A gentle ride, like the breeze of a blue spring.

If I had received a horoscope at the beginning of the season telling me that Ao Haru Ride would be one of the shows I’d look forward to talking about the most I would have been sceptical. Because astrology is crock. But also because, on the surface, there isn’t all that much to all that much to Ao Haru Ride. I had a conversation with Zephyr the other day about pure romance anime being a dying breed, and there must be a reason why. It may just be a question of demand; the modern viewer simply demands something more. A romantic comedy, perhaps. Or a star-crossed tragedy. Or an action show with hints of belligerent sexual tension. The last habitat of the thoroughbred romance is in shoujo anime, to the point where it is almost subsumed. And yes, while genre is already a flimsy construct and ‘target audience’ isn’t ‘genre’, if there was ever an anime that could be described as ‘shoujo’ it would be Ao Haru Ride. As I have said elsewhere, it’s so abashedly, stereotypically shoujo in its 23 minutes of talking about feelings that it could be a caricature of itself if it wasn’t playing things straight. Having Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun air just the day before made the experience rather surreal.

All that said, Ao Haru Ride turned out well because it was entirely comfortable with what it was and focused very intently on making that good. It was a love story with a ‘main couple’ and the pairing was pretty much a given, so there wasn’t as much of the ‘will they, will they not’ tension. Instead, the focus is on processes: building chemistry between the characters instead of just tying them together because they are the default couple. In fact, Ao Haru Ride goes one further; Futaba and Kou already have chemistry, and just need to rediscover it. Their past relationship allowed us to skip past much of the initial ‘boy meets girl’ faff and jump right into the drama. Futaba is quick to concede that she’s attracted to Kou, because that’s not really the important question. The important question is ‘why’ she is attracted, and whether there’s anything of that boy she used to know inside Kou.

At first, that setup sounded really cliché to me. Now, having watched the entire series, it’s…still really cliché. It doesn’t bother me as much as it perhaps should. Yeah, the developments aren’t really going to surprise you. The plot gets cheesy at times. And characters aren’t embarrassed to spout platitudes aplenty. But I found myself readily forgiving Ao Haru Ride. I’ve always been of the position that good execution easily compensates for originality. And Ao Haru Ride‘s execution can only be described as ‘meticulous’. Remember, the plot wasn’t really the point of the entire affair; the two will probably get together eventually. Every trial and obstacle thrown in the way was not done for thrill or surprise; it’s done purely to develop a relationship. Ao Haru Ride spent almost every moment of its runtime getting into the heads and its characters (well, mostly Futaba) and exploring exactly what makes them tick at any given moment. This is the kind of story where there would almost be no conflict if the characters just took some time to air our their feelings normally like sane people. Under other circumstances I would be dissatisfied, because conflict with obvious but ignored solutions is contrived conflict. But Ao Haru Ride takes great care in fleshing out its characters inner turmoils and motivations, making them believable. Indeed, while I spent many episodes critical of all the characters, it was not criticism of the writing. The characters were just flawed, and that’s a good thing—flaws demonstrate humanity and capacity for growth. If emotional repression and adolescent confusion is part of that package, then so be it. Oh yes, we won’t just spend 23 minutes talking about feelings; we’ll also talk about not talking about feelings.

Despite the anime’s very deliberate pacing we still ended at a rather curious spot. Not only did it leave several subplots largely unresolved, like the Aya, Shuuko, Tanaka-sensei love triangle, it also did things I think last episodes should never do—introduce new hooks. Kou’s father coming back into his life, that orange-haired kid from the library who may emerge as a love rival—I know they were built up from previous episodes but they’re not the sort of thing to leave hanging in the last one. Could it be? Season 2? After that title drop at the very end? I know nothing about the manga, but it still feels like the ride isn’t over yet.

32 Comments

  1. Since the very beginning I knew Ao Haru Ride was going to be one of my favourites shows. It does not provide anything surprising, but for it caught my attention very quick. Hope it gets a second season soon!

