Aoi Hana


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.


28 Replies to “Aoi Hana”

  1. It’s been a while so I went searching for what you might be alluding to in the manga. Did you mean p. 158 of Vol. 4? (Ch. 25, p. 14).

    A very similar scene played out in a flashback sequence during episode 2, and the dialog was unambiguous about Chizu’s predatory character. So there is no inconsistency in this aspect, and actually the anime is more explicit and quicker to do so.

    1. That is indeed the page (well in mine it’s marked 157 but whatever) where abuse is actually shown, but I think the manga was clearer in explaining it than the anime early on, in Vol. 1 p. 65. I rewatched the episode, and having already read ahead I understood what was going on, but the first time I saw it I couldn’t tell if it was meant to be a real memory or something from Fumi’s imagination or dreams. Looking at it again though I think what threw me off was the less explicit language, which is just an artifact of different translations. I wouldn’t say the anime is any quicker to explain the nature of the relationship, but it looks like they were supposed to be about the same, and I’ll edit the post to say so. Good catch.

  2. Your suggestion that protagonists with tragic pasts or messed up romantic lives in yuri manga might be indicative of a regressive outlook on homosexuality seems to disregard the fact that such protagonists are thoroughly pervasive in romance manga and shoujo manga in particular, irrespective of sexual orientation. And they don’t usually elicit suspicions of ulterior motives or backward thinking in het manga so I’m wondering if the PC police isn’t at work, here.

    1. And they don’t usually elicit suspicions of ulterior motives or backward thinking….

      They should too. Just because people don’t point them out doesn’t mean it isn’t there. There are plenty of girls in anime/manga who simply have tragic pasts (e.g. Revy of Black Lagoon) to apologize for their “different” behavior not befitting of typical normative gender roles.

      1. I can understand the point being made here: an author deems homosexuality as socially unacceptable behavior and therefore feels the need to write homosexual characters with some background that apologizes for their orientation. I don’t quite see how Revy comes into play though as her violent anti-social behavior is socially unacceptable regardless of her gender.

        1. …her violent anti-social behavior is socially unacceptable regardless of her gender.

          You’re right. But Black Lagoon nevertheless explains why Revy acts the way that she does and this happens a lot to TSUNDERE ACTION GIRLS, implying that girls in a proper upbringing wouldn’t turn out like Revy. This happens to male characters too, but then there are many more male characters who are simply violent or anti-social without having or mentioning any tragic backgrounds. But if Revy doesn’t work for you, then take Haruhi from Ouran. Rather than deconstructing, reversing and exploring gender roles, they merely used Haruhi’s transsexual father to emphasize how unconventional her family and upbringing is, thus “apologizing” for Haruhi’s “strange” willingness to cross dress.

    2. It’s true enough that dramatic characters tend to have dramatic pasts, but in the het shojou I’ve read they don’t focus on things like forbidden love or having a masculine physical appearance nearly as much as they do in yuri. And as E Minor pointed out, series in other genres are definitely not above lame gender role-based stereotypes either, if I had a few more hours a day to keep up with more mainstream shojou stories I’d look more closely at them too. Either way though I’m not really policing anything, I’m just trying to understand the characterization in terms of the cultural values it represents, and those values are kind of regressive to me.

  3. More than likely the reason for the background given to the characters is laziness. In the broadest sense you can account for behavior from a nature vs. nurture argument. It’s hard to craft the “nature” argument into a full chapter that holds the interest of the reader (she was born that way, end of characterization), and expounding a lifestyle that led to her current worldview can easily become tedious and boring without extensive planning and convolution to keep it interesting. Trauma, however, can easily be compacted/expanded into a chapter or two and is more interesting simply because it is exceptional to the vast majority of the audience.

    More than likely, their motivations are spurred by the author’s need for a simple, interesting, and easily conveyed event that can fit in a few chapters/episodes than any deep thought on the matter regarding realism or typical gender roles; which is why, as pointed out above, this style of characterization is so prevalent across many genres.

    1. I think you’re right, to some extent it’s just plain easier to make a story interesting when the characters have dramatic backgrounds, and I am probably expecting too much of comic writers to take into account any kind of sensitivity about sexuality or gender roles. The deconstructionist in me hates it but sometimes events in pop fiction are just meant to be interesting in themselves rather than relating to any larger theme. I do wonder how on-target my interpretation of the backgrounds they use is though, the tragic pasts you find most often in other manga tend to include dead parents or poverty or something, it’s only yuri that really gets a lot of this forbidden love stuff.

