The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Blue Spring Ride

Jul 7th 2014


Bamboo Dong

Rating: 3.5

Review: Nothing clouds the mind like nostalgia, especially the happy memories of relationships long past. And while people often find themselves thinking, "If only we could go back to those days," sometimes they're not worth revisiting, outside of the pink haze of memory. Perhaps that's what the heroine of Blue Spring Ride will eventually realize, though likely not.

Populated with the soft pastels and hazy backgrounds that tend to make up these types of high school romance series, Blue Spring Ride is calming to watch, and pleasurable to the eye. It's twinkling score doesn't necessarily stand out from the other soundtracks of the genre, but it works well in context. When characters gaze at each other, you feel a small tug at the heartstrings, because we want to believe in the idea of one true love, and all that shlock.

The problem is, maybe these characters shouldn't be together. Because outside of a vague sense of narrative obligation, it doesn't seem like they belong. We start the story a few years in the past, after a rainstorm. Futaba meets a quiet boy named Tanaka, and instantly falls in love (or at least she falls in love with him). They make plans to meet up for a festival, but at school, he overhears her tell someone that she hates boys. Rather than talk to her about it, or recognize hyperbole for what it is, he acts like a child and stands her up for their date. By the time school starts up again, she learns that he's moved away.

Flash-forward a few years and the characters are now in high school. Futaba has given herself a makeover, overeating and acting goofy to try to reduce her "feminine appeal" so that the mean girls of high school won't shun her. She learns that Tanaka now goes to the same school as her, except he's had some family problems, his parents have divorced, and now he goes by Mabuchi. It turns out, he's still kind of an asshole, only now he's just more vocal about it. Some things never change.

Inexplicably, Futaba is still attracted to him, but it isn't ever really clear why then, and why now. If the conversation they shared in the rain was a life-changer, it's not really reflected in the script. One just assumes that if a guy ("but he's not like the others!") is going to stand a girl up and move without telling her, he's perhaps not worth the tears or heartache.

But high school love is naïve and full of stupid mistakes, and one hopes that as Blue Spring Ride progresses, we learn more about the follies of youth, rather than one girl's predilection for mean, aloof guys. It seems already as though they're veering down the "he's mean because he cares" path, but this is a mere myth perpetuated by pop fiction. It would be disappointing if this series doesn't shake itself of the same shackles, because it seems like it has the potential for more.

It's hard not to root for Futaba, no matter what happens in her love life. Some of her decisions and choices in love seem a little suspect, but I challenge anyone out there to offer their own high school experiences to the contrary. So for the time being, I'm cautiously optimistic for the series as a whole, provided it doesn't dwell too long on a sinking ship of a relationship.

Blue Spring Ride is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Hope Chapman

Rating: 3

Review: When I wrote about The World Is Still Beautiful in last season's preview guide, I came to the conclusion that the show was a keeper, (and it was, you should watch it,) based on one very strong component: character. More and more I feel like character is everything when it comes to elevating material beyond expectations. It's true for any genre, but it's especially true of works people assume to be "character pieces," like romance. If so much of storytelling lives and dies by character, and romance most of all, Blue Spring Ride is barely living. The characters in this show are some real duds, and I don't really like them much.

No, that's not very nice, but I can't help it. The show itself looks nice, it's got Production I.G money propping it up with gorgeous backgrounds, and an attractive and distinct cast. Even the exaggerated cutaway gags in Blue Spring Ride are fancier-looking than most romance series, as you can see in the goofy screencap here. It's very easy to sit through and could be worth giving a try for the skillful art design alone. I know I'll be giving it another episode or two just to enjoy I.G. taking on some squishy, flowery sentimentalism.

Still, the fact remains that our leads are two very boring people in a shockingly stakes-less romance. Futaba is a normal whitebread girl who got stood up on a date once and has since tried to live as slovenly as possible to deter boys and attract shallow, fleeting friendships with girls who feel they are superior to her. (This is the only interesting conflict in the episode, actually, and very much A Thing That Girls Do in High School, sadly.) Tanaka is a normal whitebread boy who used to be kind and gentle until his parents got a divorce and he decided to become a pouting cynic and change his name to Mabuchi. He's also the boy who stood Futaba up years ago because of a misunderstanding and caused her mild, uninteresting personality change that the episode makes a really big deal out of to the degree that it goes from being truthful about the High School Girl experience to kind of shaming her for not being girly enough. It's both dull and promotes unfortunate implications about gender roles! Oh joy.

