Ai Yori Aoshi Vol. #1: Faithfully Yours - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: C
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 29.98/34.98
  • Running time: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Ai Yori Aoshi

Ai Yori Aoshi Vol. #1: Faithfully Yours

By Chris Beveridge     January 01, 2003
Release Date: February 25, 2003


Ai Yori Aoshi Vol. #1: Faithfully Yours
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.


What They Say
True Blue Love. Kaoru Hanabishi just wanted to help. Aoi Sakuraba just wanted to find her first love. They never realized they were looking for each other. Ever since their arranged marriage 18 years ago, Aoi had been in love with Kaoru, but she traveled to Tokyo to meet him when she learned the marriage had been called off. While Kaoru’s impressed by Aoi’s loyalty, innocence and beauty, to accept her affection, he might have to return to the Hanabishi Clan and the emotional and physical pain he suffered during his childhood... Their self-control and their love will be put to the test when she moves in and he tries to stay a gentleman!

Each DVD volume of Ai Yori Aoshi will include a limited edition postcard and volume one DVD extras include a creditless opening, the Ai Yori Aoshi trailer, and a concept art gallery.

Ai Yori Aoshi- Faithfully Yours will also be available with a limited edition collector’s box and packaged with a special premium (while supplies last).

The Review!
The latest romantic series from Pioneer starts off with one of the strongest romantic angles I’ve seen in quite some time, but then looks to move into unfortunately familiar territory.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series features a very good stereo mix that mostly takes advantage with the music and the ambient sound effects to provide a good experience. The time spent in the train station is one of the best areas for sound effects, where you get to hear all the feet shuffling and other small sounds become very distinct. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout both language tracks and the music comes across great here.

Video:
Airing in the spring of 2002 and in fact just ending in September of 2002, this show is very recent and the source materials bear that out beautifully. This show is very rich in colors, especially with the lead character in her hair and her kimono, that it shines very well. There’s no cross coloration visible and aliasing is barely an issue. Flesh tones in particular come across extremely well here, providing more and more depth to the character designs.

Packaging:
Pioneer hits another one out of the ballpark by going with the clear keepcase and reversible cover method here. The front cover provides a demure Aoi in her kimono with the logo on the bottom in both Japanese and English (Though not an English translation of the series name, which is Bluer than Indigo). The volume title and volume number also appear on the cover as well as the spine. The back cover provides a number of screen shots and a good summary of the shows basic premise. The episode numbers and titles are listed prominently as well as a good block of the discs features and extras. The insert provides pictures from each episode alongside the chapter stops. The insert folds out to present a really great picture of Kaoru and Aoi leaning against each other under the sakura trees while the back of the insret provides information about the honorifics used in the subtitles and dub.

The reverse cover provides a more alluring shot of Aoi with her kimono sliding down and Kaoru getting a bit red in the face while the back cover provides the same information, but replaces the numerous screen shots with two simpler images.

Menu:
Done as photographs, each menu page has either a single or a couple of images of photographs with the characters on them while the backgrounds have different areas of a traditional Japanese home. The main menu is the most active with music playing and falling sakura leaves while the images in the photograph change. Moving to submenus is nice and fast and access times are good, but on our Panasonic deck, when we loaded the language selection menu and the actual icons came up for use, it killed the playback and put the player in a stop mode. We could only change audio/subtitles via the remote on the fly during regular playback, hence the low grade.

Extras:
The extras to open with here are small, but they’re good extras. The first one we have is a Yoko Ishida music video from the series, which has lots of live action throughout it but is unfortunately not subtitled, likely for legal/intellectual property reasons. There’s a US trailer for the show that people likely only saw during convention season last year and there’s also a small conceptual artwork gallery.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
If there’s one kind of show we can expect to come out ever year, it’s a romantic comedy. I’m a big fan of romantic comedies from when I first got into anime, though they were much harder to find back then. With these shows, I usually put myself into the mindset of viewing them as someone whose just getting into romantic comedies and it’s all new to them. After all, anime is all new to someone the first time they get into it, and I like to retain some of that magic if I can, especially considering how many titles I end up seeing.

Ai Yori Aoshi really manages to push things beyond what we normally get for a romantic series. The first four episodes here usually would have been done in one or two episodes at most in many series, but instead gets the time to really move slowly here and to allow you to have time with the characters. This turns out to be very important in the end.

