I've watched a lot of romance shows, and for good reason; they tug at your heartstrings. It makes you feel good, and it makes you smile. As much as I love my longform drama series, a wholesome, twelve episode romance show isn't exactly something I'm opposed to either. While the whole thing of waiting until the last episode until the confession can be annoying, that's not to say it can't be done well. Toradora exists, after all. But, alas, the show I am discussing today can't exactly be considered to be on the same level as many of the best anime romances. No, for 'Ao Haru Ride' (Blue Spring Ride) is not exactly very good, I'd actually call it bad. But why is that?
Let's start off with a quick plot synopsis. When our main character, Futaba entered her first year of high school, she regretted being all alone for the later parts of middle school. This was because her feminine appearance and personality caused her to become ostracized from the rest of the girls, as they saw her as attempting to be popular with the boys. She has decided that she is going to make herself "as unwomanly as possible," so that she can finally have some female friends. However, during her third year of high school, she sees a person she never thought she would see again: her middle school crush, who has now changed his name to Kou
Now, this sounds fairly interesting, especially if it were to focus on the deeper aspects of someone having a performative personality, as Futaba is forced to act in a way that is unlike herself in order to actually have friends. Instead of this, it's more or less just used as easy characterization in the early episodes, and then completely discarded just a few episodes later and then to never be brought back up again. She then stops being friends with the girls she was putting on a performance for. During episode 2 (episode 1 serves as a sort of prolouge for the rest of the series), all we get to know about Futaba's personality is that she is the most typical shojo manga main character possible, except she overeats to appear unwomanly. That's not to say that Futaba doesn't have *any* personality at all, later in the series she seems to often lie to her love interest, Kou Machibu to make him stay with her just so she can be with him for a little bit more. I woudn't call that a personality trait though, because if being in love with the love interest is your main characters only personality, then that's just bad written.
But the biggest problem with Ao Haru Ride is actually quite the opposite than the problem with most romance or drama series. While many shows of the same genre often go for extreme melodrama, I'd say that Ao Haru Ride just has weak drama. There's no pull in it. Unless you're extremely invested in these characters, which you have no reason to be, as their personalities only extend as far as "I'm shy, easily embarrased and in love with the main character because the plot demands it." The show suffers from low stakes, no real reason to care, and it's also just plain boring and slow moving. It's perfectly possible to be slow moving and not be boring, I've even seen some fast paced shows I'd say were boring. But why is this show in particular boring? Well, you see, slow moving is not the same as "basically no actual plot progression happens." Seems the creators of this show didn't really get that memo though, and what we end up with are some boring episodes of characters blushing, kinda looking cute, love triangles because why not, and uninteresting art direction. Oh yeah I guess I haven't mentioned the visuals yet, have I...
There are a few select moments where the visuals look good. Sometimes, the backgrounds will look watercolour, and the OP is nice. Apart from that, it's so drab and average, and why does almost every single romance anime from the 2010's look like this. There is basically no stylization, at all. The characters might turn into chibi-versions of themselves sometimes, but thats about it. Apart from that, there is nothing to distniguish this from its contemporaries. Look, it's possible for progression in the relationship to be slow, and still be done well. 'Maison Ikkoku' is 98 episodes (admittedly I've only watched up to episode 52), and amazing at that. But do you know what Maison Ikkoku has, that this show doesn't? It has a unique artstyle, good looking backgrounds, great, yet simple character designs, funny episodic stories that are balanced with more serious and dramatic episodes, reasons to care for the characters other than just "they love each other I guess," and a sequel that actually ends the show.
I was originally thinking of scoring it a 5, however, the more I thought about the show, the more negatives came to mind. One of these relates to the weak characterization, and it's about Kou himself. Without spoiling anything, the last few episodes attempt to explain things about Kou's backstory, however it feels way too late. Why coudn't these events just have come to light earlier in the story, so that they could have been properly integrated and actually had an impact? It feels like nothing more than a half-hearted attempt to add a sad backstory, and a sad backstory which I've seen a million times before. And that's also one of the larger problems with the show, it doesn't do anything different. It's a shojo romance, and that's all it is.
Just watching something else, there are a lot of good shojo romance out there, this just happens to not be one of them. My personal rating is therefore a 4/10. It's not horrible or anything, and I've most definetely seen worse. This isn't a show I'll be remembering or revisting... anytime.