Anyway, they can't try to reconnect as friends or more-than-friends because Mabuchi is too mean now I guess, good to know that our already unlikable heroine isn't willing to accept even mild personality changes in the hero either, and this leads us to the nothing climax of the episode. Futaba is wrongfully accused of theft at the school bread stand and Mabuchi steps in to say "No, she paid for that, don't haul her off to the pokey," or whatever. So because Mabuchi didn't stand idly by and let an unjust bad thing happen to her, Futaba decides there must be some good in him. Yawn. Maybe these two boneheads will get back together after ten more episodes, but they're not off to a good start in endearing themselves to the audience. At least it's decent eye candy.

Blue Spring Ride is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Carl Kimlinger

Rating: 4

Review: Looks like it's going to be a good season for shojo romance. After the delightful Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun comes this gentle, bittersweet meditation on lost opportunities and inevitable change. It's a very traditional kind of shojo show—delicate and introspective; awash in an aching longing for the purity and potency of first love—but that doesn't mean it's trite. The tale of two kids who miss their chance at a relationship and are reunited years later, after they've become different people, Ride hides painfully real questions—about the regrets of roads not taken, the sacrifices made to fit in, the tenuous connection between who we are and who we used to be—behind elemental simplicity. Like any good shojo, Ride’s appeal is its ability to make you feel, but its feelings don't explode or overpower; they grow quietly inside, sweet and melancholy, astringent with rueful recognition.

Being animated by Production I.G, Ride’s pastel tenderness strongly recalls Kimi ni Todoke, but sophomore director Ai Yoshimura takes that tenderness in a very different direction. The show's visuals evoke sweet wonder and innocent beauty less than they do quiet loneliness and a deep and abiding nostalgia for the hazy days of youth. Yoshimura's preference for inference and implication over straight explication also serves in good stead, allowing our empathy and understanding to build of its own accord, moving us only when we're ready to be moved. Atmosphere, affect, character design, score… everything about the show is lovely and touching. In fact the only faults you'll find are a worrying tendency towards sloppy character animation and, well, the big kahuna: Kou, our male lead. He's cold and mean and habitually talks down to heroine Futaba. Doubtless he has his reasons—his transformation into a bastard is a major plot point after all—but until they surface we'll be rooting for Futaba to find a worthier love.

Blue Spring Ride is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 4

Review:

You can never really go back and redo those missed chances. This is something that Futaba is about to learn first hand. As a middle school student, she had a crush on Tanaka-kun, and he appeared to reciprocate – when the two were stranded in a spring rainstorm, he asked her out to the local festival. But then the next day at school he overheard her telling a boy who has harassing her that she hated all boys, and he never showed up for their date. In the fall he was gone, having transferred schools. Three years later, Futaba has changed. Tired of being hated by other girls for the fact that boys liked her, she became deliberately less feminine in high school, creating a whole new persona. That seems to be working for her...until Tanaka-kun comes back.

Based on the manga of the same name (although usually known as Ao Haru Ride) by Io Sakisaka, author of Strobe Edge, Blue Spring Ride is one of those classic shoujo romances that makes you yearn, makes you angry, and keeps you watching. Futaba's tactic of acting less attractive in order not to be ostracized by the other girls or hit on by boys isn't one we see very often in shoujo anime or manga, but I can tell you from personal experience that it's something that does happen, and it's nice to see it get a representation. That Futaba is now struggling with the consequences of her decisions is also interesting – will she choose to maintain her front or just part of it? Will the now decidedly less-nice Tanaka-kun (now named Mabuchi, due to his parents' divorce) see through it? Naturally it's looking like the two of them healing each others' wounded souls and coming together will be the main trajectory of the action, and from this episode, as well as reading Sakisaka's previous series, it certainly should be engaging.

