Sep 22, 2014
Stark700 (All reviews)
Ao Haru Ride (Blue Spring Ride) in the best sense can describe itself as a shoujo. The concept of a childhood girl developing a crush towards a boy is something that has been done over and over before. It also has a sense of innocence as the young Futaba Yoshioka sees boys as ‘violent’. The only exception is a boy named Kou Tanaka who she sees as gentle. The problem is that a simple misunderstanding leads to a separation between the two as Tanaka transfer from school. Simply put, the experiences that Futaba shared with Tanaka is a treasure. But that treasure right now is buried away until one day….

Based off the manga of the same name created by Io Sakisaka, the series depicts a show that hits shoujo at its very core. Recognized perhaps for her character designs from the recent movie (HAL) and the manga Strobe Edge, Ao Haru Ride also stands out on its own in a variety of ways. It takes one of the most classic genres and steers it into a direction with honesty, drama, and a show full of charm. The time for Spring is one of those seasons when youth blooms. Ao Haru Ride follows a group of characters that becomes interconnected in a story of young love and growing up.

The story revolves a group of characters during their school days. It’s easy to say that school is a setting for people to grow up and perhaps change themselves. Futaba tries to do exactly that as she makes effort to be less girly. Her actions speaks louder than words too such as when she purposely eats more than appears to be to play down her girly side. The friends she has made essentially can also be seen as the tough crowd as they ostracizes her later on. Nonetheless, Futaba is a genuine kind girl as shown through her relationship with Yuuri, a pretty classmate who is despised by other girls. Other characters joining the story includes the lone wolf Shuuko Murao and the energetic Aya Kominato. Most importantly, Kou returns but now goes by the name “Kou Mabuchi”. This isn’t the only change though. Unlike his gentle self, the new Kou makes a 180 degree personality change with his sarcastic behavior and cold gestures. Really, you’re probably asking yourself what in the world happened, right?

Parts that can make you engaged to the characters is the diversity. Almost every character has a different personality yet they all become part of the story that gets interconnected in some way. A short arc during the show also gets the main characters together to on a camping trip where they must collectively work together to succeed. It takes on development routes as circumstances are bought up between characters as they grow closer. Examples include Kou and Yuuri where the latter seems to feel more towards him than just a friend. Similarly, Shuuko also begins to open up more after confessing her own interests. Regardless, the show connects relationships in a realistic way that can be relatable. Ever wondered how love ever blooms between certain people? Ao Haru Ride pushes the buttons between the characters to both show and tell exactly just that.

Perhaps the most prominent relationship throughout the show is between Kou and Futaba. After all, there’s so much contrast in their characters that a seemingly meaningful relationship between the two just seems to be impossible. There’s a lot of teasing and sarcasm between the duo despite an obvious mutual attraction. Jealousy is also an easy feeling that both characters feel throughout the show during various scenarios. But for what’s worth, their relationship will spark a curious interest. The “will they or won’t they?” will be one of those questions viewers will ask themselves a lot of the time. Their story stabs in the heart at times when moments are broken by misunderstandings or interruptions. Nonetheless, the show has grace and spirit and isn’t afraid to pull out moments that draws them closer together. On the other hand, Kou’s actions often contrasts what he says. In essence, he is one of those guys that isn’t being entirely honest with himself and struggles to be closer with others. This stark contrast to his childhood self is an interesting insight to see as Futaba tries to remember their times together. Speaking of which, Futaba’s feelings also resurfaces as she gets to know the current Kou. While his personality as a friend has changed, she recognizes that he is still the same person she comes to love. With a depth of flashbacks, it’s easy to see how these two can connect together despite being so very different.

