First Impressions – Ao Haru Ride

Ao Haru Ride - 01 -3 Ao Haru Ride - 01 -10 Ao Haru Ride - 01 -19

Well – it was no “Let’s Fall in Love”…

If Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun was the series that blurs all the demographic lines, Ao Haru Ride is the opposite.  This is a show that wears its shoujo proudly, from the moon-eyed character designs to the dialogue to the emotional tone.  There were some elements in the first episode that I quite liked, though on balance it failed to grab me in any meaningful way.  The problem with one-cour adaptations of long manga, of course, is that there isn’t a whole lot of margin for error when it comes to slow starts.

Production I.G. is the studio behind this one, and they certainly know their way around shoujo by now. Interestingly the premiere is actually a mix of two trademark shoujo visual styles – the flashback sequences to Yoshioka Futaba (Uchida Maaya) and Mabuchi (though was called Tanaka then) Kou (Kaji Yuuki) in middle school sport a very retro, 90’s look (think Brains Base).  And the present-day high school visual palette is the classic contemporary shoujo template, very similar to what I.G. delivered in Kimi ni Todoke.  The two leads were in the halting stages of a pubescent romance in middle school, which was cut short when Tanaka never showed up for a festival date and Futaba later hears that he’s transferred schools.

In the present day, Futaba is overeating and playing the tomboy in a (successful) attempt to keep herself from being too popular with boys – which was causing her to be unpopular with girls.  She hates boys, apparently – all except the Tanaka-kun of her memory – which is why it’s such a shock when she seems him in the hallways at school one day.  Thought he calls himself Mabuchi Kou thanks to a family divorce now she soon discovers that it’s the very same guy – though he’s changed considerably.  While she seems ready to pick up where they’d left off, he tells her that’s impossible – those days are gone and they can never go back.

That’s not a bad setup as shoujo premises go, and I’m curious to see what’s behind Mabuchi’s new coldness towards Futaba.  But I confess that I didn’t really get a lot of emotional connection from either of them.  This is one of those cases where casting may be an issue, and while I’m not here to re-open the Kaji Yuuki can of worms I can only be honest and say that he’s not helping the case for me.  I’ve always found Kaji to haver a very small sweet spot (Shin Sekai Yori was in it, and Noragami was close) as an actor – comedy is out, genki is bad, and he’s not good with drama or “dark and brooding” as he is here, either.  He’s not such a distraction as to be a deal-breaker but in a character-driven romance, you need more from the cast than that.  As for Uchida I’m hit-and-miss with her – I have liked some of her performances (again, Noragami, as well as Sankarea spring to mind) but found her rather grating in others.  Whether it’s her or not, for whatever reason I’m not feeling Futaba yet – she is grating on me a bit, in fact.

There was some stuff here I did like – the scene where Mabuchi saves Futaba from the bitchy attendant at the school store who accuses her of stealing bread she’s paid for was very nicely played and surprisingly tense.  And very often I find in shoujo that I like the supporting cast better than the leads, so hopefully when the rest of them are introduced Ao Haru Ride will get a little spark.  It’s not a bad premise, as I said – for me the execution just lags behind it in the premiere.  We’ll see how things look after the next episode or two.

Ao Haru Ride - 01 -7 Ao Haru Ride - 01 -8 Ao Haru Ride - 01 -9
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Ao Haru Ride - 01 -14 Ao Haru Ride - 01 -15 Ao Haru Ride - 01 -16
Ao Haru Ride - 01 -17 Ao Haru Ride - 01 -18 Ao Haru Ride - 01 -20
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22 comments

