I just read the finale of the Sweet Blue Flowers manga, and I’m somewhat torn.
On one hand, the ultimate conclusion is relatively satisfying as far as the main two characters go (something I was a bit nervous about), and it confirms that, indeed, the anime was only about a third (half, if you really rushed the second half) of the story, and despite attempting to put a period on the end stopped just as things were getting good.
On the other, the end felt like it came really abruptly; for a slice of life story about people coming to grips with their sexuality, having (major spoiler) Akira’s tentative feelings and relative romantic immaturity finally develop over the space of less than 30 pages—a chunk of which is about other characters—seemed almost like an afterthought—like the author knew where the story was going, but decided that we didn’t actually need to see Akira wrestle with things once it came down to it. The end, basically, seemed really rushed. Some earlier parts did as well—there are bits that just don’t seem to get the number of pages they should given the unhurried mood—but the end was glaring even by the standards of this series.
I’d normally blame that on it actually being rushed—either the author ran out of pages or got sick of the story and decided to get it over with quickly—but when you look at the story on the whole, I’m just as inclined to believe that she’s just not that good at narrative. The series uses a lot of flashbacks and nonlinear storytelling, but frankly it just doesn’t work well—it often borders on confusing, and even when it’s not it rarely seems to add anything to the mood or drama of the story. It more seems like an attempt to make slice of life more interesting, and one that doesn’t work well.
She also introduced a number of minor other characters that looked like they were being set up for sub-plots or something, but ended up going almost nowhere, and felt like they were cluttering up the story rather than making the world richer. Again, it felt like the author kept coming up with characters she liked, and couldn’t resist putting them in the story, but didn’t have the time (or energy) to give them the room they needed to develop enough story to make them engaging to the reader. Most could have been cut without removing anything at all, and I’d much rather have seen those pages spent on the main cast.
Speaking of whom, it goes somewhat with the low-key slice-of-lifeness, but it doesn’t do a particularly satisfying job of wrapping up the other two main characters, either; one gets some time that doesn’t feel at all conclusive or weighty in the final chapter, and the other was more or less written out about halfway through but felt, somehow, like she wasn’t quite done with her time in the spotlight. At least she got something of a brief epilogue appearance later on.
The anime is an interesting contrast, because it fixed most of the narrative issues with the manga; it smoothed out the awkward or unnecessary nonlinear chunks, significantly fleshed out the rushed parts, and knew exactly when to slow down and spend time on important things and small, intricate interactions between characters. The only mistake it made, basically, was not being a couple of seasons longer.
And that’s the real tragedy; Sweet Blue Flowers is a refreshingly understated lesbian coming-of-age romance with an unusually frank recognition of both reality and sexuality hampered only by an author who was a little too creative and not good enough with narrative flow to make the story as outstanding as it could be—it was forced to run mostly on the charm and life of its characters. The production team of the anime clearly knew exactly how to work with and expand on this base material, but didn’t get the chance to take it as far as the story was supposed to go, leaving the anime a frustrating disappointment and the manga satisfying but rough around the edges.
Still, I’d recommend either if you’re in the mood and prepared for the flaws.