Takako Shimura’s Sweet Blue Flowers chronicles the everyday romantic lives and angst of a group of female grade school students. Viz Media recently released their first translated volume of the series, collecting the first thirteen chapters. Is it good?
The first volume primarily focuses on three young women named Fumi Manjome, Akira Okudaira, and Yasuko Sugimoto. Fumi and Akira meet each other for the first time in years after being childhood friends, and Fumi begins a romantic relationship with Yasuko. The volume’s handling of young love is solid, as the characters’ interactions believably convey senses of both anxiety and joy. Another of the volume’s strengths is that none of the characters feel like their plot relevance is tied solely to their romantic relationships. Each of the main characters receives a good amount of page-time devoted to their inner thoughts and motivations, and their importance isn’t enhanced or diminished by getting together or breaking up with other members of the cast.
Speaking of break-ups, the volume’s big break-up is handled very well. The involved characters’ conflicts are built up and play out naturally. This is largely due to how well Shimura writes the series’ characters’ voices. Fumi, Akira, and Yasuko all feel like distinct people, interacting with each other in ways that make sense given their personalities and personal histories, not just because because of plot necessities. One aspect of the young women’s emotional lives that Shimura is especially adept at writing is their struggle with simultaneous attractions to multiple people; characters try to build new relationships while still coming to terms with ones from their past. This acknowledgement of people having multiple loves rather than first loves being the only loves helps to make the narrative feel more realistic and the characters easier to relate to.
As solid as Sweet Blue Flowers‘ writing is, it’s the artwork that shines brightest. Shimura does a great job conveying emotion through changes in body language and facial expressions. Their cross-hatching style, used most often to shade hair and fabric during emotionally pivotal moments, is beautiful. The volume’s renderings of nature are also memorable, especially when it comes to shadows and light. Scenes in which characters are partially shaded by tree leaves, but still lit up by what sunlight peers through, are particularly impressive.
My main cons with this volume pertain to occasional issues with clarity. There are few occasions where it’s not quite obvious who a character is, or who is speaking. It’s also hard at times to get a grasp on how much time has passed between chapters or even scenes. This problem doesn’t occur so frequently as to be a major hindrance, but it still has some impact. There is also a character whose importance to the story fluctuates in such a way that it’s unclear whether they are a side character or if they are a fourth, but underdeveloped, lead.
Overall, Sweet Blue Flowers Vol. 1 is a solid start for the series. The characters are likable and well introduced, and the artwork throughout is beautiful. With that said, none of the volume’s more emotional moments are very memorably so. This is a volume that shows promise and generates enough interest to warrant giving the next installment a look, but it doesn’t quite reach greatness as is. I would recommend it, but not enthusiastically so.