Ao Haru Ride Ep. 4: Half-baked sentiments

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Avert your eyes, children! That man has no shirt on! I actually enjoyed this episode, though, because it’s interesting to analyze the characters from a mental standpoint. The scene where Kou stands up in front of the workshop is pretty funny and actually a bit subversive if you think about it. Whether the subversion is intentional or not, it doesn’t really matter. So the kids have this exercise where they’re supposed to get together and answer the following generic question: “What’s the purpose of school events?” Naturally, Futaba’s group is uncooperative, and to compound matters, the girl can’t come up with an answer on her own. As a result, all she ends up writing down on a sheet of paper is “Happy memories!” When her group gets called on to read their response out loud, Kou is forced to come up with something on the spot. The anime, of course, starts playing this upbeat yet contemplative guitar solo as Kou rattles off an equally generic answer to the generic question. As you can probably guess, everyone reacts as if he had just done something amazing: “Incredible! He can recite things he doesn’t even believe so smoothly off the top of his head…”

But the precise reason why Kou can do this is because his answer sucks! No, that’s not quite fair to the kid. I mean, Kou’s smart enough to give the answer he knows everyone wants to hear. But that just shows you how pointless these leadership workshops often are. You’re not really here to come into your own as a leader. You’re not really here to learn a bit about yourself, and thus build on your potential strengths as a leader. You’re just here to have generic leadership rhetoric drilled into you. You’re just here to become the same generic, bullshit leader that they want you to be, i.e. not an individual who can actually inspire with his or her own personal story. Let’s work together! Only certain things can be achieved when we work together! Togetherness is closeness! This way, we can have happy memories and feel warmth in our kokoro! It only seems as though Kou’s answer comes easy to him, because it is a bad answer. If I had assigned that question as a teacher, and gotten Kou’s answer back, I’d be like, “Wow, you put no effort into this!” But then of course, I’d have to blame myself too for asking such a dumb, boring question.

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Case in point, when Kou finds out Futaba has yet to write a single word for her written apology, he simply says, “You haven’t written anything yet. You can just write whatever, you know.” It’s true! He’s totally right. All Futaba really has to do is to jot down some mindless platitudes that the adults want to hear. Sure, a unique answer is nice, but no one’s really looking for a special snowflake to emerge from this workshop. Nevertheless, Futaba thinks Kou is amazing: “You just rattled it off so easily… while I’m struggling so hard…” That’s the thing, though. Despite my cynicism, I can still sympathize with the girl. Futaba is trying to come from her heart. In contrast, nothing Kou has said today really comes from his heart. That’s why it looks so easy for him. Not only that, this is the fundamental disconnect between the two characters. Futaba is clearly young, naive, and earnest to a fault. As a result, she pours her all into everything that she does. She couldn’t answer the bullshit question because she didn’t actually know what her heart wanted to say. She now has trouble writing her apology because, again, she doesn’t know what her heart wants to say. But she can’t just fake it, because — again — she’s young, naive, earnest to a fault.

Kou, on the other hand, has faced trauma head on. He’s actually been through some real hardship. He’s had to see his family break up. My point is that Kou has learned how to put on a brave face even if he’s hurting on the inside. To put it another way, he knows how to project an image that doesn’t necessarily reflect his heart. That’s why he can “rattle it off so easily.” That’s why he can write an apology he doesn’t truly mean. And ultimately, this is all just a microcosm of the relationship struggles between the anime’s two main characters. Kou puts up a front, because he thinks this is the best way to protect both himself and the girl. He probably wants to be with her, but rightfully realizes that he’s not in the right state-of-mind to be in a healthy relationship. He projects a harsh image of himself because it simultaneously keeps the girl at arm’s length and reassures the girl that he’s fine. Sometimes, he falters and cracks show in his facade, but he keeps it up for the most part. Futaba, being the wholesomely earnest shoujo that she is, probably subconsciously expects the same earnestness from everyone that she interacts with. She assumes that Kou’s general aloofness reflects his true feelings. The girl is thus confused about his true intentions when his actions don’t always line up with his words.

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Kou eventually says, “Maybe it looks easy for me because I don’t care.” This is just more evidence that he’s putting up a front. This is one of the few moments he lets a bit of his guard down in order to comfort the girl. Despite Kou’s best efforts, it’s painfully obvious that he’s in a bad place. And don’t get me wrong. I’d never advocate anyone becoming a martyr in some misguided attempt to help another person deal with their own mental baggage. He should honestly be seeing a therapist. But if she really wants to be with her first love so badly, then do something. It’s not right for a guy to say he’s half-baked. It’s not right for any person to say, “S-So… I think you’re a lot more respectable than I am.” People aren’t supposed to have this level of self-loathing. The truth is, Futaba is still a bit selfish in the way she keeps dreaming and hoping for the old Kou to return. Obviously, she wants him to be happy, but you can’t just beg for it to happen magically. You either move on and let the guy fix himself, or you actually lend him a hand. Yes, she does think to herself, “I want to know everything that happened to Kou in the three years I didn’t see him.” But until she actually does something, her words have no weight to them. They’re just half-baked.

If it were me, I’d just give the guy space. But that wouldn’t make for a very good shoujo romance, now would it?

Stray observations:

— On the bright side, Kou didn’t have Futaba wait in his room while he showered. Otherwise, we would have had to listen to the girl coo, “So this is what a boy’s room is like…” Like wow, there’s a bed, a desk… and some cabinets…

— Bunch of wacky hijinks at the start of the episode ’cause Futaba can’t seem to get anything right. Just standard shoujo fare.