  1. e

    '…still we can try to make a go of it? '
    Manga reader here so I'm trying not to spoiler things. On the visual side the first episode it's not bad, although I almost wished they kept the borderline watercolor rendering for present time narration as well. Just personal preference.
    The meeting at the shrine and the charades fet more effective to me on paper – and the mangaka's art is pretty polished when it come to the human figure and body language, although sometimes pretty subtly so. I hope they can retain and even enhance such strong points in the following episodes… some key moments ahead would really deserve an adequate rendition at least on par with its manga source. Slow starts aside when Sakisaka nails the emotions she really nails them :,).
    Story and characters-wise the ED is giving me hope we are going to cover the good parts – including the ones answering some of your concern and of your not-being-grabbed-yet by the mains – . Personally on paper I quickly grew fond of both Futaba and Kou and of their friends/classmates but I'm a fan especially of their blond tall classmate (Kominato) featuring in the ending sequence. He's a good buddy. Let's say I'm quite happy about who's present as much as I am about who's absent (for now), ahah.
    Sakisaka Io's popularity has been on the rise since her previous work Strobe Edge (oh most beloved ) and given how SE is soon getting a live action after it alreday got both drama CDs and four novels then maybe, just maybe, a second anime season for AHR would not be impossible – also considering the studio behind the anime -.
    Last but not least I quite liked Kaji Yuki's voice here, more than I expected to in fact. TL;DR: so far so good-ish and could become pretty good if they manage to convey the manga's strong points – including friendship and some great chemistry without going the smut road -. Execution, really.

  2. S

    I'm such a sucker for these romance shows and tomboys. Kaji Yuuki didn't annoy me one bit here. And he's definitely the kind of guy with the potential to completely destroy a character, so that's a good thing

    I realised I was hooked after the bread-obaba scene. Also, I remember thinking "wow, that high school friend is pretty nice, for looking like such a bitch". Then the friend said her second sentence…

  3. c

    Well, i thought it was pretty well done………..as manga reader i sort of relived the feels of the first reading, but maybe more intensly cause i know what comes after………..

    I guess i'm a sucker for this one………..

  4. m

    I liked the visuals more when it was in the middle school years. It immediately made me think of Bokura Ga Ita, which is a good thing. I'm not sure what to think about this series yet. It started slow, which makes sense in romance/slice of life shows, and there were characters I found obnoxious (the MC's two friends were a pain) but there were also good parts. Kaji didn't bother me here. I've never hated him as much as others, I think his voice doesn't always fit, but he's never really ruined a show for me.

  5. r

    I read some of the manga, and though visually it resembles Kimi ni Todoke, storywise it is much more like Bokura Ga Ita. Angst and running in circles galore. :)

  6. k

    "This is one of those cases where casting may be an issue,"

    More likely they're just uninteresting characters who are difficult to connect to. At least from my own high school experience there's a relatively specific subset of people who can (or want to) connect to a main female character who is all perfect girlish cuteness and popularity with the boys, but has to ~tone it down~ because the other girls who are all jealous, ugly bitches (note how Futaba's two friends are clearly less pretty than Futaba or the other two girls from the OP…) are picking on her for her perfectness. And Kou is your by-the-numbers "jerkass with a hidden golden heart" designated love interest with a terrible past (I haven't read the manga but I'd bet you anything he has a terrible past and/or present – I'd also bet you anything that the blond guy from the OP will fall for Futaba and there will be a fake love triangle, fake because the endgame couple is so obvious).

    Not everything is Kaji's fault, even less Uchida Maaya's, both are doing all they can with these roles.

  7. e

    Aw. Based on what we've been shown on this episode – and only on that – I think you're being a tad too pessimistic imho. I don't think Kou behaved like a jerkass by the way. A bit enigmatic and warm one moment, colder and blunt the next. Mixed signals. But if you we go by his actions he either helped the girl outright or teased her and poked her about her behaviour… after he had been observing her new persona for a few months now and pointed out at least one uncomfortable truth. By the way she reacted to that seems he's quite right too :p. From what we've been showen I'd say his present self might say unpleasant things but he's also observant, helpful (and this ties back with his behavior in the shrine flashback ), with a trickster streak but not malicious.
    The beauty thing for goodguys/heroes is such a common device since Homer – and shoujo manga – I would not peg that against this title. And hey Futaba's friends this episode are not ugly (actually I prefer smaller eyes in my anime/manga rather than the big ones, although Sakisaka can handle them both well ). I'd say the other girl in class being isolated is as cute as Futaba and with apparently sweet demure manners btw.
    About the rest of your predictions I won't answers for obvious reasons but I do think one of this mangaka's strength is in execution even if and when she uses very common tropes. YMMV of course. In Strobe Edge at least she did a very good job from start to finish with some of those tropes and managed to make them feel fresh and engaging even for this old jaded manga reader ;).

