Ai Yori Aoshi Vol. #3: Hugs and Kisses (of 5) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2003
What They Say
Just as Kaoru begins to adjust to hiding his love for Aoi while living with three other girls, a new girl arrives! Mayu Mizuki has been living abroad with her parents, but has returned to enroll in college and pursue her childhood crush on Kaoru- but will Aoi give her the lessons she needs to reach Kaoru’s heart?
Meanwhile, Kaoru secretly starts multiple part-time jobs to buy a special gift for Aoi, but Aoi suspects Kaoru is avoiding her. Will their love be able to withstand the pressure of doubt and new distractions?
The third installment brings us up through the middle of the series and provides some rather good episodes as things aren’t quite as frantic as they were for some earlier episodes.
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. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout both language tracks and the music comes across great here.
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 as well as a lot of the blues, noticeably Aoi’s hair, providing more and more depth to the character designs.
The packaging of Ai Yori Aoshi continues to be solid, though I again find myself in favor of the reverse side cover much more than the standard. The front cover provides a fun shot of Tina and Mayu going at it while a slightly cartoony Aoi cringes in the background 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 nice image of Aoi in a kimono on the beach with a good view of the cliffs and the ocean. The back of the insert provides information one of the holidays that’s the center of an episode on this volume.. The reverse cover this time provides a really pleasing shot of Aoi in a kimono that’s the focus of the final episode here and it just looks fantastic.
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.
The extras are fairly minimal but good here. With episode 15 having a new (special?) ending sequence, we get it here in its textless form to enjoy as well as having it with its original Japanese text, which I continue to find a really great addition to the regular list of extras. The art gallery is a brief piece that focuses on the characters of Taeko and Mayu.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ai Yori Aoshi continues to be a series that has some really great highs but then deviates into standard romantic comedy valleys, the kind of valleys that while I will say are appealing to new fans and those just getting into anime, are the kinds of valley’s that just make me roll my eyes after all these years.
But man, those highs…
One aspect of the low in the series is the continual addition of new characters, i.e. more women. And not just that, but more women that are in varying degrees of love or lust with Kaoru. Unlike a number of other romantic comedies, I will give in to the fact that Kaoru isn’t a wuss like most of them and it’s fairly easy to understand the attraction, or at least more believable. He’s self sufficient for the most part, he’s actually in college as opposed to continually failing to get in and he exudes a certain aura of confidence. This at least lets things become more believable.
This volume brings in yet another new character to chase Kaoru around and cause confusion. This time it’s the smaller girl named Mayu Miyuki. She’s just returned from four years in England and has a definite distaste for most things Japanese, finding herself to be much more of a Western woman than anything else. Though she’s only sixteen, she’s quite bright and has skipped levels here and there that now allow her to go to college. And yes, as you guess it, she ends up at Kaoru’s college.
When she first sees him, after berating all Japanese for their mundane ways, she comes to life quite well with bright eyes and a huge smile. She pretty much leaps right into him and rings her arms around his neck and plants a really great kiss on him. His first kiss? A kiss that not even Aoi has gotten yet?
As it turns out, Kaoru and Mayu knew each other a few years prior and he’s the main reason she’s come back to Japan. Something from their past has really settled in her mind and she’s acting like he’s pretty much hers for the most part, but it’s only partially annoying. Kaoru ends up being somewhat oblivious to it but also happy to see Mayu. Through the couple of episodes that she’s here, we get to learn of her unhappy youth and how Kaoru was able to change that and why he’s such a prominent figure in her mind. Mayu tries to understand how Kaoru is since she knew only a little of him from their earlier encounter, which leads to the annoying situation of her spending time with Aoi and trying to learn cooking, cleaning and other household chores all while acting superior. This was probably the weakest aspect of Mayu’s arc on this release.
With Mayu, we get a number of the valleys mentioned earlier, but she does bring some fun to the episodes in her mix of intelligence and sixteen year old hormones. To balance that out, the peaks here are quite good. One of them comes in the form of the Star Festival, or Tanabata. This particular holiday, a very romantic one, also falls on Aoi’s birthday. Learning that her past birthday’s have been almost solemn affairs, Kaoru and everyone start working to throw her a really good party. Kaoru of course wants to get her a really great present, but his finances come up short. The valley enters here as we go into the routine of him working a million and one jobs to make the cash fast while she sits at home while trying to figure out why Kaoru must be mad at her since he’s rarely home.
The peaks do come though as she realizes that she’s being foolish at times but also once the party is eventually over and the two spend some quiet time together. It’s these quiet times that really let this show shine as the two talk and Aoi makes a rather good revelation to Kaoru. It’s moments like these that also make the final episode on the disc, “Feelings of the Heart”, work so well.
The premise is really simple. Kaoru has to go out to do some shopping, picking up a few items for people in the mansion, and asks if Aoi wants to tag along. While this is a simple excursion for him, it’s a big trip for her and some quality time with Kaoru. It’s an event where she spends time picking out the clothes the night before just so everything can be perfect. And with this storyline, the clothes play an integral part as we learn the history of a kimono from her grandmother and how the feelings of those who wear it are transferred to those that the wearer loves. The day trip for the two of them brings them out into the city, even to Kaoru’s old apartment. While I’ve liked Kaoru in the past as he’s been fairly friendly and has dealt with parts of his upbringing as best as he could, this episode brings out real emotion from him. There’s a moment that just resonates strongly with me, where he stands behind Aoi and wraps his arms around her shoulders, his eyes covered by his hair, and he reveals some of his innermost feelings about why he is the way he is, and it’s all quite powerful. Having done something similar with my own significant other, I know just how difficult it can be to actually get those words out and it plays out perfectly here, from Aoi’s reactions to Kaoru’s subsequent revelations.
With Mayu getting a fair amount of focus with this volume, I was afraid of getting more of the wacky stuff we got when Tina showed up and then Taeko. Thankfully, she’s less chaotic than those two so it played out a bit better here. I still dislike having as large a cast of women here as we do, but she’s not the most annoying addition by a long shot. The highs of this volume really manages to outshine all else in the long run, and that’s what counts to me.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Ending (episode 15),Japanese Ending (episode 15),Art Gallery
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ai Yori Aoshi