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 (during the first volume at any rate).
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 show begins by following a cute girl, Aoi Sakuraba, adorned in traditional Japanese clothing through the massive and confusing train system in Tokyo. She is clutching a picture that is obviously one of her and a boy at a much younger age and a piece of paper with an address written on it. She seems full of nervous determination but when she becomes lost and breaks a sandal she has to rely on the help of a young man, Kaoru Hanabishi.
Kaoru seems to be traveling in the same direction as Aoi and decides to help her meet the boy she came to visit. The only thing is that Aoi has not spoken to the boy in 18 years and does not know what he looks like now. For some reason she fell in love with the childhood friend and vowed to marry him later in life. Here she is looking for love and her unsuspecting husband whom she happens to be unable to find.
Kaoru feels sorry for her when the address she traveled to was empty and offers to take her in for some tea. He talks to her for a while and Aoi reveals the photograph, which after inspection strikes Kaoru in a way. He states that it is a picture of him when he was younger and his friend Aoi-chan. Kaoru is the boy that Aoi has been looking for.
Ok, so that twist of fate or destiny, whatever you want to call it, is a little cheesy. I mean, how unlikely is it that Aoi would find the boy she was looking for in Tokyo, one of the largest cities on Earth? Once you get past that obvious stretch in logic you'll find appreciation in the material that follows.
Aoi spouts on about how she trained for this day and how she has longed to be the perfect wife for Kaoru. Naturally he doesn't know how to take it all in but slowly comes to terms with the recent development. The only problem here is that Aoi wants him to return to Hanabishi, which is something that he can't do considering he left the family due to some difficult circumstances. Things get even more complicated when Aoi's family comes into the mix and go on about Kaoru not having a family and thus being not worthy of Aoi's love.
In between it all this first volume offers a ton of humor that often involves Kaoru innocently trying to become accustomed to Aoi's advances. It's not like she tries to jump his bones or anything but considering he has never even had a girlfriend, knowing a girl is changing in the next room, lying beside him, or even holding his hand creates a certain amount of discomfort. He grows to appreciate Aoi in these five episodes and the interactions between them are sincere enough to believe.
Few shows capture the emotional range that Ai Yori Aoshi displays in this first volume. The awkwardness that you would expect to come from this kind of situation blankets almost every scene but well-timed humor and fine writing keeps things bubbly enough to be entertaining. I'm looking forward to watching the rest of the series and so far I'm very impressed.
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 even though there are five episodes on the first volume there are little to no compression artifacts. 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 features a music video, conceptual art gallery, a US trailer, and some previews. In other words there's nothing groundbreaking here.
The romantic comedy genre is one that I have mixed feelings about. Sometimes a series is produced correctly and they work and other times nothing really clicks. Fortunately for Ai Yori Aoshi it's the former. Nearly everything in this first volume worked very well. The characters were well developed, the emotion felt real, and the laughs were genuine. This is an older show and chances are good that you may have already seen it but if you haven't you should definitely give it some consideration.