Title: Ao Haru Ride Vol. 5 Author: Io Sakisaka Publisher: Viz Media Language: English Format: Paperback Pages: 192 Genre: Slice of Life, Romance Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Volume five of Ao Haru Ride was one of the most frustrating volumes of manga I’ve read. I don’t mean that in a negative way but that’s how Kou’s character made me feel. Futaba invites Kou to a festival, he accepts then cancels suddenly. Then, he disappears over break and can’t be contacted at all. Suddenly, he returns, says he went to Nagasaki, had to catch up on work his missed and adopted a cat… all in one fell swoop. Then, after things seem to get close between Kou and Futaba, he begins to distance himself again, all while communicating with someone on the phone.
He reveals that he had to go to Nagasaki to attend a funeral for a friend whose father passed away. He felt that since he went through something similar, he could be the best person to relate to that friend. Kou is pretty secretive about this person the entire time until Futaba overhears that person’s voice on the phone.
This becomes source #2 of my frustration but this time, it’s not from a way a character has made me felt (which is the good kind of frustration). It stems from the fact that they gave away the cliffhanger ending by implying Kou’s friend was a girl. It took all of the impact and drama out of the big reveal and that’s the bad kind of frustration you don’t want to bestow upon a reader after you’ve made them feel frustrated in a good way.
Apparently, this girl was invited by Kou to move close to him and transfer schools so he could be there to support her through this difficult time. This makes zero sense. Period. I’ll get to that more in my Final Thoughts.
In the way of character development, things seemed to have regressed between Kou and Futaba. It’s still early in the series so the fact that Io Sakisaka pulled back on the reigns was a smart decision but now we don’t have any solid clue as to where Kou is at in his head. One moment, he acts like disappearing without a word is no big deal, then he’s back to the happy, smiley Kou we saw at the end of the last volume, then he’s distancing himself and keeping secrets, then he’s denying he likes Futaba, then he blatantly shows that he does… Kou is simply a giant pile of directionless mess right now and this is the source of my good frustration because he’s written in a way where it’s all intended. It’s showing how Kou is a complex character and to make the reader guess just what his true motives are all while keeping the integrity of the character intact is truly a marvel and very difficult to pull off. However, I think Sakisaka has pulled it off wonderfully and the fact that I was made to feel frustration in a good way is a testament to how well Kou has been written.
We have a new(ish) character in Kikuchi who Futaba met at the festival. We get a proper introduction and his gimmick is that he blushes at damn near everything. A girl could just say hell and he’ll turn beet red. He may seem all like a bundle of smiles but his had a hidden motive: to make Futaba his. Of course, he’s not creeper status (yet), but you can definitely tell he’s a little too infatuated with Futaba. It hasn’t gotten to the point where he’s desperate, though. He knows his boundaries and he’s proceeding with caution. However, the fact that his goal is to steal Futaba away from Kou, knowing full well that there’s something there, is interesting. Maybe I’m reading too much into his character but I do see him possibly going creeper status at some point!
While I loved the complexity of Kou’s character in this volume, the last chapter made me feel a bad type of frustration. Why would you even hint or strongly suggest that Kou’s friend was a girl? The fact that he said that he cannot tell Futaba how he feels at the present time because of his friend’s gender is just a cheap way to try and get the reader to believe that there something more there when there really isn’t. It’s painfully obvious that Kou likes Futaba and that they will end up together at some point; however when you already have that established, why would you even try to circumvent that by introducing a new female character?
You already have rival competition built up and established with Kikuchi. He’s obviously gunning for a relationship with Futaba. There is zero reason to introduce a new character in such a way where it promotes, yet, another rivalry… especially when that rivalry is dead on arrival thanks to already-established plot points. The best way to have handled this was to not even hit at the person’s gender at all (which they did twice between two different characters), and then do a reveal causing Futaba to instantly suspect betrayal, thus leading to a whole miscommunication aspect. Hell, I would have taken it a step further and not even say anything about Kou going to a funeral for a friend. I would have left that out until Kou had to explain himself to Futaba in the next volume.
As good as this series is, I feel that Io Sakisaka missed a huge opportunity to make it more interesting. Not to say this volume was bad, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed it but I feel that she could have written this plot a lot better than she did.