  8. e

    P.S.: the jealousy and bitchiness and gossip and gang up… I've both witnessed and fought against that myself – although more in junior high as transfer student rather than high school – even if it definitely was not due to my beauty (XD). I didn't go for faking a new whole personality and pretend friendship – not my style at all. Strong and vocal dislike for bullies and BS among other things… – but I can see both where those two girls and Futaba are coming from and it's not hurting my enjoyment of the story :).

  9. Yes, I've seen that girls engage in that kind of behavior in middle school and high school, so that didn't strike me as unrealistic at all.

  10. e

    @Enzo: for the sake of statitics and gender equality I must say that while girls (and some women that never outgrew their teenage years… )'s tactics can be pretty obnoxious the worst of them all in my experience was one boy classmate. King of gossip and slander in town – and he brought ( mostly male) friends from other classes too. There were a few intense dramatic shoujo manga-worthy moments back then between the fake rumors and group ambushes in secluded corners. Let's just say I was not as docile as I looked 8p, or Japanese -.
    Based on the preview I'm quite looking forward to AHR's next episode as Kou and Futaba's dynamics do involve the meaning of being true to yourself and to your feelings of love romantically and otherwise.

  11. Oh, trust me – I'm not exempting boys from horrific behavior in school (I experienced some of it). It's just that the topic at-hand was specifically Futaba.

  12. e

    Trust granted. And I'm sorry (for them as well… almost… in a way. It's their shame and their loss).
    That said I'm leaving the topic rest until next week and depending on how much ground they'll manage to cover in episode #2.

  13. k

    But I never said that girls (people, in general) are never horrible to each other in high school?

    I was trying to point out the sheer eyeroll-worthiness of the premise, that our heroine is a pretty beautiful, perfect feminine girl, who is popular with the boys, who has to hide her "true self" because all the other girls (all of them, apparently) are soooo jealous of her prettiness and girlishness and popularity, because they're not as pretty or as popular. FYI: regardless of how you personally perceive them, Futaba's two "friends" are obviously coded as less attractive than her, and they're presented as bad people who are unworthy of Futaba's friendship. Also, the two other girl characters in the OP (or ED? I don't remember if there was an OP or not…) who will likely become Futaba's friends are both coded as very pretty.

    I don't even know where to start with this. Our main character seems like a raging Mary Sue whose "flaw" is that she's insecure… due to how beautiful she is. Also, pretty people shouldn't try to associate with not-pretty people because pretty girl=nice girl, not pretty girl=bad friend and jealous bitch. No, if you're pretty and popular then be proud of who you are and associate with other pretty people who understand you. (And there's the fact that being pretty and popular is somehow presented as being "oppressed"…) Yes, main heroes tend to be also pretty, but in this particular show the entire premise is based on pretty people vs not pretty people.

    Note, I'm not saying that no-one was ever bullied because they were perceived prettier and more popular than others. But the way it's presented in this series is just making me roll my eyes.

  14. e

    @kuromitsu:
    – 'Yes, main heroes tend to be also pretty, but in this particular show the entire premise is based on pretty people vs not pretty people. …. pretty girl=nice girl, non pretty girl= bad friend and jealous bitch ' argh I can't reply in detail to this yet because spoilers :,D. But if you have tried reading Strobe Edge or even some of her earlier works ( suggested: the Blue single volume ) you might find a few surprises.
    Her characters tend to be pretty in general on the outside but flaws can be found among her pretty people too, not just the supposedly less attractive ones. Also… I still can't find to blame Sakisaka for the old device of main characters tending to stand out more visually than the rest. It's a choice that can bring unfortunate implications for modern readers but the point is I think you're blaming the wrong mangaka here…

    Again trying to limit myself to what we've just watched on the pretty and popular bit you present:
    1) Futaba's depicted and perceived as pretty. So what? it's not her fault she was born pretty, but she was also perceveid as different/non fitting by her junior high class for her attitude. And she wasn't interested in boys save for the shy non-very-manly one . Way to be popular, uh? TL;DR: it's not just about looks.
    2) (related) she just changed her demeanor into a somethings less 'feminine' and put on a loud unrefined personality mask. And voilà she fits in class and one random (and non ugly) boy in school is seen noticing her but 'aw pity about her behaviour= would not date her' .
    Her looks are still appealing. Her present public persona on the other hand… and honestly the glimpse of her past with her hatred for boys is not that flattering of a moment either.
    The other boy taking note of her, really seeing her and piercing her disguise is the one from the past. TL;DR: It's not just about looks again.

