Ai Yori Aoshi/Ai Yori Aoshi-Enishi Complete Set (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Mark Thomas
Review Date: Thursday, August 23, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, April 17, 2007



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 has been in love with Kaoru, so she traveled to Tokyo to find him when she learned their 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!

This set contains all of both Ai Yori Aoshi and Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi!

The Review!
A series that can be both serenely sweet and ridiculously funny at the same time, this set contains both seasons of Ai Yori Aoshi.

Audio:
Both the English and Japanese tracks for this release are offered in 2.0 stereo sound. For this viewing, I primarily watched the English dub, which was generally well done. The dialogue and music were clear, and what sound effects were present came through well. The only problem was the occasional dropout through all eight discs. Each instance was only a few seconds in duration but was noticeable enough to distract me. It's an area where I would like to give a better grade, because I found the performances of the actors to be superb; even Tina's thick Texas accent grew on me after a while. However, while the dropouts did not take over the show, they were numerous enough to be a problem.

Video:
The video for this show is presented in its original 4:3 full screen aspect ration and transfers out really well. The colors are bold and crisp, with both the vibrant and the subdued colors coming out nicely. One really nice effect that comes through beautifully is the different skin tones, as each person is given their own complexion and natural coloring. There were no observable instances where the quality of the picture decreased. For all thirty-six episodes, Ai Yori Aoshi and Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi were a visual joy to behold.

Packaging:
Collection packaging? What collection packaging? For this release, Geneon just took the eight individual releases for the two series and shrink wrapped them together. However, the packaging for each disc is really nice. The front cover of each disc has a picture of the character or characters who take a central part for that disc, with that same picture along the spine. The backs go on to give us some screen shots and a disc summary as well as an episode and special features listing. The discs from the first series each have a different nature print, whether it's cherry blossoms, or leaves, or whatnot. The Enishi series discs each have the same image that shows up on the front cover of that disc's case.

The nice aspect of the packaging for both series is that each disc has a reversible cover. Essentially the format for the reverse side is the same as the standard side, however the amaray cases themselves are also clear so the reverse side can be seen when the case is open.

One detraction to the look of all the discs lined up together is that each cover has either a white or pale pink background, blending well together, except for the fifth and last disc of the first series, which is a bold orange color. On the one hand, it can be argued that the fifth disc is made to stand out because during those episodes we finally learn all of the ideas that drive the principle characters throughout the series; however I just find it to be annoying. In my opinion, Geneon should have stayed with the same coloring.

Menu:
The menus for these discs are nice and simple. On the first series, the menus keep with the photography theme of a number of the episodes by looking like photo albums. In a nice touch, the photos are all screen shots from the episodes, and they rotate through so that we get to see more than just one or two. The Enishi series moves away from the photograph motif, and instead goes with a more down-to-earth notepad look. While not as busy as the first show, the paper design is nice in its simplicity. The menu's themselves are easy to navigate, with both the selections and the highlights easy to see and figure out.

Extras:
Aside from the standard previews of other Geneon shows and creditless openings and closings (of which they do provide creditless versions of the special openings and closings too), there are some nice extras spread out among the eight discs. The first series has a number of art galleries of the various principle characters, as well as a music video for Yoko Ishida's "Towa no Hana," which is the theme for the closing credits. The fifth disc also has a fun five minute bonus episode called "Speaking of Dreams."

Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi is a little lighter on the extras, though again has all the standard extras. The last disc has concert footage of Yoko Ishida performing at Anime Expo 2004. However, the first disc of the series has my favorite extra of the entire set: a fifteen minute bonus episode called "Miyuki," which takes place a little before the events of Ai Yori Aoshi, where Kaoru is visited by a Santa Claus who looks suspiciously like Aoi. This was one of my favorite chapters in the manga, and I was glad to see it in animated form. Interestingly enough, this bonus episode gets the full dub treatment, whereas "Speaking of Dreams" can only be viewed subtitled. Either way, the presence of "Miyuki" was enough for me on the Enishi set.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ai Yori Aoshi is a harem comedy based on the manga with the same name by Kou Fumizuki. However, it is a show that really plays with the stereotypes of the harem comedy genre, and in many ways moves itself away from that label.

At first glance, Kaoru Hanabishi seems to be your proto-typical harem comedy protagonist: a broke college student, who is probably a little too nice. Enter into his life Aoi Sakuraba. Aoi is a young woman who had a sheltered upbringing, and who had come to Tokyo to find the man she was supposed to marry. Kaoru first meets Aoi at a train station where, completely lost, she had broken the strap on her sandal. Kaoru decides to help fix her sandal, and offers to help her get to her destination since she is heading in the same direction as he is. After a couple small detours, we find out that Kaoru is the man Aoi had been searching for all along.

This is where Kaoru starts to break the mold of your typical male lead: Kaoru was the only son and heir to the Hanabishi family fortune, and when he was a boy, his family had decided that he would marry Aoi, the daughter and heir to the Sakuraba family fortune, when they came of age. Since that day, Aoi had dedicated her life to learning everything that she needed to be Kaoru's perfect wife. However, because of repeated abuses, Kaoru had turned his back on his family and had apparently left his fiancée behind.

