by Theron Martin,

Ai Yori Aoshi

GN 15

Ai Yori Aoshi GN 15
Upon seeing Aoi's growing frustration over not being able to reveal the secret of her and Kaoru's true relationship, Miyabi decides to make an appeal to her father on her behalf. While Miyabi is gone, Tina confronts Aoi and Kaoru about their reasons for keeping their love a secret, and Kaoru decides to tell all. Just as things are settling back into a normal routine, an urgent call arrives for Aoi – her father has collapsed! Worried, she leaves as soon as possible for home, only to find herself caught in a scheme designed to separate her from Kaoru forever in favor of someone else. Her resolve will surely be tested like never before.

The biggest news about this volume? Something finally happens. And I'm not just talking about the long-awaited moment where Aoi and Kaoru finally tell their secrets to someone beyond Miyabi, either.

Ai Yori Aoshi has always been a perfectly pleasant read sprinkled with liberal dashes of fan service, but for the last several volumes it has also been rather dull. Sure, a lot of the entertainment value of both the anime and manga versions comes from seeing Kaoru and all the girls in those slice-of-life moments, but those can only go so far, especially with the series recently shading towards a more serious focus. Even a series like this has to at least occasionally have plot developments, and of late true advancements of the storyline have been happening with glacial speed. Kaoru went back to the Hanabishi to confront his grandfather in a story that proved anticlimactic (but is directly connected to events of this volume), Tina figured out that Aoi and Kaoru were secretly in love with each other, and Tina finally declared that she would be leaving for America after she graduates – and that's about it for the previous five volumes.

With volume 15, though, the series finally returns to its original focus: the conflict of interest pressed on Aoi by being caught between her desire to be with Kaoru and her obligations to her family and name. In the past she has made it quite clear that, if she has to make a choice, her choice is Kaoru, but so critical is this underlying theme to the whole structure of the story that it is high time it was finally revisited. (The last time it came up in a major way was volume 6, and who really believed that someone like Aoi's father would let her go so easily?) This time an additional outside complication figures into the situation that has not been present before, one connected to a major development subtly dropped at the end of the previous volume. The presence of this complication, and the major revelation dropped in the last panel of the main storyline, provide the driving force for the most drastic threat to Kaoru and Aoi's relationship since the earliest stages of the series, but that same revelation also provides hope for a possible final resolution to Aoi and Kaoru's dilemma over Kaoru not being considered worthy of marrying her because he is no longer a Hanabishi. For the first time in a long time, a fan of the series may be left breathlessly anticipating the next volume.

Although Aoi is at least as much the central character of the series as Kaoru, often she has faded into the background as other characters have taken center stage. Not so in this volume. Miyu, Chika, and Taeko only make the briefest of appearances in the regular storyline, and Miyabi is gone from the picture after the beginning of the volume's second chapter. By the time the volume reaches its fifth chapter, the main story is a one-woman show focusing only on Aoi and a certain surprise guest star. By contrast, this volume's Special Chapter exclusively focuses on Chika and her friends. While it is a mildly interesting side story, one gets the impression it was included primarily as an excuse to fit in the volume's requisite quota of nudity, since none of the regular chapters offered up any decent opportunity.

Kou Fumizuki's artwork has always been at its best in his painstakingly-detailed use of background art and the fine quality of his fan service. He draws nudity better (and more believably) than most, and offers no shortage of quality feature shots of Aoi in sexy poses on chapter headings or the racy front cover. Character designs beyond faces are also quite well-done, especially the everyday costuming, and facial expressions, while too often exaggerated, are still competent. If his artistry has a weakness, it's in the rubbed-out look of some of his shading techniques.

Tokyopop's production offers two more episodes of the roughly-drawn “Ai-Ao Theater” bits sandwiched in between the last regular chapter and the special chapter, as well as two pages of story and character summaries at the beginning. The front and back covers (and the inside of the back cover) offer great color character art, with the matching purple of Aoi's hair and kimono making for a bold and striking look on the front cover. Original sound effects remain, although small, unobtrusive translations have been added in places where the nature of the sound effect would not be immediately clear from context. Overall, this is one of Tokyopop's highest-quality manga productions in terms of production values.

A major plot development sure to shake readers out of the doldrums of the past few volumes arises as the story returns to its roots in preparation for its end run. If you've lost your enthusiasm for this title, this volume may restore it.

Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+

+ Major new plot development, good fan service and background art.
Some core cast members appear minimally or not at all.

Story & Art: Kou Fumizuki

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Ai Yori Aoshi (manga)

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Ai Yori Aoshi (GN 15)

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