    2. More than likely, their motivations are spurred by the author’s need for a simple, interesting, and easily conveyed event that can fit in a few chapters/episodes than any deep thought on the matter regarding realism or typical gender roles

      One doesn’t necessarily exclude the other. No author’s probably thinking to him or herself, “I’m gonna go write a manga today with an expressed purpose of justifying hetero-normative ideals,” but that’s still the end result. Whether or not the author (consciously or subconsciously) intended it, it’s still there and lazy writing doesn’t suddenly make it okay.

      1. Yeah well, I’m pretty sure a similar line of thought would prove that Gide’s novels push a heteronormative agenda while promoting “vile”, socially conservative values.

        The Fin’s argument there seems to be a hunch, based on flimsy evidence, which amounts to casting aspersions on everyone involved and is essentially impossible to disprove, short of asking authors to certify that they hold correct thoughts (oh, and even if they do, they’re still guilty of subconsciously spreading the stereotypes of their regressive cultural framework, right?).

        And yet manga is, to my knowledge, the only form of entertainment in which 10~15% of the production consists of overtly homosexual narratives, and a sizeable chunk of the rest comprise homosexual characters presented in overwhelmingly positive light. They’re usually written by heterosexual authors for a heterosexual readership, who may share some misconceptions about real-world gay & lesbian lifestyles, but that’s hardly a conservative backlash on homosexuality.

        1. I’m pretty sure a similar line of thought would prove that Gide’s novels push a heteronormative agenda while promoting “vile”, socially conservative values.

          Why such a polarizing interpretation of my position? Just because there are heteronormative aspects to a novel, story or what have you doesn’t mean I think a piece of work as a whole is automatically vile or socially conservative. The point of this discourse is to discuss whether or not they (i.e. heteronormative justifications of homosexuality) possibly exist in anime and manga, particularly Aoi Hana. I think their existence is very likely, but I don’t deny that having homosexual narratives is better than having none. Here’s the bottom line: criticizing an anime/manga doesn’t preclude enjoyment. I enjoyed the hell out of Eden of the East but I still pointed out noticeable flaws in it, especially its portrayal of women.

        2. I’ve never read Gide, so I don’t understand what’s implied there, sorry.

          You can call all literary criticism flimsy and impossible to disprove if you wanted, and you’re right, the only way to be sure of an author’s intention is to ask them, and yes, even then it’s possible that they are simply reflecting their culture’s values rather than actively pushing a certain agenda. Personally I think the evidence I’m drawing on is fairly clear-cut, and is part of a larger pattern of characterization in the genre. Can you explain why you object to it? As I say in the post, I actually thought that Aoi Hana’s treatment of the subject was in some ways pretty praiseworthy, and I elicited opinions precisely because I wasn’t ready to completely condemn or completely endorse the series, I don’t think I cast aspersions on anyone and I’m entirely open to argument on any point.

          That so much manga focuses on homosexual relationships doesn’t necessarily imply that the way they approach those relationships is as sensitive as it should be. Those misconceptions can be damaging in their own way, although they are obviously an improvement over outright rejection of homosexuality.

  4. > exceptionally good yuri title or another set of shitty stereotypes of lesbianism.

    Although they do not overlap in the case of Shimura’s works, “exceptionally good yuri title” and “set of shitty stereotypes of lesbianism” aren’t mutually exclusive concepts.

    > read all four available volumes of the manga.
    This is a damn good initiative. Don’t hesitate to read Hourou Musuko and Dou ni ka naru hibi by the same author, for they are very good as well, and might give you a much more accurate view on the issues you discuss here.

    > 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
    The kind of events you take for an evil-ish, heteronormative justification of homosexuality are in fact a frequent occurrence in the childhood of real homosexual people. For example, I know of many homosexual acquaintances who had consensual or not-that-consensual experiences with members of the same sex. That even includes, in some very vague way, me and one of my brothers.

    The debate about homosexuality being innate or acquired is not to be held here, but in the quite likely case that homosexuality is in great part innate, it is to be thought that these kind of events are not causing the homosexuality, but on the contrary manifesting it.

    Therefore, in Aoi Hana, the fact that Fumi remembers the utterly unpleasant but after all ordinary scene of peeing herself may be a consequence of the way she felt, altough in a diffuse and unconscious way at the time, about Akira pampering her.

    As for Sugimoto, I think you over-interpret her story in a similar way. I also have a much simpler and not that inaccurate manner to state the things, which does not involve complaining about her being boy-ish to please the moral sense of an supposedly heteronormative author : she is a butch. You must certainly think that this characterization is an heterocentric and artificial one, and in one way it may be. Nevertheless, short-haired, slightly masculine but still classy lesbians in Yasuko’s fashion do exist, and are not at all a rare occurence. The character is, at least in this regard, quite realistic.

