Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride) (アオハライド)
Original Story by Io Sakisaka
Art by Io Sakisaka
Published by Bessatsu Margar from 2011 to 2015
Genres: [Shoujo] Romance, School, Slice of Life
Status of manga: Completed*
My rating for the anime: 8/10
My rating for the live action film: 6.5/10
*Review based on entire manga series
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Purchase links are not available because, as of when this review is published, this manga has yet to be officially serialized in English. However, you can still read this online with fan-subs.
3.5 Stars, Reread January 1, 2017
– read the bold text to avoid minor SPOILERS –
If I had to choose one word to describe this manga series, it would be the Japanese adjective, “懐かしい” (natsukashii). This term is difficult to translate into English accurately and completely, but it is often used to express a yearning for something, or a slightly nostalgic feeling of missing. As a non-native and amateur learning the foreign language for my own fun, how I’ve personally interpret natsukashii is the feeling you get when you’re reminded of the past. And Blue Spring Ride made me feel just that.
The story begins with two middle schoolers, Futaba Yoshioka and Kou Tanaka, that like each other making plans to attend a festival together during their school break. However, misunderstandings arise after Futaba accidentally blurts that she hates boys because of their obnoxious behavior. Kou hears her exclamation, and doesn’t meet up with Futaba the day of the event. Futaba believes that he stood her up for the outburst that he overheard, but really he couldn’t make it because of family issues. So she decides to address this misunderstanding when they return to school. But on the day of the new semester, Futaba discovers that Kou has already transferred schools to another town. With a lot of loose ends left and the strength of first love, the two never forget each other in spite of the distance. And then years later, fate makes them enrolled in the same high school. Will they finally face each other after all this time? And will the attraction they shared from the past be rekindled?
Blue Spring Ride is far from a perfect or unique manga series amongst other existing shoujo titles. There are a myriad of ridiculous tropes, cliche scenes left and right, predictable plots, and a dreaded love polygon. Yet, despite the many problematic elements (and I guess against my better judgement) I couldn’t bear to give this series a lower rating because I related to the characters and still managed to adore the story to bits.
Though a typical shoujo, I believe this one holds special, personal meaning because it reminded me of my time as a youthful teenager. As I read along Futaba and Kou’s journey, I reminisced about high school and first crushes.
I can’t explain it, but although I’m in my early 20s now, I surprisingly felt a great connection towards the teenage cast and related to their struggles when I was their age. This manga made me feel waves of nostalgia for its quintessential portrayal of sweet, young love.
The romance also made my heart flutter. I’ve expressed this in my reviews before, but my absolute favorite romantic tropes are ones that begin as childhood friends. Kou and Futaba were never best friends but their current attraction stems from a shared history, which is close enough to the romance formula I’m partial to.
“We can no longer go back though, I’m totally different from that person in the past, you too. That was just a brief reminiscing of our past, that’s all.”
However, the biggest reason why I’m downrating the manga in comparison to the anime, is because there is a crazy amount of back and forth between the main couple-especially in the second half of the manga. If you like the two characters enough (like I did), this may not bother you too bad and you’ll be able to continue and finish. However, otherwise, I’d suggest just watching the short 12 episode anime where there aren’t as many love entanglements and polygons involved. Plus, that adaptation is pretty much identical to the manga (as is, the live action version, in fact), but, of course, it doesn’t complete the entire arc of the storyline. (The live action film does, however.)
As for the two lead roles, individually…
Futaba, the female protagonist, really grew on me as the series progressed. I found her behavior at the start of the anime and manga series (after the succinct middle school arc) refreshing because she purposely acted ungirly. Her motives behind her unconventional actions are fueled by her lonely middle school years where all the girls shunned her because many boys had crushes on her. (Hmm, I guess this means that Blue Spring Ride is implicitly suggesting that girls are jealous creatures and feel threatened by other attractive girls.) So to have a better experience in high school Futaba decides to resort to this technique. She does eventually make girl friends, but not true ones. And Futaba soon begins to see the flaws in her approach with creating friendships.
“You got lost in pursuing your goal? I guess you were working so hard, you lost sight of that goal.”
More often than not, shoujo heroines can get on my nerves, but I never once felt annoyed with Futaba. She’s rootable. And I love her evolvement with each chapter.
“Sometimes people put up walls, not to keep others out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.”
And her perceptive insight and caring nature-mostly when it came to her friends and Kou-were certainly her strengths.
Another character that significantly added to my fondness towards this series was Kou. Like Futaba, I fell head over heels for him and hard. Not going to lie, some of it probably had to do with his physical appearance and the way Io Sakisaka illustrated him, because I do have a thing for fictional males in anime/manga with dark hair. Not to mention, I may also be biased because the Japanese voice actor that plays his role in the anime is Yuki Kaji (aka the guy that also voices Eren Jaeger in Attack on Titan). But, aside from those facts, I also liked Kou’s sensitivity and considerate disposition.
