Ai Yori Aoshi
A chance meeting on the local train station turns the lives of Kaoru Hanabishi and Aoi Sakuraba completely around. Aoi is searching for her childhood friend, whom she once was supposed to marry. But Kaoru, as it turned out, ran away from the family after years of abuse and doesn't want to have anything to do with the Hanabishi anymore.
Aoi's heart is still set on Kaoru, though, so the two starts taking faltering steps towards their new life together. But starting a relationship, much less keeping it alive, proves to be far more difficult than the two envisioned.
Romantic ideals can often be hard to understand. After all, most people are different, and have different expectations of what they desire in a potential partner. It's easy to assume that all men really wants is a pretty girl with a big chest and/or large eyes. It's also easy to assume that any man would like the "perfect wife" -- one who cleans the house, does the laundry and the shopping, and cooks the meal for the working man when he returns home.
And, in Ai Yori Aoshi, that's pretty much what you get, and then some. Yes, Ai Yori Aoshi has a very traditional view on gender roles, at least for Kaoru and Aoi, and in more ways than one.
Aoi and Kaoru both come from very well-to-do families. In fact, most of Aoi's life has been spent in preparation for her marriage to Kaoru, which means hard training in how to tend a husband properly according to Japanese traditions. Tea ceremonies, cooking, house-tending... the works. She has been bred for a single purpose, and that training colors everything she does and says. Or, at least, that's the impression you get at first.
Kaoru also seems to be a fairly typical twenty-something at first. He attends college and lives in a bit of a run-down apartment complex during the evenings, where he does his homework and lives on instant food. So, when he meets up with Aoi and learns that she's the girl he was betrothed to in his youth, that's where we learn just what happened to him that eventually led to him choosing this form of exile. Because while Aoi's parents are generally kind, at least as much as leaders of a multimillion conglomerate can be, Kaoru's parents -- which is to say his grandfather -- was anything but. Kaoru was to be bred, much like Aoi, for a position at a company easily as large and influental as the Sakurabas, and his grandfather spared him no amount of physical abuse and mental scarring to do so. As Christina noted in her review, Kaoru fled for a reason.
So, where does this lead our lovebirds to? An apartment complex, soon to be invaded by Kaoru's other love interests. It's time to meet contestants B and C (with more to come.)
First in the lineup is Tina Foster and Taeko Minazuki, whom more or less arrive simultaneously through the Photography club. Tina Foster is an American, which means she's blonde, fairly loud and drinks some pretty nasty brews. It is said she has a habit of throwing around English words every now and then, but since I watched the dub, I had to make do with a pretty badly portrayed southern accent. (Well, at least as far as I can tell. Then again, I'm not even American.) Naturally, she's ridiculously outroverted and loud, which is probably the reason why her popularity weren't on the rise.
Taeko, on the other hand, is a clumsy, meek and quiet girl. She's sporting a pair of glasses and a bustline barely shy of "ridiculous", which makes her a popular target for Tina's random groping attacks. She's also extremely accident-prone, which puts her at odds with Miyabi when she applies for work at the Sakuraba apartment complex that eventually serves as the cover for Aoi's continued presence in Kaoru's inner circles.
Now, maybe it's because I read about them and expected worse, but the two of them didn't really annoy me as much as I expected them to. (In all honesty, I had more problems with Mayu-chan, but that's more of a personal beef against her personality, so take that as you will.) Whether they were necessary is always up for debate, but Ai Yori Aoshi generally avoids the droll harem setup by exchanging it with more of a rom-com style. Besides, most of the romantic moments -- which DOES happen from time to time, even in the middle of the show -- is between Kaoru and Aoi anyway, and you never really get the feeling that either of the other girls are ever going to win him over. Kaoru and Aoi's bonds from the past are simply too strong for that, and these are also another reason why the whole middle section never really bothered me all that much, even when I later read the manga version. Their relationship can probably be compared to Ah! My Goddess' main pair Belldandy and Keiichi.
Ai Yori Aoshi is a pretty nice-looking show. I was a bit surprised to see the difference in art styles when I later read the manga, though, especially when it came to Aoi herself. In the anime, she's surprisingly dainty; with small hands and thin arms, you'd never peg her to be doing back-breaking housework each and every day. But, as we learn in one of the middle-to-later episodes; it was almost all Kaoru, Tina and an at-the-time fairly non-clumsy Taeko could do to keep up with her. The rest of the cast look a good deal thinner than their manga selves too, though not nearly as prominently as Aoi. The animation is also as decent as you could expect from an eight year old show. Slapstick comedy aside, Ai Yori Aoshi is fairly relaxing and calm, and even Tina's random tantrums doesn't ever elevate it over the point of excess.
I'm considerably less excited about the dub, though. Even barring Tina's bad accent, it's clear that this dub hasn't aged very well. Most deliveries come across as somewhat stale and dry. Particularly cringeworthy is the English pronounciations of the Japanese names, and ESPECIALLY when honorifics are added. I don't really hate this dub, but I've heard better dubs, and often at that.
The show itself, though, has aged considerably well. More so, in fact, when you look at just how much dreck daring to call itself romance and/or harem that's being released over these last few years. Aoi's extremely traditional upbringing might get on a lot of people's nerves, but give it -- and her -- a chance. She might end up winning you over before this show is done. And after THAT, there's always ~Enishi~.
A surprisingly well done romantic show that ought to curb some of your scepticism. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The box says 13 and up, and most of the time I agree with it, but some of the scenes involving Kaoru's past are pretty brutal. The nudity and fan service aren't graphic enough to worry about, and for the most part they keep things tasteful.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, bilingual
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Ai Yori Aoshi © 2002 Fumizuki Kou / Hakusensha / Aiao Project
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