The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
Ao Haru Ride
What's It About?The time Futaba was the happiest was her first year of junior high, when she had friends and a mutual crush on Kou Tanaka. But everything vanishes in an instant when Kou doesn't show up for their date and then vanishes all together, transferring over the summer without a word.
Now in her first year of high school, Futaba has learned the hard way how mean other girls can be and she's tried her hardest not to be “too feminine” in the hopes of no longer being bullied. She doesn't even realize how unhappy she is until one day a boy who looks just like Kou appears at school. Is he really her old crush? What happened to him back in middle school? And is Futaba strong enough to try and find out, even if it means becoming a target again?
Ao Haru Ride is an original manga created by Io Sakisaka. In 2014 it was adapted into an anime, available streaming on Crunchyroll as Blue Spring Ride. Viz released volume one in October, and it sells for $9.99 for a physical copy or $6.99 for a digital one.
Is It Worth Reading?
Ao Haru Ride is the second high school romance by Io Sakisaka to be released in English, and even if you didn't read her previous series, Strobe Edge, there's a good chance you could be excited for this one based on the fact that the 2014 anime adaptation didn't end. Or rather, it didn't even pretend to have anything like a solid ending point. While we're going to have a bit of a wait to get there, that's not really a problem, because Sakisaka's the kind of author who can make you care about these kids and their drama even if you remember how difficult high school actually is.
In part, that's because Sakisaka makes no bones about that last fact in this series. When we rejoin Futaba after the prologue about her first year in middle school, it's to find a girl who has consciously decided to mold herself into the least offensive-to-other-girls person she can be. She spent most of middle school being punished by her female peers for having the gall to be remotely attractive to boys, something they referred to as “too feminine,” and they saw it as a deliberate act on Futaba's part in order to steal the boys. Ludicrous as this sounds, it's very much par for the adolescent girl course (in my experience, anyway), and Futaba made an effort to reinvent herself as a gluttonous tomboy for high school in the hopes of avoiding similar bullying. It's an all-too-believable tactic, and one she's not entirely happy with, but she really does see it as self-preservation.
That brings us to the more troubling aspect of the series' beginning. When Futaba meets Kou again, he's the one who calls her out on her new behavior, accusing her of basically not being herself. While he's absolutely right, and Futaba does know that her quest to avoid isolation has landed her with some very fake friends, Kou is the reason she takes a hard look at herself. We can see that she would have gotten there eventually, and this does set her up to help Kou re-evaluate the ways that he has changed for the worse since their last meeting, but it also feels like it takes some of the agency away from Futaba herself. We all do need a pointed comment or two at times, but it's still a bit worrisome in terms of her developmental trajectory as a character.
That aside, this is classic shoujo romance goodness. Sakisaka's art is cleaner than some and very clear and easy to read, but more important is the way that she has a deft hand with making the emotional turmoil and melodrama of teenagerhood feel, well, not melodramatic. It's easy to understand how much both Futaba and Kou are hurting, and the way that they both internally isolate themselves from their own emotions and other people makes you really want things to turn out okay for them, whatever that ends up meaning. Realism aside, Ao Haru Ride has all the hallmarks of the kind of romance you save up so as to have a few volumes to read at a time, the sort of story that's equal parts frustrating and satisfying. If that sounds good to you, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
I didn't expect to enjoy Ao Haru Ride as much as I did. Its premise is average shoujo romance, but the execution really sells it. I've known the kind of depressed boy that Tanaka is; wildly inconsistent, kind and comforting one moment and cold and cruel the next; masking all his pain behind a veneer of aloofness and better, deeper understanding. How Ao Haru Ride portrays the way we construct persona in high school, tailoring ourselves to fit certain expectations and keep friends we might not even like all that much, is spot on. Especially with our main character, who just longs for a nostalgic childhood moment that can no longer exist, as it was the only time where she was really happy. It doesn't have the deep volatility of my high school experience, but that's not not everyone's story either. Sometimes, a story that captures a more benign experience is invaluable for that reason.