    Steph
  2. If Kimi ni Todoke got a second season then Ao Haru would surely get a second season. I love everything about this anime. I read the manga so I was scared that I might get tired of watching the anime. I was totally wrong. There was something different in the anime despite it being almost exactly like the manga. I think it was the music and the way it was directed. I still got “doki-doki” in every episode. EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT.

    floatingcloudofapples
  3. Many nods for another season here, the kid from the library showing up is just screaming to viewers “we haven’t told you about him yet”… I expected him to join the main cast before to be honest, but they got the pace perfectly right, and that’s good.

    If you read the manga, you’ll notice there’s also a more discrete cameo appearance of another main character that comes later in the story…

    Show Spoiler ▼

    Toriaezu
  4. What I liked about this shoujo is that the characters acted like real, believable people. They…actually talked to one another! Expressed their feelings! Cleared up those silly and annoying misunderstandings that usually plague most shoujo series! That doesn’t happen too often in shoujo, so it was a refreshing change of pace.

    I was just happy this show never dragged anything out. Sure, there was no progress in the relationships, but that was to be expected in only 12 episodes. I hope this gets a second season because, like you said, they introduced new hooks in the last episode. Hopefully, that wasn’t just to troll us…

    Mormegil
  5. Given the manga goes on past this point, I think this was a good stopping point. End of semester, issue with Kou’s funk resolved, everyone does well on the end of term tests, and there are issues that allow for another cour or two.

  6. It’s good to actually see characters display real and believable emotions. The entire conflict is believable.
    God I loved every episode because it was just, so simple it was refreshing. And God bless Futaba isn’t useless, she’s actually a very likable MC.
    Loved this show. The last 2 episodes were just pleasant.

    Kabble
  7. I usually don’t bother with strict romance anime but I thoroughly enjoyed Ao Haru Ride. The Opening is amazing and the story is engaging. Just enough comedy to break up the mood once in a while and just enough drama to keep it interesting. Add to that that all the characters are likeable and none of them are over the top.

    I would definitely like to see another season. If not I’m going have to track down the manga and start reading it.

  8. I really don’t like the repitive notion of “cliche” in that post.

    There are many animes that give you a simple depictation of a highschool life and the crush that the main charecter has on one of her classmates, but Ao Haru Ride was different.

    It was different in the sense that it resolved what it indicated from the start – the lonliness of the leading male charecter and his backstory, and perhaps his feelings for the female lead charecter. Of course we lived all this from Futaba’s head as well. The other side stories were all intersting but I had mine gazed on the first one.

    There are many concepts and ideas that were very relatable and slightly makes my heart itch:
    1- the idea of going back to how things were is impossible after all is changed. From episode 1 that struck me like a spear in my heart. Later on you can howeever move on to a new experience with the same people and accept the changes.
    2- the idea that if things go wrong, you could always start again. The notion of giving up after the first day is so relatable, because some of us do, and the next we realize that it was only day 1.
    3- the idea of keeping up a certain image to escape the bullying.
    4- For most girls falling in love with the same person as your friend usually damages friendships, the way Futaba resolved it was unexpected and the way Yuuri just went to the toilet and cried was a good way to take it.
    5- the idea of doing things half-assed always makes them better! Which might not be a good thing lol
    6- the idea that just because someone is older than you it doesn’t make them more mature in dealing with the same issue. Sure Kou was reclusive but Youichi in the last episode made me cry at the table. To each’s own dilemma and how it was resolved. I was glad that the series actually went on to show the other’s feelings in this matter. Even the father joining in. Even when Kou went home he didn’t just go and hug his brother, he did some thinking in his room.
    7- the idea that sometimes great things are lost, but that doesn’t mean small things can also build the broken pieces of your heart back together.
    8- Always smell the back of a guy’s neck, you know, its a thing! /kidding

    If I was expecting cliche from Ao Haru ride, I would definately have seen Futaba tell Kou about “his mother not being happy if she were alive to see what he was doing”, and him just crying at the thought. His reaction was unexpected and I loved it, really.

