Written by Elliot Page on 10 Jun 2014
Distributor Digital Manga Guild • Author/Artist Takako Shimura • Price $7.95
Sweet Blue flowers is a series I’ve been hoping would be available again ever since the untimely death of JManga last year. There is even a previous review from that release present on the site right here! I neglected to pick it up on JManga and before I knew it, it was no longer available at all. DMP’s Digital Manga Guild programme came to the rescue, and the series is now available once again digitally. I picked up my copy from eManga as part of a wider look into digital manga, and was seized afterwards to write a review.
The series focuses on two childhood friends - The reassured and supportive Aki and emotionally sensitive Fumi, as they are re-united after a long time apart when they start separate all-girls high schools. As the two slowly re-establish their friendship and come to terms with the social pressures of high school life, Fumi receives some unwelcome news that sets her reeling, not helped by the sudden emotional upheaval of starting a relationship with a charismatic, if herself troubled, upperclassman. Can the two maintain and grow their old friendship, and support each other as they discover who they are?
Sweet Blue Flowers certainly succeeds at providing effective drama that is engaging, heartfelt, troubling, impactful even - it's just that there is far too much of it compressed into too short a space. Various forms of relationship drama are blasted straight into your face full pelt with almost zero respite while reading. I say "almost" as in the last third events bulk out somewhat and a school play subplot begins to coalesce, which does allow for brief moments of welcome respite even as the drama ramps up and gets more complicated for everyone involved.
This is especially true in the first half of the volume - everyone is jumping head-first into various emotionally thorny situations, having their heart rent apart one way or another in a way that it is flat out exhausting. While it makes for a very gripping and immediate introduction that bodily drags you in, it also makes it difficult to keep it all in mind as the love polygon shifts with every few pages, adding new vertices and connecting points and rebuilding those that are already present.
The first two chapters are especially bad for this - after an introduction that firmly points the storyline in one possible direction, things shift hard in a number of different directions, making it very confusing to keep up with. This is exacerbated by the fact that what is there is deeply engaging - it swallows you whole with wonderful characters and the various inter-relationships that spring up, but then drags you down by doing so much, so fast with them.
There is simply not enough padding present to help give the events some breathing room and wider context outside of the constant relationship trauma. It feels weird to demand there to be less things happening in a series (especially as someone who constantly whines about pacing), but some wider context on the character's lives and surroundings would have greatly helped to provide more weight to the relationship events when they do crop up. As it stands, the pacing suffers and it feels like the events of the first volume take place over the course of a mere few days - perhaps they do, I can’t rightly tell! I seriously hope not as that would be exhausting for the cast and I’d feel even more for them having to deal with their emotional trauma at Mach 7.
An additional note that I frankly feel rather odd in making here is that every single main character is involved in a torrid love of some kind - even the most “stable” and anchoring character is herself pining for someone and is constantly having to react to all the various drama occurring around her. I can understand that the series is working with teenagers and doing a damn good job at showing how they take every small thing to be the sum of their existence but without any padding (as mentioned previously) it is wearing to read.
The art in Sweet Blue Flowers is sparse but effective. I’m a sucker for a well-drawn blush (yes, this is a strange thing to glom onto) and those are present in spades, as are all of the facial expressions present. They manage to very delicately and clearly convey the emotional weight of the scene and draw you in marvellously, helping to deliver the punch behind the events going on. This is a very important thing to get right for this series as there is very little else in the art - there are some scattered background and landscape panels thrown in, but these are few and far between and provide just enough to help provide a sense of place and backdrop rather than anything more concrete. The series also makes great use of panelling, knowing how to space things out on the page to provide cadence to the events and conversations, especially when it cuts to black for some effective end-of-chapter moments.
A shame then that the art itself is let down by the quality of the file I purchased from eManga. I downloaded a CBZ version and slapped that into a free reader on my Android mobile phone, which looks okay but the image size is lacking and features some overbearing compression which ends up reducing the finer details and smaller text. This is a shame as it “muddies” the image quality and removes some of the punch of the fine lines, crosshatching and shading used in the manga. That being said, it is functional and gets the job done, especially on a 5” screen. I sadly did not have a tablet to hand to test on there! eManga also provides a web viewer for the manga which had better, if still notably compressed, image quality.
This is setting aside the ePub format file I initially downloaded which was, for lack of a better term, busted. The file itself was tiny, couldn’t be properly imported into any of ebook readers I tried and so lead to a poor reading experience. Even once I got the file itself into a state that I could comfortably read, the image size and quality was terrible, far below what I expected. This then necessitates paying an additional small surcharge to get access to the previously mentioned CBZ version.
While I wanted to warm to it, I found Sweet Blue Flowers to be an exhausting read and so have a hard time recommending it wholeheartedly. I like the characters and their various trials and tribulations resonated, with real impact that comes from being well written and presented. There is just too much of it, moving too fast and crammed in too tightly, which wore me out something fierce. On a technical note the quality of file available from eManga leaves something to be desired, as noted above. I hope this is something they will work on for future volumes, which I may well give a look to see how things develop!
Author: Elliot Page
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