In the end I refrained from appending ‘…Sucks’ to the title of the post, but I’m not going to lie: Aoi Hana has left me seriously conflicted over whether it’s an exceptionally good yuri title or another set of shitty stereotypes of lesbianism. The Moe Sucks crew all got together to watch the first episode, and our unanimous conclusion was that despite the beautiful watercolor backgrounds, it was basically a shit show. We were completely turned off by the gratuitous scene in which a younger Fumi pees herself and further still by the incest subplot that’s introduced early on. On top of that, there was just nothing to love about the characters: a stereotypical energetic girl and an entirely un-endearing crybaby with a crush on her cousin. We dropped the show, and my co-writers gave it hardly a backwards glance.
But I decided I would keep up with Aoi Hana to the bitter end, to better pick it apart in an overview of the full season, and ended up so confounded about whether or not I should hate the show that I went ahead and read all four available volumes of the manga. After taking in the current length and breadth of the series, I’m still not entirely sure about how I feel, so I’m going to describe my beef with the series and ask what you, the viewers at home, think (heads up, I’m getting ready to spoil every single chapter of the manga that’s been released, which almost certainly will encompass at least the first season of the anime).
On the one hand, Aoi Hana indulges in a particularly vile form of yuri characterization, where one or more partners in the relationship has a tragic past that seems as though it may have influenced their orientation. Fumi, as we learn in the first episode, is in love with her cousin Chizu, and the girl she begins dating 3 episodes in, Sugimoto, was in love with her sister’s boyfriend (also her teacher), Nagami. Whether Fumi’s incestuous exploits has affected her sexuality is left to our imaginations, but it’s explicitly stated that Sugimoto cut her hair short and otherwise acting out as a result of her crush on her sister’s boyfriend. When Sugimoto brings Fumi to meet her family, one of her sisters suggests that she was using Fumi to cover up her crush on Nagami, and after being thus confronted, Sugimoto breaks up with Fumi.
What this whole mess seems to suggest, in a critical reading, is that lesbianism is the direct result of frustration with normal romance, or outright perversion (if this is something you actually believe, I recommend you read a different blog). It might seem like an extreme conclusion to draw, but it seems like every yuri story includes characters who have some special circumstance like a tragic and forbidden love or a history of abuse (or just plain being an alien in the case of Blue Drop) that “excuses” their orientation. Often, the other partner is “normal”, but what seems to be implied is that the “normal” partner is also “excused” for their homosexuality, because they’re not really in love with another girl, they’re in love with the abuse victim/jilted lover/alien. Often the non-“normal” partner has masculine traits (think Sugimoto’s height and short hair), sometimes it’s even suggested that these traits lead to others treating them like a boy, which in turn caused them to fall into masculine gender roles, which acts as their “excuse.” Obviously Aoi Hana isn’t the only series I find guilty of this kind of regressive characterization; it’s so prevalent in yuri that there are special terms for the more aggressive and masculine partner and the more passive and feminine one (‘tachi’ and ‘neko’, respectively). It’s as though the authors don’t think that two normal, healthy women can fall in love with each other in the same way a man and a woman can, so they throw in extenuating factors to make the relationship work in their heteronormative view of sexuality.
On the other hand, the other complaint I usually have about yuri, which is that it isn’t explicit enough about sexual orientation, doesn’t at all apply to Aoi Hana. Many series try to skirt sexuality altogether by representing relationships between females as only happening between two specific partners, who aren’t otherwise interested in women, and they take pains to avoid ever using the ‘L’ word. Also the vast majority of yuri I’ve read focuses on girls in high school, the rarity of older women having relationships with each other seems like an insinuation that lesbianism is just adolescent experimentation rather than a legitimate lifestyle (note that experimentation is indeed common all adolescents, but again my problem is with the dearth of adult homosexual characters). But Aoi Hana not only has at least one adult lesbian relationship (albeit between tertiary characters, one of whom doesn’t seem likely to appear directly in the story), the concepts of lesbianism and bisexuality are openly discussed more than once. Also, although the story seems likely to move towards focusing on the relationship between Fumi and the other main character, Akira, Fumi has already had one girlfriend, which both suggests that her sexuality is based on more than just one schoolgirl crush, and is a refreshingly progressive take on relationships in light of the wild fan rage that transpired after it was revealed that Nagi, of Kannagi, was ‘used goods.’
Further adding to the show’s credibility in my eyes is that although Sugimoto dumps Fumi after seeming to realize that she had been on the rebound from her crush on Nagami, she later suggests to Fumi that she’s still romantically interested, and that breaking up may have been a mistake. I suspect that Sugimoto (who’s been flown off the scene to study abroad for now) will return to complicate Fumi’s future relationship, in classic shoujo style, but either way, it partially discredits the idea that Sugimoto’s interest in other girls was just a result of temporary emotional trauma. As regards Fumi’s feelings for her cousin, the anime seemed to first suggest that they were unrequited and unfulfilled and represented a flaw in Fumi’s character, but it’s made clear (although your translation may vary in clarity) that Chizu was the aggressor and Fumi was not an entirely enthusiastic participant, which casts her in a somewhat softer light.
Beyond the factors I’ve discussed, there isnt much that’s especially offensive or especially interesting about Aoi Hana; it’s a fairly straightforward shoujo series with twists and turns that are familiar to fans of the genre with clean but not breathtaking art (I will say that the use of watercolors in the anime version is fairly spectacular). The deciding factor in forming an opinion of the show to me is whether the characterization is a regressive offense to homosexuals or a legitimate use of drama to add spice to the story. If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it, but otherwise, I’ll continue to hold judgement and we’ll see where the story (which at the moment is actually at a rather crucial point in the manga) takes us in the future.