Ao Haru Ride (Blue Spring Ride) Anime Review
Ao Haru Ride is a 12-episode anime series aired in 2014 that was animated by Production I.G. Production I.G. has seen significant exposure since the 90's, and has worked on many massively popular titles such as: Attack on Titan, The End of Evangelion, Guilty Crown, Eden of the East, Psycho Pass, and many others. Ao Haru Ride is based on a manga series by Io Sakisaka that was initialized in 2011, and has yet to be concluded. The official English title for the series, Blue Spring Ride, sounds a bit odd due to it being a translation of the Japanese title. There's also a live-action film of Ao Haru Ride set for release in December of 2014. The narrative of Ao Haru Ride follows protagonist Futaba Yoshioka as she struggles with how to face her past confidant, Kou Mabuchi, who suddenly returns to Futaba's hometown after moving away for three years.
Ao Haru Ride features a decent amount of characters, but focuses primarily on the relationship between Futaba and Kou.
Futaba Yoshioka isn't quite sure where her direction is in life, and is continually waned by the words of others. She dictates most of her actions by way of emotion. Being that she is easily coerced, she won't hesitate to change her perception or general mindset if she is given significant reason to do so. It's evident that Futaba longs for a sense of security and/or ultimate comprehension, which is one of the driving factors for the plot of the series.
Kou Mabuchi has a distinct personality change that occurred sometime during his departure from, and re-arrival to Futaba's hometown. During middle school, when his name was Kou Tanaka, he displayed a constant aura of friendliness and was undoubtedly authentic with his actions. However, once he returns, it's clear that something occurred that left Kou void of these attributes, to the point at which he is an entirely different person. Kou Mabuchi is a near-derisively sarcastic person with a hint of goodwill that he falls back on from time to time. Even with his sometimes cold demeanor, most of the other characters still view him in a positive light.
Kou has an older brother, named Youichi, who works as an English teacher at the high school that Kou and Futaba attend. Unlike Kou, he retains his original family name of Tanaka. He contrasts the attitude of his brother, being approachable and not indignant.
Yuuri Makita is a pint-sized loner that Futaba meets early on in the series. She's rather silly, but can be damaged from an emotional standpoint with ease. She's quick to connect with others because of this. One might go so far as to call her a less aware version of Futaba.
Aya Kominato is a gregarious young man that Futaba meets via his decision to become part of the student council. He has a fondess for Shuuko Murao. He sticks very closely to his chivalric ideals, making him disagree vehemently with the lifestyle of Kou.
Shuuko Murao is a reserved and distant girl that doesn't show compassion in anything. The only person that she behaves arduously towards is Kou's brother, which is flabbergasting given that he is a teacher. There's a great bit of fog surrounding Aya's infatuation with Shuuko, but the incident could easily be chalked up to the adage of "opposites attract."
Since Ao Haru Ride is within the demographic of shoujo, (or "girl" for those unfamiliar with Japanese demographics) it is very definite in what it is trying to say, as well as with the interactions between its characters. By this, I mean that nothing is left in the dark or unexplained in this series, so as to make it easier to follow for its target audience of 14 through 18 year-old girls. The story and setting also adhere to what a lot of girls of this age would be dealing with, such as involvement in a group of friends and the understanding of inner-workings behind the decisions of others.
However, This is not an indictment against non-teenage female viewers of this show. Being that I'm a strapping young lad myself, I did not experience any sort of alienation when viewing Ao Haru Ride. I obviously cannot be an example for all male individuals in regards to this show, since my level of femininity is nowhere near standard of the male gender. Still, understanding other cultural viewpoints or ideas can always be helpful in strengthening one's associative complex.
A particular point of fervor for this series is its main protagonist, Futaba Yoshioka. The audience is given everything that they need to know about this character in a short period of time, and it's easy to empathize with her since the viewer is just as clueless as Futaba when it comes to Kou. Maybe she seems dense at times, but this is mostly excusable due to her age.
When Kou returns to the main setting of Ao Haru Ride in episode one, it's clear that Futaba is interested in involving herself with him again, but isn't sure exactly why, and doesn't know what Kou seeks. If not for Kou's past behavior being shown to the audience prior to his negative change in character, the audience would be inclined to have animosity towards both of the main characters, since it would appear that Futaba is a moron for having concern for Kou, and that Kou himself is a blatantly rude player. This is an example of how this series sequences its events in a perfectly reasonable fashion and paces itself accordingly. Although it isn't extremely original or thought-provoking, Ao Haru Ride manages to deliver an extravagant narrative that eloquently delineates many of the problems that humans normally have.
Of course, there are some flaws that come with this. For one, most of the supporting characters don't add a whole lot to the overall plot, making me wonder why so much time was spent characterizing them if they weren't going to provide much of anything. The character interactions are also problematic at times. There's a few points where they act inhumanly or out of their standard persona for no apparent reason, and this is a particularly glaring issue since we're supposed to care about these characters. Then there is the show's comedy. The small amount of humor that it has feels grossly out of place, because it's perplexing for characters to suddenly shift their animation style and behavior out of nowhere, in a title that is otherwise presented with a concrete inclination.
Animation & Sound
In tandem with most of Production I.G.'s other efforts, Ao Haru Ride doesn't have any noteworthy flaws in its animation. However, there's a few parts where characters eyes are too far apart, or things just feel a little choppy. These things are dismissable because the visuals are more than acceptable for a setting without dissonance. It definitely isn't as eye-catching as the works of Ufotable and MAPPA are, but it's good enough.
The soundtrack is only of standard quality. The songs go along with the themes of the series well, but they aren't much more than that. There wasn't a point when I was watching this series in which a specific track stood out for me. There isn't a lot to say about the voice acting either because there isn't an English dub as of this writing, and it's difficult to discern the quality of acting that is spoken in a language that you haven't spent a great deal of time using or hearing.
Though it may not be accessible to everyone, Ao Haru Ride does exceptionally well at what is was meant to do, and nothing more than that. There's a few instances of poor quality, such as the short interjections of humor, but these aren't that irritating. Also, some of the characters don't get enough screen time and detail to be memorable. Maybe a sequel could fix this issue, but there's no indication that anything of such nature is ever coming. Those who want more from this series will have to resort to the manga. Though I have minuscule experience with the shoujo demographic, I'd say that Ao Haru Ride is a reasonable and superb way by which to be introduced to the "genre."