Ongoing Investigations: Case #208

narutaki Sweet Blue Flowers is a show I caught the first episode of and then put in the “I’ll finish this sometime” pile. Luckily, Right Stuf pushed me into it by sending us a copy! I’m very grateful.

Sweet Blue Flowers is about two childhood friends who reconnect again when Fumi moves back to town. They are attending different high schools but make sure to meet up for their shared commute. Each make and share friends as their all-girl schools team up to perform a play. Akira is carefree while Fumi is more introverted as she begins to deal with her feelings for another girl at school.

More than anything, I was drawn in by Akira and Fumi’s friendship. It is really rare in anime to see a character “come out” to a friend, worry about being judged, and then finding understanding and acceptance on the other side; it just isn’t dealt with at all usually. Whether this honest and tender friendship ever develops into more will be left in the hands on the manga.

I love Akira, she is a great friend and has an infectious joy about her. There were a lot of wonderful moments of her supporting those around her with an ease, it just comes natural to her. She is also hilarious and has great expressions. I felt a kinship with her which solidified the characterization of this show.

This is from the creator of Wandering Son which feels very close to Sweet Blue Flowers in its ability to handle complicated issues of sexuality and the growing pains of youth while featuring how the bonds of friendship pull you through.

Sweet Blue Flowers is an unusual animal in the menagerie that is manga about girls falling in love. You tend to think of yuri manga as the equal and opposite of yaoi manga. A genre about homosexuals mostly for the titillation of heterosexuals of the opposite gender with little grounding in real relationships. But both genres have titles that deal with said relationships in a realistic fashion. The original Sweet Blue Flowers manga is by Takako Shimura who also writes Wandering Son. That makes sense as Wandering Son takes the topic of transvestism and gender identity and makes them real subjects for drama and not fetishes. She does the same with lesbians with Sweet Blue Flowers.

I think one of the most interesting things about Sweet Blue Flowers is that while Fumi’s sexual orientation is fairly clear on the Kinsey scale we don’t really get a good sense of where Akira’s preferences lie. In a show were we delve so deeply into the sexuality of the principal characters I think that Akira’s lack of examination is notable. Even when Akira goes on the group date she seems far more interested in it as a nonsexual social interaction than as an opportunity to find someone to date.

I think it would be easy to assume that Akira exists as a blank slate that solely exists to validate and support the fragile Fumi. But see a good deal of depth and nuance to her character outside of her interactions with Fumi so it is not like she is just a device and not a person. I feel that in that sense this has to have been done for a deliberate reason. Considering that the manga is still ongoing I wonder if this is a topic that is be saved for later examination.

That observation aside I think that anyone interested in a romantic drama with something beyond the standard boy meets girl story there is a good deal of material to sink your teeth into. There is heartbreak, drama, self-examination, and tender love. But there is also genuine and uncomplicated friendship with humor and fun. Sweet Blue Flowers is also just able to explore a good deal of issues outside of the normal romantic fare by stepping outside of the standard mold.

As a side note Reverse Thieves favorite Kunihiko Ikuhara was the unit director for the opening. That alone should make it worth checking out.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

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narutaki In Rome, there is a little restaurant where the food is divine and all the gentleman working there wear spectacles. Young Nicoletta arrives one evening looking for her estranged mother and ends up working in the kitchen. Nicoletta is sort of the lens by which the audience gets to learn about all these different personalities at the restaurant. The dining establishment is not actually called Ristorante Paradiso.

I had watched the first episode of Ristorante Paradiso when it originally aired and quickly set it aside, especially with that ultra weird next episode preview of Nicoletta pawing at Claudio. And it seems I was right, episode 2 was in fact more awkward that I’d even imagined. But in a stunning turnaround, episodes 3-4 were actually really good. Good enough that I want to know what happens with these characters. It seems when the show sidelines Nicoletta’s infatuation, there are all kinds of interesting stories to tell.

There is one other hiccup for this series though. Watching the CG in this show is like being repeatedly stabbed in the heart. And there is a lot of CG. Which makes me consider picking up the manga instead.

