Ao Haru Ride is a manga I’ve lived the last ten years of my life with. I started reading this shoujo staple when it came out in 2011 and followed it monthly for the entirety of its four year run. I watched the 2014 anime series and always looked back on it fondly whenever I saw Futaba or Kou scrolling on the web. It was a small piece of the shoujo fantasy I always pictured myself in whenever I wanted to play make-believe. When the mood strikes, some people watch romcoms, some people read romance novel, and some people, like me, read manga like Ao Haru Ride. It is prime, grade-A shoujo trash.
So when my brother told me had started collecting the series last year, I was shocked. My brother reading shoujo trash? And not just any shoujo trash, but a series that was special to me during my high school years? When he told me, I asked if I could borrow what he owned and soon completed his collection. Now, after a reread of this shoujo triumph, I can report what I knew about this series from the start:
It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad because it’s entertaining as hell.
No one reads shoujo for its intricate and fascinating plot synopsis; people read shoujo for the idealistic romance— the moments, the glances, the innocent but intense desire. Ao Haru Ride is one of the best in the business at perfecting these scenes. Even when the plot was filled with easily avoidable communication issues and poor decisions, its romantic atmosphere and presentation keeps me hooked. Whenever Kou and Futaba are on screen together, I cannot keep my eyes off them. Their chemistry is tangible and absolutely addicting. Their constant tumbles through love and loss left me on the edge of my seat, even during the series’ rough parts.
The standout in Ao Haru Ride is its character writing; Futaba and Kou ride the fine line of shoujo stereotypes while still being fully realized characters. Futaba never gets too “genki girl” and only sometimes falls into melodramatic tendencies. Reading this manga in high school, I related to her character. She wasn’t too girly or too shy; she was more proactive and grounded than the other shoujo heroines I had met. I was constantly rooting for her, whether she was right or wrong. Kou’s character arc is equally as fascinating. In the hopes of keeping things spoiler free, let’s just say his story is a bit darker and more emotional than you would expect. It is executed brilliantly in both the anime and manga; the conclusion of this arc is a triumph without any romance attached. Watching them both grow and develop as characters in a realistic way (or as realistic as shoujo can be) is really satisfying early on in the story. Unfortunately a lot of this great writing and payoff takes a backseat in the second half.
The series gets redundant in its storytelling. In its first half, Futaba and Kou make wonderful, sensical leaps in character and relationship development only for them to constantly be pushed back by...nothing really. I feel like the story was making the cast hit the same character points over and over again in different ways just to elongate the story. Our main couple could have been together and happy in five volumes; in that amount of time their story arcs were complete. But shoujo trash is all about the chase...and that is where the series drags.
I think having a few volumes of Futaba and Kou being a couple and dealing with relationship changes and new social dynamics would have been way more interesting. They are such an entertaining couple that would have loved to watch them to anything but the exact same thing they did chapters before. You can see the potential this separate plot would’ve had at the end of the manga, where they get together and spend a few short chapters being a cute and adorable boy/girlfriend pair. I would’ve eaten that up forever. But if Ao Haru Ride was too good...it wouldn't be shoujo trash and I am captain of the trash train. All aboard!
It's hard not to recommend Ao Haru Ride, great art, fun characters, and loads and loads of romantic glances, embarrassing situations and moments that will make your heart go doki doki. I love Futuba— she probably deserves her own post in the future— and watching her grow, struggle, and fight her way to happiness is always satisfying, no matter how corny it gets.