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Content rating: 8
Posted 2004-02-11 by StupendousMan
Endorsed by kurt on 2004-02-23 15:16:00
The final disc in the Ai Yori Aoshi series brings the action to the conclusion you could see coming a mile away ... yet it still manages to cause even the most hardened watcher to sigh, "Awwwww." That's the magic of this series: it annihilates the smallest shred of cynicism from the human heart, leaving nothing behind but trust in the essential goodness of human nature. It's a sure-fire treatment for those who no longer believe in Santa Claus or true love.
In the first episode, "Influenza," Aoi lies in bed with a high fever while
everyone else volunteers to do her chores: cleaning, sweeping, shopping, cooking. Kaoru, Tina and the gang discover that taking care of a mansion is hard work. They're surprised that it requires so much effort, since they can't remember Aoi ever complaining about it, or even mentioning how much time it takes. Aoi is, like Peppermint Patty, a rare gem: she really, honestly doesn't think of herself, but (almost) always puts the needs of others first. It would be slightly creepy, actually, in a Stepford kind of way, if we didn't occasionally see her ask Kaoru to hold her, or kiss her, or perform some other action for her own selfish pleasures :-) Miyabi-san sits next to Aoi through most of the action, changing the cool washcloth on her forehead, checking her temperature, giving her a little broth now and then. Near the end of the episode, when she tells Kaoru that he may take a bowl of porridge up to Aoi, it's as if she is transferring to him the responsibility of taking care of Aoi .... as, indeed, she is. I think both Miyabi and Kaoru understand each other on this point. The unspoken communication between them, and between some of the other characters, is one of my favorite features of this show.
Episode 22, "Going Home," begins a set of final episodes which focus on Aoi and Kaoru's relationship. I believe this is the best part of the series, far more interesting (though somewhat less amusing) than the horseplay and hijinks between the other girls, and so I really enjoyed this whole disc. Kaoru takes Aoi on a day trip to meet a relative of his. I hadn't read the blurb on the back cover of the DVD, which gives away the identity of this person, but I figured it out just a minute or so before they arrived. It's quiet, calm, and sweet. Sigh.
Two notes on small items which occur later in this episode. First, the gang decides to hold a "moon watching" party. This is a very old Japanese custom -- it was mentioned in the diaries of Sei Shonagon, in the tenth century -- like going out to the country to see the cherry blossoms in the spring. It was always thought that the most beautiful moon of the year was the full moon in August, which is the time of this episode. So Aoi and her friends are continuing an ancient tradition.
Another bit of tradition rings a very effective jarring note of warning: Miyabi knocks on Aoi's door one night to give her some news; but, when Aoi opens the door, she finds Miyabi not standing (as usual) in the corridor, but kneeling in the classic pose of the retainer.
This is a clear sign that Something Bad is happening, and it makes the point with no noise or fuss. Excellent.
It's a kick to see a brief glimpse of Miyabi as a teenager in a brief flashback.
Episode 23, "Determination," provides a terrific lesson in dramatic tension. We know that Something Bad is going on, yet we are shown Aoi and Kaoru spending a simple day together at the Sakuraba compound, walking through the woods and revisiting scenes of their childhood meetings. Minute after minute passes, and I kept wondering, "When is it going to happen? When are we going to find out the bad news?" Kaoru, too, knows that something funny is going on, but he (I think) is too afraid to ask; besides, how often does he get to spend time alone with Aoi? The tension rises and rises and rises --- auuggghhhh! At one point, as they eat dinner, Aoi feeds Kaoru bits of food with her chopsticks. I believe that the act of feeding a person of the opposite sex has some significance in Japan that it lacks in the US: specifically, it implies a very intimate relationship. That would explain why Mayu-chan earns shocked stares from everyone when she tries feeding Kaoru herself at another point in the story...
Anyway, near the end of this penultimate episode, Aoi finally reveals to Kaoru the Big Bad Event which threatens to tear them apart. The question is, what will they do about it?
In some series, they would run away together. In others, Kaoru would reach into his suitcase, take out a shotgun or katana, and wreak bloody havoc on a world that would dare to take Aoi from him. In some shows, a cute little stuffed animal would appear and offer to make everything better with one wave of its magic wand. But Ai Yori Aoshi is, at its heart, a study of real (if ideal) people. Aoi and Kaoru decide to face the music. It's that simple.
In the final episode, "Aoi," we watch as Aoi and Kaoru -- and Miyabi! -- put it all on the line to save their relationship. I was reminded of one of the early episodes, in which Aoi's mother comes to Kaoru's apartment to take Aoi back home. At that time, Aoi applied a clever bit of emotional judo to throw all of her mother's care and anxiety back at her. Kaoru tries a similar approach in his plea to Aoi's father. It takes guts and sincerity to succeed with this kind of approach, but, as the nice little vignettes of his friends shows, Kaoru has what it takes. The final moments of the episode are some of the best: Tina and Taeko set out the food and drink for their moon-watching party, even though they don't know if Aoi and Kaoru will be coming back to join them. The young ones -- Mayu and Chika -- don't understand. "Why," they ask, "why are you going to all this trouble when you aren't sure that they'll be coming tonight?" But Tina and Taeko, older and wiser, simply smile and continue their preparations. "It's what you do for someone you love," they say. And that's what this show is all about.
The "extra" episode is a nice little snack, too small to be a dessert. The gang sits out under the cherry trees having a picnic, and they start to talk about their dreams for the future. It's sweet, of course, but it lasts only seven or eight minutes.
Overall, I really enjoyed Ai Yori Aoshi, despite the frequent fanservice. I hear that a sequel, Enishi, is currently running on Japanese TV: it shows the gang two years in the future, still living together and doing pretty much the same stuff (Aoi and Kaoru are still forbidden to tell others about their love, for example). I'll be first in line to pick up the DVDs as they appear.
Equipment used when writing this review:
Sony DVD player, JVC 27-inch TV, stereo speakers, and a flute of champagne because it's my birthday
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