Despite the cruelty of his words there was something lonely in his expression.
Of the “indifferent and brooding” anime/manga guys, his personality is the most justified and understandable to me. After a loss in the family, Kou hasn’t been the same happy, shy boy as the one Futaba first meets. The new Kou is certainly cold but he’s not cruel. (Usually I find that’s normally not the case. Most are not boyfriend material, and can be pushy, dangerous, and/or abusive. Re: Takumi in Nana, Naoki in It Started With a Kiss, and Kyoya in Wolf Girl and Black Prince) Also, everything he does is plain adorable. :’)
“If you still love her, I can’t help that, but don’t meddle with her half-heartedly. If you can surpress your feelings, then leave it.”
Even though I really liked Kou and Futaba, my favorite character was actually Shuuko Murao. She’s one of the less complex characters, but I loved all the cameos she made-from her initial stoic demeanor due to her skepticism towards having fun and becoming attached to the people her age (which isn’t too far from the person I was when I started college) to her overall contribution towards the main couple’s romance and story-all the same. Shuuko also exhibits considerable growth by the end of the series. And her playing hard to get with Aya Kominato is hilarious and just as sweet as the Kou and Futaba’s relationship in its own way.
Speaking of Aya, no surprise, as a characteristic of most shoujos, this manga’s comedy didn’t disappoint and was marvelous. And I have to thank Aya for being the main perpetrator that caused all my laughter. Each volume never failed to include a lighthearted, funny scene.
And with the last character of the inner friends group, there’s Yuri Makita. I found her the least likable because, unlike Futaba, she is the typical shoujo girl. (Also, it didn’t help that I couldn’t stand how high pitched her voice actress sounded for the anime.) However what I did like was how she was introduced into the storyline. With Yuri, in a way, Blue Spring Ride briefly tackles slut shaming (or I guess cute shaming?). Yuri doesn’t dress provocatively but she’s bullied for the way she presents herself “cutely,” and is accused she’s trying to seek attention from guys because of it, which to me is equally as wrong as slutshaming if not similar.
However, aside from the two main roles, the supporting characters don’t appear to possess nearly as much depth, which is a bummer, but there is at least some growth with each.
Books with strong themes of friendship are my weakness. And the friendship dynamics and chemistry in this were absolutely brilliant.
I was proud of Kou and Aya’s growing camaraderie after Kou’s walls were broken down.
And, needless to say, I adored the girl bonding.
There are things you can only achieve together. So that someday when you look back, the people you experienced it with will see it as a happy memory with the same warmth that you do.
After last year’s string of mediocre high school reads, I thought I had surely outgrown books set in high school, but Blue Spring Ride made me reconsider this thought. Or maybe I just find high school traditions in Asia to be fascinating. Maybe that’s it. Regardless, I liked that the story took place when the cast of characters were in high school and that readers don’t follow their lives beyond that period.
Which brings me onto the subject of the ideal ending. My opinions may differ from other Kou and Futaba shippers, but I appreciated that readers didn’t get any confirmation if the characters got married or had kids. The ending suggested an open future, and that there’s the possibility that what the characters feel or have changed into by the end aren’t completely concrete for the rest of their lives. The manga has ended, but I don’t think the characters will stop changing. I mean they’re all still so young. And, realistically speaking, young love does not equate to eternal or everlasting love.
Lastly, don’t even get me started on the glorious mixed media and watercolor artwork. The art within the manga itself was pretty good, but I loved the cover art for the volumes so, so much. (I’m seriously contemplating ordering Io Sakisaka’s artbook for my upcoming birthday.)
To end this long review, the final verdict is that my enjoyment level while reading Blue Spring Ride was definitely 10/10 but the objective critic in me also acknowledges that this is probably a 6/10 at best. So with its evident flaws, I can’t promise that Blue Spring Ride would fit everyone’s taste, but I think for shoujo lovers this one will prove to be enjoyable if not great. And because I connected with the characters and storyline on a more personal level, I think this’ll remain as one of my all time favorite series despite the somewhat low rating. Without a doubt, I have plans on purchasing the series once it becomes available in my country. And I certainly plan to give Strobe Light, another series by the same mangaka, a try at some point in the near future.
Bonus: The anime soundtrack is absolutely stunning. I first watched the show sometime in 2016, and, hands down, this was one of my most listened OSTs of that year. I’ve also linked the video (above) to my favorite track, “Suki Na Hito Dake Ni.” I also obsessed over a song called “I Will” by Chelsy. Unfortunately, all the videos of “I Will” on Youtube are covers, so if you want to listen to a sample of that one you can via iTunes. (That was actually where I ended up buying the song.)