Blue Spring Ride
Yoshioka Futaba lost the one boy she ever liked, Kou Tanaka, when he changed schools abruptly, shortly after standing her up at what was to be their first date. Since starting high school, she has desperately tried to cultivate an image as an abrasive, "unladylike" character after other girls harassed her for "leading other boys on" in middle school; she spends her time with a pair of not-quite-friends whom she has little in common with.
Everything changes again when Kou, now with a different last name and a decidedly different personality, transfers into her high school. Kou, who has become bitter and withdrawn, tells her that the "old him" is gone and that she needs to forget about him. His re-entrance nonetheless catalyzes her somewhat; she breaks off her relationship with her "friends in name only" and befriends Yuri, a quiet girl whom she had previously derided thoughtlessly for "trying to make herself look cute", while trying to find out what has changed Kou's personality this much.
My opinion of Blue Spring Ride reflects a conviction I have that while the difficulties in one's life often explain and contextualize the less noble aspects of his or her personality, it is a mistake to ignore or justify those aspects because of them. In this case, it feels pertinent because the main character of this series, Kou, often behaves in the rude and condescending way he does because of his painful past experiences; it is a story that I should find compelling and that I desperately want to love, but which I ultimately cannot. It's hard for me to love a story that lets a girl whom he often belittles and behaves rudely towards remain in love with him and desperately want to continue to help him, and which hands him virtually no consequences for his behavior towards her or towards anyone else. While the show has many other good qualities to it, to the point at which I still can come away with a mildly positive impression of it, it nonetheless fails in this important regard.
But let us start with the positives. Blue Spring Ride has an art style that I generally like quite a bit, cleverly switching to a watercolor-type scheme during the show's extended flashbacks as a way to present the nostalgia our heroine feels in a non-verbal manner. Though I'm only passingly familiar with Io Sakisawa's work, I do like what I've seen of her character designs, which give most of her characters a somewhat scruffy look and retain a degree of realism suited for what is, generally, trying to be a realistic show about personal loss of different sorts. A cat that appears in several episodes has a wonderfully feline look to his movement and mannerisms, and indeed, there's something cat-like in Sakisawa's design of Kou, which gives him the look of a withdrawn person pretending not to be interested in his surroundings. I liked both the music and the colorful animation of the opening and ending themes, and while I wasn't a fan of an insert song ("I will", by Chelsy) that was used during multiple key moments, the musical score was otherwise pleasant.
Now in regards to Blue Spring Ride's story, there are some aspects that impressed me, even if many of them lack the subtlety I would hope for. As an example, Futaba's initial, shallow friendships with two other girls exist purely because she had "reinvented" herself as an abrasive and tomboyish character, and she participates in their disdain sessions attacking other girls who, in their view, try too hard to make themselves appealing to boys. This, in spite of the fact that those two are quick to jump to her attack when she is (wrongfully) accused of stealing from the school store and that their only motivation for behaving like this is jealousy, given that they doll themselves up just as much (if not more) than anyone else. When Futaba does eventually cease to hang out with her "friends in name only", it's handled very well: she ends up becoming friends with a girl, Yuri, whom she had thoughtlessly belittled before, and as much as I feared that this transition would be overrun by talk of her "making herself cute", again, her basic personality and habits don't change that much. It's a nice move in that it shows her moving towards a far more positive idea of what friendship is, and indeed, her relationship with this girl is one of the better aspects of the show: even when love-triangle dynamics inevitably enter the picture, she ultimately does not act out of jealousy towards Yuri. Overall, I will say that I generally quite liked the supporting cast of the show, which in addition to Yuri features Kou's older brother Youichi, a teacher at the school trying to repair his troubled relationship with his brother, and Shuko, a somewhat lonely and cold girl whose distrust of other girls (as well as the eventual end of that) parallels Futaba's, and whose budding relationship with Youichi is an interesting and under-used portion of the overall character dynamic, handled tastefully considering the positions they're in.
Sadly, there's just a lot of the dynamic between the main two characters that I don't like. Kou, frankly, gets away with saying and doing far too many mean things to Futaba, and she (whom I otherwise like) is far too willing to put up with this without the show's giving any indication that it's a problem. To an extent, the coldness and bitterness of his personality, as well as his indifference towards friendship or schoolwork, is emphasized to draw a distinction between his previously pleasant and caring personality, which now manifests itself almost solely by the empathetic gaze on his face when he encounters the aforementioned stray cat. It is very clear that many of his ignoble qualities, such as doing poorly in school and wandering into the city to spend time with near-complete strangers for hours on end, are the result of the pain he has gone through in his family life. Yet I think that Blue Spring Ride screws up on account of rushing the background behind his behavior, cramming most of it into a single episode, and failing to expand the reasoning for it much beyond bad things happening, his feeling guilty, and his acting nastily towards everyone else as a result of that.
Indeed, Kou says and does some atrocious things to Futaba, the least of it being his calling her stupid or annoying on virtually every occasion they meet. The worst example, however, is when she, after having followed him into the city, is propositioned for sex by some of the losers he is hanging out with. When she subsequently forces him to go away from them and takes him to a riverbank, he proceeds to belittle her for being "stupid" for coming out there all alone, and comes within a hair's breadth of kissing her against her will in order to prove "the kind of things that will happen to her" if she goes back there. It's what a psychological bully would do, or what a manipulative and domineering boyfriend would, quite frankly. Now, such an aspect of the story could work if it were handled in a subtle manner, but it's very jarring here, and worse, the show doesn't cast any sort of negative light on Kou for being like this. It would be fine if his friends simply continued to try to help him, since nobody can deny that people act in terrible ways when bad things have happened to them, but it's as if nobody wants to acknowledge, even privately, that he acts as badly as he does: Futaba continues to be in love with him, and none of their other friends expresses any concern that he's belittled her so frequently.
Indeed, while Blue Spring Ride does give its female leads a good story arc, I just can't entirely get behind it simply because I can't forgive Kou for his behavior or forgive the show for its handling of it. To be fair, the anime adaptation ends before much progress is made regarding their relationship, and I fear that some of the blame for Kou's behavior being unaddressed may be a product of this. Indeed, the pace is far too slow, with most two-or-three episode arcs accomplishing what could have been done in one, and with no second season in sight, the ending manages to be inconclusive by wrapping up the lately-introduced problem of his relationship with his father while leaving most of the plot threads of the main series unanswered. I like Blue Spring Ride, but I would have liked it more if it had been able to address my concerns regarding his behavior or if it had known how to pace itself; sadly, it knows how to do neither.
Generally a pretty good show, but it would have been better if the pacing had been better-handled, and if more care had been taken with the relationship between the two leads. Hence, a potential four stars gets one docked. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: There's nothing in the way of violence or sex, but some of Kou's "friends" catcall Futaba, while Kou himself at one point attempts to indirectly "show her" the kind of bad things they might do to her. That's enough to make this inappropriate for younger kids, I think.
Version(s) Viewed: Stream courtesy of crunchyroll.com (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Blue Spring Ride © 2014 I. Sakisaka/Shueisha, "Ao Haru Ride" Project.
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