Ao Haru Ride, Vol. 1

By Io Sakisaka. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret (“Betsuma”). Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Emi Louie-Nishikawa.

This is a shoujo manga, so most of you should probably be unsurprised that it is about teenage kids in high school falling in love. Actually, it starts off in middle school where we meet our hero and heroine, who meet cute, work up to going on a date… and then he never shows up, and transfers soon after, and it all falls apart. It almost feels like a one-shot, but that would be far too bitter a pill, I think, so instead we jump forward to high school, where Futaba is now slightly more outgoing and “one of the girls” (though it’s clear that she’s forcing herself), Kou returns, only he too is different from the young boy he was, and seems uncomfortable with seeing Futaba once more. Or is it just that he’s uncomfortable with seeing the company Futaba is keeping?

High school is a difficult period, and many people are still finding out who they really want to be. This is especially true in Japan, where your high school cast can be completely different from the people you knew in middle school. Futaba is a “nice normal girl”, but high school being what it is, this means that she has to smile and nod while her friends pick on the ostracized girl for being too cute and attracting the attention of the guys too much. Honestly, even without Kou breaking in and saying that her friends are fake, this was not a friendship built on a strong foundation. It’s clear that the two other girls (who I suspect we may simply never see again) were also feeling uncomfortable with Futaba in the group, and were waiting for it to break up. I really liked that the author made it clear that even though the cliche is that this is what young girls are like, she got the idea from two guys working in an office. Twisting the cliche to use it for good.

Speaking of good, the highlight of this first volume is the relationship between Futaba and Kou. Even after they reunite and she realizes that he’s become incredibly moody, standoffidh, and, well, teenage boy-ey, the chemistry between them really resonates well. This was also true of Strobe Edge, Sakisaka’s previous series, which I also enjoye4d. Futaba is seeing working to try to improve and stay true to herself, at first befriending the bullied girl “on the sly”, then defending her despite what it costs her. As for Kou, clearly the issues surrounding his family’s split are going to be resonating through the volumes to come. Hopefully then we will also get more information on the bullied girl, who seems like a sweetie pie, as well as the standard shoujo ice queen with long black hair, who seems to have an overenthusiastic boy trying to get her to make friends.

In other words, this is just the start of a long ride, which fits in nicely with the title. Fans of shoujo romance should absolutely check this out, as it’s got interesting characters and a sweet nature to it.

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