Reviewby Craeyst C. Raygal,
Ai Yori Aoshi Manga
True Blue Love
Harem. Seinen. Romantic-comedy. Call them what you will, but series in which everyday guys are matched up with extraordinary women are an anime staple. Ever since the seminal classic Urasei Yatsura, we've been enjoying the heart and hilarity of this premise. Sometimes it's wonderfully touching. Sometimes it's side-splitting slapstick. Most times, it's just good fun.
In 2002, Pioneer (now Geneon) brought the Ai Yori Aoshi anime stateside with quite a bit of fanfare. They were betting on the series to back their other big romantic comedy Chobits. Good bet, since the anime turned into quite a hit. So, in fine tradition, Tokyopop brought the original manga for Ai Yori Aoshi stateside. This is also turning into a good move, as it is a fine bit of reading.
Kou Fumizuki crafts a fine tale with Ai Yori Aoshi, centering it around the sweet and unfailingly faithful Aoi Sakuraba, daughter of a wealthy dry goods magnate, and the good natured and all-around good guy Kaoru Hanabishi, disowned stepson of another wealthy family. Back when they were both young, and Kaoru was still a member of the Hanabishi family, the pair was betrothed and Aoi was raised to be Kaoru's bride. As such, she's very much the model of a traditional fantasy housewife; wanting little more than to ease her man's life in any way possible.
Remember. It's anime. It's fantasy. Any resemblance to actual events and people is purely coincidental.
But, as things turn out, Kaoru leaves the Hanabishi and the betrothal is dissolved. However, Aoi, still having very strong feelings for Kaoru (and not entirely knowing why she's been told to forget him) searches him out to find out the truth. This sets the stage for a fine exploration of the characters' deeper emotions and lays the foundation of one of the most engaging couples in manga I've seen since Keiichi met Belldandy.
One thing that makes the story quite fun to read, besides the quick witted and well chosen dialog, is that Tokyopop decided to leave all of the Japanese suffixes and honorifics in place. And Tokyopop does let you know about this in the page before the table of contents. But don't think it's gimmicky. I was a little apprehensive about it as well, but it does actually offer a good view of how the characters view and feel for each other in a way that could not be done with English equivalents. Quite honestly, it's a very good move on Tokyopop's part.
A poor move on the writer's part, though, was slipping in the cliche "grab da bewbies" jokes periodically in the story. While there is one particular nude sequence that should honestly be in the story and is handled with grace and flair, haven't we all seen the joke where the shy guy trying to keep the girl out of the bath he's in slips on the soap and falls naked on top of her, bosoms firmly in palm?
For a manga that started publication in 1995, Ai Yori Aoshi's artwork hasn't dated at all. Fumizuki does seem to be heavily influenced by Ah! My Goddess creator Kosuke Fujishima, especially when you look at his characters' faces. But that's a favorable comparison in that his female characters have a very pretty flow to their look and have quite distinct expressions. Kaoru does look very much like your standard (cue Joe Walsh) ordinary average guy, but he's given a range of facial expressions and gag reflexes that make him entertaining and easy to connect to.
But even more impressive than the faces and figures of the characters are their outfits. You can tell that the author is quite familiar with Japanese traditional clothing not only in the terminology (another thing left intact by Tokyopop, thankfully), but in the care taken in drawing the outfits. Especially Aoi's. Every little draped fold is given care and thought, and it really adds a great deal of livelihood to the scenes.
And they need it. There's very little "action" depicted in this manga's panels. True, a romance is going to have much more dialog than action, but while emotion and drama are well laid out with faces and shading, there's not much presented with action or movement. It's a small weakness, but a noticeable one.
Another thing to be wary of; Ai Yori Aoshi doesn't hide its fanservice. Aoi's breasts are on display for all to see several times throughout the story, and frequently as chapter break pages. I'll be true to my testosterone and admit that Fumizuki does a good job drawing the curvy soft parts of a woman, but blatant fanservice is blatant fanservice.
You'll notice I haven't really mentioned the backgrounds. Well, they really don't have much to mention. They're believable and detailed, but nothing spectacular.They'd almost be disappointing, but then they're really not the focus here.
In general, in regards to the artwork I'm reminded of the Chrysler design chief's remarks regarding the 1950 lineup; It won't let you down, but it won't knock your socks off. It's pretty and it's of good quality, but it's not adventurous and it's not boldly individual.
That, probably, is the best thing about this series (at least in this volume, as time will tell what sort of standard it keeps up). It's not adventurous or wildly innovative. Doubtless we've all read this before, and potentially we've read much better. But the quality of the story is certainly there, and the focus on the characters is rewarded by providing a really good romantic story. Aoi and Kaoru, while not the first of their type, are certainly well conceived and their exploits in this first volume will certainly leave you wanting to read the second, and third, and so on. If you've finished up Love Hina, and are still waiting on the next volume of Oh My Goddess!, you'll be pleased if you drop the $9.99 at your local bookstore to add Ai Yori Aoshi to your collection.
Story : B
Art : B+
+ good solid romance story, pretty female characters
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