“He’s not a rough diamond—a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic: he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man”
– Catherine, Wuthering Heights
While is not uncommon for theatre productions to be featured in yuri anime, it doesn’t usually attribute significantly to the overall plot development. For example, the first arc in Maria-sama ga Miteru revolves around the play, Cinderella. Similarly, YuruYuri♪♪ includes an eccentric production of Snow White during the season’s finale.
In these cases, neither series utilize the stage performances as a means to develop central themes. As such, these productions end up becoming distant afterthoughts as the series progress. For instance, the Cinderella production in MariMite is merely a means by which the main character is personally introduced to her idol while the Snow White production in YuruYuri♪♪ is just a vehicle for gags and light yuri subtext (which is actually the entire point of the series so my earlier statement is actually debatable).
The same cannot be said for the role Wuthering Heights in Aoi Hana. The production is brought up in episode 2 and finishes during episode 6. This means Wuthering Heights is prominent for 5 out of the anime adaptation’s 11 episodes. For those who are not mathematically inclined, this equates to roughly half of the series. But even after its conclusion, the play remains relevant throughout the entirety of Aoi Hana. This is primarily due to the behavior and mindset of one of the main characters, Sagimoto Yasuko, and it is no mere coincidence that she plays the protagonist, Heathcliff, in the drama production of Wuthering Heights.
The way Manjoume Fumi meets “Heathcliff” parallels the idealized first encounter that occurs through coincidence; the type that typically results in hasty feelings of infatuation and yearning. Enamored by Yasuko’s boyish charm, the shy bookworm immediately signs up to join the Literary Club since Yasuko fools her into thinking that she is a member of said club.
A similar dynamic occurs in Wuthering Heights when naive, foolish Isabella initially considers Heathcliff to be a dashing and misunderstood hero despite his gruff demeanor. As the play unfolds, the audiences realizes that Isabella is wrong about her Prince Charming since Heathcliff is a depraved and vengeful man who has no qualms with manipulating others. As such, Isabella comes to regret her marriage to Heathcliff.
And just like the ill-fated Isabella, Fumi is likewise incorrect in her assessment of Yasuko. Her “prince” turns out to be a selfish brute who has no idea about romantic gestures. Despite Fumi feeling unprepared for her first kiss, Yasuko forcibly rushes her into one by telling her to “just take a deep breath.” While the two do go on numerous dates, Yasuko gives off the impression that this is the extent of her knowledge about what couples do. After all, this is Yasuko’s go-to suggestion whenever the two drift apart, as if she believes that this is just something couples do and everything will be resolved with enough outings. However, the dates are superficial and lack any moments of intimacy. Furthermore, there are no open discussions of feelings until Yasuko’s emotional outburst dooms the relationship.
To be fair, Fumi is consistently too afraid to ask about details, so she is partially at fault. Still, Yasuko is the one who is unable to admit that she is still holding unrequited feelings for a former teacher until the relationship between her and Fumi is in ruins. The aforementioned emotional outburst has Yasuko acknowledging that she still yearns for someone else. She then turns the confession around and implies that Fumi is guilty of the same yearnings. However, this is not only unfair but also untrue. When they first met, perhaps Fumi was still upset about how her previous relationship with her cousin abruptly ended. But once she and Yasuko started dating, she decided to try her best as Yasuko’s girlfriend. She was serious unlike Yasuko, who believed she could use Fumi as a replacement for her unrequited feelings.
And in that regard, Yasuko behaves similarly to Heathcliff, who only marries Isabella after being led to believe that his first love, Catherine, rejected him. In other words, he settles for Isabella, seduces her, and starts mistreating her. Furthermore, Heathcliff never acknowledges his own shortcomings and is insistent that the suffering brought upon him by others was what warped him. Yet Heathcliff, upon securing the rights to the manor he was adopted into, begins mistreating the child of the man who bullied him when he was young. While Heathcliff’s maltreatment of the child is his attempt to demonstrate that nurture, not nature, was what corrupted him, it’s also an example of Heathcliff being a hypocrite.
Yasuko’s hypocrisy didn’t end with projecting onto and lashing out at Fumi. Despite being firmly rejected by her teacher, who is marrying her older sister, Yasuko continued to yearn for him and had even transfered out to a different school (Matsuoka Girl’s High School) in order to dramatically demonstrate her broken heart, much like Heathcliff fled from the manor after his misunderstanding. Even after she starts making daily trips to her original school (Fujigaya Girls Academy) to order to practice for her role as Heathcliff, she still desires attention from her former teacher. This parallels Heathcliff’s return to the manor, convinced that Catherine, the woman his heart yearns for, still loves him.
In hindsight, Heathcliff only caused misery to the rest of the characters through his actions. And in a similar vein, Yasuko does the same. The teacher was made uncomfortable with her affections considering how she is a minor as well as the younger sister of his fiancé. Fumi was used as an emotional outlet (a rebound, as it were) as she still had feelings for her teacher. Kyouko, another girl who held unrequited feelings for Yasuko, was also rudely treated as a hinderance and Kyouko’s fiancé was stuck worrying about a woman whose heart belonged to someone else.
The analogy is not perfect by any means, it must be noted. Catherine still loved Heathcliff, who jumped to conclusions and left, whereas the teacher never loved Yasuko as a woman. While Isabella became a shadow of her former self after her abusive relationship with Heathcliff, Fumi develops as a character and manages to tell Yasuko to grow up and to stop being selfish after they break off their relationship. Finally, Heathcliff wills himself to die early in order to be with Catherine, who had already passed on. As for Yasuko, she realizes she couldn’t continue chasing after people who never looked at her or had already given up on her, so she decides to start studying abroad where she’ll have a fresh start.
And in that regard, it is interesting to note that the adaptation of Wuthering Heights ends with Catherine’s death in Aoi Hana. As a result, the second half of the original source material is not acted out on stage, which means Heathcliff does not become excessively cruel and does not get punished for his actions. And yet the Heathcliff in Aoi Hana (Yasuko) does negatively affect others’ lives and essentially is let off easy. In this sense, the play continues offstage, being carried out through the personal lives of the series’ characters.
For what it’s worth, the series does include the famous “Heathcliff is me and I am Heathcliff” speech by Catherine. Scholars have argued that Catherine’s passionate and insane love shatters her own source of identity and personality to the point that she regresses to a childlike lack of identity while desiring total identification with the object of her affections, Heathcliff. This is further supported by the fact that she fails to recognize her own reflection at the time of her death.
And as Catherine’s iconic speech unfolds, Yasuko and Kyouko discuss their thoughts on Catherine. Kyouko calls Catherine an imposition yet admits that she’s jealous over how Catherine can be so selfish and uninhibited. Yasuko, who has yet to embrace how hypocritical her behavior is, claims to dislike Catherine. And yet both women are similar to Catherine. Yasuko trimmed her hair in order to imitate her sister, who is a tomboy with a strong personality. Similarly, Kyouko trims her own hair in an attempt to imitate Yasuko. But both haircuts were in vain.
The anime adaptation concludes 5 episodes after this exchange. However, the manga continued onwards and eventually ended after several more volumes. I have yet to read it, but I genuinely hope that all of the characters, Yasuko included, are able to come to terms with their own feelings by the end.