    3) There's also the fact of how the petite ostracized girl in her class fits into all this but I think we'll see developments in the anime next week already.

    -' Raging Mary Sue'? I thoroughly disagree but I can't go into details yet.
    We've already glimpsed her being prejudiced and prone to generalization if not prejudice (I hate 'all boys'. ) back in junior high alread though. She's pretty. She's 'different'. She was misunderstood. She also misunderstood, misjudged, hurt the boy she had a crush on in the process and is a bit of a coward ( she was ostracized herself but she's not doing a thing for the nice girl classamte all alone in her high school class this episode. De facto she's enabling the bullying by omission/non-action ). Based on what we've being shown so far this not smell of Mary Sue to me. At all :). Neither the presentation based on this anime on its own merits is making me roll my eyes.

    See you next week in any case ( ?).

  15. k

    "Also… I still can't find to blame Sakisaka for the old device of main characters tending to stand out more visually than the rest. It's a choice that can bring unfortunate implications for modern readers but the point is I think you're blaming the wrong mangaka here…"

    That's not what I was talking about, though. The unfortunate implications I was referring to, and for which I'm blaming the mangaka, is that in this particular series the main character is literally so pretty and perfectly feminine and popular that she makes all the other girls jealous, and it's a big deal that all the non-attractive girls we see are shown as jealous, gossipy, horrible people who are below Futaba – Kou all but says this out loud. This is not something you see all the time in manga, not even shoujo manga.

    Maybe there will be pretty characters with actual flaws (that is, other than "insecure because she's too cute"), but what I'm having a problem is the issue above.

    Also, of course I wasn't talking about just looks, I was talking about Futaba being too "perfect". She's cute, she's pretty, she's feminine, she's basically "ideal" which makes all the other girls jealous and all the boys throw themselves at her – these are pretty basic Mary Sue traits, along with being misunderstood and judged. And it didn't seem to me that she deliberately judged or hurt Kou in the past, that was a classic case of anime/manga drama by one character misinterpreting a situation and the other letting them.

    Anyway, I'll be back for the next episode, but I'm not sure how long my patience will hold out for this if it continues like this. I love shoujo manga but I don't have much love for this particular genre of it (especially after the sheer brilliance that was Paradise Kiss and its treatment of many of the tropes that these manga are built on).

  16. e

    Hmmm… I really can't answer to this without spoiling unfortunately. I can only say if anything the one girl we actually saw mistreated for the reason you're pointing out in the here and now is Juuri, not the protagonist. What the mangaka is focusing on is how people deal with change.
    Also… what Kou was pointing out to Futaba was that she was faking it and as result her friendship was fake and cheap as well. Its not that her two girls are unworthy (they're still cute girls, showing a ugly side a) in their discrimination of Juuri – but hey the whole girl side of the class is doing the same. And please notice how Futaba is doing the same as well, sheep-like. She is an enabler now. How noble of a Mary Sue if she is one –
    and b) the two girls not going to the rescue of their friend at lunch – mean streak? cultural conditioning to not being involved into trouble/drawing attention? no one else helped Futaba either and I find hard to believe Kou was the only one to have noticed what's happened. Still no one helped . Lots of people are like that and still can behave fine in other circumstances ), but the point of Kou's lines is that she is pretending to be a differet person to fit with someone out of loneliness and convenience rather than true affinity.

    About the misunderstanding… eh. Sure she didn't plan to broadcast her hate for boys to the public and was badgered but she also knew which class he was in and that she was close to his class. She saw his reaction after he heard her shouting. That stung. Still she didn't try to mend things – and hey even the classic 'discretely placing an anonymous message into locker' would have been something if she was too embarassed to face him or been seen near him at school -. If this is being feminine and perfect it does not smell of perfection to me.
    AHR is not free of flaws (there are few parts after the first five volumes especially that drove me bonkers because that's when it sled into bad shoujo tropes for me and it's barely recovering in recent chapters. Strobe Edge had managed to avid basically any pitfall of the shoujo tropes it featured hence I was expecting the same level or better with AHR. C'est la vie. It does not look like the AHR anime is reaching those parts though if the ED is any indication. ) but for me they're not the same flaws you are seeing. For now let's settle abut agreeing to disagree shall we? ^^

