Ai Yori Aoshi
has been one of my favorite anime series for quite some time. In fact, I like it enough that it's become one of my annuals over the past five years or so. Why do I like it so much? Well, it does have some things that set it apart from the bulk of the harem genre, but like many of my other faves, the time when I first watched the show is important as well. There's no need to go into a long drawn out story about that, because the point is simply that rewatching a series like this kind of takes me back to a more relaxed time in my life that makes me happier than the series alone could. Anyway, enough of that sappy stuff, let's get on with the review!STORY
- Any anime fan knows the basic premise of a harem story: the male lead goes from zero to hero when his home is taken over by a group of ladies all vying for his attention, and while that formula allows for some small variations, most anime doesn't do much to distinguish itself from the rest of the herd. At a glance, the same could be said of Ai Yori Aoshi, but rather than flit aimlessly from one side character to another for all twenty-four episodes, we're treated to glimpses of the main couple's growing relationship amid the chaos of their daily lives. The series opens with childhood friends, Kaoru Hanabishi and Aoi Sakuraba reuniting as adults in Tokyo after many years of separation. The couple had previously been betrothed as children, but the marriage was called off when Kaoru left home and was denounced by his clan. None of this matters to Aoi, however, and she is determined to start a new life with the only person she's ever loved despite opposition from her wealthy family. At this point you may be wondering, "how is this a harem anime?" Well, Aoi's family eventually caves and lets the pair pursue their dreams under the guise of landlord and tenant because Aoi's public marriage to a commoner could cause a scandal within the well-to-do Sakuraba Group. To keep up said guise, Aoi must take on an increasing number of lodgers, who, as luck would have it, are all interested in her husband-to-be. Here we watch the initial premise fall apart as Kaoru and Aoi's budding romance constantly plays second fiddle to the typical sexy hijinks that only anime can deliver. The intended message is that you have to go out of your way to make time for that special someone, but the quiet couple are easily missed amid the cacophonous energy of the supporting cast. The series does manage to get back on track at the end of each episode, but only 6 or 7 of these are devoted solely to the lovers' relationship, and that's a real shame when they began as the focus of the story. The perceived message becomes more about family than romance, to such an extent that the follow-up series, Ai Yori Aoshi; Enishi
, just makes it about the group right from the get go and achieves considerably less emotional impact as a result. Now, that's not to say that Enishi
doesn't have its outstanding moments. In fact, some of my favorite episodes come from this part of the series, but when judged as a whole, it feels more like a bunch of random excerpts as opposed to the fleshed-out story we're given in the first twenty-four episodes.CHARACTERS
- One of the series' high points that has been noted by other reviewers is that the protagonist, Kaoru Hanabishi, is an exemplary lead in this excruciatingly predictable genre. Many of these shows are based on dating sims which feature a faceless main character representing the player, and their TV counterpart can be unenthusiastically described as a two-dimensional "nice guy". Our boy, Kaoru, has the advantage of being written for a manga, and as such has an established personality. Not only is he the nice guy, he's also a selfless, hard-working college student who is paying his own way in the world, and as we see later in the series, he's ready to take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Aoi on the other hand, is a little more difficult to fully understand because of her modest, "out-of-the-way" behavior. She's a character who is having to overstep her boundaries as a traditional Japanese woman of high-society in order to live her personal dream. It's a noble cause to be sure, but once she's alone with Kaoru, her personality can become rather sickly sweet and even downright babyish, which makes her a bit annoying at times. However, this deepens her character as we see the relationship allowing her to be herself rather than the perfect socialite she was brought up to be. The supporting cast is enjoyable as well, but they're the usual fare including the princess, the klutz, and the American stereotype just to name a few.ARTWORK
- JC Staff has worked on a lot of series that I like. They have an appealing style and the visual quality of Ai Yori Aoshi
is pretty much par for the course. It sports a much more simplified, cartoony look than the almost obscenely detailed manga, and the vibrant color gives the art a lot of life and energy. The art improves slightly in the second series, but the effect is so minute that it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what changed. The effect is especially striking in the episode, "Piano," where they reused artwork for a short flashback.VOICE ACTING
- It's not often that I prefer an English dub over the original Japanese, but I have to make an exception for this series. Even then, I can't say that I really like this particular dub that much when it's got Wendee Lee yelling half her lines and Karen Strassman making her already irritating minor character even less bearable. Even my all time favorite VA, Kari Wahlgren, seems to oversell her cutesy role to the point of annoyance. It sounds as if the actors are trying to nail down the characters' personalities on the fly while figuring out how they're supposed to pronounce all of those foreign names. Is it really that hard to pick one pronunciation and stick with it? I don't know, maybe it's the ADR director's fault. Regardless, the dub isn't great, but at least the English VAs don't sound like they're bored to tears like the original cast. DVD EXTRAS
- Anime publishers have a nasty habit of never including any interesting bonus material on the DVDs, and unfortunately that's true of this release as well, so why bring it up? Although Geneon may not have compiled a hilarious outtake reel or anything like that, they did go all out on the packaging. Each of the eight cases features a reversible DVD jacket plus a gorgeous mini pin-up printed on the back of the chapter insert, making them some of the most attractive boxes in my collection. Other series have used this bonus feature as well, but with considerably less success. Shuffle!
for example, gives you a larger poster with each DVD, but the illustrations' linework can be kind of jagged and ugly compared to the smooth inks used for Ai Yori Aoshi's
extra content.FINAL SCORE
- Ai Yori Aoshi
is a must-watch for fans of the harem genre. Bonus points if you enjoy the more sentimental moments the show aims for.