I think that I had a distinctly more in the middle of the road feeling towards the first two and then the second two episodes of Ristorante Paradiso. While the first two episodes completely turned off Narutaki and then the second two utterly won her over I came away from all four with an equally calm “I could take it or leave it.”

I have to say that the super weird scene with Nicoletta and Claudio is the thing that made me drop the series when I first tried to watch it when it was streaming. It is really uncomfortably comes close to being an attempted rape scene. The fact that Claudio seems like he is about to cry as he “lies back and thinks of England” really does not help the matter be any less super creepy. But the material before that is not horrible. It is just not compelling enough to make you easily get past that crazy scene.

But if you continue on you mostly see that is a very strange anomaly in the series. The rest of the series seems to focus on the little stories of staff of the Casetta dell’Orso. The plot becomes much more serene and a little more delicate in how it tells the stories that it tells. Also Nicoletta and Claudio relationship seems to develop in a much more healthy and naturalistic manner as opposed to a hot and cold inferno.

Ristorante Paradiso is definitely a show that caters to a very unusual niche. I suppose there was an under served Jiji and Huguruma Youbi market that needed an anime about older gentlemen with glasses (or older gentlemen who dream about being perused by aggressive young women). And in that respect it is distinctly a success in serving an overlook audience. Overall it is a pleasant series that I would watch with someone else but not go out of my way to finish on my own.

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I had honestly never even heard of Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars until it arrived in the mail. It is about a small town which is the headquarters for a group that protects the universe, a bunch of teenage psychics, and a mysterious robot-like thing known as the Shingu. Like many shows, the story really kicks off when a mysterious transfer student arrives.

When the show first starts I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be taking it seriously or not. Once it got to the alien which I’d describe as a mix between The Terminator and Inspector Gadget, I believe my query was answered. Still from the first four episodes there does seem to be some serious plots buried deep in there, but I realized maybe I shouldn’t over think it.

I really found the school comedy parts to be the strongest scenes. I was cracking up during the clubs and festival meetings. Plus, the student council vice president’s love/hate relationship with Muryou was very amusing. I’d probably like this show more as a straight up comedy.

Shingu is quite 90s which is totally fine by me but that may be why it has been left by the wayside.

Madhouse as a studio has a fairly regular output of titles. That means while some of them get a good deal of conversation (especially when they are centered around a high-profile property) they do have several titles that are released with little fanfare from the English-speaking anime community. I mean does anyone outside of a handful of people ever really discuss Oh! Edo Rocket? In the same way I don’t remember anyone even off handily talking about Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars before it was licensed and it generally goes unmentioned outside of that.  

But since it was a Right Stuf release I had the original release of the singles but they have mostly gone unwatched in my “I really mean to get to this” pile for years. But since the series was re-released as a new box set I was finally able to start the series with Narutaki. The only thing I really knew about the series was the one pitch I had heard, “What if there was an alien invasion and no one cared?”

In that respect that single line says quite a bit about the series as a whole in the sense that it reveals the very quirky feel to it all. As Narutaki mentioned the series has two very different tones.  There is one part of the series that is about aliens, ancient conspiracies, mystical bloodlines, and psychic battles. The other part is a school comedy with student council politics. So far both elements seem very distinct. They are not utterly separate. Almost everyone in the second half is at least indirectly involved in the first half. It just seems like the two stories hastily pass each other notes about what they are doing as they transition from one another. An invasion scenes just feel utterly different from a school life scenes.

So far it is an interesting series. I am curious who are these invading aliens, who are these human defenders, who are these overseers in the middle, and what is this all heading towards? So far there is a good deal of mysteries set up but no real definitive path set in stone. There has been some solid world building and development but so far the invasion seems more of a nuance than a threat. I assume about half way through the other shoe will drop and a clear sense of where the series is going to go will come.

Hopefully that is. It could be a case of where the series spins its wheels for 24 episodes and then drops the plot on you in the last two episodes. But at 4 episode in it still has a good deal of time to present a firm story. I’m curious to see when and how that path forms.

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