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Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Feb 6th 2003
Ai Yori Aoshi
DVD 1: Faithfully Yours
Hanabishi Kaoru is a junior in college, living out an ordinary life of studying and friends. One day, he meets a girl whom he discovers is his old friend Sakuraba Aoi, a girl whom he was supposed to have an arranged marriage with. Together, the two rediscover aspects of their pasts that they had tried to suppress while setting out in their lives with one another. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unwanted guests that keep lurking around in their lives. How is their love going to unfold?
Ai Yori Aoshi starts off very strong, but slowly fizzles off into an unrecognizable heap of shounen eye-candy. Licensed and distributed in North America by Pioneer Entertainment, this series falls into an uneasy balance of having an involving storyline and the unwanted fanservice that keeps barging in to ruin the show. Presented with five episodes on one disc, Ai Yori Aoshi is packaged rather attractively. The cover is reversible with one side showing a shy picture of Aoi and the other side featuring an even shyer picture of Aoi and Kaoru. The insert also unfolds to reveal a cute mini-poster of the couple, although the way Aoi is drawn seems uncharacteristic and doesn't look like her at all. The disc contents are also done rather nicely. In addition to the five episodes, there is also a rather extensive art gallery that has line drawings of the two lead characters in a variety of poses and clothing. The US trailer is also included on the disc, though this doesn't facilitate much enjoyment. The real highlight of the extras section is the Japanese music video; rather than having a textless opening like many discs do, Pioneer includes the Yoko Ishida's original music video of the theme. While the extras are nice bonuses, the focus is undoubtedly on the episodes whose content wavers continuously on the quality scale.
The first three episodes feature one of the most involving and heartfelt romances to be released this year. The story is deeply involving, and the tender interaction between the characters is very touching. Unfortunately, these sweet and gentle emotions are harshly dashed to pieces in episode four. From then on out, the only highlights of the story are the quiet moments in which the couple gets together, when the story restores itself to its original feelings of serene romance and meaningful character interaction. Everything aside from those cherished few minutes is filler. The fanservice is needlessly pumped up to atrocious levels, and the story reverts to a downright harem anime. The new characters that are added lead to a situation that is too reminiscent of Love Hina for comfort, filling out the story with pure shounen and utter tripe. Viewers shouldn't be surprised to find a pang of deep regret as they realize that a story with so much potential is so easily trashed in a matter of minutes.
The characterization in the series fluctuates greatly in terms of quality and depth, which is quite disappointing. The backgrounds of both Aoi and Kaoru, as well as the growing relationship they have with one another, is very well-crafted and intriguing to watch. The same cannot be said of the additional characters whose only jobs are to provide rampant fanservice and horrifically cheap comedy. For instance, one of the new members of Kaoru's photography club is a ditzy, accident-prone girl with big breasts whose only job is to provide gratuitous body shots and the food for one of the men's cosplay fetishes. The most interestingly portrayed character is Tina Foster, an American who possesses the traits that one can only assume are part of a stereotype and a subtle jab at Americans. She is shown as a shameless pervert and a booze hound who interferes with everyone's lives without consideration to their personal wants. Given the variety of scantily clad girls in the opening theme, one can only assume that the girls that will appear in the following volumes will follow suit in this type of shallow characterization. Sadly, all of the characters in this series could easily be switched with those of Love Hina (or any other harem anime), and both series would continue without a hitch.
One of the great things about this series, however, is the art and animation. The characters and foreground objects are conveyed clearly and with vibrant colors, giving everything a tastefully simple look without all the distraction of line clutter. The backgrounds are also very beautiful, consisting of soft and almost dream-like artwork of the most serene proportions. While the sharp and vivid characters clash somewhat with the more subdued backgrounds, this isn't enough to be too distracting. The animation of the series is also done nicely with fluid movements and good camera work that allow foreground objects to blend in nicely with the background.
Another enjoyable aspect about the series is the music. Even if the story rapidly disintegrates into debasing humor, the music reflects the same gentle mood of the first three episodes. Primarily consisting of soft piano music and variations on the main theme, it really gives the first three episodes the proper atmosphere. The opening and ending themes are also quite expressive, guaranteed to be a favorite amongst fans of the series. It's a shame that the story doesn't stay true to the sweet music in the series.
As far as the voice acting goes, both languages are well done, but both have moments of dubious acting. The Japanese track, for instance, does a very good job accentuating the quirks and natures of the characters, but occasionally there will be a splotch of bad acting that will reinforce the idea that not all subs are golden. The same applies to the English dub, which had its moments of good acting, as well as its moments of emotionless dialogue. One amusing aspect of the English dub is its ability to hit every stereotype of the characters rather well, with the extremely ditzy photo club girl, the almost “surfer dude” image of the club president, and the raucous prattle of the American. Sadly, the acting is better in the episodes with everyone more casual and outgoing, as the characters tend to sound more natural. The scenes in which the lead characters share their romance and emotions are performed awkwardly, which makes for very uncomfortable and strained listening. Luckily, the translation of the Japanese script is done extremely well, as per Pioneer tradition, so viewers who are dub-inclined won't be missing anything in the story.
It's very hard to tell where Ai Yori Aoshi stands. On one hand, the first few episodes have a very strong story, and the intermittent scenes that stray back to the original story are very moving and touching. On the other hand, the large part of everything in between is built entirely on fanservice and crude jokes. The contrast between the two aspects of the series are startling and almost painful, yet the bizarre twist of fate that the show is thrown into makes it almost worth seeing the next volume, just to see what will happen. If anything, the series is worth seeing for the story between Aoi and Kaoru. As for this volume, it's definitely worth it, just for the first three episodes.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A
+ Beautiful music and clean cut art
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