AI YORI AOSHI (2002)

 

Format: 24 23-minute episodes on 5 DVDs

Rating: PG-13 (BN, AC, V)

Type: Romantic Comedy

American Production: Pioneer Entertainment (now Geneon)

Englis Dub Production: BANG ZOOM! Entertainment

Japanese Production: Pioneer LDC?

 

Grading

 

Premise:

B+

Story:

B+

Writing:

B+

Character Design:

A-

Animation:

B

Artistic Merits:

B+

English Dub:

A-

Musical Score:

A-

Songs:

A-

Opener (1st/2nd/3rd):

A/B+/A-

Closer:

B

 

 

Humor Content:

B

Action Content:

n/a

Drama Content:

A-

 

 

DVD Presentation:

A-

DVD Extras:

C+

 

 

OVERALL:

A-

 

Synopsis

Do you remember your first love? How it felt? How you thought it would last forever?

Lady Aoi, only daughter of the prominent Sakuraba family and heir to the Sakuraba conglomerate, has never forgotten hers. Childhood associations with the boy Kaoru, who was at the time the heir of another prominent family, led her to live her life preparing to be his wife. That she hasn’t seen him in years is no barrier to her goal when she travels to Tokyo to search for him. Fortunately for her, the kind stranger who helps her find her way at the train station turns out to be Kaoru! Unfortunately for her, Kaoru has severed all ties with his family, which greatly complicates matters since he won’t return regardless of what he might feel for Aoi and her family would now reject him as being beneath her standing. Nothing else matters as much to Aoi as Kaoru does, however, so her determination wins through. Even once her family relents, they still must pretend to be nothing more than landlord and tenant, since keeping their relationship secret is necessary to avoid a scandal. And keeping together becomes harder when additional female distractions for Kaoru arrive on the scene. . .

 

Quotes

“I am not perfect, but I hope you will learn to accept me.” (Lady Aoi)

“Like you, I will part ways with my family. I wish to be with you even if it means throwing everything away. So therefore. . . I ask you. . . please accept me, vows and all, and make me your wife.” (Lady Aoi)

 

The Long View

Ai Yori Aoshi has a good bit of comedic content and some interesting supporting characters, but there’s only one consideration that really matters in a romantic story like this: do the two leads make a pleasing couple? The answer is a resounding “yes!” The series always shines brightest when Kaoru and Aoi are interacting directly, and their loving embraces are usually poster-worthy. This is a couple that endears themselves to the viewer, makes us earnestly want to see them together and living happily ever after. Yes, the situations sometime get a bit sappy, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more tender and convincing love story anywhere in anime.

The main characters make the series what it is. Kaoru seems like the generic anime romance good guy: he’s kind, gentle, caring, decent, and noble. He is a character scarred both physically and emotionally by past trauma, however, one who was so alone that he didn’t feel like he was living for anyone or anything before Aoi came back into his life. He needs someone that will care for him unreservedly, regardless of troublesome considerations of familial associations, and Aoi is that person. She, in turn, is the perfect embodiment both of traditional Japanese expectations for what a wife should be and of the Japanese ideal of yashashii, which embodies kindness, gentleness, and meekness with sensitivity and an absence of malice. She is a cute creature, perhaps too much of a worrywart and a bit too fragile and apologetic at times, but also one that is fiercely determined to pursue her goals regardless of the cost. For her, Kaoru represents her heart’s desire, the goal she has been striving towards for many years. Some American viewers might regard her absolute devotion to Kaoru and her lack of aspiration to anything else as being demeaning, but I find such a passionate devotion to anything (or anyone) to be worthy of respect.

Kaoru and Aoi make such a perfect and beautiful couple that it’s unfortunate that the whole series could not be just about them and their growing relationship. The first three and a half episodes, which set up the relationship between the two, are a brilliant production that easily rates as the best anime romantic story I’ve seen to date. Later episodes and scenes which focus exclusively on the pair of them never fail to wrap the viewer up in the wonderment of their romance and the last three episodes, which partially resolve the lingering family issues, are a great complement to the beginning. The story loses a bit in between with the change of venue to the mansion and the ensuing entrance of additional female characters/tenants. This transforms the series into a typical shonen “harem” story, although Ai Yori Aoshi sets itself apart from the rest in this genre by making it absolutely clear from the start who the guy prefers. This is a refreshing departure from the norm!

