Ao Haru Ride – 02

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When I think back on it, this show’s first episode had its protagonist in a very dark place. Of course, high school can be a dark place for a sizable chunk of youths; a place where you compromise and do what you have to do to just get through it; where you take advice given years ago about “always getting along with your friends” and you make that happen at any cost, because the alternative is being all alone.

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In other words, it’s a pact you make with yourself, and it’s a pact we thought Futaba would continue to honor for some time, both much to our chagrin and, evidently to Mabuchi’s as well. While he’s still hard to read, his words to Futaba about Asumi and Chie being “friends in name only” created a small fissure in the “High School Armor” she’d spent so much time and effort polishing; getting lost in its sheen and forgetting important things like emotional connections and trust.

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Those cracks spread when Futaba finds Makita—a girl who acts all cutesy around guys like she used to and pays for it by having to eat outside in the cold, alone—to have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why she acts the way she does—because that’s just who she is. She’d rather bear the petty ire of her peers than cease being her natural self. She doesn’t deserve the treatment she’s getting, but no one said high school was fair.

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That’s when Futaba, with her now badly-cracked armor, sits down with Asumi and Chie, and she suddenly can’t suffer any more bile directed at Makita. The real Futaba bursts out of the tatters of that false armor, giving her “friends” a thorough piece of her mind, thereby losing them in the process. But good riddance: real friends should be able to be themselves around one another. Futaba couldn’t be that around them, so they weren’t meant to be friends.

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She realizes this too, so it doesn’t hurt much when her relationship with the other two girls is officially rescinded. But while she lost those two vapid gossips, she gained a lot more: the respect, attention, and even affection of Mabuchi Kou (who she finally starts calling “Kou” rather than Tanaka, since that’s his name now), a new, real friend in Makita…and our regard as well. I gotta say; girl did good this week. I’m glad Kou realized that too, giving her a cute hug through the window, shielding her teary-eyed face from passersby.

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Her gesture to cast away the artifice of “getting along at any cost” and its fallout may have been modest in the grand scheme of things, but right here and now, in the jungles of high school, it was a significant, life-altering achievement. And no doubt Mabuchi was a catalyst for that change, whether he intended to be or not. I’m now hopeful there’s something about him that she can fix…no need to keep things one-sided!

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Ao Haru Ride – 01

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Futaba and Tanaka were both quiet, shy, unassuming middle school students. Then Futaba assumed that Tanaka would show up for their date after she yelled “I hate all guys!” in the hallway. He didn’t, then suddenly moved away, because of HER his parents moved. Even though nothing ever came of it, Futaba maintains Tanaka was her first love.

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Fast-forward to non-watercolor present, where Futaba is in the third term of her first year of high school. Little does she know her beloved Tanaka is not only there, but has been all year; he’s just not “Tanaka” anymore, having recently escaped from a secret lab that experimented on him with drugs and implants changed his name to Mabuchi after his parents divorced.

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He’s also taller and hunkier, which is one reason why Futaba never noticed him until the third term. Another big reason is that she wasn’t looking for him, and she was too busy reinventing her personality to fit in with her peers. When she was cute and girly, she got dumped on, so now she maintains a tomboyish persona so as not to offend anyone and risk their ire.

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It’s served her well, but it still seems like a goofy performance she shouldn’t have to force herself to do, let alone get used to, to the point when she can no longer separate who she is from who she’s pretending to be. And while she just noticed Futaba, he’s known she was there all along, and while he feigns indifference, he seems to disapprove of what’s she’s doing.

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While we know a lot less about what makes Mabuchi tick, it’s clear he made some changes of his own, ostensibly to fit in better with his peers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was caught off guard by her hopeful, excited reaction to finding out he was “Tanaka.” His cold attitude could be more a sign of fluster and frustration it took this long than genuine acrimony.

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The road ahead for these two looks rather rocky; with Mabuchi making some very definitive statements like “that was in the past” right out of the gate. The fact of the matter is, Futaba’s pleasant, if somewhat forced, high school life has been upheaved, and I’m sure the more attention she pays to a guy instead of stuffing her face like a clown, the more she’ll see who among the girls is really her friend and who isn’t (hint: probably not a lot of them.)

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Is this a ride worth staying on? Too early to say. There were some decent moments of comedy and teen drama. It’s certainly very pretty, and the character designs are appealing (as long as you’re not weirded out by everyone’s very round, expressive eyes). But this is a jam-packed Summer season. Both this and Glasslip were serviceable but not outstanding. And between Kimi ni Todoke and Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, I’ve already watched my fair share of above-average rom-coms that enjoyed better starts. So we’ll see.

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