Romantic comedy anime is one of those genres where it becomes something special when done correctly. Like most humor-centric anime the material tends to be repetitive, similar to other series that came before it, or just not funny. In the case of Ai Yori Aoshi I'm pleased to say that neither of those flaws is the case.
Created by Kou Fumizuki and released in manga form nearly ten years ago, the anime hit Japan's airwaves in 2002 and garnered another season released the following year. The show tells an unlikely love story about two people destined to be married. Sometimes the pill is hard to swallow but it takes an honest and sincere approach to being a romantic comedy. Ai Yori Aoshi is also a show that isn't afraid to take chances and be a little raunchy as well. This is a dangerous combination.
The series features two young lovers who met when they were merely children. Aoi has traveled to Tokyo to meet the unsuspecting Kaoru and has vowed to marry him even though she was only a memory of his youth prior to their meeting again. Kaoru has left his family, the Hanabishi's, and Aoi's clan takes issue with her marrying someone without a namely heritage. Somehow the two work things through and manage to get together. Their tale is one about love and discovery and all that sappy stuff.
In the second volume Aoi and Kaoru are adjusting to living in vicinity of each other. The dream about sleeping together as husband and wife has been put on the back burner thanks to Miyabi's babysitting but being able to spend their free time together seems to be enough. Other characters were brought into the mix in strong fashion and quite honestly the series became too crowded too quickly. Tina and Taeko are interesting characters for sure but after the first volume promised this to be a series solely about Aoi and Kaoru the second installment turned it into a harem comedy. Does the third follow suit? Unfortunately the answer to the aforementioned question is "yes it does".
Right from the start of this volume we have yet another female character added to the equation. The clouding of the plot and all around insanity continues to be a trend that Ai Yori Aoshi finds itself perpetuating. Don't misunderstand my grumblings; I truly do appreciate a good harem comedy. Tenchi and Love Hina happen to be two of my favorite series. It's just after the first volume of this particular series I was hoping for something more.
At any rate the girl introduced this time around is a young looking English student who immediately makes for some awkward moments with Kaoru. It is kind of funny that even though he is living on a residence with his "fiance" these girls continue to create racy situations for him. Mayu is a likeable enough character with a bubbly, if not crackpot, and serious personality. She doesn't get along very well with Tina and openly displays affection for Kaoru. This runs on for roughly two episodes and easily becomes the lowest point this show has hit.
After the first two episodes we finally get to see some quality Aoi and Kaoru time during a festival on Aoi's birthday. Everyone comes together to try to make a grand spectacle of things and for the most part they succeed. Kaoru's time away from Aoi to plan said event takes its toll on the emotionally frail girl. The fourth episode here doesn't help matters much either. Mayu steps forward to once again cause problems for Kaoru. It's the final story on this disc that finally connects and showcases the promising quality displayed on the first volume. When the two main characters finally have some time together the show breaks away from the underdeveloped and distracting secondary cast and features some real heartfelt storytelling.
This episode almost made the whole disc worth watching but to be quite honest much of what's here is drab. The whole crowded character roster coupled with one episodic and poorly conceived adventure after another does not help matters. Two episodes here are not very good, two are moderate at best, and one is absolutely fantastic. If you've been following Ai Yori Aoshi and appreciate the harem hoopla you might find the latest addition endearing. However, if you find the best moments of the show are when Aoi and Kaoru simply have time together then you're going to be mostly disappointed.
Ai Yori Aoshi came out five years ago and is presented with video quality that doesn't necessarily show signs of it. The full frame picture features a wide range of colors and a very clear image. This is a bright show and to be quite honest I didn't encounter any flaws with the transfer. Grain is kept minimal and, like the previous volumes`, there were no compression artifacts to gripe about. J.C.Staff did a marvelous job producing this series and Geneon offers a competent transfer that does it justice.
Both the Japanese and English dubs are presented on Ai Yori Aoshi with a stereo presentation. The dubbing quality for both is quite decent with a good range in emotion and genuine feeling put behind the lines. It doesn't happen that often but I did not prefer one language over the other in this case. As far as the quality is concerned this too is quite good. There are no flaws to complain about and the audio throughout is very clear and well balanced. A 5.1 surround track would have been appreciated but considering this is a dialogue driven show I'm not sure that it is necessary. The stereo track suits this series fine enough.
The extras menu for Ai Yori Aoshi's third volume features a creditless ending, a special creditless ending for episode 15, another art gallery, and more previews.
With the introduction of Mayu Ai Yori Aoshi loses a little more of what made it special in the beginning. The crowded roster now sucks up most of the air time with practically no development in between. Sure Tina, Taeko, and Mayu may be good for a laugh but the main attraction here is Aoi and Kaoru. Sadly the two do not receive the air time that they should. Out of the five episodes here only one of them is good enough to push the envelope; the others are just kind of there.
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