Ai Yori Aoshi
(see original review)
Never before in my brief reviewing career has it been so hard to come up with a star ranking for a title, ever. Goodness, let's try though, shall we?
With the first volume setting the mood for the viewers, it becomes apparent that they are in for quite an amazing ride. This title literally has it all: Beautiful artwork, main characters that won't stop (Aoi and Kaoru are absolutely incredible, no joke), and a true-blue, you might even say "bluer than indigo" (yes, commence your silly eye-rolling) romantic plot with the patented "troubled backgrounds" to keep it driving forward, this title plastered a warm smile all over my stupid face for almost the entire first volume. Both of the main characters are very well thought-out and developed, and their relationship progresses beautifully. I really need to insert some accolades here as well for the author's decision not to use the typical harem-anime hero. Thank GOD the J.C. Staff favored instead a realistic and esily identifiable main. I just kept thinking that this series just couldn't get any better, could it? Well, not to sound clairvoyant or anything, but I was right. The last episode of the volume left me with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that was only confirmed and deepened when I picked up the second volume. Yup, that's right, this title totally flips from the His and Her Circumstances-ish, one-on-one, incredible romantic comedy to... (Drumroll please.)
A Dating Sim.
And so proceeds the downward rollercoaster that is episode five and onward: Without warning, a seemingly endless horde of secondary characters pop out of the woodwork with the scripted express purpose of coming in-between Aoi and Kaoru. A dumb, boob-groping, gaijin blonde (Tina), a witchy guardian (Miyabi), and a big-busted brunette (Taeko) are all introduced and immediately shoved into our newly-formed fantasy romance with little to no warning or preparation, causing a very negative reaction from 99% of the test-audience (the pervert really shouldn't count though, should he?) But ho, the worst is yet to come! Those three are unfortunately only the first set to come along to make life hell for our newly-formed couple, as the creators seemed to think "the more, the merrier," right? Mayu, an annoying, love-stricken "little sister" figure enters with volume three, and Chika, a girl with the worst tan lines I've ever seen (eyes...Buuuurrrrnn...Make it stop!!! Thank God for reversible covers is all I can say) enters with volume four, bringing with them more of the annoying harem crap that got old in the second volume. How I hacked through that jungle of episodes and survived I will never know, but suddenly, as we get to that fourth volume, that wonderful and blessed oasis in the middle of that Sahara that was a forced harem anime, it seems as if the creators all finally looked back and realized "crap, nobody likes our secondary characters, time for some humanizing!" And humanize they did, but by this point most of the other people in the audience simply didn't care and didn't really even want to like the secondary characters, preferring to pine after the lost beautiful relationship that they caught a glimpse of in the first volume.
I guess this is where I differ from most other fans though, because I actually finally started to get into the feel of the secondary characters here, allowing them to even entertain me...a little. This is also where it makes an important switch from a wannabe-harem to an actual, full-blown "dating sim" anime by actually showing the audience just how each of the secondary characters could have potentially been (some in more than a few years, hopefully) Kaoru's interest. This depth and effort is really all that the secondary characters needed to be accepted by the audience, but they needed it IN THE BEGINNING, not in the FOURTH %@#!?* VOLUME!!!! Why they wasted time (so much time) on forced comedy gags like making fun of Taeko's bust size (a recurring joke that pretty much removes a star for me all on its own) and on other asinine aspects of this series when they could have been telling the real stories behind these characters I will never know.
For the patient though, the missing element is revitalized in the first episode of volume four, as Aoi and Kaoru actually get to spend some time together (*cheers*) Yes, I know, it's about time, but it still doesn't happen much throughout that volume, just in the first (#16) and fifth (#20) episodes. Since it's been so long though, it's a more than welcome transition that allows the fifth volume to take this series back to the relationship that really made this series incredible.
An interesting dilemma for us anime viewers is presented here though, as we are used to series' that are great for the duration, but have absolutely sucky endings: What do we do with an anime that starts out incredible, drifts in the middle (with "drifting" being an incredibly forgiving word for it) and finishes out incredibly? Well, my reluctantly-given opinion would be to watch it, especially if you're a fan of other romantic comedies like His and Her Circumstances or Oh My Goddess. Twenty-five dollars a volume does seem really harsh when you're a starving college student though, so take the above recommendation with a grain of salt. I would also like to say though that this series has the best ending for a romantic anime that I've ever seen. I would even say that it really had the ending that I wanted His and Her Circumstances to have, a fact which prompts me to heartily thank J.C. Staff for bringing this title into my home. "Your mileage may vary" (to quote our esteemed figurehead) but for those with the Biblical Job-like patience, the reward is definitely worth it.
Now if only Enishi would come out soon!
P.S. I did actually watch the dub version and, aside from them keeping in the "fanboy Japanese" of the honorifics and such, I did like the dub as the effort that the translators put into keeping the feel of the conversation the same, even to the extent of making Aoi speak without contractions (a definite sign of high-breeding) definitely showed. Two thumbs up.
A definite recommendation here for patient fans of similar series like His and Her Circumstances, others might want to stay away from this series though. Well, except for the first volume, the couple's first night together is totally worth the price of admission, for any fan, trust me. ^_^ — Isaac Cynova
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
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Ai Yori Aoshi © 2002 Fumizuki Kou / Hakusensha / Aiao Project
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