Thursday, June 6, 2019

Ao Haru Ride Volume 5 is nearly perfect (manga review)

Kou x Futaba
Ao Haru Ride Vol. 5 - 9/10

Ao Haru Ride (Viz/Shojo Beat) continues to be one of the greatest shoujo manga series I have ever read. Volume 5 exemplifies that trend and hits all the marks - romance, emotions, will-they-won't-they, the feels (oh the feels!). I can't stress enough how much you need to read this series if you are a fan of thoughtful highschool romance.

We left off with things warming up between Futaba and Kou. Yuri has confessed to Kou and Kou turned her down. Futaba and Yuri agreed not to let their mutual affection for Kou get in the way of their friendship.

In this volume, Futaba and Kou make plans to go the festival, the same one they weren't able to attend during middle school when Kou mysteriously disappeared. Unfortunately, something comes up and Kou backs out. Unlike last time, at least he lets Futaba know. Despite her sadness and frustration, she's determined not to get down.

Complicating things, the new boy on the scene, Toma, briefly introduced a few volumes back, clearly has his sights set on Futaba, who seems ignorant to his gentle flirtations. Kou, on the other hand, is very aware of this new boy, yet can't seem to take the next step with Futaba. We begin to understand why when he shares that he has been supporting a mysterious friend who also lost a parent recently and doesn't feel he can give Futaba his all yet.

This volume really shines with the growth that both Futaba and Kou are experiencing. Futaba was determined to be herself rather than trying to live up to others fake expectations for her or down to her own thoughts about herself. She shows her classic stubborn resolve, what makes her so appealing to Kou and so appealing as our heroine.

Kou is desperately trying to dig himself out of the deep depression following the death of his mom, for whom he was the sole caretaker during her illness. Futaba doesn't get mired in the fits and starts with Kou, and Kou shows more emotional resilience than he has at any other time in the series, yet is still somewhat trapped in his feelings. These are not static characters, but real, living, changing people. Such good writing.

We also get so many "almost" moments between them in this volume, where things are so close, but the past traumas just aren't resolved enough to free Kou; and Futaba can't quite find the timing to tell Kou how she really feels. The way Sakisaka-sensei writes their inner feelings, their outward dialogue and actions, and depicts their emotions through her effortless art, is such a joy to read and has such vitality without devolving to pathos, drama, or sensationalism.

As always the art is extraordinary. Beautiful lines, beautiful character drawings, strong sense of anatomy, great use of shading and screen tones, detailed background without being distracting from the characters. This mirrors beautiful writing with fully realized people. People who are kind but have been through things, are teens and still confused by life, all imperfect, but all nice people. This isn't a manga of plot and big reveals and enemies or villains. It is the reality of people growing, changing, hurting, healing, and finding each other. The art and writing are perfectly in sync.

I know I seem like I'm gushing, but that's because I am. If you've read this blog long enough, you know I won't pull punches when I don't like something. Ao Haru Ride is really that good and Volume 5 is nearly perfect.

Why didn't I give it a "ten" then? What would make it better, if everything is as great as I say? When I asked myself that, the only thing I could think of was how amazing it would be if they were both girls! (LOL, there's my bias showing through) But I do wonder why I can't find a yuri manga of this depth, delicacy, honesty, and normality? Are they out there and just not in English*? Please let me know any suggestions you might have. That being said, not every story can be two girls, so it's really not a criticism of Ao Haru Ride at all! >_<

In truth, I can't really find any fault or imperfection in this volume, and yet, I also don't quite feel like I can give it a perfect score. As amazing as this volume is, it just feels too early in the series to go a full ten. So for no other reason than propriety (and what a lame reason that is!), I'm giving this volume a 9/10. But so far the series itself is going to get a perfect rating if it can keep this quality up (and I'm betting it can)! Do yourself a favor and buy this manga!


*UPDATE 6/7/19 - obviously there are the landmark series Sweet Blue Flowers (Aoi Hana) and Maria Watches Over Us (Maria-sama ga Miteru). I'm just greedy and want more like those!

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