Ao Haru Ride, Volume 8 by Ao Sakisaka
Ao Haru Ride continues to provide a unique shoujo story by combining teen romance against a backdrop of grief. Kou continues to think he can fix the world by taking on the responsibility of being sole friend/psychotherapist/boyfriend to his old classmate Yui, but Futuba may finally be ready to move on.
As the volume opens Futuba tells Kou that she likes him, in full expectation that she’s going to be rejected. She wants to get everything out in the open so she can attempt to move on. Kou’s words are carefully chosen, he says “I can’t go out with you” and Futuba smiles and says “That feels like closure.” Her smiling face interrupts a sequence of panels where Kou’s expressionless face is shadowed, pointing to the facade he’s wearing to hide his feelings. Futuba walks away and when Kou’s phone rings (presumably a call from Yui), he smashes it. While Futuba has vowed to move on, she can’t resist trying to make Kou feel a bit of regret, and she decides that she’ll act more feminine and further distance herself from the tomboy persona that she used to assume. She wonders “Is everyone else pretending to be the person they want to be?” Toma seizes his chance and tells Futuba that he likes her just as she is. She isn’t quite sure how to respond, but Toma tells her that he’ll wait and see what she thinks after she gets a chance to know him.
Futuba accidentally runs into Kou at school and he’s back to his usual harsh comments telling her that her attempts to be more feminine totally don’t work for her. Futuba’s introspection makes her both relatable and endearing, as she comments to her friends, “Spending time thinking about a boy who didn’t pick me…is a waste of my youth!” Kou and Futuba are generally so much better together than they are apart, and the attempts to put distance between them simply don’t work. This is a solid middle volume in this series, and there’s a nice one-shot included as a bonus. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Kou decides that he’s no longer responsible for fixing the universe.