    As for a general conclusion, I think it is very likely that Takako Shimura knows much more than you and have much less misconceptions than you about homosexuality. And this, because I also think it’s not unlikely that Takako Shimura is herself a lesbian, or at least a part of the LGBT community.
    I feel in Shimura’s manga, and that must be part of why I love her works, a kind of authenticity and of interest for the question of homosexuality that is not seen frequently in other yuri manga, nor in BL. Altough, in Aoi Hana, homosexuality is seldom explicitly mentioned, it is not at all treated as an unimportant matter that is to be brushed aside to leave place to romance and/or moe. It’s a part of what makes the protagonists what they are, and it’s a great part of what makes Aoi Hana what it is.

    1. Yeah, sadly there are plenty of series that are enjoyable in spite of their lame stereotypes, but there’s no reason they couldn’t be both good and politically correct. I might just try those other two you mentioned, I’m still on the fence about Aoi Hana and they might give some perspective one way or the other.

      As I said, people do experiment, what bothered me about Fumi’s story was that her partner was her cousin, and it seemed to be in some way equating incest with homosexuality. Again, I know that’s a pretty harsh conclusion to draw from limited evidence, but it’s part of a much larger pattern of characterization that portrays at least one member of the relationship as being in some way flawed (the “excuses” I was talking about). What makes me to some extent doubt that reading is how in other parts of the series the author approaches gay relationships in a pretty open and progressive way, which is why I asked for other peoples’ opinions rather than saying outright that the show had a shitty approach to the subject.

      As for Sugimoto, her butch-ness didn’t seem to be an innate thing, she says that she started wearing her hair short and dating girls (well, dating Fumi) because of her crush on her sister’s boyfriend. Again, the conclusions I draw from that are a bit of a stretch but not without support, and again I’m not entirely sure of them because of the other ways in which Aoi Hana is more sensitive about lesbianism.

      As regards Takako Shimura, it’s my understanding that most mangaka who write yaoi or yuri are not necessarily gay or lesbian themselves and may also write in different genres. I do think she’s more explicit about homosexuality in Aoi Hana than many other yuri writers are (I am one and a half seasons into Marimite and have yet to hear anyone actually say ‘lesbian’), but I don’t think that’s proof positive of her sexuality or that she necessarily has more or fewer misconceptions about homosexuality than anyone else. Speculating about her is unlikely to reveal much, like most manga writers she is pretty reticent about personal information from what I can tell.

      1. > what bothered me about Fumi’s story was that her partner was her cousin, and it seemed to be in some way equating incest with homosexuality.

        This is stupid and because you seem an intelligent man, I think if you read this phrase once more, you’ll notice how silly it is.

        > I am one and a half seasons into Marimite and have yet to hear anyone actually say ‘lesbian’

        This is utterly unrelated to the matter, for Marimite is not yuri if by ‘yuri’ you mean “romance between girls”.

        > but I don’t think that’s proof positive of her sexuality
        The fact that she’s explicit about homosexuality tells nothing about her. Her manner of covering LGBT themes and characters tells much more.

      2. Takako Shimura has been called the Alison Bechel of manga. If she’s not a lesbian, she’s damn good at faking it. I think it’s silly to presume people are heterosexual unless proven otherwise, especially when said people specialize in LGBT themed works.

    2. Oh, btw, I should re-read my posts more deeply before posting. By “I know of many homosexual acquaintances who had consensual or not-that-consensual experiences with members of the same sex.” I meant “at a very young age, years before realizing their sexual orientation”

  5. > sadly there are plenty of series that are enjoyable in spite of their lame stereotypes
    It’s never sad for a series to be enjoyable. I don’t think something like Blue Drop – Tenshi no Bokura, for example, would be enjoyable with a moralistic and realistic take on homosexuality and transgenderism.

    Other than that, I don’t agree the lest with this manner to judge a show by its correspondence to your moral ideals. I am indeed annoyed by the utterly sexist and stereotyped views about gender roles present in nearly every manga, and even more visible in BL and yuri, but I do not feel like it’s necessary to track them down where they aren’t.

    1. Sorry to be replying so late, I was without internet for a while there.

      I could have phrased my point about incest better. What I meant was that I thought the suggestion in the story was that traumatic encounters such as Fumi’s lead to homosexuality, because it’s such a common theme for characters in these stories to have such trauma in their pasts. Obviously not every gay character is described as having such an experience but more often than not one member of the relationship has one thing or another ‘wrong’ with their life or past and I think it’s a pattern that reflects a culture that doesn’t look upon homosexuality entirely kindly.

      However you want to describe Marimite it’s obviously in a different league. Poor example on my part.

