Ai Yori Aoshi: The Complete Series DVD Review

Hanabishi Kaoru is a gray university student passing his days alone
in his small apartment. Kaoru was the heir to the wealthyAi Yori Aoshi Anime Classic Hanabishi family but grim circumstances convinced him to cut his ties with his family and live a lonely and poor life. That is until one day he stumbles upon Sakuraba Aoi – a childhood friend of his. Aoi came to town just to meet him. She and Kaoru has been promised to each other from a young age and now she has come to marry him. But the Sakuraba family will not approve their marriage unless Kaoru obediently returns to the Hanabishi family. Kaoru finds himself attracted to Aoi but refuses to return to his family. Finally a compromise is made: Kaoru and Aoi will live together in one of the Sakuraba summer estates, but their relationship will remain a secret as to not harm the Sakuraba’s reputation. On the surface Aoi will become the landlord of the estate, which will be turned into a boarding house with Kaoru as the only tenant. Soon enough they move into the estate and begin their new life together. However, things get more complicated when Kaoru’s long-absent American friend Tina appears and rents a room at the “boarding house”. Mayu, a noble girl who owns a great debt to Kaoru, also make her presence
known. Add the klutzy housekeeper Tae and her cousin Chika and
you now have a house full of girls from whom Kaoru and Aoi need
to keep their relationship a secret.

Despite its premise featuring many attractive teenage girls and one guy living under the same roof Ai Yori Aoshi is not one of those cheesy 90s harem shows. It is a romantic series mixed with some dramatic and some comedic elements. Kaoru is an intelligent and kind guy who just happened to have attracted the attention of several girls throughout his childhood. The girls living in the boarding house do cling to him and fight over him verbally, but it is all in good spirit and nothing over the top. Moreover fan service in Ai Yori Aoshi is non-existent and some of the girls have no real romantic interest in Kaoru. Although the series does show Miyabi (Aoi’s chaperon), Tae and Chika thinking about Kaoru from time to time it’s clear that only Aoi, Tina and Mayu are seriously interested in him. Kaoru is only interested in Aoi, but the constant “girl troubles” that surrounds him test his devotion to Aoi from time to time.

The beauty of Ai Yori Aoshi comes from the budding love between Kaoru and Aoi. It is a gentle charming Japanese romance with an emphasis on emotional support and mutual understanding rather than physical actions. Ai Yori Aoshi feels different than all the other romantic anime series out there because it paints the romance in the colors of traditional Japanese customs. Aoi was raised in a very strict and traditional way and her upraising makes her stand out. Aoi’s love for Kaoru is very strong. From the moment they meet she is willing to do anything for him as long as they can be together. This can appear unrealistic for viewers at first but once Aoi’s past is revealed we learn what a pivotal part Kaoru (or rather Kaoru’s image in her heart) played in her youth. And this support is mutual because Aoi knows Kaoru more than anyone else. When Kaoru is burdened by his sad past it is Aoi who comes forth and offers emotional support and consolation.
Even though the other girls don’t form a real threat to Kaoru and Aoi’s relationship they help liven up the boarding house and create a bustling social life for the two. Tina’s strange manners and excessive drinking habits, Miyabi’s stiff attitude and Tae’s quirky day-to-day struggle to work do a good job at diversifying what might have been too straight of a romance otherwise. The themes in the series are mostly those common in the genre: the first date, a cooking episode, a beach episode, a sleepover episode, etc. But even though we have come to expect all of these they are still handled skillfully here. They don’t feel out of place and never derail into degrading or obscene situations. Even the first beach episode (there are two) is charming and quite self-restrained.

The first season of the Ai Yori Aoshi follows the manga very closely and entertains without being too repetitive. It consisted of 24 episodes and was followed by a second season, called Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi, that spaned 12 episodes. Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi is very different from the first season. It only takes selected parts from the manga and mixes them together, sometimes showing them in a different order than that of the manga. The Ai Yori Aoshi manga gradually became darker and more serious. However, except for a few episodes Enishi focuses on showing the Sakuraba residents having fun in various situations and doesn’t bother to address some of the more serious matters. Enishi is more revealing than its predecessor and you can expect to see a lot of exposed bodies here. Unfortunately because Enishi doesn’t focus on the main plot it only lightly touches on the problems Kaoru and Aoi are facing. The series ends with an alternative ending to that of the manga because most of the later parts of the manga were inevitably left out. In short, Enishi is filled with harmless romantic-comedy fun, but for the most part is off-balanced when compare to the first season or the manga. Granted it’s still a joyride nonetheless and you might feel a pinch of sadness when you finally bid farewell to the lively cast of this show.

Ai Yori Aoshi: The Complete Series contains the two seasons across six DVDs. Most of the DVDs pack six episodes. This made me worry if compressing six episodes into one DVD won’t hurt the visual fidelity. It turns out Ai Yori Aoshi looks quite good even with 6 episodes a disc. There is a subtle case of aliasing throughout Ai Yori Aoshi and Enishi. It is noticeable but not obtrusive. Other than that both seasons look great on modern HD TVs. The DVDs include English and Japanese stereo audio tracks and English subtitles. This complete series set uses the old Geneon dub and subtitles. The English dub is functional but cannot compete against the Japanese dub. That is because in the Japanese dub both Aoi and Miyabi speak in very polite Japanese and use honorifics. Tina on the other hand uses the rough and uncommon Hakata dialect. The English dub cannot reflect these speech patterns and since both Aoi and Tina are defined by the way they speak it is vital to view this series in Japanese. The English subtitles are very good. They not only provide a good translation but also retain most of the original Japanese honorifics used.
This release comes with a wealth of extras: the two special episodes “Speaking of Dreams” and “Miyuki”, textless version of the opening and ending themes as well as two insert songs, a real-life music clip featuring Ishida Yoko singing the first season’s opening theme, a recording of Ishida Yoko performance in Anime Expo 2004 (where she sang both seasons’ opening themes), and some FUNimation trailers.

With its subtle mix of comedy, love and Japanese culture Ai Yori Aoshi will warm your heart and make you fall in love with Japan time and time again. This is an evergreen series which shows little to no signs of its age. Even though it eventually part ways with the original manga it still tells a story worth telling in a colorful, yet refined, way. If there ever was a romantic anime series worth being called a classic it’s Ai Yori Aoshi, and owning a collection that bundles it in its entirety is nothing less than a treat.

 


Pros:

- A subtle and meaningful love story.

- Hasn’t aged one bit.

- Filled with glimpses of traditional Japanese culture.

 

Cons:

- The second season downplays important plot points.

 

Final Score: 8.5/10 (Very Good)

 

 

Product Information: Ai Yori Aoshi: The Complete Series. Published by FUNimation Entertainment. Release Date: July 24, 2012.

Review Equipment: A Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a Premier DVX131 DVD player using an HDMI cable.


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