Besides the characters, I mean, who are fantastic. They all manage to make mistakes and achieve meaningful everyday successes through nothing more than the power of their own character traits, and they all remain more or less sympathetic throughout, which is a real achievement, as far as I’m concerned. But I’m not going to go on at length about characters here. I’d like to take a look at those little stylistic accoutrements that render Aoi Hana more (delightfully) complex than perhaps it needs to be.
If you caught the Aoi Hana anime a few seasons back, you may remember that sense of separation between characters and backgrounds, which lent the whole thing a stage-like feel. This character/background contrast isn’t really present in the manga; quite often Shimura draws panels without much in the way of backgrounds at all. In fact, while the anime gave the impression of a transparent, stage-like fourth wall, the manga opaques our view into the world of its characters. Characters’ thoughts are often presented in otherwise empty panels; without visual context, it can be difficult to determine which thoughts belong to whom. The end result isn’t so much disorienting (oh, we’ll talk about Octave later) as…simply frustrating, maybe, but not in a bad way. Our thwarted attempts to figure the characters out lend a sense of suspense to the thing. And if we have trouble orienting ourselves relative to Aoi Hana’s setting, so do the characters.
The plays-and-books-within-an-anime/manga remain intact — or, I should say that they survived the transition from manga to anime — but they’re probably a bit more prevalent throughout the manga, if only because there’s more plot in the manga than would fit in eleven animated episodes. On one occasion, even Fumi attempts the drama thing — while in the anime that simply would have seemed appropriate, as Fumi’s attempt to seize agency as the main character in the play of her own life, in the manga it comes across as an attempt (incidental or otherwise) to find a background to inhabit in the first place, a potential means of escape from solid white and black panels. But, as you can see above, even stage backdrops are often omitted. Readers and characters are left adrift in uncertainty — or perhaps they’re meant to face the stark, utter certainty of convention, the pervasive foe of alternative sexuality.
The chapter titles, too, are rather literary, often evoking lesbian novelists and poets. There seems to be something of a tradition of those in Japan. And that strikes me as odd not because it’s odd in itself, but because attempts to (re)construct a gay literary tradition in English literature seem to be arduous and uncertain affairs. Most of us know about the gay modernists — Wilde, Woolf, and so on — and about certain isolated “deviants” such as Whitman, and that’s about it, at least prior to the era during which overt homosexuality would no longer result in prompt banning of the offending literature. We talk about potentially gay historical authors in hushed, bemused tones, as if we were their contemporaries trying to incubate a scandal. I’m sure there’s something to be said for the tradition that produces yuri manga versus western traditions of GLBT narratives, but, whatever it is, I don’t suppose I’m properly equipped to say it.
I seem to have digressed a bit (as I’m wont to do). But that’s alright; I’m running out of things to say anyhow. You’ll probably hear more from me on Aoi Hana when I get to Hourou Musuko, which isn’t yuri, exactly, but should fit into the present project quite well regardless.