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"Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi" Needs a Stronger Bond

Ai Yori Aoshi is yet another series that I had been interested in seeing, but wasn’t high enough on my priority list to buy. I’ve seen the trailers on other Geneon DVDs and they gave me the impression that the series is a serious romantic drama. Though I’m not sure about the original series, for its sequel series, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi (which means “Bluer than Indigo, Fate” in Japanese), this was a misrepresentation. In fact, Enishi has so much comedy that it ends up little better than the typical harem show.

Episodes included on this disc:
Episode #5: “Piano”
Episode #6: “Journey”
Episode #7: “Summer Resort”
Episode #8: “Fish and Water”

Two years have passed since the original Ai Yori Aoshi, and the mistress has officially approved Karou and Aoi’s love for each other. Since Aoi is rich, she owns a really big mansion in the countryside meant just for her and Kaoru. Well, except for the fact that she rents out the place to Tina, an American swimmer, Taeko, who performs maid-like duties, and now Chika, Taeko’s young cousin. As if that wasn’t enough, Mayu, another rich, idealistic teen, visits almost every day in order to compete with Tina for Kaoru’s heart. Unfortunately for them, Kaoru only has feelings for Aoi. And unfortunately for him, he and Aoi are not allowed to reveal their relationship, unless Something Horrible happens.

When we join the story, Mayu is receiving a brand new dress from her mother, who’s in France, and is excited to show it off. And what better way to do that than to go out on a date with Kaoru? Of course, Kaoru agrees to the date, but Mayu realizes that she hasn’t planned anything for the event other than wearing her dress! Later, Kaoru has to complete a final thesis before the end of the semester, so he needs complete peace and quiet. Tina and Mayu, being the harem fodder that they are, bother Kaoru every five minutes with some lame excuse such as giving him a massage or making him a protein drink. Kaoru, of course, eventually succeeds at turning his thesis in on time, so his summer is free. Overjoyed by that, Tina suggests they all go out for summer, so the gang packs up and heads out to a summer cabin. Taeko gets to show off her driving skills (it turns out she’s still a lot better than Azumanga‘s Yukari) and Kaoru and Aoi finally get some time alone together. In the last episode on the disc Chika and her two friends are training for an upcoming swimming relay, but Chizuru doesn’t know how to swim! Tina reveals that she used to be a swimming coach back in America and works fast to prep the team in the two weeks before the race. Can Chizuru overcome her fear?

This isn’t the first time I’ve come into a series half-way in (off the top of my head, others include Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dai-Guard, Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Digimon, R.O.D. the TV, and Slayers), so I don’t know exactly what went on during the original series. While it would certainly clear up some questions I have (such as why Kaoru and Aoi’s love is forbidden), it didn’t stop me from enjoying this disc. The characters work pretty well together and have good chemistry. While it is short on slapstick humor like other harem shows such as Tenchi Muyo!, Ranma 1/2, and Love Hina, it more than makes up for it with sugary-sweet drama. Kaoru is the ultimate nice guy, and he seems physically unable to refuse a request from any of the girls or get mad at them. His emotional range on the disc is limited to that stupid grin of his and the typical anime male nervous chuckle. I know he doesn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but this is ridiculous– and boring to watch.

Of course, he’s not the true focus of the series, the girls are. Tina is your typical anime American stereotype: loud, brash, perverted, cocky, and nowhere as smart as the other members. She also has this weird fascination with grabbing the breasts of the other female residents. Normally I wouldn’t complain, but in this case it’s just a blatant attempt to draw male viewers and nothing more. Also, the scene where she tries to feel up Chika and her friends’ breasts is kind of creepy. Tina’s counterpart, Mayu, is sweet and shy most of the time, though she can easily get as energetic as her friends. She’s more or less your typical dreamy young teenage girl, though her focus episode at the beginning of the disc is pretty sweet, especially her piano scenes. Too bad Mayu doesn’t play the piano more often.

Chika is the young girl who doesn’t really know any better and she’s the one asking all the questions the fans would be asking. She’s not nearly as cute as the young girls in other series such as Cardcaptor Sakura or Pokémon, but she has her place, I guess. The Manager, Miyabi, is the level-headed leader of the bunch. She doesn’t get much screen time during the disc, and I hope the rest of the series remedies that. Taeko has three traits discernable from this disc: she is the maid of the house, she learned how to drive from an arcade, and she can hold about three thousand gallons of beer. Like Miyabi, she doesn’t get much screen time or development.

The star of the series is Aoi, and watching it’s easy to see why Kaoru would choose her over Tina or Mayu. I mean, what guy wouldn’t want a really cute chick with a fabulous body, tons of money, really good cooking skills and a penchant for kimonos? While I personally think Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess would make an even better girlfriend, Aoi certainly comes close. And while she herself is not a fanservice character in the traditional sense (Aoi doesn’t wear many outfits besides her kimono, despite this taking place in present day), the marketers certainly don’t see it that way, which isn’t too surprising. Most of the DVD Covers and stock pictures show Aoi in sexy positions with her kimono falling off or in some other similar pose to show off her body. Heck, even the insert to the DVD features a piece of artwork like this. It makes quite the nice pin-up.

Unfortunately, even Aoi can’t keep Enishi from ultimately seeming forced. Even when the story is flowing smoothly, it doesn’t do much. Aoi and Kaoru’s relationship doesn’t progress at all on this disc (though that may be since the majority of the screen time is devoted to Mayu and Tina), and aside from Mayu, Tina, and Chizuru, the other characters get very little development. Aoi herself seems to be just a background character, as the only time she actually gets any kind of focus is during the “King of the Straws” game in Episode #7. When all is said and done, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before and nothing to make the show truly stand out.

The animation is pretty well done. Since there’s no action or anything like it, most of characters talk, walk, run, and little else. The colors are bright and soft, fitting in with the setting very nicely, and the comedic moments have good timing as well as fluid-enough animation. It’s not something you’d show off your high-end plasma HD TV with, but it gets the job done. The audio gets pretty much the same grade. Both the opening and closing themes are catchy, though not mind-blowing. Both voice casts do a good job with the characters, but the Japanese cast is slightly better. For some reason, the English cast (which is mostly made up of veteran actors from BangZoom) sounds off. While the dubbing isn’t quite as bad as Love Hina, it’s not exactly a shining example of the medium. Still, most casual anime fans will find it adequate.

Extras barely register. Aside from the aforementioned pin-up, we get a clean version of the opening and closing themes and trailers for three other Geneon titles. Compared to Vol. 1, which includes a mini-sode where Santa Claus, who looks exactly like Aoi, pays Kaoru a visit, these extras are pitiful.

Overall, it’s hard to recommended Ai Yori Aoishi Enishi. I am definitely interested in seeing the rest of the series, but I don’t think I can recommend it over other shoujo dramas like Fruits Basket. If you need a way to waste a lazy Sunday afternoon, though, you could worse.

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