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 fourth volume Ai Yori Aoshi continued to move forward with its harem comedy theme though some of the Aoi and Kaoru banter was tossed in for good measure. The group went to the beach for the obligatory anime girls in bikini episode but some of Aoi and Kaoru's insecurities made the subplot somewhat interesting. The two had more personal time together and there actually was a decent amount of character development all around.
This time around we're joining Aoi and Kaoru in the final moments of their show. Unlike the previous four installments this one includes four episodes instead of five (this was a 24 episode program after all). The first episode here is relatively standalone with only a few tidbits that tie into the final three. Aoi becomes ill and everyone has to pitch in around the house to do what she does. Kaoru earns even more respect for her because he realizes just how hard she actually works despite being seemingly weak physically. This puts him in Miyabi's good graces though some bad news towards the end sets up the next story arc.
Now, let me start out by saying that I appreciated these three episodes because they focused solely on Aoi and Kaoru, which is something that hasn't been done since the first volume. If you have been following the series then you already know how Aoi's mother allowed her to remain with Kaoru under the supervision of Miyabi. Well, father has decided to step in and put an end to all of the nonsense.
He doesn't come down on Aoi to break her heart or to be cruel but he does see it as a simple matter of fact. Kaoru may be a good kid but he's not a member of a family and certainly not in Aoi's social stature. Therefore Aoi's daddy arranges her to marry someone else and essentially ruins both of their lives. Things do not end predictably and while I won't spoil it for you I will say that things don't really end. The sequel series (or next season if you will) covers the remainder of the story so Ai Yori Aoshi doesn't stand on its own two feet in the end.
Ai Yori Aoshi hooked me with its first volume. The show started out with impressive flare and promised to be different than the rest. Unfortunately that promise paved the way for disappointment as one volume after another dumped secondary characters into the plot. Things became muddled quickly and the Aoi and Kaoru story didn't seem as important any more. This final volume once again focuses on the couple but it's kind of too little, too late.
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 first volume, 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 final volume of Ai Yori Aoshi includes some Pioneer Previews, DVD Credits, and English Credits for the 24th episode. The most notable feature on this disc; and for the series, is a short bonus episode. This smallish inclusion offers a silly story where the gang is eating at a picnic and random insanity ensues. It's nice to have but certainly doesn't impress in the long run.
And with that Ai Yori Aoshi ends. This series has been one heck of a rollercoaster from start to finish but I do have to say that it went out on an appropriate note. Sure there wasn't a lot of closure but if you hung on for this long there's little doubt that you'll check out Enishi, the next season. Through good and bad Ai Yori Aoshi was a series that offered a lot of frustration but plenty of laughs to accompany. Fans of true harem comedies will appreciate this show but if you find yourself tired of clichés you'll probably want to rent it.