Once Aoi accepts that Kaoru's decision had nothing to do with her, she rededicates her life to him, and they quickly discover the bond between them that Aoi had always believed existed. While they are content to live any way they can to be together, the Sakuraba family has a few issues, not the least of which being that Kaoru is no longer the honorable son of a noble family. However, because Aoi and Kaoru are insistent that they be together, a compromise is made.

In Tokyo, the Sakurabas own a summer home, and agree to let Kaoru and Aoi live there together as long as they keep up pretenses that the house has been converted to a boarding house, and their relationship is nothing more than landlady and tenant. To keep up these appearances, Aoi's teacher and guardian, Miyabi Kagurazaki, moves in as well, determined to control their lives.

This is where the harem aspect of the show comes in. Because they are supposed to pretend that the manor house is a boarding house, it isn't long before other people inquire about tenancy. And of course, all these people are generally young, cute, buxom women. And of course, they all end up having a thing for Kaoru.

First there is Tina Foster, an American who had spent most of her life in Japan. She is Kaoru's friend from college, who had just returned from a trip around the world. She is also the one who gets Kaoru interested in the photography club. Next is Taeko Minazuki, the newest member of the Photography Club. A general klutz, Taeko moves into the mansion as the maid when she is fired from her previous job for being incompetent.

There are also two girls who are a few years younger than Kaoru, yet still harbor feelings for him. Mayu Miyuki is the daughter of an important business man and his famous fashion designer wife, and she met Kaoru when she was a child. He was kind to her then when few others were, and she has never forgotten him because of it. She never officially moves into the house, but she is around enough that she becomes "one of the gang." Finally is Chika Minazuki, Taeko's young cousin who, in the Enishi series, gets into a prestigious private high school in Tokyo and moves into the manor.

While there are certainly enough women all vying for Kaoru's attention, this is actually another area where the show breaks away from some of the traditional, harem comedy ideas. From the very beginning, even before Tina shows up, Kaoru is devoted to Aoi, and while he sometimes finds himself in compromising situations with the other girls, he is never really tempted by them. He is always focused on Aoi and their engagement.

One of the really nice aspects to this show is the shift in pacing and focus. For the first few episodes while Kaoru and Aoi are first getting to know each other again, the show moves at a slow speed and centers on the romance and tender moments between the two. However, as the show moves on and more characters are introduced, the show bounces back and forth between the slow pace and a quicker tempo that spotlights the wacky situations that Kaoru tends to find himself in. The show seems to let itself get to the brink of going too far in one direction before it pulls itself up and swings back in the other direction. For this reason, the show never seems to get too cloying, nor too ridiculous.

What particularly interests me between these two seasons is the shift in focus from one to the next. In the manga, for the most part, the relationship between Kaoru and Aoi takes center stage, with brief interludes here and there to tell other stories and to solidify the sense of family among all of the principle players. This is definitely true in the first show. However, that story really takes a backseat in the Enishi series to the family idea. In fact, Tina seems to step up in Enishi as the main character as the big conflict for its twelve episodes surrounds her eventual return to America. This certainly is not a bad thing. Actually this is another nice change in the pacing of the overall story. The first season has a more definite conclusion to the conflicts with the Sakurabas over Kaoru's and Aoi's relationship than the manga gives at that point, and so it was nice to see the show shift its focus on the overall relationship of the residents of the Sakuraba summer home.

If there are any problems with this show, it is that it follows too closely with the manga. Except for the conclusion to both series, it really felt at times that the show was essentially going panel-by-panel with the comic, though it only covers about the first half of the comic's storyline. While this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, as a reader of the manga, it felt repetitive to me at times. However, having said that, as a fan of the manga, this meant that there was little doubt that I would enjoy the anime, and the differences in the conclusions to both series added nice twists to what had been familiar stories.

A problem that I could see for people who would come into this show without reading the comic is that the translator's for this show, and manga, kept the Japanese honorifics as part of the dialogue between the characters. In other words, Kaoru was never just 'Kaoru.' He was instead 'Kaoru-sama,' or 'Kaoru-dono,' or even 'Senpai.' These honorifics are used continuously, and can be a little off putting at first since it's rare to see that in an English translation. However, these honorifics ultimately become part of the overall charm of the show, and in the end it is hard to imagine the show without them.

In Summary:
Ai Yori Aoshi is one of the more pleasant stories in an anime that I have seen in a while. Despite the many girls who are striving in their own ways to win Kaoru's heart, the only real conflicts in the show come about with either the 'forbidden' nature of the engagement between Kaoru and Aoi or matters completely unrelated. It's obvious, almost from the outset, that this is designed to be a feel-good show, and it really works well in that aspect. Fans of the manga should check this set out if for no other reason than the new conclusions are nice in their own way. Fans of harem comedies would probably enjoy this as well, even though it breaks some of the traditional ideas of harem comedies. All-in-all, Ai Yori Aoshi and Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi are pleasant, up lifting series that I would recommend.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Openings,Clean Closings,Art Galleries,Music Videos,Bonus Episodes,Yoko Ishida Concert Footage

Review Equipment
Phillips Magnavox TP3285 C129 32" TV, Samsung DVD-V5650 Progressive Scan DVD w/ DD/DTS, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 59.98
Running time: 910
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Ai Yori Aoshi