Recently, it was the Spring Equinox, and that usually means that things get warmed… evidently not in Canada this year, but I really wanted to share with you all a shojo manga that I really think captures the sentiments of new love in Spring time. Today, we’re looking at Ao Haru Ride or rather, Blue Spring Ride.
When I finished Strobe Edge by Io Sakisaka, I really had a hard time figuring out what manga I wanted to delve into next. Sure I had tried different shojo ones and I’d been catching up on a lot of shonen lately, nothing seemed to fit that void that Strobe Edge had left in my heart. I found Ao Haru Ride on one the manga sites perchance on the first pages of featured shojo manga on the online manga fan-sub sites. I was curious about it because it was drawn by one of my favourite mangekas and also very apprehensive because I was worried many of the characters would like too similar to Strobe Edge and the storyline would be pretty identical as well. Ao Haru Ride refreshingly refuted all my worries.
Ao Haru Ride is about a girl named Yoshioka Futaba and a boy named Kou Tanaka who had feelings for each other towards the end of middle school. Because of a slight misunderstanding and some pre-teen awkwardness, both lost the opportunity to confess their feelings for each other. Now having ventured into high school, Yoshioka puts on a tomboy-ish unladylike front to keep her super girly and prone-to-jealousy friends, around her. When she meets Kou Tanaka… he’s not the same as he is before and it seems like he’s changed very much from that awkward skinny little boy she bumped in the rain so many years ago. This is only the main storyline, naturally, each of Futaba’s friends and classmates get their side stories as well.
Though Futaba and Kou’s relationship/friendship is the main focus of the plot, I would argue that the side characters in Ao Haru Ride, though the series has yet to be completed, are more well developed than the side characters in Strobe Edge. Yuuri Makita and Shuuko Murao, like Futaba, are all sort of ostracized from the class in their own ways – Yuuri because she’s just too cute and the guys love her while the girls hate and Shuuko because she comes off as cold and callous. These three girls somehow becomes a tight knit group of friends. On the boys’ side, I’m sure Sakisaka really loves her small boy duos, because Kou and his cheery classmate Aya Kominato (who openly declares his feelings for Shuuko on a regular basis) are their own group. The third party paralleling Ando from Strobe Edge is Touma Kikuchi, a boy in Futaba’s year who has a crush on her and who persistently pursues her without tact at all. I draw a line between Kikuchi and Ando. The main different between these third parties is that Ando has so much tact and charm while Kikuchi just consistently hassles Futaba around the school. Futaba may not notice it but it’s obvious to the reader that Kikuchi is really insecure and he doesn’t know when to back off. The best thing about Sakisaka’s characters is that they are ALL easily distinguishable once you get into the story. Although Kou bears some resemblance to Ren from Strobe Edge, the look in Kou’s eyes are intensely different. Sakisaka’s subtleness in art style and attention to detail really helps you visually catch the differences without adding too much excess to the characters.
Whereas Strobe Edge is much more innocent in the sense that many of the characters are just stumbling into their first relationships and trying to make sense of it all in a confined space, i.e. the school, Ao Haru Ride is much deeper in that it encompasses middle school days, high school days and ventures into the realm of family as well. Ao Haru Ride also goes into a bit of the relationship taboos with age – senior/junior relationships. Naturally, Sakisaka’s characters come off as realistic and organic, with a unique character for almost everyone to relate to. There isn’t crazy drama between girls and their friends because really, that doesn’t happen in real life. The lack of female drama is partially why I love Sakisaka’s stories so much.
What’s really interesting and different about the storytelling between Ao Haru Ride and Strobe Edge is that whereas Strobe Edge is mainly told from Ninako’s perspective with the occasional rare other character perspective (but never Ren, the main guy character), Ao Haru Ride bounces the story’s narrative perspective between ALL the characters. The good looking hero and aloof Kou is no longer that aloof now that he’s officially pursuing Futaba. We’re given Futaba X Kou insight and Futaba X Kikuchi insight from Shuuko, Makita, Youichi, Murao and even Narumi who plays a smaller supporting role. This group of supporting character friends seem much more invested into meddling than Tsukasa, Yu and the others in Strobe Edge.
Chapters 1-38 Thus Far…
We got some really nice moments between Futaba and Kou at the beginning of the series as well as a bit of the misunderstanding on the girls’ part between Futaba, Kou and Kou’s old middle school friend, Yui Narumi who went through the same family issues as Kou. As well, we find out that Shuuko and Kou’s older brother, Youichi Tanaka (who’s actually one of their teachers), sort of have feelings for each other but because of the age and social position disparity, are unable to continue. Kominato relentlessly pursues Shuuko and becomes disillusioned near chapters 37-38. Makita, who initially had a crush on Kou, was rejected and ended up with one of Kikuchi’s best friends. They are just SO adorable together because they bonded through their efforts to get their own best friends together. It was just really sweet. As of chapter 38, Futaba and Kikushi are going out and even though Kou’s worked out the misunderstanding with Narumi, he’s a bit too late and now the girl he likes isn’t single anymore. I really hope Futaba breaks up with Kikuchi soon, I mean, it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t go doki doki in front of him like she does in front of Kou. As well, I hope that Kominato succeeds in moving the closed heart of Ice Princess Shuuko. I think he has the potential to turn into a really mature and great character at the end.
I hope you guys liked this review and I hope you’ll give Ao Haru Ride a try. It is hitting the number two rank on my favourite shojo manga list right under Strobe Edge and who knows? It might just become a huge favourite by the end of the series. Also, news of the Ao Haru Ride anime adaptation has been officially released and while I am nervous of how the animation of Sakisaka’s style will emerge, I’m also super excited to see my favourite characters come to life on the screen. Let me know what you think of the series thus far if you’re following it and thank you guys for reading!
What are you pondering today?