Interestingly, the author notes are one of the best, most endearing parts of Ao Haru Ride. Io Sakisaka comes off as equal parts relatable and insightful, giving her thoughts a conversational, off-the-cuff air that makes them extremely pleasant to read. Sakisaka also have an abundance of emotional insight (conveyed by the material as well) that both is solid life philosophy and adds additional dimensions to the manga itself. One particular aside about gendered behavior in the wake of a particularly catty and capricious moment with a few of our side female characters, and how that kind of jealousy isn't exclusive to girls and is instead a universal behavior, is almost radical, especially for a genre that can traffic in so much gender essentialism.
Not to say Ao Haru Ride is totally free of that (heteronormativity doesn't get commented on as much as I'd have liked), but it does enough different to make it a quite insightful read. There are a lot of subtle, quiet moments in Ao Haru Ride as well, but a great deal of the psychological complexity is conveyed through internal monologue, which to some, might be a turn off.
I like Ao Haru Ride the more I reflect on it. It's solid and warm and comforting, featuring characters who I like and enough emotional depth to really make it stick in the mind. Sometimes, that's all you need.
Ao Haru Ride captures a wide scope of the average adolescent experience even without the budding romance that serves as a backdrop to everything that unfolds within its pages. The pain of a pubescent romance that ended nearly as soon as it began sticks with Futaba years later in high school, but she's moved on the best she could and is more focused on acceptance by her peers. After being the victim of ostracization in middle school amongst the girls, she makes a point of seeming as unconcerned about her appearance as possible in an effort to appeal to the girls around her in high school. It's a painful truth that many teenagers change themselves to “fit in,” and it's worth noting that Futaba is more concerned about fitting in with girls than attracting boys. When her crush turns back up in her life, instead of a melodramatic angry back-and-forth about what went wrong in middle school, the two slowly open up to each other. Kou has had family issues to deal with that make him feel unworthy of Futaba's affection, yet his newfound reemergence in her life inspires her to take baby steps toward becoming a better person, even if it means rejecting the shallow friendships she's worked so hard to cultivate. Ao Haru Ride succeeds in depicting real emotions on the page, as well as real character growth, complete with stumbles along the way.
If there's one area where the manga is lacking, though, it's the art. The character designs are appealing enough, though some of the secondary characters stand out more than the main couple, whose designs are generic. However, the backgrounds are too often obtrusively blank and minimal. While screentones help convey emotions, the relative lack of background art half the time takes away from some of the realism of the series.
Ao Haru Ride doesn't rely on melodrama or even focus on the romance to the exclusion of all other things. Its realism is appealing, as is the main cast, who all feel like thoroughly developed people even this early on. With likeable characters and a realistic storyline, Ao Haru Ride's appeal should extend even beyond the average shojo reader.
Ao Haru Ride is a popular shoujo manga that focuses around Futaba Yoshioka and her classmates. As a middle schooler, Futaba had a crush on fellow classmate, Kou Tanaka. When the two finally plan for a date during their summer vacation, Tanaka is nowhere to be found, and by the time school is back in session, Kou has moved away from home with no way to contact him. Fast-forward three years, when Futaba is finishing up her first year of high school. One day, a handsome man named Mabuchi helps her. Mabuchi feels specifically like Tanaka but has a deeper voice and cooler demeanor, but Futaba can't help but wonder. After a confrontation, Futaba is reunited with Tanaka and she's excited to start where she left off, but three years is a long time for both of them.
Most people reading this are probably already familiar with Ao Haru Ride. There is a hit 12-episode anime based on the manga, a light novel series, and even a live action movie based on the manga, and the popularity is well deserved!
Though the plot of Ao Haru Ride is not ground breaking, it's incredibly cute with relatable characters. Teens and adults can relate to having old flames coming back into their lives, feeling disingenuous, and struggling to find people to make lasting relationships with. It's a typical slice of life but I'm not complaining. Even with a predictable plot involved, I was still shocked and excited every time a typical romance trope happened! Ao Haru Ride not only is about being in a relationship with your crush but also making friends you love, and as Futaba puts it in the second volume, creating “great memories.” This manga is definitely about the journey more so than the destination and I think I'm ok with taking the scenic route.
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