Saturday, February 15, 2020

Ao Haru Ride volume 9 - Kou's really botched it now (Manga Review)

Teen boy on the cover with his shirt collar open and tie loose
Ao Haru Ride vol. 9 - 8.5/10

Ah Kou, silly silly Kou. JUST TELL HER YOU LIKE HER YOU IDIOT!!!!!! Should really have been the title of this entire series: Ao Haru Ride.

But in all seriousness, Ao Haru Ride Volume 9 (Shojo Beat/Viz) is the next step in the slow burn will-they/won't-they story of Kou and Futaba, two teens who just can't get their timing right. And with this volume, it looks like Kou may not get the chance again.

At the end of volume 8, Kou hugs Futaba at the shrine where they had met in middle school. He's still not being completely clear with her and she pushes him away. So when volume 9 opens the next day, she's quite visibly, and comedically, angry at him for constantly confusing her.

The art in that one panel alone is hysterical, but I also love that the author allows Futaba to be a blunt person and actually say what she's feeling to Kou, that she's mad. Futaba has never been the delicate flower, and I think the balance of her outgoing, expressiveness mixed with her introspective qualities makes her one of the great manga heroines. She's just written much more like a real, complete person, rather than an object of adoration.


Back to the story though. Kaminato warns Kou that if he doesn't make things clear to Futaba that he will lose her to Toma. Kou (stupid Kou) insists that he still needs to clear things up with Narumi first. But at the same time, Toma invites Futaba out. Futaba asks Yuri to go with her and says Toma will bring Uchimiya along.

On the group outing, seeing the chance, Uchimiya leaves Toma and Futaba alone to grow closer. While talking to Yuri, Uchimiya backhandedly asks her out. Yuri is furious that something she considers to important is being bandied about like it's nothing and storms away from Uchimiya.

On the other end, Narumi knew that Toma and Futaba would be at the park that day and has told Kou that she needs to see him. Of course, Kou then sees Futaba and Toma together and Narumi uses this as her chance to try to convince Kou to give up on Futaba and date her instead. But Kou is resolute and turns down Narumi. But Futaba has also seen Kou with Narumi and this firms up her long-standing belief that the two are an item. Seeing her sad, even though he knows it's because she's thinking of Kou, Toma make it right with a hug.

Things progress for both Futaba and Yuri from there, but those are the fun parts, so I won't spoil them. But it appears that Kou really might finally be too late.

As with every volume of Ao Haru Ride, so much and so little happens. It's a remarkable feat of writing that there is actually very little plot, but that so many emotional interchanges and so much character development happens in each volume. It also doesn't ever feel tedious like it can in other series where things get dragged out. Overall, it is such an organic set of interactions among adolescents who are still sorting out so much about themselves and their place in life.

I do however continue to find Kou's behavior in the series so far just slightly unrealistic. I'm not sure any teen boy, no matter how depressed he might be, would pass up such obvious affections from a girl he has the hots for. I just think in real life they would have hooked up by now. But for the sake of it being a series and not a single chapter, his process of healing his mental health necessitates slowing their romance down. It's written so well that I can forgive the fact that it probably wouldn't take them so long to become a couple in real life. However, it seems Kou is finally ready to be with Futaba. I just don't know if that's an option any more. Stupid Kou.

Another early, interesting development in this volume concerns Kaminato and Murao. He has been making his feelings for her known for quite some time, but also aware that she likes Kou's older brother (who is a teacher). Yet, in a very interesting scene, Murau offers a glimpse that she's beginning to see Kaminato as more than just a friend in their group. Interesting!

As always, the art in this series is some of the best manga art I've seen. I love the character designs, I love the style of their eyes, I love the detailed lines, I love the comedic moments, I love the extensive use of screen tones. It's just gracefully put together shoujo art.

Ao Haru Ride 9 could be either a turning point in the series or just one more hurdle for Futaba and Kou to overcome. But either way, things are changing for both of them, and some of the other characters too. It's a well written, well drawn volume from a great series. It gets an 8.5/10!

*SCORING RUBRIC
BASIC SCORE:
  • Story interesting (0-10): 8 - it always is, even when it's subtle, it's moving
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 8 - I can't get enough of Futaba's expressions
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 7.5
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 7 - Kou continues to try and speak to Narumi and Futaba in the wrong order - his waiting feels like it created plot, rather than organically came from how a teen boy would act. But otherwise, it's a strong volume.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 7.5/10

BONUS POINTS:
  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 2 - Kaminato gets it, and tries to tell Kou he's messing up the order of talking to the girls. We also learn about how Murao is changing.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0
  • Female agency (0-5): 1 - not the point of this series, but the girls are the equals of the guys, and Yuri turning down Uchimiya at first because she didn't think he was being serious enough shows some strength in her character.
  • Character growth/change (0-5):  2 - Murao for sure, Futaba is always growing, and maybe even Kou is getting healthier and less depressed.
  • Quality art (0-5): 4 - this series has some of the best manga art ever.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +1

PENALTY POINTS:
  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0 
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -0

FINAL SCORE:  8.5/10

🚺

Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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