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Content rating: 8
Posted 2004-02-04 by StupendousMan
Endorsed by Rancid Pickle on 2004-02-22 05:17:00
Ai Yori Aoshi continues its solid blend of comedy and romance. The five episodes on this disc include a mix of strong and weak stories, but every show has a moment or two of pure magic. And blushes, of course, lots and LOTS of blushes.
One of my favorite aspects of the show is the bond between Miyabi-san and Aoi-chan. It's hard to describe: Miyabi acts like Aoi's mother or big sister at times, protecting her from the hardships of the nasty uncaring world; but she also pushes her forward every now and then, sensing that Aoi needs to grow up and gain experience. I suppose that any parent goes through these oscillations. But, of course, Miyabi isn't Aoi's mother, or sister, or any relative at all; she's a member of the big corporation hired to watch over Aoi. But it's clear that the two woman regard each other as far more than bodyguard and ward.
The middle three episodes on this disc bring us close to the perilous precipice of Harem Mode. First Taeko, then Tina, then Chika (Taeko's genki young cousin) take turns pining over Kaoru. Fortunately, there are some aspects which prevent it from falling over the edge. In the centerpiece of the Taeko episode, she and Kaoru are trapped -- completely against their will -- in the shower of a bathhouse when the other girls show up. Although they are naked and pressed close to each other, it is clear that both are intensely uncomfortable as they search for some way to escape detection. Their unease is honest and sincere, and, in a way, provides a bond which brings them closer together than before: they both really do want just to get the heck out of there and put on some clothes. Later in that episode, as they wander through a festival together, Taeko very hestitantly stretches out her hand to tug on his shirt, afraid to take his hand. Sigh. She's in deep, and it's not a simple light-hearted romp or cheerful play for his affections. It appears to me that Taeko is being set up for some real heartbreak when she realizes that Kaoru has eyes only for Aoi.
The next episode, Bedsharing, gives Tina a day with Kaoru;
in many ways it repeats the action of episode 9, One Night.
When asked to define her relationship with Kaoru -- friend, more than friend but less than lover, or future bride -- Tina sadly (but wisely) picks the second choice. She fantasizes about him, sure, but at least she knows that she's just dreaming. It's sweet and true to life, unlike the stubborn, unrealistic "he's mine-mine-mine-MINE!" attitude of Ryoko or Ayeka.
Episode 19, Lap Pillow, gives Chika-chan (Taeko's little cousin) a chance to imagine herself at Kaoru's side. It's the weakest of these three similar episodes, perhaps because the sheer repetition begins to wear on the viewer, but it does feature (as almost all episodes do) a very sweet ending.
The final episode, Cure, adds some of the fan service which was (thankfully) missing from most of the disc. Well, I take that back: some of the material is tastefully done, as the girls and Kaoru dress up for a fund-raising cosplay cafe (which, I recently read over at MegaTokyo , really do exist in Japan). On the other hand, Tina reverts to her old groping ways .... bleah. But all that fades into the background when Aoi talks to Kaoru about the painful memories he is having, and how she wishes she could make them disappear; but, since she can't, how she wants to help him by taking some of the sadness for herself. Ah, what a generous soul she has!
A few random thoughts: at last SOMEone in an anime finally realizes that it's stupid to wear a towel underwater in a bath. And, speaking of bath scenes, the one in the first episode on this disc is a doozy: I laughed out loud twice before Kaoru was able to make his escape.
The ending of that first episode, Swimsuits, is especially strong due to the two very brief cuts away from our lovers, Aoi and Kaoru, to show silent pictures of Miyabi and Taeko, alone with their own thoughts. A very nice bit of directing, that.
The best extra on the disc isn't an official extra. Watch the end of episode 18, the one in which Tina spends a day (and night) with Kaoru. The ending song and music is replaced by Tina's seiyuu, Satsuki Yukino, warbling a little number on coming home. I must say she sings better in Japanese than English :-) The only notable bit of packaging is the seventeen -- yes, SEVENTEEN -- previews for other Pioneer series and movies. Holy mackeral.
Equipment used when writing this review:
Sony DVD player, JVC 27-inch TV, stereo speakers
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