a.k.a. Bluer than Indigo
Company: J.C. Staff
Format: 24 episodes
Dates: 4/10/2002 to 9/26/2002
One day on his way back from classes, Hanabishi Kaoru bumps into a lost girl at the subway station. He offers to escort her to her destination because it is near his home. Unfortunately, the house she was going to had recently been torn down, and it begins to rain just as they arrive. Kaoru invites the young woman back to his apartment to escape from the storm. She explains she was coming to the city to meet her fiancée and takes out a childhood picture of the man she is looking for. Much to his surprise, Kaoru immediately notices the child in the picture is none other than himself as a boy. Memories flood back into his head as Kaoru recognizes the beautiful girl before him as his old friend, Sakuraba Aoi. He begins to wonder why she had so suddenly appeared, and more importantly, why she is calling him her fiancée.
summary by Gatts
Highs: Sweet romance; opening theme
Lows: Needless fan service; shallow side characters
The early episodes of Ai Yori Aoshi caught my attention because it looked like it might be a romantic comedy which doesn’t rely solely on fan service. Too bad it doesn’t last for very long, and each episode begins to get more ecchi than the last. This detracts a lot from the innocent relationship between Kaoru and Aoi, and what could have been an excellent romance ends up being lost in the sea of ecchi.
After the introductory episodes, Ai Yori Aoshi sounds like countless other harem anime, one guy living in a house with a group of attractive women (there is even an interesting pet which has become a staple in this type of anime), but it does stray from this standard formula a bit. Unlike many other series, the focus is never on who the protagonist likes. This is revealed in the very first episode which provides ample time to develop a meaningful romance. It’s a refreshing change of pace to have an actual romance with likable characters.
Problems begin to arise thanks to the numerous other side characters. They move into the household gradually over the course of the series, and each one can be categorized as one of the stereotypes of the genre. Their presence serves little purpose besides creating opportunities for fan service. By the end of the series, they are still just cookie-cutter characters despite the fact that a handful of episodes are devoted to each one. These episodes are worth a few laughs but serve no real purpose. At least the fan service never manages to taint the main plot.
Thankfully, the focus of the series is on the romance. Things could have been better, but the sad truth is that fan service sells. Despite its flaws, Ai Yori Aoshi is entertaining. The visuals are appealing, the characters are likable, and the OST has some excellent pieces. Towa no Hana, the opening theme performed by the lovely Ishida Yoko, is especially noteworthy. In the end, this is a solid addition to the already crowded category of shounen comedies.
Highs: Shounen romance done right
Lows: Fan service abounds; one unresolved subplot
Hapless young male student living in a house full of beautiful females… been there, done that, right? Not this time. Ai Yori Aoshi breaks the harem anime mold with a focus more on romance than comedy. With a likable lead male character and a genuine romantic relationship, this show stands apart from the crowd.
Kaoru is not your typical shounen lead; for one thing, he’s a rare male character in this type of show who doesn’t constantly walk in on naked girls, fail entrance exams or even waver on who he gives his affections to or how to express them. Kaoru’s past gives his character real motivation and depth, so it’s not hard to like him and sympathize with him. It’s very refreshing to see a male lead who actually knows who he wants to be with and isn’t afraid to admit it. His relationship with Aoi is very well done with subtle smiles and glances that show the viewer that there is no question that these two are in love.
My one real complaint about the relationship, and the show in general, is the emphasis they place on hiding the relationship from the other residents of the house. This point is mentioned several times and provides some great comedy, but by the end of the series I was very interested in seeing how the other girls (who, of course, have crushes on Kaoru) would react when the truth was revealed. But this subplot is never resolved, and I think the series missed a great chance to give those side characters a chance to show real development.
The side characters are also there to provide one feature of shounen anime that Ai Yori Aoshi doesn’t lack: fan service, and tons of it. This may or may not be a bad thing according to the viewer’s personal tastes, but in my case it really created distractions from the romance. The lead characters and their relationship are this show’s saving grace, and I would recommend Ai Yori Aoshi to anyone who has a soft spot for romance.
Highs: Sugary sweet romance
Lows: Stagnant as pond water; distracting and useless side characters
Coming from a long line of shounen romances, Ai Yori Aoshi is yet another popular hit… that misses, for the most part. Some may call this a more mature version of Love Hina, and while I understand, that does not make it any better.
Most of the focus is on the love shared by Kaoru and Aoi, which is incredibly charming. Both never hesitate to show their affection for each other, unlike many other romances. This is a nice change of pace from the usual shy-guy/girl-who-does-not-know-how-to-express-love character that seems to dominate this genre these days. Every time that Aoi or Kaoru smile at the other, you can just feel the immense warmth, which will put a smile on your face, as well…
… but only for the first few episodes. After that, the romance does not drop, but its impact is heavily blunted by the fact that their relationship goes nowhere fast. At the very beginning, it is determined that they love one another and that they will get married someday; that is perfectly fine, but after that nothing happens. There may be a few bits of drama here and there due to simple misunderstandings, but the relationship is on life support most of the series; it stops feeling romantic after they have smooched for the twelfth time, hugged for the twentieth time and cried for the fiftieth. Granted, that is a large part of a real relationship, but this one does not progress. On top of that, most of the side characters serve no greater purpose; with the exception of Miyabi, everyone else is there simply for fan service and the occasional snicker. You can only watch Tina Foster squeeze another woman’s breasts so many times before it gets old. The side characters are not uninteresting, but they could be far more interesting had they been given a chance to be fleshed out and actually been able to push some of the story along. Instead, they are merely there to kill both your and their time.
I find it difficult to recommend Ai Yori Aoshi. Had this series been dynamic in its approach towards romance and having a cast of useful side characters who made the series tick, I would not hesitate to recommend it. Sadly, it lacks these attributes and is hardly entertaining.
Ai Yori Aoshi is licensed in the U.S. by Funimation, and episodes may be viewed legally in the United States HERE.