I just finished watching Aoi Hana in a couple of extended viewing sessions. It’s worth noting that the OP is top-notch, storyboarded by Kunihiko Ikuhara of Utena and Penguindrum fame.
Hands are a very big thing in the OP, which is something Ikuhara can’t get enough of. His work on Aoi Hana’s OP is a lot more subtle in terms of visual imagery than his efforts in Utena or Penguindrum, but the effect is still starkly strong–this has been one of the few OPs that actually made me tear up! And I’m not ashamed of that fact at all–the man is a true genius.
(Allow me to apologize in advance for the quality of the screencaps, as I couldn’t find a creditless copy of the OP, much less one without fansub karaoke.)
Here, Akira and Fumi’s hands brush very close to each other, only touching delicately by the end. It turns into an Ikuhara-favored pose, involving radial symmetry with hands as the central point.
This is my favorite part of the OP. Note how they’re always holding to each other’s hands throughout the entire dance. The animation, along with the camerawork, conveys a feeling of vibrance and security–no matter how upside-down their situation is, they’re able to dance to their hearts’ content, in the shared language of their hearts and bodies. There’s a line in the song (“I will always be there to support you”, based on Yuurisan-Subs’ translation) wherein they briefly turn into their younger selves. It could be alluding to the fact that they’re childhood friends, which forms the anchor in their relationship.
This is harder to make out of, but allow me to gush for a moment here? It looks so good. The animation is very expressive: you can see how Akira’s fingers curl individually, and the flowers make neat little shadows on Fumi’s face. I just love it. So what does it stand for? The lyrics (“When you reach someone’s heart/It will turn into a bouquet of flowers”) seem to hint that Akira’s action wakes Fumi up from her metaphorical slumber, making her notice the girl who’s been by her side the whole time. The nakedness is tasteful and pulled off without a tinge of awkwardness, suggesting that both girls are one with their selves and each other.
We have two hands, anchored by both pinky fingers. The left hand tugs its pinky, squeezing the right hand pinky against its own ring finger. Now, I’m not an expert in hand gestures, and this particular one is the first I’ve ever seen (a most discreet way of saying “I love you?”). I’m more concerned with who owns which hand. Given cues from the previous scenes, Fumi has always been on the left (and Akira on the right), so the left hand should be hers. And if you’ve paid attention throughout the OP, Fumi has paler skin, while Akira’s is slightly ruddier. Fumi it is! This makes sense the further you get into the show, as Fumi displays a great deal of growth throughout all eleven episodes. Each passing instance lends more weight to this little gesture.
There’s also one very obvious fact in the OP that has a great significance in the show itself: it only depicts Fumi and Akira. Just watching the first episode of the anime tells you how this isn’t the case: it isn’t really about Fumi and Akira. It’s about Fumi and Akira living their own lives, while still connected closely to each other.
Fumi experiences a couple of relationship problems throughout the show, and the only constant in her topsy-turvy romantic life is Akira. Her best friend is always by her side, to offer companionship in her lowest of lows, sometimes even ditching school by her own! So when you look at it again, the OP makes sense. It’s their story, but not ~Their Story~. That part, I think, goes out of the scope of the anime and into manga territory.
The other thing is, well, you know how OPs tend to spoil the audience in not-so-subtle ways, like who’ll end up with whom? The Fumi-and-Akira-exclusive OP does hint at a romantic pairing, but even such teasing isn’t really that relevant. The anime ends just as Fumi realizes her feelings for Akira, and there isn’t any time for her to show romantic affection. Even the scene is muted in its beauty, Fumi reminiscing on the blue flowers in their old elementary school, which she had previously seen in Akira’s photo album.
Whew! That’s quite a bunch of words for an 80-second OP! Let me close this post with the hearty endorsement of the anime (and the manga). Aoi Hana was a gentle yet fantastic ride, which turned out to be one of the best yuri series I’ve ever encountered. I’m hesitant on using the word “realistic” on anything involving Japanese cartoons, but I’ll make an exception for this lovely show. Watch it!