What They Say:
Do you remember your first love?
Fumi’s always had trouble connecting with other people, but her life has been especially tumultuous as of late. After a decade apart, fortune reunites her with her childhood friend Akira, who’s always held a special place in Fumi’s heart. But even as they rediscover their friendship, with the start of the new school year, Fumi becomes enamored with a tall, charismatic girl named Sugimoto. Fumi soon finds herself playing a balancing act, between her feelings towards Akira and her newfound desire for Sugimoto
The audio presentation for this release is simple and straightforward as we get the original Japanese language track done in uncompressed PCM to give us the original source in the best way possible. That said, the series is one that is very much mood and dialogue driven so the small music cues are important as is the way the dialogue goes from normal to softer tones in order to convey the emotions well. Though these are important bits to the design of the mix, it’s not one that will really stand out in a huge way. The opening and closing sequences are where it does warm up a bit more but the songs used are pretty mellow and softer in tone so it doesn’t really go big all that much. Some of the play bits stand out a touch with placement and the way they handle it but it’s just a small piece. Overall, the series has a good design about it that’s appropriate for the show and comes across cleanly and clearly.
Originally airing in 2009, the transfer for this eleven episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is spread across two discs which gives it all a decent amount of space to work with. Animated by JC Staff, the series has a very Ghibli-esque look to it in terms of character designs, backgrounds and color palette which is very appealing. The show is soft in a sense because of the colors it uses and the encoding really captures it well because it has this kind of flow about it that draws you into it in all the right ways. Colors are solid and very strong throughout while avoiding overly vibrant approaches. The animation has a smooth and very pleasing feeling to it and that combined with the nature of the story and the kind of softness of it helps to bring you into it all the more. Nozomi’s encoding is really great here with it being very easy to enjoy with how good it looks.
The packaging for this release works a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds both discs against the walls with no hinges. The front cover runs with a whole lot of white on it between the character designs and the backgrounds but it has a very appealing feeling to it as it shows us Fumi and Achan back to back with good smiles to their faces. It also frames it with a really nice look that helps it to stand out, giving it a bit more weight and character. With some soft blossoms flowing by, only a few which definitely helps, it’s a mellow piece but one that catches the eye with its colors that are on it. The back cover uses a similar design with lots of the leathery-blue space and provides for several nicely chosen images to flesh out the look of it with. The premise of the show is covered fairly well and we get a clean listing of the extras and a decent technical grid that lays out the basics. There’s no reversible cover artwork for this release nor are there any show related inserts.
The menu design for this release is really nice and definitely sets the mood in a very good way. Each menu is a static screen with a soft approach to it where it has an off white background with some character illustration artwork. The artwork looks really good with the pencil designs and the colors used and the colors from it carry over into a few other areas as well across the rest of the menu. The logo and navigation is all kept to a strip along the bottom that lets the artwork stand out all the more. Using the blue from the cover, the logo is kept to the left in an appealing way while the right has the minimal but easy to use selections..
The extras for this release are all on the second volume where we get the clean opening, a few of the TV spots promoting the series and a brief but good art gallery revolving around the character designs.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series by Takako Shimura, which began back in 2004 and finished with eight volumes in 2013, Sweet Blue Flowers is an eleven episode series that definitely plays the interesting field of high school romance between several girls in two different schools. Shimura’s worked on some interesting titles over the years with the Wandering Son anime adaptation really making an impression. Relationships in the high school realm can be difficult in anime and manga since so often it’s all about the status quo once you get the foundations setup. Sometimes a new character will come along but mostly it’s just about being indefinitely delayed for any kind of real progress or resolution. But shows and manga like this tend to go the distance a bit better.
The series deals with a group of high school girls that are coming together from very different directions. The catalyst for all of this is the character Fumi Manjone, a high school student who has found herself returning to a town she left ten years earlier. She never intended to return but there are all sorts of conflicting things going on in her life with relatives that has her wanting to get away from things. What coming back has done though is reacquainted her with her childhood friend Akira, aka Achan. The two were inseparable as kids, mostly because Achan helped protect her in some ways as Fumi was one that broke down to tears easily and generally had a hard time. The two of them are in the same grade now, but they both attend different schools. Achan is in the standard school while Fumi is off at a private academy she worked hard to get into.
With the two of them, there’s a lot of fun in seeing how they reconnect after all this time and some of the cute ways that they didn’t skip a bit. Achan does get after her for the way Fumi nearly seems to break down, but there’s also a sense from Achan that Fumi is a very different person than she knew before. Fumi’s definitely got it harder here since she’s in a new school with nobody she knows, several girls of which are hopeful to draw her into the drama club to help expand their numbers. While Achan falls into the same kind of group at her school, Fumi opts to go for the literary club since everyone has to be part of a club. It’s this chance encounter that introduces her to Yasuko, a third year who is one of the most popular girls at school with some slight masculine touches about her. Something that draws Fumi to her immediately in a very strong love at first sight kind of thing.
Of course, lots of girls are after Yasuko, including a girl that knows her that goes to school with Achan. Kyoko, also a part of the drama club, has had her eye on Yasuko and a bit of history as well as they go back a few years in a convoluted way. To make things even more complicated is the fact that Kyoko already has an arranged fiance that she doesn’t love and has no real intention of following through with, though he does his best to try and win her over in small ways. As these four people interact with each other in different configurations, there’s small moments of feeling each other out and revealing the big truths in small ways. For Fumi, she knows she’s interested in Yasuko and Yasuko likes girls, and that we do eventually learn that Fumi had a girlfriend previously. Yet there’s also this idea that’s only lightly explored that Achan has an interest in Fumi, but it’s something that feels like it’s mired in some really conflicting ideas that are blurring friendship and love.
And that is what a lot of the series is about, blurred lines, uncertain feelings and relationships that are on the cusp of happening but end up going through all sorts of problems and misunderstandings. But not of the slapstick comedy type, more that it’s just the way young and first time hearts and loves are unable to connect clearly at times. With Fumi as the sort of central character, we see her as the one that draws things together in different ways, but she’s also oblivious to a lot of things. He focus on Yasuko blinds her to Achan’s feelings and there’s some good things going on with Achan and her brother issues that come up. The material between Kyoko and her fiance has its issues and there are some very interesting scenes brought in that deals with the longstanding interest that Kyoko has in Yasuko. It’s all a little incestuous in a way, And like any story of that nature, it’s not really going to end well, but it does have some closure to it as feelings are revealed, though not always completely, and where everyone is in their lives keeps them from going in certain directions. It’s heartbreaking in several ways but there’s also a really good sense of honest and reality about it.
The eleven episodes that this series runs presents a lot of complex and interesting relationship dynamics where there are no easy answers, a lot of uncertainty and plenty of hope for finding what they want. The young women involved here don’t exactly have a lot of personality in a way as there’s little to them beyond their time in school and who it is that they’re interested in, but there’s something very focused and intriguing about the series as it unfolds and you see how they connect, or try to. The story has a more honest look at the relationships in a way and nothing is answered easily here or cleanly and the combination of this with the design of the animation for the series, with a good Ghibli-esque feel to it and that’s an area where the high definition release takes it to another level. I enjoyed the dreamlike aspect of the show before with its style but in this format it’s even more beautiful with those who have a great love of animation getting something to really sink your teeth into and enjoy because it stands out so well. Very recommended..
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, TV Spots, Character Art Gallery, Original U.S. Trailer
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: July 3rd, 2018
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.