    I am going to admit that there are some moments where I thought hmmm, maybe…. but Ao Haru Ride was good enough to shadow these thoughts. The little here and there and still unresolved matters give me that feeling that the story goes on even if the anime has ended. The orange kid who might have a crush on Futaba, the affair of Kominato-Murao-Youchi, which I think in the end we were practically misled by the sensei, the Yuuri-Futaba-Kou affair which really doesn’t have any competition in it, Futaba has already won! They are all things I look forward to really.

    Sorry my two cents in, I don’t think your review did justice so much as it should.

    Mi-Chan
    1. There is nothing inherently wrong with being cliched. After all, the reason cliches get that way in the first place is because they are popular. Frankly, there’s nothing original under the sun and, when you really get down into it, we are basically retelling the same stories over and over again. And that’s fine. It is in the nature of art to imitate art. Telling good stories in different ways has merit in and of itself. And that’s my point about Ao Haru Ride. Its premise, setting and themes are by no means revolutionary. If you’ve experienced enough fiction you’d have seen it all somewhere else before. Instead, Ao Haru Ride focuses on telling its story with meticulous care. It takes the cliche and extrapolates in great detail, putting adolescent emotional relationships under a metaphorical microscope.

      I should also note that the ‘cliche level’ of any particular piece of literature is largely a subjective affair, simply because you and I obvious will have experienced related media differently. Which is why it is doubly important that we don’t automatically treat the existence of cliches to be a sin, but judge the specific use of cliche.

  9. As a manga reader, trust me when I say your better off at this stopping point than if you go further in. The first half’s love triangles do get resolved but that is nothing compared to the later drama.
    Personally speaking I think this was the best stopping point. Kou finally gets better, some proper development was had and your free to think if this was worth it.

    Dime_store_Magic
      1. Haha I don’t mean that as a negative but I think the second half’s unresolved issues are more taxing than this point, kinda like a zero sum game. It still remains an engaging shojo series but if the anime did go for two cour, I just know they would have no choice but to leave circumstances hair-tearingly unresolved or anime original ending.
        The tone never changes though, just the circumstances.

        Dime_store_Magic
    1. That is a question that really depends on your taste and how much comedy/drama or other stuff you’re comfortable with. You’re going to find a lot more in manga form just because of the demographics of who watches anime and buys the BDs.

      My favorite would be Kimi ni Todoke. Off the top of my head, Honey and Clover, and True Tears are others that have been popular. I like Toradora quite a bit but it does have some comedy thrown in. I think it has some emotional and one incredibly romantic scene though they occur in the second cour.

    2. I point you towards ef: a Tale of Memories and it’s sequel a Tale of Melodies, White Album 2, Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien & True Tears. They’re all excellent shows and could even be considered masterpieces in the romance genre.

      MgMaster
  10. Hmmm, maybe I’ll pick this one up. I dropped it after the 1st episode since I’m not much of a fan of most shoujo tropes, especially a male lead like Ao Haru Ride seemed to have. I do like a good pure romance, it’s just that I’m pretentious as hell when it comes to it, probably moreso than with most genres.

    And…

    I had a conversation with Zephyr the other day about pure romance anime being a dying breed.

    Maybe but shows like White Album 2 gives me hope that there will still be a few great ones every once in a while so I don’t think they’ll die out entirely, although they will be rare(heck, they already are). I’m still hoping for a 2nd season sometimes in 2015.

    MgMaster
  11. This anime really got me, I often have a hard time picking out good romance animes that don’t leave me either hating the main lead or hating the male attraction, but he grew on me, the romance wasn’t forced and I always felt like with every scene I was falling more and more in love with both of them being together. This needs a second season! Only part im not too fond of is the fact they attempted to introduce a new character in the final run when I really wasn’t looking for that despite being a manga reader. Another thing, I wonder if they intentionally meant to mislead the audience with last weeks preview showing the two mains holding hands or maybe they just slipped in a clip from a previous scene but it made me believe we’d have an anime original ending. Oh well, best romance this season and i’ll ANXIOUSLY wait for me.

    Jasmine
  12. know this is off topic but what if someone made a maho shoujo show that has a similar premise to sailor moon but had a ten year old girl protagonist and that protagonist’s rival was a boy also ten years old. does anyone think Otaku would rage about the show because it wasn’t catered to them?

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