With most of the premieres out of the way, it seems like a good time to check in with two of the shows I was most excited for this season.
Ao Haru Ride
As a romance junkie I have a surprisingly limited amount of experience with shoujo romances. I don’t really avoid the genre, it just has never been something I actively seek out. I watched six episodes of Kimi no Todoke and liked it well enough and last season’s SoreSekai was enjoyable at times (and a real drag at others). Shoujo romance as a whole has a reputation for dark, brooding male leads with a penchant for borderline sexual assault and timid female leads determined to “fix” the flaws in the male lead. It’s not a dynamic I’m fond of, but then again neither is the standard harem and I watch a ton of those so go figure. Still, it would be wrong of me to paint with too broad a brush and I rather liked what I read of the Ao Haru Ride manga so I figured I’d give this a shot.
Production IG’s history with Kimi ni Todoke is apparent in Ao Haru Ride as the visual style very much resembles KnT minus the bubbles and sparkles. However, the actual plot is significantly heavier than that of Kimi ni Todoke. I had already read this portion of the manga so I knew the major plot points but a lot of the key moments are enhanced noticeably by having animation and voice acting. Also, Mabuchi (don’t call him Tanaka) felt a lot warmer in the anime, largely due to the greater range of facial expressions afforded by the change in medium. This is an improvement in my mind as it makes Futaba’s affection for him much more believable than when he was purely dark and brooding. He’s still distant but you can see the subtle softness to Mabuchi that keeps Futaba interested in him.
A big part of why I liked the manga was the way it dealt with characters trying to change themselves to fit in with others. The show hasn’t gone into this yet but I’m hoping next week will see at least a bit of this theme since it’s what makes Ao Haru Ride stand out from the pure romances out there. There’s always a danger that key parts of the manga will get cut when you’re dealing with a very long and ongoing manga being adapted into a one cour anime. That said, the (predominantly female) staff on Ao Haru Ride is doing a quality job of adapting the source material thus far.
Any time you have an anime about cute girls with a script written by Yoshida Reiko it’s certain to get my attention. Her record as a writer for this type of show is undeniable and Hanayamata appears to be no exception. It’s notable that Hanayamata is not actually adapted from a 4koma manga like many shows like it. Given a more substantial piece of source material to work with, Yoshida-sensei can really work her magic with Hanayamata in a way that isn’t possible with 4koma adaptations. This was very noticeable in the premiere as the storyline was much more coherent than what you see in a typical 4koma adaptation. It also feels like the plot of Hanayamata will be a bit more pointed than you would expect from a Manga Time Kirara show (think: GochiUsa, Kiniro Mosaic etc). While there’s the requisite cute girls vamping for the camera, there’s also the underlying plot of Naru struggling to find something she can be passionate about. Rather than a mere sideshow this feels like something that could actually carry Hanayamata throughout and elevate it past the level typically occupied by shows about cute girls doing cute things.
In addition to Naru’s quest to find a passion, I really liked the way they brought in Hana to act as a catalyst for Naru. Hana’s high energy personality and seemingly bottomless passion played really well off of Naru’s timid nature. The scene where Naru first meets and dances with Hana was simultaneously haunting, heartwarming and beautiful and is one of the best scenes of the young Summer season. The visual style used here by Madhouse is very reminiscent of last season’s No Game No Life although this time it’s being used for a show I’m actually interested in. The varied color palette lends a surreal and magical feel to the show which I really like.
If you normally enjoy anime about cute girls doing cute things then I highly recommend checking Hanayamata out. If you don’t normally watch that type of anime but a show about an average girl finding a passion thanks to an eccentric friend sounds at least a little bit interesting to you I’d also suggest giving it a shot. There’s a lot more going on here than in a typical cute girls show and I think there’s something here even for people who don’t traditionally like the genre.