School and friendship animes seem to go together like corned beef and mustard (and I find horseradish mustard works best for that). This offering, “Ao Haru Ride” (“Blue Spring Ride”), treads familiar ground, but in a different way.
Futaba Yoshioka (second stamp from left) wants to change up her life, leaving behind her previous school and reputation. You see, in junior high, the girls ostracized Futaba because too many junior high boys liked her. That was only half the problem, as the only boy Futaba liked (and I mean REALLY liked), Kou Tanaka, moved away before she could tell him how she felt.
That was then. Now in high school, Futaba is determined to be unladylike (well, more tomboyish) so her new friends will not become jealous of her. While living her new life contentedly, she meets Kou again, but he now uses the name Kou Mabuchi (and he is the far left stamp) and has a cold attitude, not only towards her, but to a lot of people. He tells her that he liked her as well in junior high, but feels differently now. That was then.
The series runs on two tracks: the first is seeing if they can get back together and the second is making new friends. This comes to fruition when the class needs some reps and Futuba grabs them all up. The other three (moving to the right):
Yūri Makita. She is seen as a bit of a phony, putting on a ‘cute’ act, but she would rather be hated for who she is than liked for whom she isn’t.
Shūko Murao. She has a hard time being around people, so everyone is kept at arm’s length, which keeps her from becoming hurt, but at great personal and emotional expense.
Aya Kominato. The most normal of the group, he has an unrequited love for Shuko and hopes to defrost her heart.
We do see these people slowly warm to each other, but the biggest piece of work is between Futaba and Kou. She wants things as they were, when they were friends and cared for one another. He does not want to go back to that time, as it was more emotionally painful for him than he wants to admit (and that is part of the closing episode arc, which prevents me from saying more without ruining things….unless I have said just a tad too much).
I also enjoyed Futaba’s false starts. Yes, it is difficult to make yourself anew when you still have the same components. As James Thurber once remarked, “The only thing you can make with cookie dough is cookies.” But she is bound and determined to be something else, something more and something better. The course of true love never runs smooth and this show presents that is all of its painful glory. If I have a nag (and how many reviews have I given where I didn’t have a nag?) is that Kou is a bit too standoffish, too emotionally hurt, too unforgiving. I assume it was done to help with the payoff at the end, but that’s just a thought.
All in all, a nice approach to a tried-and-true plotline that has just enough of a curve in it to hold your interest. It held mine.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 8 (Appealing without being too cute)
Plot 8 (Good use of a standard story)
Pacing 7 (Hits a few slow spots)
Effectiveness 7 (A smudge maudlin at the ending)
Conclusion 7 (It reaches a ‘coupler’, but doesn’t really end)
Fan Service 2 (A similar show would be “Okamisan”)
Overall 8 (Good use of support characters)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. More bread for lunch?