Of the supporting characters, many are very typical for “harem” stories. Miss Miyabi, who helped raise and train Lady Aoi and manages her business affairs, is the disapproving authority figure, though she distinguishes herself later on by gradually changing her opinion of Kaoru and acting to help, rather than hinder, his relationship with Aoi. (She really does have lady Aoi’s best interest at heart.). Tina Foster, an American college student who was raised in Japan, represents the obnoxious drunkard, while busty maid/coed Taeko is the shy, klutzy character. Maya, a 16-year-old debutante who starts attending the same college as Kaoru, Tina, and Taeko midway through the series, seems to be the spoiled, obsessive character, although the backstory revealed on her (and her past connection to Kaoru) runs deeper than the norm. Last to appear is Chika, the enthusiastic younger girl with distinctive tan lines who is also the one most prone to winding up in embarrassing situations with Kaoru. All of these characters, except Miss Miyabi, find themselves attracted to Kaoru to one degree or another, which leads to the typical battles for his affection since none of them know about his relationship with Aoi. Much of the humor in the series comes from this. Most of the suspense in the series comes from wondering whether or not Kaoru can remain faithful to Aoi, but this is never really an issue in serious question. The Dramatic Content rating is much more for how well the central romantic story plays out.

Ai Yori Aoshi has other factors in its favor. The technical merits overall are good, but the character design is outstanding, easily one of the series’ strongest points. The look of Taeko is maybe a bit overdone, but all of the other characters strike exactly the right note in appearance, particularly Lady Aoi. Having her always dressed in traditional Japanese clothing, as opposed to the Western clothing favored by most women her age, presents such a striking contrast between her and the other young women in the series that it occasionally becomes a plot point. (One has to wonder if the creators weren’t trying to send a message to their young Japanese audiences about not letting traditional values get thrown aside.) The writing sometimes strays too much into needless melodrama, but it’s good enough and provides a satisfying balance of humor, charm, and drama while throwing in an occasional truly excellent episode. The soundtrack is very effective and both the Japanese and English voice performances are well-done. The opener is a real winner, featuring the fantastic song “Towa No Hana” (“Eternal Flower”). Later episodes use alternate openers which features the same graphics but different verses of the song. My preference, though, is for the original opener.

Ai Yori Aoshi is fairly heavy in fan service, though this is primarily in the form of near-nudes, skimpily dressed characters, and Tina’s very odd way of greeting people (which is a completely unnecessary addition and my one major gripe about the series). The violence rating is there for a single fairly intense scene early on.

Finally, a bit about the name. The names of anime movies and series are typically either translated or replaced entirely when the series is released in the States, unless the title was a proper name to begin with. Ai Yori Aoshi is a prominent exception that may signal a new trend towards preserving original anime names in some cases. Keeping the original name in this case may have as much to do with the fact it doesn’t translate well as with the interests of artistic integrity, however. The title is sometimes translated as “Bluer Than Indigo,” although a better (albeit looser) translation is “True Blue Love.”

      Ai Yori Aoshi was a surprise smash hit on both sides of the Pacific, thus ensuring that it would have a follow-up season. It is called Ai Yori Aoshi-Enishi, which is reviewed separately here.

 

DVD Extras

·  Alternate reverse cover

·  Postcard featuring series artwork

·  Extensive company previews

·  Conceptual art gallery

·  Series trailers

·  Creditless opening

·  “Towa No Hana” music video (Volume 1 only)

·  4½ minute bonus episode, subtitled “Speaking of Dreams,” present in subtitled form only. (Volume 5 only)

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Aoi Sakuraba

Michelle Ruff

Kaoru Hanabishi

David Lelyveld

Miss Miyabi

Lia Sargent

Tina Foster

Wendee Lee

Taeko

Sue Beth Arden

Mayu

Kirsty Pape

Chika

Kay Jensen

Suzuki, minor roles

Lex Lang

Sato, minor roles

Ron Allen

Utsume

Kaeko Sakamoto*

Aoi’s mother

Barbara Goodson

 

 * - also the ADR director

 

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