Taking place in present day, we’re introduced to college student Kaoru Hanabishi. Yes, college student. He’s living on his own in the big city, has a nice small apartment where he lives and in general is happy with his life. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, but he’s got a small number of friends in the Photo Club at school and is otherwise just focusing on his studies, but not to an extreme. By all appearances, Kaoru is an average likable guy.

Enter Aoi Sakuraba, a young woman the same age as him who has just arrived into the city by train. She’s not gotten out much in her life, so the combination of her in her kimono and sandals and her uncertainty as she walks through the terminal gets her some attention, but not much overall. She’s very lost at this point, and ends up dropping her ticket only to have Kaoru be there and pick it up. Being the nice guy that he is, he offers to help her find her way and going so far as to actually go with her on the train since they’re using the same one, so she can find the person she’s looking for.

This isn’t really a forced area, since you know that Aoi is looking for Kaoru, but she never says the name and he never offers his, and it’s not until he offers her a place to stay for the night while she figures out what to do when the place she arrives at is actually an empty lot that the pieces begin to click and it all comes together. She shows Kaoru a picture of her in her childhood days, and Kaoru instantly recognizes himself and the little girl in it. The two hadn’t seen each other in likely a dozen years, so the lack of recognition is spot on and believable, and the two end up being very happy to have found each other again.

Well, Kaoru is happy until Aoi tells him that she’s come here to be his wife as that was what she was raised to be all these years. Kaoru is just stunned by this, but then he starts to figure out that it may be part of the Hanabishi families plan to get him to come back and be part of the clan again, something he steadfastly refuses for a number of valid reasons that we see in flashbacks. But we then learn that Aoi has actually come here without her parents permission or knowledge, since she just wants to know why Kaoru had left, thinking she was the cause of it all.

While these misunderstandings play an important part to the beginning of the show, they merely set the stage for the development of their romance as both begin to really fall for each other. Aoi had been raised for years and years to server Kaoru, and she does everything that she can to make him happy, which conversely makes her happy. He’s uncertain about a lot of this, but as the two spend more and more time together, you can see him falling very hard for her. And it’s easy to see why as well. For a romantic show, Aoi definitely falls under the category of an ideal dream Japanese wife.

Where things begin to change, and not all that badly, is when Aoi’s mother comes to discuss things with her daughter and to look over Kaoru. As Aoi actually asserts herself with her mother, she insists upon staying with Kaoru, and her mother ends up approving of her daughters plan. But there’s plans within plans, as Aoi’s mother sets her “nanny” Miyabi to watch over Aoi as she starts this new life. Aoi and Kaoru must also not let their romance become public knowledge, as the Sakuraba Conglomerate is a large and powerful one and cannot have that stain show up against them.

So the two plus Miyabi end up in a family “country” mansion just outside the city, with Aoi and Miyabi in the house proper and Kaoru in the guest house but having to do all the work in both houses. It’s here that things slowly start developing that “Tenchi” feel, as Miyabi begins to warm to Kaoru and we then get introduced to a ditzy woman who just joined the Photo Club. She’s also being taken advantage of by the other members in posing in a lot of cosplay photos for the lecherous members.

All the way through episode four, I was very much won over by this series, loved the pacing, the romance, the reasons given for Kaoru’s leaving, the animation…. Well, all of it really. Episode five gives a serious boost to Tenchi–itis though, as one of the Photo Club members from the previous year returns from traveling over the world. Young, blonde and American, Tina enters the show and just adds that over the top element that you wish wasn’t there. Her method of greeting other women? Squeezing their breasts and comment on the size. She’s a bit of a drunk, does whatever she feels like and in general is someone you only want to know part of the time or to have around during a party. Her presence in the show really throws things off, especially when she moves into the mansion as a tenant.

But I’ve been told that this element is minimized as the show progresses and we then get back to the really strong romance element. The promise of that combined with the first four excellent episodes is enough to give me hope. I loved the way this show played out up until the fifth episode that just getting the small bits in future episodes is definitely worthwhile until things turn back to the primary couple. This show really came in as a surprise, as I wasn’t expecting more than another Tenchi clone but ended up with something far stronger. This is definitely worth checking out and is very recommended.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Creditless opening,Ai Yori Aoshi trailer,Concept art gallery

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

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