Sometimes, a one shot (a single, standalone volume of manga) can cover all its bases in terms of adequate art, story and writing. It can work within the limitations of its length, and use conscision and minimalism, techniques neglected by longer series, to create a cohesive experience for its readers. This is the case with Makoto Raiku’s Aosora, a coming of age drama serialised in Gekkan Shounen Magazine. It seems to possess all components of a decent manga. However, it becomes apparent that this oneshot is, for all intensive purposes, a template of its genre (and medium). When you identify the redeeming qualities within the work, it’s often basic story techniques universally utilised, and after following the narrative to its climax, realise that nothing profound has happened along the way.
Aosora tells the story of three middle school friends on the cusp of graduation. Our narrator, Ao, begins to experience existential angst synonymous with adolescence, agitated by various challenges and tragedies he experiences throughout the story. As he sinks into a depressive state, seemingly unable to continue, until his friends’ own struggles offer him solace and perspective, and a new maturity allows Ao to tackle living head on.
On the surface, the story is fine. Concision prevents Aosora from travelling down multiple storylines, with little to no dabbling in other genres. We are presented with a highly linear coming of age story, which is not necessarily a bad thing. A strong focus on narration provides more opportunity for our main characters to be connected to the reader, a relationship highly sensitive due to the aforementioned time constraints. Even one extra scene brings with it another glimpse into the mind of a character, which could be the tipping point for readers teetering on a personal connection. And we often see in longer series with similar narratives unnecessary tangents that don’t benefit the overall experience.
However, there was nothing new here. Each morsel of story, whether it be the angst of adolescence, the depressive themes or appeal to emotion has been done in other places, and done better. The best way to describe the concision of this manga is a car stripped for parts. What may have been seen as excessive features do, in many ways, improve the experience for the user. The way Ao slips into a negative mindframe is justified by the tragedies he experiences, but his actual decent is somewhat humorous. For example, instead of working hard to get into a good high school, his struggles manifest into a hedonistic approach to living. This is shown through Ao hanging out with the school troublemaker, and engaging in… video games? Coping mechanisms come in many forms, but they way its portrayed makes it look like Ao has just picked up a new hobby.
The newfound clarity from a simple story wasn’t in itself fresh either, and each element felt as if it had been done better in other series. It’s hard to judge one shots without coming across as inconsistent. When too much is done, a reviewer will often say ambition and complexity ruin what should be short and sweet. However, something kept too simple, leads to a very dull and uninspired read. Aosora had the perfect amount of content, and a balance rarely found in one shots. But the content itself was relatively uninspired, with no individual element standing out for its creativity or engagement.
Even the artistry, which is far from bad, remains quite standard in terms of character construction and limited abstraction. There are times where situations depicted are meant to elicit visceral reactions of melancholy, but instead fueled indifference within myself. It seemed to cut chunks out of many of its predecessors, but leave the holes unpatched.
What Aosora presents is not bad, but is very much lacking core elements that would separate it from a genre oversaturated with similar content. Even with the possibility of expansion through a full series, you’d be hard pressed identifying ways in which this manga could be pulled in a new direction. And even if it was attempting for a small, sweet and somewhat safe read, I found myself underwhelmed more times than not.