Full Title: Ao Haru Ride, Blue Spring Ride
Series: 12 Episodes + an OVA
Language: Japanese, English Subtitles
Genre: Romantic Comedy, School Drama, Childhood Friends
There's two things I need to tell you to start off this review.
#1 Blue Spring Ride is my favorite romance anime.
#2 The Blue Spring Ride anime is an incomplete romantic story.
The anime tells the story from volumes 1-4 of the manga, but the manga goes on for a total of 13 volumes. So essentially what we get in the anime is the first arc of the series.
So how did an anime that is incomplete story-wise become one of my favorites?
Let me explain...
Yoshioka Futaba & Tanaka Kou knew each other in middle school. They had a brief, but impactful, first love playing games on the playground and waiting out the rain together at the neighborhood shrine. Both too shy to make a confession.
I cannot stress enough how cute this past relationship is. Depicted in dreamy watercolor flashbacks with heartfelt commentary from Futaba, we get the sense that losing such a love before it truly started is both her biggest regret & best memory.
A misunderstanding occurred between them at the end of the school year, and while Futaba prepared herself over the summer to explain things properly in the new term, Tanaka quickly moved away.
Flash forward to present day. Futaba is now in highschool and her personality is far from the earnest girl who fell for the quiet boy in class. Instead, Futaba has created a false public persona of a messy girl who overeats and is generally uncouth.
This persona appeals to the judgmental, snarky girls in her class, but more importantly, it turns off any potential male interest. Futaba would rather have girlfriends than attention from the boys which would alienate her from the jealous girls.
But is she happy?
Futaba is not being herself, her girl friends aren't great people, and she's engaged in a tiresome inner battle to upkeep this false persona.
Then, one day, she thinks she see's Tanaka at school. She chases after him, but this boy's name is Mabuchi, and she is disappointed. We the viewer get to see that while Futaba changed her outward appearance, she still carries the same regret in her heart, and wishes more than anything to see Tanaka again.
On her way home from school she see's the Mabuchi boy again. He lives in her neighborhood? He even detours into the shrine where she has memories of Tanaka. She chases after him again.
This time Mabuchi confesses that his named used to be Tanaka. He tells Futaba that they've been attending the same school all year and she's only just noticed now.
He also tells her that she's changed.
This new Tanaka is taller, sarcastic, and intimidating. His new appearance and behavior prove just how much has changed since the time of her treasured memories.
Despite this, Futaba confesses to Kou the words she has carried within her.
That she liked him then.
To her surprise, Kou offers his own confession, that he liked her too.
This moment is what Futaba has always wanted. Her desire to return to that time which was so precious to her is playing out right before her eyes.
But then reality sets in. Kou breaks the moment when he tells Futaba...
"Though we can't go back now. Things aren't the way they used to be and neither are we. Which just means its in the past."
Futaba tears up and Kou tells her not to cry, "It's annoying". Then he leaves.
Futaba doesn't get angry or embarrassed for herself, instead she says...
"But even after saying such cold words he somehow seems lonely. That's what I think."
This sets up the core drama of the anime. These childhood friends have finally reunited, but now their personalities clash.
Futaba the Romantic vs. Kou the Realist
Kou moved away without telling any of his former friends why or where he was going. Something happened during his time away that turned the once sweet boy into a jaded and apathetic teenager.
Because this anime is largely narrated from the POV of Futaba in the beginning episodes the mystery of what happened to Kou makes up much of the early tension.
Regardless of what happened the result is that Kou doesn't care about his grades, his family relationships, his friends, or Futaba. At least that's what he says.
His actions lead us to believe otherwise.
Futaba has been living a lie. But since reuniting with Kou she begins to think critically about her life. When she confesses to Kou, it is probably the first truthful thing she has said since middle school.
This sets in motion Futaba's path to create real high school memories while being her authentic self and making real heartfelt connections based upon trust.
Yet, at the same time she cannot seem to bring herself to stop calling Kou by his old last name. Proving that she is stuck on the past, despite saying she wishes to move forward.
The romance in this anime is my favorite because it is displayed for the viewer to witness without the characters telling us what they feel.
