When it comes to shojo, it’s common for shojo manga to be licensed in the West off the back of an anime adaption, so when the Ao Haru Ride anime aired back in 2014 it was a surprise not to see the source picked up for the English market. After the manga finished publishing in Japan in early 2015 and there was still no movement in the West, many of us further lost hope of the manga ever making it over here. However, to everyone’s surprise, VIZ Media did eventually license the series for their Shojo Beat imprint, and today I’m here to review the first volume!
Ao Haru Ride follows the story of Futaba Yoshioka, who since middle school has had a dislike of boys, believing that they’re too rough and violent – that is, except for one boy: Kou Tanaka. Kou was small and gentle, so Futaba had no issues with them becoming friends and even developed a crush on him. And then Kou invites Futaba to a summer festival, with the implication of asking her out. However, shortly after, while Futaba is being hassled by some boys, Kou overhears her shouting about how she hates all boys. Not realising that Futaba holds special regards for him, Kou never turns up for their appointed meeting at the festival and then suddenly moves away. Now in high school, Futaba can’t stop thinking about her first love and wishing that she could see him again, but when this wish is granted, Futaba is in for the shock of a lifetime!
One day during school, Futaba runs into a student who looks just like Kou and shares his first name, but as the student’s family name is Mabuchi (rather than Tanaka) Futaba writes him off as a lookalike. Later that day on her way home she runs into the boy again and follows him into a nearby shrine, where Mabuchi quotes a line Kou once said to Futaba when they were kids. Futaba, realising that this really is her Kou, leaps straight into confessing the feelings she held for him so long ago, with Kou confirming that he too held feelings for her.
While this is where most characters in a shojo would happily reunite and move into some kind of relationship, Futaba’s heart is shattered when Kou reveals he no longer feels that way and they’ve both changed too much since their middle school days. Determined to get closer to him regardless, Futaba works hard on becoming Kou’s friend. Although, faced with his now mean-spirited personality, she’s surely got her work cut out for her!
What I like about this first volume of Ao Haru Ride is that it sets itself up differently to many shojo manga of late. The fact that both Futaba and Kou confess their previously held feelings upon reuniting is a breath of fresh air, and I think it’s going to be fun to see how their relationship (as friends or otherwise) develops as the story continues. Right now they’re both finding out who they are as young adults. Futaba used to be quiet but now goes out of her way to be loud and somewhat obnoxious in a bid to make the boys in her class dislike her. This mask of hers is worn so that she can fit in with a couple of female classmates who hate anyone the boys fawn over. However, when Kou comes back into her life, Futaba begins realising how silly it is to put up this kind of front instead of just being herself.
On the flip side, Kou has undergone quite a transformation himself since middle school, becoming somewhat hurtful and blunt in the way he interacts with people. There is clearly some kind of story behind his change in personality but this volume never gets far enough to give us so much as a glimpse into it. Of course, the problem with Kou’s personality being like this is that it makes him a rather unlikable character, so if you prefer your love interests to be sweet and ‘cute’ then Kou just isn’t going to cut it. I’m certainly not as fond of him as I could be, and it means that Futaba ends up being the real driving force of the story, for better or worse.
Ao Haru Ride is drawn by mangaka Io Sakisaka (Strobe Edge)and overall the artwork is quite charming throughout this volume. There are quite a few panels that are almost empty save for featuring a single member of the cast, as well as many panels where background characters lack facial features, even though they’re not that far away. Sakisaka also has a few scenes at the beginning of this book where it’s meant to be raining, but these scenes just look dreadful because the ‘rain’ looks like the ink has run all over the page. That said, the wide range of expressions Sakisaka gives Futaba and Kou definitely makes up for the shortcomings of this volume and I’m hoping that her artwork will improve as the series continues.
This volume of Ao Haru Ride comes to English thanks to VIZ Media and has been translated by Emi Louie-Nishikawa. The translation reads well and is problem-free overall. Some of you who are familiar with Japanese may be wondering why VIZ decided to call this series “Ao Haru Ride” instead of “Blue Spring Ride” (which is the translated name used for the localised anime). This is apparently because the company thought the title would be more easily recognizable to existing fans as Ao Haru Ride instead of Blue Spring Ride, despite the anime previously being released in North America. This was a really interesting decision to make, but given that the series hasn’t even been released in the UK on DVD or Blu-ray it’s not a huge issue here.
Overall Ao Haru Ride Volume 1 offers a different take on the usual shojo tropes and proves an interesting read. Unfortunately some of the artwork isn’t the best, and your interest in the series will hinge on how much you like Futaba as a lead, but regardless I’m looking forward to seeing where the manga goes from here. It’s just a shame that Kou isn’t slightly more likable.