Ai Yori Aoshi
(from box copy) Kaoru Hanabishi just wanted to help. Aoi Sakuraba just wanted to find her first love. They never realized that they were looking for each other. Ever since their arranged marriage 18 years ago, Aoi had been in love with Kaoru. She traveled to Tokyo to meet him when she learned that the marriage had been called off. While Kaoru's impressed by Aoi's loyalty, innocence, and beauty, to accept her affection he might have to return to the Hanabishi clan and the emotional and physical pain he suffered during his childhood. Their self-control and their love will be put to the test when she moves in and he tries to stay a gentleman!
Ai Yori Aoshi has a split personality. Half of it wants to be a serious, dramatic romance with a dash of comedy like Maison Ikkoku. The other half wants to be a One Guy/Lots of Girls slapstick harem show like Love Hina. Had it decided to stick with one or the other, it would have worked beautifully. Sadly, it is unable to meld the two sides together to form a seamless show, and that is really to bad because Ai Yori Aoshi could have been really something special.
The first four episodes on DVD 1 *are* special. Kaoru and Aoi are wonderful characters. At first you think Aoi is too perfect, and that she'd be the kind of character most people mock. After all, she cleans house, cooks dinner, is very attentive and obedient of her husband and does everything with a smile. The second coming of Iwaki Rizel, right? Nope. She could have been robotic, but Aoi is a far more complex character than she lets on. She was bred to be the perfect wife for a man who will one day run her family's conglomerate. All she knows is how to be a trophy wife. Somewhere along the way, she stopped focusing on being a good wife and focused instead on how she can be a good wife for Kaoru. (Yes, there IS a difference) That she is willing to live in poverty and abandon her family for him just so she can get to know him may be a bit extreme, but soon enough you discover that Aoi's family is not a picture perfect family. They will do anything for their daughter, but there is a price to pay to be worthy of her, as Kaoru learns in episode 4.
Kaoru's family...is a mess. The Hanabishis almost make the Soumas in Fruits Basket look like the Brady Bunch. There is a REASON he fled his family, and why he misunderstands Aoi's intentions at first. Kaoru is scarred, both mentally and physically, but he desperately needs someone in his life to be the support he never had growing up. He really does need Aoi in his life, probably more than she needs him. Their relationship is bittersweet, awkward, emotional, and not an easy one to define. It's wonderful to see the two of them not only come into their own as a couple, but as individuals as well. They are two people who have been through a lot of hurt in their lives, and seek their salvation and redemption in each other. Very few couples in anime are as real as this one.
Unfortunately, this is not enough for the creators. In episode five, they change the series from a drama to a slapstick comedy with little transition. It's *very* jarring for the viewer. It's almost as if the fifth episode takes place in another series altogether. Where time should be spent on Kaoru and Aoi getting to know each other more, and working out their issues with their respective families, instead Aoi becomes the landlord of a mansion, and Kaoru has to pretend he is her tenant. We are then treated to a parade of outrageously weird characters. There is Miyabi, Aoi's trusted retainer who daylights as the mansion's manager. She is also a stark raving bitch most of the time, except when the plot calls for her to have a convenient change of heart.
Then Kaoru's college buddies start showing up, and of course his female friends, Tina and Taeko, become fellow tenants at the mansion. Tina is a very loud, very obnoxious, very dumb American who acts like a cat and whose favorite pastime is getting drunk and fondling other women's breasts, namely Taeko's. (Apparently it's customary in America for women to fondle each other's breasts as a sign of friendship...riiiiiiiight.) Taeko isn't much better than Tina as far as brains goes. She's very clumsy and always being suckered into situations where her voluptuous assets are exploited, usually in Kaoru's face. It doesn't help that Taeko is also the part time maid of the mansion. They have no idea of Kaoru's and Aoi's relationship, and thanks to a very convoluted and convenient plot point, they won't know, which leaves them free to run around, bring in more roomies as the series goes on, like Mayu, a childhood friend of Kaoru's, and Chika, Taeko's underage cousin who has the hots big time for Kaoru, instigate wacky hijinks in the name of making things complicated for Kaoru and Aoi.
And yet, just as the viewer gets fed up with all the sidetracking, it throws you for a loop and goes right back to being all about Kaoru and Aoi again, like the wackiness didn't really happen. This is really disappointing, since obviously they spent a lot of time and care on this show. Even when things settle down, the show is really at its best when it just focuses on the main couple. Not to say that the rest of the cast is irredeemable, in fact, all the supporting cast, including Tina, get better as the series goes along, but ultimately, they aren't the ones you want to know about. You already know from the outset that Kaoru and Aoi are going to be together, so it's just frustrating to see all the distractions, and not the least bit funny even though it's trying so hard to be. Forced comedy does not belong in a series like this.
The artwork and animation for Ai Yori Aoshi is stunning. The opening song by Ishida Yoko is beautiful and fits perfectly...had the show remained a dramatic romance. I was happy that they included a music video of her singing the opening. Seeing as she's being pushed as a crossover hit here in the US, it's a nice bonus. The rest of the soundtrack is beautiful as well, very understated but not so much that it disappears into the background or is forgettable. The DVD boxes are beautiful as well, with reversible covers and bonus postcards. The only real gripe I have with the US release is the dub. I don't like the English track as much as the Japanese track, yet, it's not fault of the English voice actors. This is a very Japanese series, and while though no fault of the voice actors, a lot IS lost in translation. Later on, especially when Mayu comes along, it becomes apparent that this series just doesn't work so well dubbed, not because of the quality of voice acting, which is actually very good, but there are a lot of puns involving the English language that just don't translate. Also, Aoi speaks in a very archaic, formal tone, and she lacks the presence that Kawasumi Ayako brings to the character. I have to give points for the effort though.
Thankfully, by the end of the third DVD, things seem to have finally settled down, and the story back on track. When it's a drama, Ai Yori Aoshi shines, with a gripping plot, sympathetic characters, and wonderful pacing. When it's a comedy, Ai Yori Aoshi is limp and stale, with one too many "been there seen that" cliches that suck away what momentum it has. Thankfully, it has more of the former than the latter. If you can pick through the comedic gristle to get to the meaty drama that is Ai Yori Aoshi, then I definitely recommend this series. It's not an all time classic, but there is a lot here to enjoy, and you WILL fall in love with Kaoru and Aoi.
They just deserved a far better supporting cast and storywriters, that's all...
A must own for hopeless romantics. Anyone else will just think it's hopeless. If you watch this in English, drop it a star. It's not a bad dub, but not everything translates well. — Christi
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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