Spring is the time for love! Ao Haru Ride, literally meaning “Blue Spring Ride,” is a sweet little anime about the reblooming love between two young people who have been separated for a while but find themselves thrown back together. This is a great example of a romance anime that improves as the series progresses. If you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded at the end. A very pleasant ride!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 8

These characters have depth, intricacies. They are very human. Their very human circumstances and behaviors and insecurities are very real. This is one of those great things I love about anime!

Kou in particular has more intricacies than we’re accustomed to seeing in a male anime character, in any genre. It’s insightful how the author portrays him turning inward, muddling his thoughts internally and pushing everyone else away. The only interaction he seeks is from detached relationships with those stragglers we see a couple of times in the inner city. He maintains his distance from everyone else, even to the point of explicitly rejecting the girl he truly loves. It’s also insightful that he can’t completely hide those feelings, as I’ll explain below.

Kou and Futaba, hmm. Young lovers trying to learn more about each other, struggling with their feelings, struggling to understand their feelings, struggling to know what they’re feeling. It sounds very typical right? And it is. But it works very well here. There’s nothing splashy or gut-wrenching about their romance, nor any particular reason why they absolutely must belong together. They’re both a little lonely, more so than most people, and we’re made to think they’re very similar ultimately, but I don’t think that particularly matters. They just meet in a convenient set of circumstances and they both fall in love. It’s very human.

I think the best thing about their romance is that they’ve loved each other from that moment. A lot of things have happened in their lives since that rainy afternoon, particularly for Kou. But no matter how much he tries to hide it, and no matter how confuzzled Futaba is about her feelings, they’ve never actually stopped loving each other. All throughout the show, Kou and Futaba are always around each other. Kou, in particular, always wants to touch Futaba, and usually around the face. He’s fascinated with her face, as we see when he later talks about the amazing face she makes when she’s running after him to save him. It’s scorched into his memory. It’s subtle, and fits with his reticent personality, and it’s so sweet. This is the only way we get a glimpse at his true feelings. He cannot hide them completely. And most especially, he can’t hide them around Futaba. No matter how hard he tries to hide his true self, there’s no way he can avoid making contact with her, and in the most basic human way, physical human touch. I think, therefore, not only does he still love her, he’s obsessed with her.

It’s more obvious that she never stops loving him, since we follow her as the MC and we get to hear all her innermost thoughts. But even some of those thoughts try to hide those feelings, but ultimately we can see through it. By the end of the show, how they interact hasn’t really changed, and yet they both admit they’re in love with the other.

That’s the only change between them, opening their hearts to each other. It’s a little deeper of a concept than we’re accustomed to in school-romance anime, but still very accessible to the audience. Futaba often talks about change. Changing herself, observing Kou’s change, helping Yuuri change, etc. And while I suppose we could say Futaba and Kou change some by the end of the show, I like to think that they haven’t really changed much at all. They’re still those two shy, lonely people who met during that spring rain shower three years ago, who find themselves in each other.

These characters are a good example of how the people around us can animate our lives. Futaba and Kou are lonely people. But if we’re to discover something very human in all the characters in this show, and perhaps about humanity at the same time, it’s that all people have some loneliness about them. What’s nice about this show is that these people shine light that into each other. Whether the character is a loner by nature or by circumstance (or both in poor Kou’s case), when these guys get together they can’t maintain that distance from each other. At the end of the series, Kou’s friends are practically forcing themselves on him! It’s funny, Murao starts to speak in somewhat martial terms during the last episode, telling Futaba and Yuuri to “capture” Kou and for him to “come along gracefully.” These guys assault Kou’s fortress of loneliness, laying seige to it incessantly until he capitulates. And it’s the height of sweetness that it’s Futaba who delivers the final blow, on a beautiful spring evening with just the two of them together sharing what they always wanted: each other.

Thinking of you. Both of them.

There’s less than ten characters in this show! I love it! Not only that, the other characters only receive as much development as they need to contribute positively to the storyline, and no more. That way our focus on Kou and Futaba is maximized. This is a little thing but it’s important. The author demonstrates control over her story by doing this. We’ve all seen the supporting character types who, for better or worse, often receive so much development or attention from the author that they take over a story. Rem, Chika Fujiwara, Hisoka, Revy, Sinon, just to name a few; you and I could go on for a long time. Or if they don’t take over a story, at the least they take the spotlight from the main characters. That can work out okay, as it does with those characters I just mentioned, or it can be a big negative. You end up not remember the supporting characters much at all, yet the main characters lose something over it nonetheless. I think authors let characters take on lives of their own too much sometimes. As interesting as that concept is, if it’s not controlled to some degree, then supporting characters could take over a story.

