childhood friend, Akira “Achan” Okudaira. With her support, can Fumi find love that will accept her how she is, even if society won’t? An accidental enrollment in the Basketball Club, a production of Wuthering Heights, and even the admiration of a teacher can all cause troubles for this teenage pair. Sweet Blue Flowers brings a bit of Lifetime to the cartoon world, but how does the series survive in the era of Ellen, Glee, and Modern Family?

Sweet Blue Flowers offers something unique to the American animation field, but not to America. Having a story about a teenage girl facing a reality where she loves women more than men is nothing new. In 2009 (when the series was produced), it might have been a little really progressive and even a little questionable, but years later, having a show with a lesbian lead isn’t the most groundbreaking. While it’s definitely commendable, tackling issues of homosexuality with a lead character is something that everyone should think has happened before, or shouldn’t even stand out. It is true that most long-running series use gay characters as part of ensemble casts (such as Modern Family) or in supporting roles (Barry Allen’s boss on The Flash, for example) when not used in the past to stereotypical extremes. Fumi’s not anything particularly “lesbian,” unless “tall and has glasses” is a stereotype in Japan; her girlfriend, Yasuko, has short hair, which might just be as close as you’ll get to a stereotype.

Sweet Blue FlowersThe series has that “catch,” giving you an ready bit to bite on, but beyond the “lesbian schoolgirl” theoretical focus, the rest of the show is everyday action that any teenage girl would experience. Camping with friends, putting on plays, trying to run to the library: nothing in the series couldn’t have been done in live-action on a shoe-string budget, and yet, you almost wouldn’t want it to. Great painted backgrounds accompany characters that, thankfully, rein in the Japanese tradition of crazily-colored hair and absurd designs (nobody is a triple-G cup or rocking a pink shock of hair). It’s nice to see that, while the medium has everything from giant robots flinging galaxies to space cowboys flying through wormholes, it can appropriately deal with everyday drama.

Beyond that, is the show any good? It’s a bit hard to digest; there’s never too much drama in the show. People aren’t faced with crippling disabilities, unexpected deaths, or threats of harm over loved ones, but the drama remains at realistic levels. How much you like the show may be rooted in how interested you are in the capabilities of a teenage girl to understand that having a crush on a teacher might be a bad idea, or her realization that she’ll still be loved by her friends the next day whether the play succeeds or fails. Honestly, it comes off more as lazily reading the personal diary of one who doesn’t seem to live that hard of a life. Even with the main twist of the series, the series doesn’t reach too dramatic or rough, or even realistic, limits. Nobody spray paints slurs on her house, and nobody refuses to interact with her because of homophobia. Everyone is immediately accepting of the reality, and most are comforting, offering no harsh words. It’s the ideal world that we’re heading to, but still far from.

Sweet Blue FlowersThere’s no doubt that Sweet Blue Flowers is a very basic release. Arriving on three discs in a standard DVD case, there’s no English language audio. Extras are a clean opening, television spots, a character art gallery, and trailers, and you can knock them out in a few minutes at most, but their inclusion is always appreciated. This is a series that might have never come out in America, since an animated slice-of-life high school drama about a lesbian that doesn’t involve martial arts, vampires, superpowers, or giant robots seems to be a bit on the unmarketable side. Thus, any release that doesn’t break anything is a good release. There’s a target demographic for this, and it’s one that won’t be offended by having to watch subtitles or demand a high-definition Blu-ray release.

Sweet Blue Flowers is a quick-and-easy series if you like slice-of-life stories, but minimal drama, action, and comedy make it a bit banal for most. You have to have a certain amount of patience or interest in the subject matter, and even then, you’ll almost feel insulted that the world doesn’t show much of the negatives that are readily apparent, if not desirable. As the title suggests, it’s a pretty flower, but a flower’s a flower: doesn’t really do much outside of looking nice.