Blue Spring Ride
by Rebecca Silverman,
Based on the manga of the same name by Io Sakisaka, author of Strobe Edge, which was released in English by Viz, Blue Spring Ride tells a perfectly adequate variation on the shoujo romance theme. It doesn't do it as well as Say I Love You, but it also isn't painfully generic and if you're a fan of the genre, there's a lot more to like than dislike. The heroine of the piece is Futaba Yoshioka, currently a high school second year. When Futaba was in middle school, she and a boy named Kou Tanaka had mutual feelings for each other, but due to a misunderstanding, they never managed to act on them. Kou moved away shortly after things went south, and Futaba never stopped missing him in some small corner of her heart. In part this is because she genuinely liked him, but we can surmise that he also represents a better time in her school life. Shortly after Kou's move, other girls began picking on Futaba because the boys began to notice her. These factors both contributed to how Futaba decided to remake herself for high school – a non-threatening, fairly unfeminine (and thereby unattractive) tomboy. Now into her second year of high school, Futaba's new persona is well established, she's got a couple of not-quite friends, and...all of a sudden, Kou is back.
The return of Kou is the catalyst for Futaba's re-evaluation of her life. All of her feelings come rushing back (although it takes her roughly seven episodes for her to really understand that) and she goes out of her way to re-establish a relationship with him. Kou, however, has been badly wounded in his time away. He's slow to trust, uninterested (apparently) in other people, and generally annoyed with Futaba's advances. He's also now going by the name Kou Mabushi, which certainly says something about his family situation – especially since his older brother, a teacher at school, still goes by Tanaka. Slowly Futaba wins him over as a friend, and when he remarks on the changes in her, she starts to think about how she's seen and how other people see her. She doesn't go back to being pretty and feminine, but she befriends Yuuki, the girl who is currently going through what Futaba did back in middle school, as well as the stand-offish Shuko. She and Kou both begin not so much to come out of their shells as to put aside the masks that they've donned.
I personally like Futaba's efforts at not being attractive – it can be a much safer feeling not to stand out in that way, and while it is horrible that it has to even exist as a coping mechanism, it still is one that gets some women by. Kou, on the other hand, is kind of a difficult hero. While we can understand where he's coming from and see his reluctance to care for anyone – best shown in episode eight when he tells Futaba why he's not taking home the (adorable) stray cat – his treatment of Futaba is, if not exactly problematic, still is not particularly endearing. It's clear that he really does like her; he just won't let himself admit to those feelings out of fear. So he mumbles through his lines (Yuki Kaji does mumble well, though) and acts like a moderate jerk, leading Futaba on before telling her that he doesn't like her. It's an example of how understanding a character doesn't always make it easy to stomach his actions.
Blue Spring Ride makes use of a fair amount of tried-and-true shoujo romance conventions: learning to open up to someone, jerk romantic interest, love geometry, and that inevitable moment when the hero pretends to molest the heroine to show her that she's not as strong (physically) as a man. Futaba and Kou both cross lines in their behavior, but apart from that one moment in episode eight, the show is pretty tame. It also gets props for Futaba working through her problems and making an effort to communicate, something all too rarely seen in YA-targeted shows. The romance itself shares the focus with Futaba deciding to be more of herself, which is also nice.
Art and animation feel fairly standard for most of the show. There are a few off-model moments and instances of stiff walking, but the cat is always a highlight, not because I like cats, but because there's a real sense of the feline in his movements. Flashbacks to middle school are done to look like watercolors, which gives them a dreamy sense, as we get the impression both Futaba's and Kou's memories of it are. Io Sakisaka's style doesn't adapt especially well to anime, but it does retain the look of her art without getting too mired in the mirror-eyed style.
Blue Spring Ride is an enjoyable shoujo romance, not quite as different as you might hope, but it's still fun for fans of the genre. It seems to be moving a bit slowly for a show that's only supposed to have twelve episodes, but that may make the payoff better when we get to it. In any event, while this isn't a breakthrough in the genre, it's also worth half an hour each week.
Blue Spring Ride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rebecca Silverman teaches writing and literature and is the author of the fantasy novel A Tale of Apples.
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