Thursday, April 11, 2019

Ao Haru Ride volume 4 is a breakthrough for Kou (Manga Review)

Kou Mabuchi
Ao Haru Ride Volume 4 - 9/10

I love this series! Ao Haru Ride volume 4 (Viz/Shojo Beat) may be the best so far. I'm so glad this series is being published in English. It is sure to go down as a legendary classic of the genre.

Volume 4 picks up with Futaba and Yuri both trying to get Kou to notice them. They've decided not to let their mutual attraction for him ruin their friendship, but it's getting tough as they each have seen the other getting "close" to him. Volume 3 left us with Yuri and Kou having had some sort of moment that Futaba interrupts. Through her relentless persistence, Futaba manages to get Kou to tell her what happened. That's when she learns about Kou's mother's death; Yuri had seen the shrine and that's why she had left in tears.

The volume gives us more of the backstory on his mother's death, how Kou was left to care for her when his dad and older brother went their various ways after the divorce. We also learn that Kou was putting so much time into his own studies, that once he realized his mother was dying, he felt he had squandered his time with her and he carries that regret to this day.

As the semester progresses, Kou is struggling academically despite his natural ability. So Futaba, Yuri and the rest gang up to keep him studying, but he continues to neglect it, even running out on them once. However, Futaba keeps chasing after him, reminding Kou of what he used to like so much about her. There are some real emotional breakthroughs for Kou in this volume, and we see the cracks in his facade beginning to open.

One of the best parts of this volume is how perfectly it depicts depression. Kou's lack of stamina, drive, caring for others or what they think of him, his general apathy are so perfectly in line with the symptoms of major depression. Ao Haru Ride is proving to be a series that can delicately handle the truth of mental illness without reducing it to cliches or over-dramatic pulp.

And that actually defines all the other parts of the series as well, whether it is the romance, the friendships, their pasts or their presents, the series treats it all as normal day-to-day lives and doesn't stoop to over-sentimentality (beyond what would be normal for teens) or unnecessary dramatic plot points to force the issue. There really is no "plot" per se, it's all about the ways people interact and change over time naturally. I love that about this series.

This is a short review of volume 4 because I really only have praise for it. The art continues to be as amazing as the writing too. If you love shoujo, then this is one of the best series I've ever read.

Having just read some old shoujo series that have some really really icky things in them like lack of consent, physical violence against women, manipulation of women, etc... (I'm looking at you Happy Marriage and Hot Gimmick - I had to stop reading that last one after only a volume - wow is it awful) - it's heartening to read a shoujo series that is true art in both a literary and visual way but also treats its characters respectfully and while none are perfect, it doesn't somehow manage to idolize terrible men (yes, you Happy Marriage and Hot Gimmick).

Instead, we get nice but slightly damaged people who are doing their best to move forward and treat each other well. They're all working to grow and change and support each other. It does this with the perfect balance of reality, kindness, love, humor, and drama. None of the characters are stock archetypes either, they all have uniqueness that lifts them above the genre. Ao Haru Ride volume 4 gets a 9/10!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3