In fact, the characters constantly deny their feelings for one another, but their actions lead us to believe they are not being truthful to themselves.
They have a magnetic familiarity between them. But since they are so determined not to like each other, they end up messing around like children with crushes.
They will make statements which prove that each is definitely paying attention to the other.
Like when Futaba tells Kou she sees how his actions toward her are not aligned with his words. He is like the dawn -- not night, but not morning either.
"The part where I can't tell if you're nice to me or not nice to me."
and Kou replies...
"I can't tell if you're just incompetent or if you have some nerve in you."
Which exactly expresses Futaba's current effort to better herself.
We the viewer end up asking the question: Has anything really changed?
Futaba involves herself deeper into Kou's life despite his attempts to make her efforts seem futile. When they were middle schoolers it was her willingness to run to him that inspired him.
And Kou constantly comes to Futaba's rescue whether it be protecting her from a misunderstanding at school, or pushing her to do better in her steps toward authenticity. When they were middle schoolers he offered her his gym clothes to protect her from the rain.
This scene in particular ^ where Kou hides Futaba's crying face at school by suddenly hugging her is undeniably loving.
Regardless of the fact that he downplays the impact of his action. Not only did he hide her crying from others. He helps her rationalize what just happened so that she does not suffer through a period of self pity.
They're still doing what they did for each other in the past.
But their clashing personalities are in the way of them growing closer.
Futaba believes the only way for them to move forward is to convince Kou to finally open the door to his heart. Only whatever happened to him in the past has shut that door so completely that she, and the people closest to him, wonder if the door might be gone.
Luckily, the romantic spirit in Futaba won't let her quit.
Step one: Make a group of friends.
The Side Characters
The friends reluctantly come together as their classroom committee, but Futaba is determined to make them real friends.
The most important of the side characters is Yuuri.
Early on in the anime Yuuri is used as a plot device to show us what Futaba is avoiding. Being outcast from other girls for acting cute around the boys.
But a chance encounter with Yuuri shows Futaba that she is actually a nice person & Futaba realizes she is doing the same thing by acting "un-cute" around the girls.
Later on Yuuri continues to inspire Futaba by her ability to always be herself, try her best, and honestly go after her goals.
Futaba values her friendship and is pained when she realizes a problem: they've fallen in love with the same guy.
Kominato & Murao give us a foil potential relationship to Futaba & Kou, as well as, a well rounded friend group -- and some comic relief. Each of these characters has their own personality and goal. None of the characters in this anime are flat.
Mr. Tanaka is a teacher at the school, and Kou's older brother. He too wishes that Kou would re-open his heart to life. If Kou's feelings have been locked away into nonexistence, his older brother's feelings are too all over the place. Their relationship is strained as a result.
This anime is perfectly paced. The flashbacks are timed to give us exactly the info we are wondering about. The progress that Kou makes isn't linear. He'll take a step forward and then three steps back. As the viewer we wonder how much Futaba will put up with before she gives up.
We also wonder why Kou is so determined to be unhappy. This results in a perfect recipe for getting emotionally invested in the characters.
The soundtrack is beautiful (I often listen to it). It has a hopeful quality to it that sparkles in magical moments and lulls in rough ones. The music is perfectly timed to the scenes to add emotional depth.
The animation isn't cheap. Lots of scenes are actually animated. When time slows down or pauses hair and clothes will flutter in the breeze and eyes will sparkle. We don't get left with a ton of static images which unfortunately happens in shoujo anime.
While the romantic plot is left incomplete by the end of the anime, this is absolutely a love story. I think knowing this ahead of time will only add to your enjoyment.
A love story about
truly getting to know that person, not just loving an idea you have about them
not lying to yourself about your feelings
doing what you can to help the one you love
Kou & Futaba genuinely make each other better people. There is identifiable value to their relationship that we the viewer can see.
It's non-linear, and sometimes nonsensical, path to romance mimics real life. As does the importance it places on the role of mindset and life experience in shaping our willingness to pursue love.
In this way, Blue Spring Ride has become my favorite romantic anime.
Have you watched Blue Spring Ride? Did you enjoy it? Have you read the rest of the story in the manga?
Thanks for reading!
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