Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Ai Yori Aoshi ~Enishi~
DVD 2: Bond
In this continuation of the Ai Yori Aoshi series, average nice guy Kaoru Hanabishi is now a grad student living in the Sakuraba mansion owned by his childhood sweetheart, Aoi. Kaoru and Aoi don't have the house to themselves, however, as the mansion also hosts a variety of young female tenants—feisty foreigner Tina, clumsy Taeko, high-class Mayu, and Taeko's little cousin Chika. Episodes 5-8 on this disc cover the summer months at the Sakuraba house: Mayu goes on a date with Kaoru with no idea of what to do, Kaoru tries to finish his thesis report and gets way too much "help" from the girls, the whole gang goes to a hot-springs resort in the mountains, and Tina helps Chika and her friends prepare for a swim meet at the end of summer. Amidst all this activity, Kaoru and Aoi must keep a grip on their evolving relationship.
If Azumanga Daioh is the anime comedy about nothing, then Ai Yori Aoshi ~Enishi~ must be the anime romance about nothing. With the particulars of Kaoru and Aoi's relationship having been mostly resolved by the end of the original series, there isn't much left to do for the couple except fall even more in love while harem hijinks ensue. Fortunately, these ladies aren't as prone to brazen fanservice as the characters of some other shows, but boys, if you think living in a house with six pretty girls is the ultimate romantic fantasy, here's a word of advice: I once temporarily shared a house with some cute girls, and it's not all that exciting. My daily highlight was asking if I could use the shower.
Luckily, we aren't subjected to any footage of Kaoru asking to use the shower, because the Sakuraba house is probably big enough to have individual bathrooms. It doesn't change the fact, however, that most of the show revolves around mundane, slice-of-life activities. The story pattern is drearily predictable: Kaoru and one or more of the girls do something together, which results in some wacky moments, and then, finally, everyone is happy. As an optional conclusion, Kaoru and Aoi might spend a lovey-dovey moment together, as in Episodes 6 and 7. Episode 8 is the exception here, as it centers on Chika and her friends. This gentle, slice-of-life pacing is a welcome alternative to other romantic comedies that are permanently set on "hyper"—but it also threatens to lull the viewer to sleep at times.
Let's give Kaoru some credit for making it all the way to grad school! At least he didn't have to pretend he got into college like some characters we know. With his level of maturity, and knowing that he's basically destined to be with Aoi, Kaoru is less annoying than the usual waffling male protagonist in a harem series. The girls, however, are a more questionable matter. Aoi, although deemed "the perfect girl" by some fans, is so inoffensive and docile that you might feel compelled to grab her by the shoulders and shake some personality into her. The main conflict among the female cast members lies between Mayu, a tycoon's daughter, and tomboyish Tina, whom Mayu refers to as the "beast woman"—and when the comedic highlight of an episode is just two girls sniping at each other, it's clear that something is missing in the character department. In trying to capture the nature of ordinary girls, Ai Yori Aoshi tilts too far and gives us girls that make for dull anime viewing.
If the visual aspects of Ai Yori Aoshi ~Enishi~ were entirely static, it would be easy to deem the series a high-quality work. With bright colors and clean, confident lines, the key animation frames in this show are a cel collector's dream. However, take the actual animation into account and that's where the quality drops. These characters were clearly designed for still shots first and animation second—even syncing the mouth movements seems like an ordeal. The backgrounds also hamper the visual style, being nothing more than dry, blocky renderings of buildings and interiors. As is usual for this kind of series, the female character designs are the high point, being attractive (although conventional) and distinct from character to character. The wide-eyed, open-mouthed smiles get tiring after a while, but these girls mercifully avoid the defining elements of "moe"—pantyshots, cleavage and themed fetish outfits can all be left at the front door, thank you very much (Tina's boob-groping tendencies are worrisome, but that's a discussion for another time).
Once again, Geneon provides a commendable dub by bringing in the voice talents of Bang Zoom! Entertainment. Not only is the script remarkably close to the direct translation, but the lines are delivered with timing and poise, and occasionally even go so far as to include honorifics. Make whatever arguments you want against honorifics in a dub, and how they have no equivalent and therefore no place in the English language, but for a series that's so innately Japanese, it works. Bang Zoom realizes that the average anime fan these days does know the difference between -san, -chan, and -sama, and the result is a dub with a new level of nuance in how the characters address each other.
Like the characters and situations in this show, the music can be best described as inoffensive. Pop instrumentals, which are normally a crass and irritating form of background music, come out as pleasant melodies here and show a surprising level of sophistication—almost like J-pop ballads looking for a lyric. The theme songs, meanwhile, are sweet J-pop ballads that do have lyrics, although the super-syrupy arrangements might also earn a mock award for wimpiest songs ever.
In a sub-genre that's rife with pandering pantyshots and ridiculous pop-up boobs, Ai Yori Aoshi ~Enishi~ takes a stand against the chauvinistic excesses of harem anime and presents a romantic comedy for boys that won't scare off the female viewers. However, in trying to take out the offensive elements, it's also stripped away some of the edge that makes romantic comedies fun to watch. A little more sexual tension, a little more conflict between the characters, and this could have been both sweet and sprightly—but instead, Ai Yori Aoshi ~Enishi~ is like having all the cream and sugar but no coffee.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Gentle pacing and pretty girls that steer clear of extreme fanservice
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