Thursday, April 16, 2020

Ao Haru Ride volume 10 - Is Kou losing Futaba to Kikuchi for good? (Manga Review)

A teen girl in her school uniform, looking back at the reader
Ao Haru Ride vol. 10 - 8.5/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

Like all the volumes before it, Ao Haru Ride volume 10 (Shojo Beat/Viz) is some of the best romantic shoujo ever written or drawn. Look, it's not like I'm going to hide just how much I love this series. No review is subjective, but the truth is, this is just such a well executed series, with nothing problematic to detract from its sensitively written characters and interactions, plus amazing art on top of it all. I basically don't have anything to nitpick or gripe about. It's a great volume in a great series.

In volume 10, Kou is really bothered seeing Futaba and Kikuchi dating. While out, Futaba runs into Narumi and apologizes to her. While doing so, Futaba makes clear she still thinks Narumi and Kou are dating. Later, when Futaba runs into Kou on the way home, they talk and separate to go to their own homes. But as they do so, Futaba sees a shooting star, Kou shouts that he saw it too, but Futaba knows he only could have seen it if he had been turned around watching her. What does this mean? She won't let herself go down that path now that she has Kikuchi.

Later, on the school trip, Kou runs into Futaba at the vending machine late at night. He pretends to hear a teacher coming in order to hide with her and prevent her from meeting up with Kikuchi. But Futaba clearly expresses to Kou that she doesn't want to do anything that would hurt Kikuchi (such as hiding with Kou). Kou accepts responsibility and gets himself caught by the teachers so Futaba can sneak away to be with Kikuchi. Further establishing Futaba as a kind person, she tells Kikuchi everything that happened so that he knows he can trust her.

Throughout this whole time, Shuko has been acting strange. There is an incredibly cutely drawn scene that shows her peeking at Kou from behind her seat (it's nice to see other sides to her personality). Kaminato confuses Shuko's attention towards Kou believing that Shuko likes Kou. But what's really going on is that Shuko knows that Kou still likes Futaba and feels awful that she messed things up and ruined Futaba's chance to be with Kou. Now, she's doing everything she can to help Futaba and Kikuchi be happy to relieve herself of that guilt. Through this we get to learn a lot more about Shuko's personality and we see another side of Kaminato too as he becomes jealous of Kou.

Whew. Lots of plot there! But like all the volumes before it, even though so much happens, it's all little and inconsequential stuff that adds up to be lives being lived. Io Sakisaka-sensei builds these rich inner lives of characters through their everyday interactions and internal thoughts. Not only are Futaba and Kou fully realized people, but so are Shuko and Yuri and Kaminato. Even Kikuchi is given a lot of room to have multiple aspects to his personality, being charming and confident and insecure by turns. It's all amazing character writing. So I don't want anyone to think that it's a plotty series.

So the series and this volume has great characters, well and consistently written, who go through every day life learning about themselves and others, albeit imperfectly as we all do. The writing is strong, clear, thoughtful, and insightful. The art, like always, is top notch. She's in my top two manga artists of all time and this volume was strong just like the others: great line use, great vivid screentone use, amazing expressions and emotions on the character faces, easily discernible characters, lots of detail. It's the complete package.

I don't have much else to say. You know me, I'd be happy to talk about all its problematic aspects if there were any. But hell, these are nice kids who treat each other nicely and are thoughtful.

It's wonderful romance, heartbreaking and rewarding at the same time, and I'm sure we're not done with Futaba and Kou yet. But we can also see, for all that the manga gods fate these two to be together, that they wouldn't necessarily HAVE to end up together. People who should get together don't always in the real world, and this series is written so plausibly that we could see how they might miss out on being with each other in the end. The plausibility of them NOT getting together, demonstrates a realism that helps ground this series. So while we WANT them to get together, we know that isn't how the real world works. Therefore, if they DO get together in the end, it will be all the sweeter and more rewarding because this wasn't just a predetermined march towards the obvious conclusion. Now THAT is writing!

Do you like shoujo? Do you like great manga art? Do you have feelings? Then you'll love Ao Haru Ride and volume 10 is just as good as all the prior volumes. Volume 10 gets a strong 8.5/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 8 - it is, even though the "plot" is just the mundane things teens in high-school do. It's what they think while that is going on that is so fascinating.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 8 - I love that not only are our two leads so well constructed, but the main side characters are fully realized people too! We get some nice insight into Shuko, Kaminato, and Kikuchi in this volume. 
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 8 - clear, insightful, and meaningful. It won't open up new worlds of understanding about yourself, but it does justice to these characters.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 9 - this volume in particular, I just felt that everyone did what they would do based on who they were. The feelings were also appropriately complex and muddled for teens without being in the least over-wraught or over-dramatic.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 8/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 1 - nothing profound, but certainly we always get a clear understanding of what the characters are feeling. It isn't left to guessing, we are in their thoughts.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 - not the point of this volume. Futaba always has agency.
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 1 - it's hard to say they aren't growing and changing, it's just subtle, and they are working on it, they're fighting to, but it's so slow (in a good way). Kou is really growing up from where he was in volume 1.
  • Quality art (0-5): 3.5 - love it. Amazing art.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +.5

  • 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



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