Ao Haru Ride, by Io Sakisaka, is a shojo romance manga that has both impressed and frustrated me as I’ve read it. Since the final volume just recently came out, I’m eager to share all of my thoughts on this series.
In middle school, Futaba didn’t like boys and found them to be too loud and obnoxious, with one exception: the gentle and kind Kou Tanaka. Futaba found herself drawn to him despite herself and it seemed like he might like her too! When Kou invites her to attend a festival with him, Futaba agrees, but Kou doesn’t show up at their meeting spot on the night of their date and later Futaba discovers that he suddenly moved away. Despite that fact that her feelings never went anywhere, Futaba has trouble forgetting her first crush wonders what might have been if circumstances had been different. When she enters high school, Futaba is overjoyed when she runs into Kou again, but it soon becomes clear that both of them have changed a lot since junior high. Kou acts coldly towards her now and Futaba has created a tom-boyish persona in order to ward off any potential interest from guys and to help her fit in better with the other girls. Are they too different now to pick up where they left off? Or, is it possible that Kou and Futaba could get a second chance at love?
In a lot of ways Ao Haru Ride is a very standard shoujo manga. There are rivals, a bit of a mystery surrounding what has caused Kou to change so much and, of course, plenty of inter-personal drama. That said, there are a few elements that allow this series to rise above the average teen romance.
1. The focus on friendship:
The early volumes in the series focus a lot on Kou and Futaba making friends with some of the other kids in their class while they simultaneously get to know each other again. Futaba’s most recent friendships have been very shallow, thanks to the performance she was putting on, but she resolves to be more true to herself and starts to form genuine bonds with two other girls: Yuri and Shoko. Yuri is a girly-girl who was being ostracized by the other girls in class, because she received so much attention from the boys, and she’s delighted to make friends with Futaba. Shoko is a cool and reserved loner, but she starts to come out of her shell as the girls get closer to each other. The three of them make a ridiculously cute trio of friends and their different personalities compliment each other well. Meanwhile, Kou reluctantly becomes friends with a boy named Kominato, an outgoing and cheerful boy who acts as a great foil for Kou and who gives him some helpful advice on more then one occasion, even though Kou doesn’t always follow it. It was really fun to see the five of them all interact with each other and the early volumes of Ao Haru Ride, which focus on them all becoming friends, are my favourite in the series.
2. Futaba’s sometimes surprising maturity:
Every so often, Futaba will handle a problem in a way that shocks me with how down-to-earth and mature it is. A prime example of this is when she discovers that Yuri has developed a crush on Kou, right around the same time that she realizes that she herself still has feelings for him. Rather then be petty and jealous or try to hide her true feelings, Futaba tells Yuri the truth about how she also likes Kou and, because their friendship is so important to both of them, they talk it out and agree to wish each other luck and do their best to accept the outcome if Kou decides to go-out with either of them. It is the sweetest scene in the series and I love that they were able to work the situation out early and stay friends, instead of having the problem grow bigger and bigger until it blew up in their faces because Futaba couldn’t just be honest. I wish more shoujo heroines were this practical.
3. The secondary romance plots:
Both Yuri and Shoko have their own adorable romance sub-plots that are delightful to read. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that Yuri’s crush on Kou doesn’t pan out for her. True to her word, she doesn’t dwell on her rejection and moves on and eventually falls for a different boy and has a wholesome little romance with him. Meanwhile, Kominato has a huge crush on Shoko and spends just about the entire series pining after her. Kominato is a sweet guy and, by the end of the series, I was even more invested in seeing things work out between him and Shoko then I was in the main couple. Both of these relationships add to the cuteness and overall flavour of the series and I was glad that they were included.
So, overall, there is a lot of things to like about Ao Haru Ride, but it isn’t a perfect series and, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, there were a few things that had me shaking my head in frustration.
1. The Rivals:
While I enjoyed the whole series, most of my favourite parts are in the early volumes and I found that the manga wasn’t quite as much fun when the love-rivals show up in the later part of the story and the drama becomes heightened. This might be a personal preference thing, some people might find these later volumes to be more exciting, and they are definitely still good. My main problem is that, once the rivals enter the picture, Kou kind of starts acting like an idiot.
The rival for Kou’s affections is Narumi, a girl who Kou knows from his old school and who has recently experienced a tragedy. I won’t go into any details, so as to avoid spoilers, but Kou wants to be there for her because he understands what she’s going through in a way that he knows other people won’t. This is fine and good, after all, they were friends, so of course he wants to support her. What complicates things is that Narumi had previously confessed that she likes Kou and, while she claims that she’s over him, Kou is pretty sure that this is a lie (spoiler alert: it’s totally a lie!). Then, despite warnings from Kominato that he should avoid becoming Narumi’s sole source of support during this vulnerable time, Kou makes the weird and patronizing decision to reject Futaba in favour of spending more time with Narumi, hurting Futaba and getting Narumi’s hopes up unnecessarily, only to dash them later. I really don’t understand why Kou thought he couldn’t be with Futaba and be a friend to Narumi at the same time. All he had to do was be clear with Narumi about where things stood between them and open with Futaba about the situation. But no, instead of being honest and upfront with either girl or doing something that might have actually been helpful, like helping Narumi to make new friends so she would have multiple people to turn to for support, Kou makes a complete mess of everything! This is what I mean when I say that this series can be frustrating.
Meanwhile, since Kou has torpedoed his relationship with Futaba, Toma, a nice and open-hearted boy who goes to their school, seizes the opportunity to make a move on Futaba. So here is were things get a little complicated for me. Toma and Futaba get along so well and make such a seriously cute couple, that I kind of ended up having mixed feelings about who I wanted Futaba to end up with. I mean, up until this moment, I’d been all on board with Futaba and Kou getting together, but with Kou acting like such a dumb-dumb and Toma being such a sweet-heart with Futaba, I can’t help but wonder if she might be happier with Toma…
2. Kou’s brother:
My other major beef with this series is related to Kou’s brother, Yoichi Tanaka, who is a teacher at the main character’s school. I enjoyed this character when the manga was exploring his relationship with his brother, as they had an interesting dynamic and it was fun to see him tease Kou. If that had been his only role in the series, I suspect that I would have liked him, however, he is also the person who Shoko has a secret crush on at the start of the series. The manga came very close to handling this subplot in a good way, Shoko doesn’t end up in any kind of a relationship with Mr. Tanaka and he doesn’t encourage her interest. But, just when I was about to congratulate the author on handling the subject matter in a realistic and proper way, it is then implied that Mr. Tanaka is actually interested in Shoko, despite their age difference and the fact that she is a teen, and that he is only holding back because he’s her teacher. Gross! He also starts goading Kominato to make a move on Shoko in a really weird and inappropriate way. I wish that the mangaka had resisted the urge to make this teacher so creepy, but, alas, here we are.
While it isn’t a perfect manga, there were more things that I liked about this series then there were things that I had a problem with and I found the ending to the series to be moving and, ultimately, satisfying. If you’re looking for a cute shojou romance with a few twists and turns and plenty of emotional moments, I’d recommend Ao Haru Ride.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10
For more information on this series, visit Viz Media’s website.
What did you think of this series? Any thoughts on the anime? Let me know in the comments!
Also, be sure to check out my review of the first volume of Io Sakisaka’s other series: