Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 3) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, May 21, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, July 06, 2004

What They Say
How long can they keep a secret!? Two exciting years have passed since the reunion of Kaoru and Aoi. The newest member of the Sakuraba household is Taeko's cousin, Chika, who just started high school. Her frank questions and surprising sexiness have Kaoru in a bind. Later, a tennis outing for everyone leaves Kauru impressed with Aoi's grace as well as her charming outfit. Finally, the gang hears mysterious noises in the mansion and suspect that it's haunted. Leave it to Taeko, the resident occult specialist, to solve the mystery!

The sequel to the fan-favorite romance, Ai Yori Aoshi. Each volume will be available packaged with limited edition premiums and the first limited edition version will ship with a box designed to hold the entire Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi series!

The Review!
After a successful first season, Ai Yori Aoshi returns with a series labeled Enishi, which is about the bonds that tie us all together. Appropriately enough, the stories explore those bonds and they do it quite well. And just like the first season, there's a limited edition box release to go along with the first volume in addition to the disc only edition.

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 show seems to provide a lot more depth and feeling to it than the first season did and we ended up cranking this up a fair bit more than most normal shows to enjoy it all the more. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout both language tracks and the music comes across great here.

Originally airing in 2003, this series is presented in its original full screen aspect ratio and is simply stunning. The first season was one of those shows that had taken the color palette and really made it come alive and look incredible vibrant. This season manages to outshine that one by a fair amount and has simply blown me away. From the opening to the ending, I can't get over how lush and gorgeous these colors are, both in the foreground character animation and in the background designs. They're so full and solid, free of cross coloration and aliasing, that it's just a treat to see it like this. The presentation definitely affects how you take in the show and Enishi's presentation is stunning.

Sticking with the style that worked well for some of the first seasons releases, the cover for this volume has a great traditional image of Aoi in her kimono outside under the cherry blossom tree with the leaves floating all around. In keeping with the style, the original logo is kept along the bottom as well as the romaji version of it while the volume numbering is up higher and on the spine as well. The back cover gives half of its space to a sizeable cast shot with the summary over it as well as a few smaller images before going into the various production and technical information about the release. The episode numbers and titles are also provided here, making it easy to determine which volume is which. The insert starts off with a number of small images showing pieces from the episodes on this volume while the chapter stops line down the right side of it. The insert opens to a two-panel shot of a coy Aoi with her kimono off-shoulder while she nibbles on the red string floating from her finger. The back of the insert provides the explanation for the bonus episode and some shots from it as well. This release also has a reversible cover in the clear keepcase, with the alternate cover being a shot of Miyabi, Taeko and Aoi in the Shinto priestess outfits from the last episode.

For the limited edition release, we're treated to a box and a bit of a toy. The box for the first season was one of my favorite boxes of the past few years with its look and design and this one follows it pretty well but unfortunately doesn't quite match or exceed the first one. With a heavy blue watery look, the spine panel has a nice shot of Aoi in her kimono with a smile as she looks to the side. One of the main panels takes a shot of her upper half with her kimono falling off of her shoulders. To make it even more attractive, she has a red string looping in and onto her fingers, which she's just about to nibble while giving a slight blush. It's one of those images that goes just past cute and into attractive. The other main panel has her in the undergarments of her kimono with a red sash and something of a wicked smile, all set again to the red string. The artwork is really good overall and I like the blue effect but I would have liked everything much more if it had come closer to matching the first box set so the two could stand side by side more easily.

The extra goodie that comes with the limited edition set is a "collect and connect" kind of toy. There are five toys to get where each of them is one of the girls sitting on the rock of a hot spring and all the rocks connect together to form one piece. It's a really nice little toy, though there's some amusement in that the Aoi included here doesn't have any feet since it's got those under the water, which obviously is not included. The box inside of the box shows off all five of them and how they look together with close up images of the ones to come. I personally like little things like this since they look good in my curio cabinets so I'm happy about them being included for this show.

The menu design is nicely done with a booklet for the main central image where the selections are lined up over while around it you have various pictures of the girls. There's some quiet sounding instrumental music playing along to the falling of the cherry blossoms over the menu as well. It's all very simple and very much in-theme to the show. The menu layout is very easy to navigate and access times are fast and problem free.