Artistically there is a fairly standard shoujo look to the show. Lots of muted colors, a watercolor effect during the opening, a hero whose general facial expression is somewhere between “broody” and “cold,” and a much more visually emotive heroine are all present and accounted for. Animation isn't as fluid as in other shows this season, but this is also a case where the dialogue is clearly going to matter more than the actions, with a few notable exceptions such as Futaba's posture as she strives to be less attractive. (That's working well so far.) If you're in the mood for a good old fashioned shoujo romance with all of its attendant angst and joy, Blue Spring Ride looks as if it is going to absolutely fit that bill, slightly stilted animation notwithstanding.

Blue Spring Ride is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Theron Martin

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: During her first year of middle school Futaba had a chance “avoid the rain” encounter with shy Tanaka at a local shrine, which almost led to a date – but him overhearing her declaration about hating all boys, and then him shortly after moving away, apparently interfered. Three years later, Futaba has made a conscious decision to remake herself by deliberately acting in ways designed not to endear herself to boys, partly because she still generally hates boys and partly because being she believes that being too popular with the boys makes oneself enemies with her fellow girls. Her strategy seems to be working, as she has some new friends, but then she bumps into a boy in the hall who, despite a different voice and much greater height, gives her the impression of Tanaka. She eventually finds out that he is Tanaka – or, rather, used to be; now he's Kou Mabuchi instead, due to his parents’ divorce, and he's been back around for a while but she just had not noticed. He has changed a lot, too, and while he admits that he did love her at one point, he feels that the clock can't be turned back. But despite his occasionally bitchy attitude, there are still signs that he may care, and that confuses her.

Blue Spring Ride is based on a shojo manga, which gives it a certain introspective tone not commonly seen in shonen titles. For the most part is plays that up pretty well as it take a look at a girl who is a couple of steps beyond where the heroine of Hanayamata is: she has already remade herself into a new person and is enjoying the fruits of her labor. The angle that this one seems to be taking, though, is that the way Futaba has done it is fake enough that it is not going to endure – or if she does want to maintain it, it is going to be at the cost of love. That's a fine and interesting approach to take, but then the series goes and shoots itself in the foot with its male protagonist. The story seems to want to have its cake and eat it, too, here, as it wants Kou to be both shy and disaffected but at the same time bold enough to point out the flaws in what Futaba is doing and rescue her from trouble when she wrongly gets accused of stealing. The writing also wants to suggest that, despite what he may claim, Kou is still in love with Futaba, as he certainly hasn't forgotten her. That is a delicate balancing act to pull off, and as of the end of the episode the series is still struggling to make it work. It drags down what could otherwise be a pretty good series. A slightly unconventional artistic style, as well as an interesting visual contrast between the flashback and current-time scenes, gives it a little more memorable look than normal, but the series still has a ways to go to sort itself out.

Blue Spring Ride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Zac Bertschy

Rating: 2.5

Futaba was in love with soft-spoken Tanaka until, over summer break, Tanaka mysteriously up and disappeared without a word. Since then, Futaba has undergone a transformation in high school - she's renounced her "feminine charms" and puts on a show about not being attracted to boys, hanging out with her BFFs and overeating during lunch. But then she comes across a guy who looks exactly like Tanaka, and her curiosity is piqued. She follows him to the shrine where they shared a moment once, and he reveals he is Tanaka, and he did love Futaba, but his parents got divorced, so now his name is Mabuchi  and also he's become a royal dick. She still has feelings for him, though.

Hey, it's a bloom-infested watercolor high school romance from Production I.G! Blue Spring Ride is a pretty show, as expected from I.G, but it doesn't have a whole lot else going for it. The twist is super mild for a romantic dramedy of this type, the characters aren't giving us any real reason to care about what they're dealing with so far, and it's all fairly flat. Futaba isn't the least interesting romcom protagonist to ever be rendered in nostalgia-drenched pastels, but I had a hard time caring about her diet caffeine-free plight. Tanaka didn't exactly have a fleshed-out personality before they turned him into a harsh, unlikable loner thanks to his broken home, so right now you're apparently supposed to be deeply invested in whether or not these two pasty-faced Marlin Blandos will find love together again. There's a pretty wide supporting cast that they haven't done much of anything yet, so maybe adding more romantically-confused high schoolers will mix things up later, but for now, there just ain't much here to go on. For a sweet little romantic dramedy you could do worse, but there are way more interesting examples of this genre out there already. Maybe it'll get better.

Blue Spring Ride is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


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