    Ahh ParaKiss. I heard the anime glossed some of the ending parts over and thats why I've skipped it… I loved the manga especially for its ending because it really drove the point home (plus gotta love canon end ships in this even if it seems I'm among the minority ).
    If I were to chose my favourite overall work by Yazawa Ai is probably Kagen No Tsuki/Last Quarter… because unlike ParaKisu it sucked me in since the beginning and still managed to be poignant (haunting – quite literally XD – yet an hymn to accept the challenge of living and being alive ) . It did poke at a few tropes too along the way, albeit with a more serious attitude.

  17. w

    Yeah I'm not too fond of the seiyuu choices here either. I think Noragami and especially Sankarea were the only Uchida performances I really liked (Gatchaman as one I really disliked), and poor Kaji (I'd also place Zetsuen no Tempest close to his sweet spot) really does sound grossly miscast.

    I'm intrigued, and it wasn't anything close to a bad first episode. I quite liked the art, the chalk pastel flashback especially. The characters seem genuine enough as well. But I am kind of worried this'll be one of those romances where the couple have no chemistry, and don't have reason to like each other beyond "because they do."

  18. m

    I understand how it could be considered forced if the characters don't have any reason to like each other outside of "because they just do", but isn't that just realistic high school stuff anyway? Does anyone in HS ever "love someone for who they are"? No one even knows who they are in HS let alone caring about someone for truly adult reasons. Having someone be the "first love" or crush or whatever is a major deal when you're young, and having it end before it began will cause people to look back on the other person as a much more idealized version than they actually were. Especially when she sees Kou as the only guy she hasn't hated. I haven't read the manga, but if it's about getting to know each other and accepting each other for how they are different than in their memory then I think it'll be a great show with a really unique approach. If it's just the typical cliché HS shoujo problems and triangles with the inevitable main couple ending then it will range from bad to good depending on how it's done. But I don't think the MCs not having a legit reason they can state for why they like each other is typical of that age. I can't tell you why I was with anyone I dated in MS or HS outside of I thought they were attractive at the time. If this were about adults that might be a problem, though to be frank with you most adult relationships aren't about " liking someone else for who they are." That kind of thing is less than 1% of all human interaction.

    That being said it does make a story feel shallow if the feelings are there just to move the plot along, but if it's handled right it can be more realistic than two HS kids truly understanding each other and loving each other for who they are.

  19. w

    First off, I think you're giving teens too little credit. I would have said teenage romances would be more or less the same as any other. It's a little more idealised and melodramatic, but that's an experience thing. Otherwise, I think they can be just as deep and mature as any "adult" relationship. Beginning based on a mutual attraction is fine, that's realistic. But any relationship that lasts needs some form of raison d'etre, otherwise it quickly falls apart. Which is why a lot of teen "relationships" only last a couple of weeks or so. I'm going to assume this won't be one of those (it'll be 12 weeks at least), so I will be hoping to see some believable reason why they should be together.

    That said, it looks like we could be looking at 'change' as a major theme here. Kou actually says "We can't go back to the way we were" and I think if it follows along that thread it could make for something very interesting. Though if it does, it'll definitely be more tragic than romantic.

  20. w

    I hadn't reread the manga before this ep came out, and I still felt somehow warm. I love the art, and as of the moment, I think the seiyuus are ok.

    I do think, however, that the writers of this ep held something back. I remember almost being teary when I read the manga before, and it seems like they're doing a past-present-past-present pattern in this and the next eps. So I guess that's why they "held something back "—that is, the most emotional parts/super feels part.

    Now, back to the art, I love that they retained the manga's art. Sakisaka 's art in the manga is already very clean and beautiful. ^^

    Thanks for the review~

  21. Z

    This show aside, I don't think Brain's Base is the best example of "90s retro".

  22. M

    I'm kinda gonna have to skip it. I read the manga up to the most recent chapter, and while it has some lovely parts, I mostly want to stomp on the hero's head for being such an insensitive twit to the female main character. I spent too long screaming at someone to kick his head out of dumbasshood while reading the manga that I really can't go through that again. Prepare for frustration, viewers.

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