Yuri now likes Kou, so naturally, Futaba’s starts acknowledging her feelings for him too. I mean, isn’t that how it typically works? No, I’m not trying to imply that she’s falling in love with Kou just to spite her best friend. In fact, shoujo heroines are usually too goody-goody for that. I’m just saying that when you’re trapped in your own head, it’s easy to just plain ignore how you truly feel about a person you like. But with Yuri around, she’s highlighting Kou’s strong points (what strong points?), which forces our heroine to acknowledge them too. Sure enough, Futaba tries to repeatedly avoid Kou in this week’s episode to prevent her feelings for him from deepening. But as fate would have it, she keeps finding herself spending one-on-one time with Kou. As a result, we now have ourselves a half-baked love triangle. I say it’s half-baked, because I don’t think it’ll really last. First, both girls are too nice to really make this a drama-filled love triangle. Second, Kou’s feelings matter too, and I doubt he’d ever really give dating Yuri a serious thought. Still, it’s the first point that I want to focus on: these heroines are too good.
The problem is, we’re stuck in this binary mindset where we often think, “Gee, if so-and-so has to learn how to become a good person, it means so-and-so is a bad person now!” No, not necessarily. By convention, these shoujos revolve around high school kids. And as most of us already know, high school kids aren’t exactly saints. It doesn’t mean we were all bad people at that age, but we had a lot of maturing to do. Futaba, however, isn’t really flawed. Even her friends aren’t really flawed. In fact, the only female characters with any flaws in this anime are the bullies in the first two episodes! They had bullied Yuri, and after Futaba told them off, they disappeared off to God knows where. But this is what I’m talking about. No, I’m not saying that Futaba should become a bully, then slowly redeem herself over the course of the anime. But a large part of why I even took an interest in Ao Haru Ride in the first place was because its heroine didn’t appear to be perfect. Unfortunately, that lasted for all of about two episodes at best. Since then, Futaba has become the cookie-cutter shoujo heroine.
Yes, Futaba’s clueless about the matters of the heart, but who wasn’t at that age? Yes, she’s not exactly the brightest bulb out there, but we’re not all super Gary Stu geniuses either. Point is, Futaba’s a good person where it counts; she has no real character flaws. There’s nothing about her character that would doom her if she doesn’t change her ways. There’s thus nothing about her that compels me to become invested in her character and how it develops. But man, the buck doesn’t even stop there. Yuri, too, is a good person with no real character flaws. Sure, she’s shy, but so what? Even Shuko is a good person with no real character flaws. I’m not denying that these girls don’t have their own fair share of troubles. After all, Shuko’s in love with an older man, but c’mon, does that really count as a character flaw? It’s practically a given that most young girls will develop a crush on an older man at one point in their lives. That’s not a character flaw. That’s just some coming-of-age bullshit that people have associated with young girls, but I digress. Again, these girls are too close to perfect. They’re not actually perfect, but they may as well be.
At one point in the episode, Kou teasingly manhandles Futaba a bit because she had, well, teasingly mocked him. In an attempt to look cool, Aya says loudly for everyone to hear that he would totally never treat a girl like that. ‘Cause, y’know, he’s a gentlesir, and a gentlesir would never even think of harming a single strand of hair on a girl’s head! What am I getting at? This is what Ao Haru Ride feels like. It feels like we’re afraid to scratch any of these pristine porcelain dolls. They’re just all wonderful people, and if Kou wasn’t so flawed — and could clone himself — these girls would live happily ever after. But it’s Kou’s fault! He’s not perfect! He had to go and suffer through a broken family. He then had to change his personality and become mean. As a result, the onus is thus on the… guy… to change… I don’t know, I just find that maddening. When I delve into a story, I want to identify and empathize with the main character. I want to see the main character change and grow over time. I want to see him or her succeed, ’cause it will then inspire me to succeed.
There’s this weird reversal now, however, where shounen/seinen series are full of Gary Stus heroes, and the world will have to conform to them. And on the flip side — like Ao Haru Ride, for instance — I feel as though our heroine is already feature complete, to borrow a software term. Sure, there are a few minor bugs and stability issues, but she’s done for the most part. No, I’m not saying Futaba is anywhere near as bad as a Gary Stu, especially the recent ones we’ve been getting, but still, she’s already a good person. Rather, it’s up to Kou to make himself worthy of her love. Kou is flawed. He’s the primary love interest, so he gets to be well-rounded. He gets to have actual strengths and weaknesses to his character. And as long as he still has weaknesses, we’ll sit here and judge him. Tut tut, you’re not good enough for Futaba just yet! Wait until you get over your trauma and character flaws! So y’see, Kou gets to have an actual character arc. Meanwhile, we treat the girls with kid gloves. And I just find that totally weird, man. Somewhere along the line, we stopped reaching for the mountaintops. Rather, we’re magically already there, and now we’re waiting for others to reach us.
Just one stray observation:
— The way the episode ends is just weird. Futaba acknowledges that she wanted him to get off the train. In other words, Kou’s actions didn’t make a lick of difference. Had he stayed on the train, it wouldn’t have erased all of Futaba’s feelings. Him stepping off the train, on the other hand, merely strengthened what she had already known in her heart: she’s already in love with him. Despite the acknowledgement that this single moment isn’t really all that significant, however, the anime still plays it up as though it was super-duper important.
The camera faces the girl. She has her eyes closed. We don’t know if Kou had stepped off the train or not. Oh my god, the tension is mounting! Quick, play the insert song! The anime then teases us with multiple camera angles, but none of them reveal to us Kou’s true location. But then Futaba slowly opens her eyes. We then see Kou’s torso! Wait, wait, hold on! The camera pans up to reveal… to reveal…! He had stayed, you guys! He stepped off the train! Hallelujah! Pop the champagne, the fucker stayed! This is it! This is the one true moment that defines our shoujo’s love!
Bzzt. No. True love is a series of moments, not just one. The girl isn’t not going to deny her feelings for the guy simply because he had stayed on the train. The main character knows it too: “I’m a liar, I guess. … I pretended to be struggling with it, but I’d already decided what I wanted to do.” It’s like Ao Haru Ride can see the stupid cliches coming from a mile away, but embraces them anyway.