Ao Haru Ride, Volume 1

I remember when Io Sakisaka’s series Strobe Edge was announced initially there was plenty of excitement, but also many many people wondering, “What about Ao Haru Ride?” So I was excited when I heard that this series was being added to the Shojo Beat lineup, even though I wasn’t terribly familiar with it. The story opens with a bit of a prequel as Futaba spends her time in the junior high hallways attempting to escape any attention from boys, because she thinks they are loud and obnoxious. The only exception to her “No Boys Allowed” rule is Kou Tanaka, who is short, quiet, and gentle. After a couple random close encounters they agree to go on a date, but Tanaka overhears Futaba proclaiming her hatred of all men when she gets teased. Futaba waits alone for her date, and then Tanaka moves over the summer, so she’s never able to find out what has happened to him.

Fast forward into the present time and Futaba still wonders about Tanaka as she attends high school, where’s she’s determined to reinvent herself after being ostracized in junior high. She tries to play down her good looks and attractiveness, because she doesn’t want her new “friends” to think that she’s attempting to look cute for boys. There’s a classmate named Mabuchi who dimly reminds Futuba of Tanaka, but she tells herself that he’s too tall to be her long-lost friend. While Futaba continues to go through her tomboyish charade to fit in with the mean girls, she takes notice of a couple different girls in her class who are all alone, who actually seems interesting. While Futaba tells herself that she’s better off with her girl group, I think she’s unconsciously drawn to people who would be much better friends, given the chance.

Tanaka/Mabuchi is very intriguing in this first volume. He smirks at Futuba a bit, and when she starts to realize who he might be, reveals himself to her by leading her back to a shrine where they waited out a rainstorm when they were younger. He seems like a snarkier, more cynical version of his younger self, even though it seems like he can’t help himself from occasionally being kind. His kind actions are immediately balanced out by his habit of bluntly commenting on Futaba’s life, for example by telling her that she has “fake friends”. Sakikasa has a winning way with facial expressions, but one of the things I loved in this first volume was the sense of place, seeing Futuba and Tanaka having charged encounters in the shrine many years apart evoked the themes of both future and nostalgia that Ao Haru Ride is touching upon.

Unusually for a shoujo manga, this first volume covers the first year of high school, but it shows Futuba making some important decisions about who she wants to be as a person, helped along by Tanaka’s blunt prodding. Ao Haru Ride reminded me most of series like We Were There and the Sand Chronicles, just in terms of having the potential to develop into a very sensitive and emotional love story as the characters work through various complex issues. I feel like it has been some time since we’ve seen a series with such a strong emotional core story, and Ao Haru Ride seems like it has exactly that type of potential.

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