No relationship can be without misunderstandings and love triangles. Ao Haru Ride doesn’t break far from that as it follows the cliché. The catch is that Futaba doesn’t wish to hurt others despite of her own feelings. A part of the story depicts her inner struggles to tell a friend about what she feels towards the boy. And if you guess right, that friend also shares the same feelings as the boy he fell for. Awkward moments must be accepted for enjoyment or this show will haunt you like a ticking time bomb. Luckily the show doesn’t play on a viewer’s patience too much. Even when it gets a bit intimidating, the show still is able to manage by with its clever humor and dramatic dialogues. They are often lighthearted with no shock value or profane scenarios. The slight problem sometimes though is the way it tries, especially with its dialogues during conversations. While the drama can get emotional and feel realistic, it has empty thrills and predictable outcomes. Furthermore, there’s little you can feel at times because of the stereotypes. And because Kou and Futaba are the main focus, there’s an obvious lack of characterization on the other characters. We don’t find out too much about other characters besides who they are on the surface and their personalities. In retrospect, they feel less conventional as the love triangle is more of a plot device to draw Kou and Futaba closer together. The collateral damage is the one that’s hurt as they become a cannon fodder; without the actual injury of course.

Besides romance, friendship and family values is also explored. The main girl trio (Futaba, Yuuri, Murao) often interacts in ways that girls should be like. The key difference is that Futaba’s new friends treats her with actual sincerity. I think it’s appreciable to see how they connect with different interests. They also open up with honesty and help each other out when help is needed the most. On the other hand, there is also some family connection between Kou and his brother Yoichi Tanaka. This isn’t much explored in depth but does show that the two shares a connection despite their different personalities. Just realize that it can be dull and the awkward meetings often feels static with little interest. Luckily, this is brightened up by the humor of the show. Playing as a class clown of sorts, Aya Kominato often brightens up the series with his ebullience. A noticeable factor about him is the fact that he doesn’t have much social issues unlike many of the others. His obvious crush on Murao is often seen as a comedy relief as the latter pays little attention to his advances. While this seems amusing, the problematic development between the duo is almost non-existent. Again, the main focus of the show is Futaba and Kou so don’t expect much depth on the others; at least not on the same level as those two childhood birds.

Artwork maintains a youthful appearance throughout the series. The background centralizes on the theme of Spring with the graceful weather, palate framework, and simple yet convincing imagery. The outdoors and weather has distinctiveness with its consistency. Flashbacks are cleverly decorated with aura-like water paint to illustrate youth. However, character designs are moderate. Most characters look stiff and movements are limited. There’s less much focus on how the characters look but rather than the moments they capture. Important scenes have longer focus with a cool down time before a transition. I think the purpose for this is to create new memories and show how characters make of them during those short yet meaningful moments. But nonetheless, studio Production I.G. brings its top notch A-game when it comes to overall animation adaptation.

Soundtrack is surprisingly strong even for a shoujo series such as this. Both the OP and ED songs have colorful imagery and symbolism. The OP song possesses both energy and a girly-like feeling while the ED song depicts more of a montage. OST is well-timed during key moments to bring out the best message of what they are motivated to do. Certain background songs are also played that further heightens memorable moments. This usually applies to scenes when characters’ connections seems to be at their closest almost if they are in their own little world. Character voice mannerism also deserves praise as well as we see a sharp contrast between the former Kou Tanaka and Kou Machibi. Shuuko is also noticeable for her cold mannerism as a lone wolf but slowly adapts to a more sincere girl through her change. On the other hand, Futaba’s voice can be irritating to listen at times with her stereotype.

For a shoujo series, Ao Haru Ride is surprisingly well structured based on its story. It has the look and feel of what a shoujo series should be with its characters, visuals, and other commonly seen tropes. While the show doesn’t characterize everyone at the same level, it’s interesting to see how their lives become interconnected through one and another. And through that, relationship are developed that can be everlasting. The show also does well with its realism and wastes little time to flesh out what it’s trying to do with the premise. Indeed, the show doesn’t stride far from where it begins as we see the relationship development between Futaba and Kou. An issue might arise that makes the audience ask themselves ‘was that it?’ or when the story feels repetitive. Still, with what it has offered up in its sleeves, I can say that Ao Haru Ride is definitely a ride worth taking.