This dark and intense drama is set in a boy's high school where Kujo becomes the official leader of a gang. Kujo must constantly defend his position by playing a dangerous rooftop game with the other boys vying for his position. This manga has also been made into a film which has shown in various festivals throughout the world.
This work is Matsumoto's sandbox and it's up to you whether you want to play in it or not. His style is completely devoid of mainstream boundaries; linear narration is substituted for juxtaposition of almost non-cohesive panels. Effect of such approach is that instead of a passive observer, you feel as if you're inside of character's heads.
There are no moral of the story moments, it's more like sheer realism; you could even call it conveyance of youthful boredom. As such it obviously doesn't pertain to excitement, but mood is set in a masterful way to keep you interested. Positive points for implementation of surreal slapstick which Matsumoto doesn't even bother to throw it in subtly.
Aspects such as development are completely thrown away, these characters simply live their empty and purposeless lives. No justification is provided for their actions nor are there any hints for a better future. You'll either hate their dull existence or consider it comically realistic.
It will feel quite heavy, especially due to abundance of Japanese pop cultural references, lack of vivaciousness, ostensible non-coherence manifested in erratic presentation and simply the fact that Matsumoto refuses to serve it on platter. I'm also sure that his artwork won't appeal to many, especially since it's not consistent, albeit really shines here and there.
Aoi Haru is a dichotomic work, it's perfect in its imperfection. It's definitely not a masterpiece in every sense of that word, but for its attempt to tackle such a risky theme and present it in such an experimental way, one could consider it as masterpiece in its own standards.
Everything about this manga is kind of ugly: The art, the atmosphere, the characters' personality, the world they inhabit and their future outlook. Weirdly, that is also what makes it actually quite good.
It's strange that no one has even bothered to write a review about this awesome manga. But then again I guess it's not much of a surprise given how it isn't very well promoted. However, this manga is one of the buried treasures of the manga world.
STORY: Alright, this story is actually a compilation of several stories all done by Taiyo Matsumoto, best known for his work Black and White, about a group of students during a Blue Spring, or a dull depressing spring in which nothing happens. These kids are on the fringes of society ranging mainly from punks to thugs and it deals with their problems, many of which are quite dark and disturbing.
That said, while some of the stories are absolutely jaw-dropping (If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands, Mahjong Summer) some of the others are mediocore (Revolver: 1-3) to just plain bad. (Peace) These stories are dark and for the most part thought provoking, much like his previous work B&W, but some are just fillers that won't cause you to look twice. This is why I had to give it a 5 in this category although I consider some of the singular stories as 9s or 10s.
ART: Like Taiyo Matsumoto's other works this one's art is somewhat strange. It is not the standard manga-style as is seen in many of the shounen jump works, instead it is much more cartoony and a little more unrealistic. Some people I'm sure will be turned off by it, it took me some getting used to, but others will latch onto it from the very beginning and love it to the very end.
CHARACTER: As in many other manga compilations, the characters are hard to relate with simply because they are only in one story or chapter. The other problem with the characters is what I mentioned before, the characters themselves are just plain hard to relate to because for the most part they are punks and thugs. None of them are really driven by their own desires and they generally belong to a group and follow the demands and needs of the groups. Pretty much, they are sheep.
The only good thing is that some of the other characters in the manga, for the most part they are very minor, but they seem to have more impact on the story than the main characters do. Espiecially in the If You're Happy and You Know It... story. These characters are for the most part not sheep like the main characters and therefore much more likeable. They really make it worth reading.
ENJOYMENT: For the most part, I enjoyed this manga. Like I said before there were a couple of stories in it that I just didn't care for but then again there were some stories that I absolutely loved and reread frequently. A couple have actually inspired the way I write my own stories. For the most part I really enjoyed it.
OVERALL: Like I said before, their are a couple of bad stories, the art may not be for some people's liking, and some of the characters are rather week. BUT (And this is a big but.) some of the stories are simply masterpieces, as is to be expected by a master storyteller like Taiyo Matsumoto. It's just a a shame that he couldn't keep it up all the way through.
Despite all its faults the goods outweigh the bads, and it is certainly worth checking out espiecially if you enjoyed Black and White. As said before, it is one of the lesser known great mangas. Definately worth the read.