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 first volume we were introduced to Aoi and Kaoru and learned a little about both. Ever since she was a child Aoi dreamt about marrying Kaoru and developed herself to become the perfect wife for him. Kaoru on the other hand had completely forgotten about her and put that phase of his life behind due to trauma induced by the Hanabishi. Still, with Aoi being so attentive, cute, and "ahem", well-rounded, love naturally began to bloom. After a few episodes of getting to know each other the two managed to convince Aoi's family to afford them a relationship. At the very end they moved in with Miyabi, a woman who has been charged with Aoi's development. Naturally insanity followed suit.
This second volume pictures up roughly where the last one left off. Kaoru, Aoi, and Miyabi are all living together with members of the Meiritsu University photography club being introduced. Tina is the headstrong American blonde with a penchant for groping girls and alcohol who also moves in with Kaoru into the servant's quarters. In this volume Taeko appears and starts off by telling the crew that she has recently been fired from her housekeeping job. She's something of a klutz and tends to bugger things up but Miyabi is convinced by Aoi to hire her. The first episode here features Taeko getting into the groove of being the Sakuraba housekeeper which is a challenging task to say the least. Miyabi is a demanding boss though Aoi goes out of her way to see that Taeko fits in well enough.
After the housekeeping episode is an adventure that is sprung by Aoi's desire to go on vacation with Kaoru. With Taeko, Tina, Satō, and Suzuki from the photography club in tow the group heads up to the mountains for a hot springs resort. Suzuki convinces Taeko that there is a shrine somewhere nearby with a spirit and sends her off to go snap a picture of it. Given that she has no sense of direction Aoi and Kaoru go after her out of concern while Suzuki, Satō, and Tina drink their body weight in alcohol. Kaoru and Aoi have some nice moments together and vow to head back to this spot by themselves some day.
In the next episode Tina buys a ferret, much to Miyabi's dismay. The little creature runs around destroying things, creating a ruckus, and generally being an annoying little varmint. If you can't tell by now the show has slipped into a rather formulaic arc of episodes that really don't have a lot to do with the one that follows. In fact that only thing that generally comes about from these episodes are some laughs and new characters. Two other episodes are featured on this disc as well but they too are essentially one-shots.
The first volume really impressed me with the tension and emotion felt between Kaoru and Aoi. When it focused primarily on those two Ai Yori Aoshi becomes something special and not like the others. With this volume the episodic spin and larger pool of characters kind of clouds things and it doesn't feel as fine tuned as the first installment did. This is still a funny show with a lot going for it but the slight change in focus was a minor let down.
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 extras menu for Ai Yori Aoshi's second volume features clean opening and closing animations, some art galleries, an unofficial trailer, and some previews.
Ai Yori Aoshi begins to show its true colors as not just a romantic comedy but a harem one at that. With Kaoru being the central male and girls being introduced into his life the show starts to lose some of the charm it began with. The relationship between Aoi and Kaoru is still the main focal point but the inclusion of characters like Tina and Taeko really shifts the attention. This second volume still presents a very funny and charming show and five decent episodes but it's just not as strong as the first installment.