In this anime, the writers do a great job of not letting this happen. We focus on Yuuri a little, we focus on Murao a little, we learn a little more about Kominato as times passes. And that minimal development makes for some sweet moments around those guys. A good example is Yuuri’s enduring attachment to Futaba, regardless of the fact that they find themselves rivals in love now. My favorite example is probably during the last episode when out of nowhere Futaba and Yuuri casually address the super cold Murao by her first name, Shuuko. She notices. Tanaka-sensei notices. We notice. It’s really sweet.

The characters are very human. You know how I love that anime can portray humanity in such a non-human way. This anime definitely puts that on display. All their little trials and troubles and resolutions are not going to make you cry your eyes out, but they’re still very dramatic and heartfelt, and above all are very relatable. So while there’s nothing spectacular about these characters that could make them forever memorable, they’re all crafted with a great deal of care, through the discerning eye of a skilled artist.

Artwork

Rating: 5

The only thing I don’t like about this anime is the eye style. When I can see white on all sides of an already oversized iris when the character is wearing a normal expression on their face, then to me there’s something wrong with their eyes. As “unnatural” as anime eyes are supposed to be, this is not my favorite form of that unnaturalness. It’s very round, too round. Their eyes end up seeming very far apart, too far apart. And it’s not the iris itself either. It’s “natural” for the iris to be exactly circular. We see lots of anime eyes where the iris is oval, but I have no problem with oval or circular. It’s the outline of the eyes themselves that bug me. Compare this to something like Citrus. Some of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen in anime belong to those characters. Their irises are very large and very circular. But the eye shape overall is definitely not circular. Yeah if both you and I sat down and examined Futaba’s eyes we could point to the corners and the obvious differentiation between upper and lower lid. But the overall impression is of a circular opening, like looking at the sun or moon through a telescope. It bugs me just a little.

And it is my opinion that it detracts from expressions on the characters’ faces. Futaba almost looks like she’s in a continual state of surprise! Yuuri would too, except the contrasting straight line of her bangs counteracts this a little. Contrast that with Kou, who has relatively narrow eyes by comparison. He’s supposed to have an impassive expression, but I think his eyes are more expressive than Futaba’s at times. Maybe that’s intentional, and I would like to imagine that is so, as that would be another careful touch by the artists. But I think it’s more incidental. Kou’s eyes are allowed to reshape based on emotion and expression. The girls’ eyes are not as much, trapped in this circular prison. In the few moments where the girls’ eyes are seen from different perspectives, often necessitating an abandonment of the forced circular shape, they feel a little more expressive. See some of the photos in this post.

Round

In a character-driven anime, artwork should support the story and the character portrayal. This anime does this very well. For even the artwork feels very human. Apart from the eyes, the uniforms, surroundings, lighting, etc., all have a very real-life feeling. But if I had to point to one thing that really makes me describe this artwork as “human,” it’s the coloring. Not only is everything in real-life colors, such as eyes and hair, but these colors are extremely natural. I found myself looking away from the screen and into the room around me and thinking how similar the colors were between both sights. This is not something I’ve ever noted in anime before. Fantastical colors or filtered coloring (desaturation vs. excessive saturation, tinting, etc.) are hallmarks of anime. It’s rare to see colors mimic the real world so much. And it’s very fitting for this show.

So I can complain up and down about the eyes all I want, but as long as the artwork adds to the characters and story like it does here, I can only complain so much. The love scenes between Kou and Futaba are very pretty, even if those big circles are invading your mind a little too unnaturally at times. Above all I recognize the author’s love for this style, and the artists behind the anime allow that to shine through. I can’t complain too much about something so distinctly important to an artist. I can respect her heartfelt work even if the style isn’t my favorite. So through it all, I’m happy with this artwork.

Story

Rating: 7

There’s romance where the characters fall in love right away and then go through lots of troubles or various everyday encounters for the rest of the show, finally resolving everything at the end. Golden Time is a good example of this, but there’s lots of others. Then there’s romance where the two lovers figure it out somewhere along the way. These tend to be the least memorable. I can’t even think of a good example right now. These are the shows that are often afflicted with too many characters and too many sidetracks. As I’m writing this, I guess one example of how this can be effective is Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, even if those two do get together pretty early on. And finally there’s romance where the lovers wait til the last possible moment to admit, declare, or discover their love. These are usually the most heartfelt and memorable among romance anime. Think Toradora!, one of my all time favorite romance animes. Blue Spring Ride fits squarely in this last category. Even though we know Kou and Futaba were in love at one point in the past, or at least she was with him, they don’t open their love to each other mutually until the last two episodes. And you have the added layer of coming to the realization that they’ve actually always been in love the whole time. It’s really nice.