— Pretty fancy for this school to have a leadership workshop. Oh, it’s not even a workshop on school campus. The kids actually have to pack some clothes, get on a charter bus, and spend a weekend away at some retreat. Lah-di-dah, guys. All this just to become a class representative.

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— For being late, Kou is forced to write a written apology. He naturally bitches about it, so Shuko calls him a brat. Hey, I’ve got no problems with that; I even agree with her. When Kou naturally dishes it back, however, Aya suddenly becomes a white knight: “You shouldn’t talk to girls that way.” I realize he probably likes Shuko, but how pathetic is that? She’s not so dainty that she can’t take a few slings her way.

— Now that Futaba and Yuri are friends, the latter has lost any sort of complexity to her character. All she does now is sit there and spout generic lines of encouragement. “Ganbatte, ne~?” I don’t need her to be all doom and gloom, but she wasn’t even doom and gloom before anyway. She did, however, at least have some depth to her character. Now that she’s just a friend, she’s become simple and thus boring.

— What is wrong with these characters? If you didn’t want the guy to grab your cupcake, then tell him to drop it.

— “…does wanting to know more about him mean that I love him?” Of course not. Then again, the translation probably should have used the word ‘like’ instead of ‘love.’ ‘Love’ is a bit sensational. Anyway, Futaba reacts to the question like a typical naive shoujo, so it”s pretty obvious why he proceeded to be a jerk and push her away. I’m not condoning his behavior, but again, pretty obvious why he’s acting that way

— Oh great, Shuko has a crush on her teacher. I don’t think she’s helping her case by giving herself pigtails:

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I mean, if that look had actually worked, she has bigger problems on her hands. But in all seriousness, it’s pretty obvious why a relationship between a grown man and a teenager like Shuko is problematic. Not only are they at different stages in their personal and emotional development — she’s a fucking child, after all — there’s also the inherent power imbalance built into the age gap. Again, she’s a fucking child. Even though 21-year-olds are considered adults in the eyes of the law, they can still be immature idiots because brain development continues well into our mid-20s. People always say age differences don’t matter, because so and so’s father is ten years older than so and so’s mother. But these situations don’t unfold in a vacuum. A relationship between a 55-year-old and a 45-year-old is vastly different compared to the potential one between a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old. If we can’t even agree on that, then the discussion is a non-starter.

— Uguu, we’re holding hands~. Anyway, I’m at my shoujo limits, so let’s just call it here.

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9 thoughts on “Ao Haru Ride Ep. 4: Half-baked sentiments”

  1. lol at the title screenshot. What if she went to the pool or something with him? How badly would she freak out then and how ridiculous would the scene look?

    1. Dear E Minor, do you pretend to continue blogging Ao Haru Raide?

      Probably. Nothing else to blog about on Mondays.

  2. But in all seriousness, it’s pretty obvious why a relationship between a grown man and a teenager like Shuko is problematic. Not only are they at different stages in their personal and emotional development — she’s a fucking child, after all — there’s also the inherent power imbalance built into the age gap.

    Yes, I completely agree 100% why I find it creepy when shoujo relationships take place b/t teacher and student. I’ve tried to explain it others but somehow it falls on deaf ears. OK, it is fictional and all but power imbalances in relationships tend to be bad news for everyone involved.

    1. I’ve tried to explain it others but somehow it falls on deaf ears. OK, it is fictional

      That’s the primary thing. People use fiction to indulge their taboo fantasies in a way that they assume to be safe, e.g. it doesn’t hurt anyone if incest occurs in an anime as opposed to real life. At the same time, however, I’m not arguing for anything to be outlawed or banned. Furthermore, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me criticizing things like incest or student-teacher romances.

  3. I’m glad that you’re looking deeper into what most people dismiss as “meh shoujo”. I’ve been reading the manga for a couple of years now and I can say that it’s one of the best ones out there.
    Kou and Futaba are both deeper characters than they seem, and they really grow on you (except for some of the latest chapters that make me facepalm -_-)
    Anyway, can’t say I’m too happy with how the anime is turning out. The comedic timing is just horrible, while the romantic ones are prolonged…but whatever. I just hope they don’t fk it up later on when it gets more…SERIOUS. :P

    1. (except for some of the latest chapters that make me facepalm -_-)

      I’ve seen some of the spoilers. If the anime follows what I’ve read, eh…

  4. The scene when Kou “rescues” Futaba from the seniors is just… *facepalm* Fucking shoujo tropes.

    Well, Kou IS an interesting character, but fuck god he’s too arrogant and verbally abuses Futaba way too much. He says that she is pathetic and that she can’t get over the past, but isn’t he the one that can’t get over it? You go fully asshole mode when someone just ask what happened in your past? And then go holding hands with the girl you just called “pathetic”. I don’t know if it works different in japanese, but, in spanish, if someone call you that way, it’s enough to kick their ass. Tsundere my ass. Such a recurrent shoujo trope.

    And Futaba’s change from mad to “ganbarimasu” was way too sudden.

    It’s a shame that the anime won’t adapt the second half of the manga, because the love rival is such a nice boy. Not a Gary Stu, just a truly good character.

    1. He says that she is pathetic and that she can’t get over the past, but isn’t he the one that can’t get over it?

      I think that’s the point though. He is not in a healthy place. He projects his same insecurities onto the girl in the guise of “straight talk.” He needs therapy. A sensible heroine would distance herself, and say, “Screw this, I care about you, but I don’t deserve this.” But this is what happens when you try to squeeze a shoujo out of a real life situation. The guy is clearly traumatized by his situation, and no amount of shoujo determination is going to fix what mental health professionals are supposed to fix. When I watch it from that angle, the anime becomes fascinating.

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