The only extra included is a fifteen minute "bonus episode" entitled Miyuki. It takes place before the first series when Kaoru was on his own for the first time and going through his first Christmas alone. He ends up at his apartment only to find a young girl there, who looks like Aoi, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit. She goes on about her being Santa Claus and ends up spending the day with Kaoru and getting to know him. It's a sweet little episode and doesn't really affect the series in any meaningful way, but I really dislike the kind of things where they try to go back and come up with more ways of tying the cast together before they met. This series already has that done perfectly well, it didn't need an imaginary episode to reinforce it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the Ai Yori Aoshi manga still running, I wasn't terribly disappointed at the end of the first series with its lack of real ending. With Enishi, I'm not expecting much in the way of an ending either, but rather hoping to see a handful more of the kinds of episodes that made the first season so engaging as well as just more fun in general with this cast. Enishi, as the word itself indicates, is all about the bonds that tie everyone together, and these episodes explore that. So I don't expect too much time out for just Kaoru and Aoi but rather a lot of group adventures.

Based on the first four of twelve episodes, that's looking to be pretty accurate. The series opens with it now having been two years since the fateful day that Aoi and Kaoru met once again and started this new adventure in their lives. They're all still living at the mansion, their relationship kept a secret from just about everyone, and everyone that was living at the mansion is still there. In fact, we get an addition to the group in the form of Chika, Taeko's cousin from the beach we saw in the first series. She's come to the area to further her own education in a top rated city school as well as spending time with her cousin. Chika's the kind of foil brought into a second season that often fails, but she manages to not throw everything off kilter all that much.

For Kaoru, life's getting a bit more difficult now that he's doing graduate school work. In addition to that, Miyabi is starting to lay into him, subtly of course, that he really needs to start thinking about his future and making plans for them if he hopes to convince the Sakuraba family that he's capable of taking care of Aoi or becoming an heir to the company even though he's abandoned the Hanabishi family. So he's got a fair amount on his mind, but the things that set him apart from everyone else are still strong, and that almost always comes down to how he thinks of Aoi and what he can be doing for her. Or if not doing for her, things that he can do to stop her from her continual worrying about not pleasing him. The two, even after two years, are still unsure of their relationship to some extent. This isn't too surprising though considering that they rarely get any time together, sleep in different houses for the most part and don't get much time to truly be familiar with each other, even in a non-intimate way. But when they do get that time, those scenes are just the best and are a great payoff.

The four episodes on this volume are fun overall. The series opens mostly to a bit of flashback to the origins of the show and how everything's ended up the way it is and some of the changes, such as Chika being there and Kaoru's graduate status. Chika gets an episode to herself in which she tries to figure out how everyone feels about Kaoru, which is her way of finding out who her competition is since she's got the underage hots for the guy. Since this is early on, it works out well in reacquainting everyone with the degrees of love their relationships have, though Tina's is by far the best reaction when Chika questions her and discovers the picture she has of Kaoru.

Much of what's here is just a lot of fun. An entire episode focuses around the entire group going to the tennis courts to help Chika with the game since she's involved in it at school. The revelation that Miyabi is something of a tennis goddess is amusing and everyone has their own level of challenge to the game that plays out well. Tina in particular is a lot of fun once more since she treats it more as baseball while the Minazuki sisters are just plain awful at the sport. The real treat here is that since it's a game, Aoi has to wear western clothes to be able to play, which really ups the fanservice level. Men surely must have designed women's tennis outfits.

In Summary:
The Enishi series looks to be the one that will further the group dynamic and establish tighter bonds for these characters. With them mostly being together for almost two years now, it's obviously a very friendly group and one that plays well together. Of course, the real bond of the group is both Kaoru and Aoi (though people tend to think of one or the other as the glue, they both really are) so a lot of the stories center on them and go all over the place from there. These episodes are simply stunning looking and present such a great visual front that it's just surprising that it's a TV series sometimes. The package as a whole is terrific and while the series may not achieve many of those deep moments; it's so worth it when it does. The uneven nature of the first season is simply a bit more expected this time around so it's proving to be less of an annoyance, resulting in my enjoying this even more.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Bonus Episode

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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.
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ai Yori Aoshi