One of the best things about this anime is that it gets better the longer you watch it. This is almost entirely due to Futaba and Kou’s gradual progression towards opening up to each other, culminating in their healing experiences near the end. But before that, it takes a little patience to continue watching this show. The story doesn’t seem to have direction. You’ve got Futaba and the thing with her fake friends and the introduction of Yuuri. You’ve got the little incidents with Murao and her love for Tanaka-sensei. The show starts its gradual improvement during the mountain retreat arc, but even that distracts a little from the main storyline. From the introduction of this series, you realize it’s about Kou and Futaba, but then these side stories appear and don’t seem to contribute to their relationship.

But for one thing, they don’t last long. I mentioned the supporting characters only get the minimal necessary development, and it’s through these brief arcs that this occurs. It happens, you wonder why it happened for a moment, then you move on, and you know a little more about the supporting character involved. But more importantly you learn a little more each time about the two main characters. That’s the second reason I don’t mind these brief side stories. They avail lots of little moments where Kou’s shell cracks a little and Futaba’s light shines into his world. So regardless of what happens in the side stories, once you finish this anime, you realize a lot of what you were seeing were pretty moments where Kou and Futaba could express that love they couldn’t quite identify and understand themselves at the time. So it works.

So while there isn’t anything fantastic about this story, it does a great job presenting these relationships to us. It is a character-driven series, after all. Once you finish, you’ll see the thread of the main story looping in and out of the entire set of scenarios we go through. It’s not as powerful as Toradora!, but it’s like that. That show goes from fun memories and humor to impassioned love in an instant, and totally feels right, and it will melt your heart. Here in Blue Spring Ride, you’ll feel very satisfied looking back, and very happy for Futaba and Kou, without feeling like your heart will bust out of you chest. So it has a lighter feel to it, which has as much merit as the impact of Toradora!. We can’t constantly have our hearts exposed to such levels of emotion, so when you find sweet little stories like this one that make your heart happy without leaving you in tears for hours, it’s always a pleasant experience.

Overall: 7

I mentioned this anime is very “human” and the characters have lots of intricacies. A couple of elements stuck out to me in this regard.

The first is Kou’s impassivity. The author adheres to this all the way to the last moment. And that makes that final moment that much more heartfelt. Futaba stands over Kou on hands and knees in that evening scene in the grass, and addresses exactly what I had just realized a moment before: Kou never expresses any emotion. He neither laughs nor smiles. And from that time on, you’re waiting for the moment he’ll do one of those things. And while I don’t think he ever laughs, the slight smile he finally cracks is rewarding. Usually we associate this matter of smiling with female characters. A certain character has a smile we like, or we see a character we feel bad for finally smile, and it makes us really happy. It’s a lot rarer for it to happen with a male character. Even I found it heartwarming.

The first but hopefully not the last.

The second is very brief, but tells us a lot about how properly placed and developed the supporting characters are. Right at the end of the series, Kou leaves the classroom before everyone else, and they don’t immediately know that he left. Once they do, Futaba of course runs after him. The latest Rejection Squad member Yuuri follows her. Murao, cold but warming, follows slowly behind them at a short distance, not mirroring their energetic enthusiasm. Almost surprisingly, Futaba and Yuuri stop and turn to her. After a brief exchange, she tells them to go “capture” Kou. But that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part happens when they respond. Futaba tells her “We’ll wait by the entrance!” Murao’s resulting smile tells you everything. It seems unremarkable, but I think this is a very beautiful, human moment. How many of us have a friend who would take the time to turn to us and say “I’ll wait for you?” It means that’s a very special friend. It’s little things like this that make me admire an artist. The author of this manga-turned-anime is very aware of these little, unremarkable, but extremely impactful human elements, and it shines through beautifully in her work.

Futaba sets her foot down lightly while speaking to Kou. Little things like this have great meaning to the author and the artists, and I can’t help but see their care in these little touches.

Nothing spectacular, but very satisfying. You have to stay with it! For those of you inclined to drop a series if it doesn’t catch your attention in the first episode, you’re not going to make it through this. And that’s okay. I’ve dropped lots of series in my time. I had difficulty staying with this show, mostly because the story didn’t wasn’t emerging or progressing and because of the eye styling. But if you can manage to stick with it, you’ll get a nice reward at the end.

One of the absolute best things about this series is the opening. It’s a light, sweet little song. But actually I encourage you to listen to the full song, and get the translation to your language of choice if you can find it. It might make you cry, just so you know going in. The music isn’t remarkable in this anime, but this opening is a nice touch. Like many things in this show, it contributes nicely to the whole.

So if you can survive to the halfway point or so, you’ll find this a very rewarding experience. The characters are very relatable, and the art and story are pleasantly complementary to these characters. Even if it’s a little overdramatic at times, you’ll walk away remembering Kou and Futaba, their hearts finally meeting as their spring ride comes to a happy ending.

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