Geneon // 2004 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // June 24th, 2004
How long can they keep a secret?
Put one guy into close quarters with several fetching women and hilarity is bound to ensue, right? The harem subgenre of anime can be tricky. Harem animes often devolve into argument fests: bursts of static, loud and meaningless. They can err on the side of forced sensuality, cheapening the story and making the viewers feel kind of sleazy. It isn't easy to make a harem anime that provides fan service while keeping the affair wholesome and romantic. Ai Yori Aoshi managed to do just that. Will Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi be able to repeat the success?
Kaoru is a young man who has sworn off his family. He lives with a gang of women who all board at the same house. Aoi, the comely but demure landlady, is secretly betrothed to Karou, but they can't tell anyone. Of course, every gal in the house has the hots for him. His balancing act is to act natural in the face of their come-ons while stealing as much alone time with Aoi as possible.
In fairness to Ai Yori Aoshi fans, allow me to state that I'm not familiar with the series. If this review is vague in some areas, it is because I am vague in some areas, such as the foundation of the plot, why these women are living in the same house, and basically who everyone is. I looked up the basic premise on the Internet for this review (www.animeondvd.com, to be exact), but that doesn't give me firsthand knowledge.
That said, the exquisite craftsmanship that has gone into Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi is readily apparent. The characters are finely detailed, as are the backgrounds, foregrounds, middle grounds, and credits. Colors leap off of the screen, dazzling us with their pristine warmth and depth. If nothing else, you can marvel at the care that went into these episodes. Music and sound effects enhance the atmosphere of romance, making Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi come alive. It is an aurally and visually pleasing experience.
Many an anime excels at the details but fails in the delivery. Thankfully, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi has something going on upstairs. The show thrives on stolen moments and delayed gratification. Aoi and Kaoru seem to truly love each other, but because of circumstances they are also a mystery to each other. They cannot reveal their love, so their shared screen time becomes charged with private undercurrents. The two seem unsure of each other even as they long to touch each other. This sweet tension provides the show's heart. Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi captures the feeling of burgeoning love and bottles it up for us to savor one episode at a time.
One episode at a time...
* Episode 1: "Cherry Blossom Spring"
While Aoi and Kaoru are trying to scrape together some snuggle time, their housemates unleash their own agendas. Young newcomer Chika glides into her new home with the subtlety of a bear on roller skates. As she probes the household about their feelings for "Big Brother," each woman becomes distinctly uncomfortable. Eventually, their imposing chaperone Miyabi explains the concept of Enishi to Chika. Enishi is a bond that draws people together, outside of love or duty. (This is obviously the common theme for the series, as the remaining episodes explore the nature of the group and emphasize group activities.) Meanwhile, Aoi and Kaoru slip away to buy some rice, and you know what that means.
* Episode 2: "Friends"
Chika tells her friends at school that she lives with a man, and they are instantly curious. Her friends stop by for a visit, which sends Chika into a tizzy. What if their assumption that Kaoru is Chika's boyfriend causes problems in the house? Chika spends the day fending off conversations about Kaoru. Meanwhile, a bunch of the gals end up in the bath and Tina fondles their breasts.
* Episode 3: "Tennis"
Kaoru has a heated wet dream about Aoi and wakes up to find her breast cupped in his hand. He is suitably embarrassed, but somehow she doesn't seem all that upset. This fan service kickoff is followed by a tennis tournament, featuring each girl in her most fetching tennis skirt. Somehow, even this blatant show of legs and panties comes across as sweet. The playful nature of this episode is accented by jaunty music and sporty sound effects.
* Episode 4: "Evil Spirit"
In a nod to Scooby Doo, the Thelma-like Taeko leads the gang in an exploration of the haunted attic. The episode is dark and tense, with an X-Files ambience of darkness and flashlight beams. Spooky music and a requisite thunderstorm aid the haunting vibe. Throughout the ordeal, each lady clings to Kaoru for protection.
I gather from fans of Ai Yori Aoshi that the emphasis on Enishi suspends important questions pending from the first season. Thus, if you are curious about the resolution of these issues, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi's lackadaisical approach carries with it a measure of frustration.
Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi Volume One feels episodic rather than continuous. I prefer anime seasons to have a plot that builds, moving toward a climax or resolution. If Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi intends to be an episodic series, then this complaint lacks weight, but it has enough of a continuing story to suggest that the creators intend it to be nonepisodic. If that is the case, the episodes are decidedly lacking in forward momentum.
The DVD is scant on extras. The only real extra is a 15-minute bonus episode called "Miyuki," which features Aoi as Santa Claus. This episode is crafted with the same care and sweetness as the rest, but it also contains magic and levitation and other strangeness that firmly separate it from the show. Even I could tell that it was a stretch of the Ai Yori Aoshi universe. But hey, that's why they call it a bonus episode. As far as extras go, this is precisely the sort of thing I appreciate. I'll take a bonus episode any day over character sketches and clean opening credits.
Sweet, romantic, but with a streak of ribald humor, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi is one of the best representations of the harem subgenre. Excellent visuals complement stereotypical-yet-interesting characters. Four and a half episodes represent good value. The opening of season two takes a lackadaisical approach to the central plot, but if you can overlook that you'll be in for an unassuming treat.
Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi is mandated to pick up the pace a little and get more consonants into the title.
Review content copyright © 2004 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
* English (Screen Text)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode: "Miyuki"
* Geneon Previews
* Official Site