      I did have time to read Shimura Takako’s other works today and I found Hourou Musuko to be very like Aoi Hana in good ways and bad (I read Dounika Naru Hibi too but it’s obviously a different kind of work altogether). In any case, I think it’s obvious she is trying to take a sensitive approach to LGBT topics, I’m just not convinced she’s succeeded in escaping conventions of the genre that are inherently biased.

      There’s obviously more than one way to judge any work of fiction, I can’t deny enjoying Blue Drop (the anime version anyway) and to some extent Aoi Hana despite my disappointment with some elements of the characterization. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have enjoyed them more if they hadn’t met with my (admittedly unrealistically high) standards for progressive portrayal of gay characters.

  6. Given that I consider Aoi Hana probably one of the most honest, real-to-life depiction of lesbianism in anime and manga to date (which isn’t much, compared to all the crap out there), I feel the need to defend the show a bit.

    I disagree with your comment that Aoi Hana implies that “that lesbianism is the direct result of frustration with normal romance, or outright perversion” — for one thing, you’ve forgotten Kyoko, A-chan’s classmate, who despite being engaged by her family to a nice-seeming fellow, is and remains good friends with him and hasn’t been abused by him in any way at all, has gone and fallen in love with Sugimoto Yasuko-sempai all by herself. So at the very least, that’s one girl whose liking of girls isn’t the result of some perversion.

    Secondly, you ignore the possibility that Sugimoto Yasuko is simply not a lesbian. She could be 1) a completely straight girl who, after being hurt in love, wanted someone to adore/love/worship her and used Fumi as an easy target; 2) a lesbian who was simply confused by her feelings for an older, maturer teacher; or 3) a bisexual who genuinely was in love with both her teacher and Fumi. In any case she was a complete dick about it, and nothing says you can’t be a girl-loving girl AND a dick at the same time.

    Thirdly, to this viewer it seems that Fumi would have liked girls without the interference of her cousin Chizu. Her fond memories of A-chan show that she always looked up to her and felt her special, even before she and her cousin started having … “relations.”

    Finally I’ll mention that sex between cousins isn’t considered incestuous to some people in Japan, and doesn’t quite have the stigma that it does in the Western world, so sex between Chizu and Fumi would be about as traumatic as any sexual relationship between a teenager and a college student — certainly there’s some form of pressure from a figure of authority but not as salacious as one would think.

    1. Yeah, I love Aoi Hana. And part of the conflict for Fumi is that she’s a real lesbian, going to a girls school where a lot of the ‘lesbians’ are just playing around in that stereotyped way. To her cousin their relationship was just screwing around and nothing serious, while to Fumi she was in love. And the problems of actually trying to tell her friends about her sexual orientation and worrying if she’ll scare them off.

      I give the author the benefit of the doubt on this one, considering her other on-going story is Hourou Musoku, one of the best stories I’ve ever read on transexualism / cross-dressing.

  7. Oh, and I disagree that Sugimoto “turned butch” after being rejected by the teacher she admired — in the flashbacks in episode 4, she is shown as having the exact same haircut in middle school as she does now. I forget about the manga, though. But in any case, assuming the animation staff didn’t screw up, Sugimoto has always been like that.

    1. Sorry to not reply before now, was offline for a while.

      I didn’t mean to suggest every character in Aoi Hana had a similar background, but that in the relationships that have formed one or the other does. It’s hard to find a couple in yuri in which both partners are completely normal homosexual females without some kind of emotional baggage of one kind or another.

      I don’t see anything in Fumi’s flashbacks that would suggest they were anything but close friends.

      Sugimoto’s orientation hasn’t been entirely explained yet, that she showed interest in Fumi again before leaving suggests that her feelings were real, but who knows. In any case it’s clear that she’s confused and suffered from a crush on the wrong person, and the manga does say explicitly that it was at that point she cut her hair and acting boyish (Vol. 3 p. 112).

      The cultural connotations might not be as severe but obviously sleeping with your several years older same-gendered cousin is not going to endear you to your family, and their relationship is something she considers shameful (“Even though she’s my cousin…and a girl…”)

  8. I got tired in the middle of reading your review, I’m sorry.
    you obviously aren’t a lesbian or even bisexual for what I gather( perhaps not even a woman, and if you are, I’m sorry to say you misinterpreted aoi hana because as a lesbian I can assure you that aoi hana is “real”. I felt the same pain og Fumi myself and, well, there was nothing wrong or unrealistic in the plot.
    I suggest that you read/watch less Japanese stuff ^^
    ps: I apology for my english. It’s interesting how I ended up here while serching for homosexual characters in “mushishi”. Spoiler: seems like there aren’t in a single episode, what a waste.

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