Geneon // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // February 3rd, 2005
How long can they keep a secret?
As you are probably aware by now, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi is a detour, a pause, a spin-off of the main show Ai Yori Aoshi. This interlude gives us more time with the characters while essentially ignoring the main plot. As a consequence, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi has built-in constraints in terms of subject matter. Where Ai Yori Aoshi had the latitude to explore new plot twists and themes, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi has to spin its wheels in an entertaining way, keeping our seats warm for the next installment of the parent series.
While the logic behind embarking on this neutered branch of the main story is debatable, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi must be judged within those constraints. In lieu of actual plot development, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi has made do by focusing on character interactions, delayed gratification, and smaller story lines such as Kaoru's academic progress. Above all, the spin-off series has concentrated on delivering an emotional experience, establishing poignant (or in some cases sappy) moments that evoke feelings of bittersweet joy within the viewer. In other words, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi's modus operandi is unabashed emotional manipulation. It is manipulation that fans probably don't mind, or even actively avoid, but for the average viewer the approach might be a bit much.
Volume Three brings closure to this cul-de-sac of a series, wrapping up the Enishi subplot and restoring our sense of expectancy for the next installment of Ai Yori Aoshi. These last four episodes finally deliver emotional depth and honest-to-goodness conflict, which sets up even deeper (or more melodramatic, based on your viewpoint) reactions in the viewer. Volume Two stalled the already slow pace of the romance, leaving us with typical harem genre hijinks. That disappointed me, because Ai Yori Aoshi seemed to set its sights higher. Volume Three goes right for the heart, giving Ai Yori Aoshi fans exactly what they crave. The episodes are:
*Episode 9: "White"
Chances are that the central love story is the most compelling part of this series to you. If so, "White" was crafted with you in mind. The entire episode features Kaoru and Aoi alone on a real live date. Kaoru's professor gives him tickets for a one-day cruise, and Miss Manager allows him to take Aoi along. I half expected the gang to barge in, but it seems the writers felt it was time to give us some serious romance. Free from distraction, the pair relax, flirt, and talk together. It reflects our own pleasant memories of The Perfect Day, the day in our youth where everything went right. As fans, it is long-delayed gratification.
The episode is not perfect; there are recycled conversations and a bit of weirdness near the end. But "White" gets the important part right: There is nothing more touching than the simple and honest exchange of those three little words, "I Love You." Though their love may be idealistically pure to the point of unreality, it is still rewarding to share their hard-earned moments of peace together.
One element that bears comment is the music. The soundtrack is touching throughout the volume, although it gets heavy-handed in later episodes. The music is darn near perfect in this episode, accentuating and improving the powerful moments on screen. I rarely get the urge to buy an anime soundtrack, but this one is a possible exception.
*Episode 10: "Bathrobe"
Of course, there is another aspect of Ai Yori Aoshi that makes it popular, which is the high frequency of fan service. "Bathrobe" gets right to the heart of this alternate theme, sending the whole gang to a bath house amusement park. The ladies (as well as Kaoru) spend the bulk of the episode naked -- relaxing, or horsing around, or showering, or doing nothing much at all. From Miss Manager all the way down to Chika, the form of each lady is revealed. This isn't as lewd as it sounds; after all, there is always a palm frond or lock of hair to cover the region where the nipples or pubic hair would be. And when no palm fronds are convenient, the artists simply render nondescript forms that would be breasts -- if they'd bothered to pack any pink pencils. I really don't understand the anime convention of leaving out nipples but showing naked torsos. It makes me think of store mannequins, which is altogether the wrong imagery to invoke.
*Episode 11: "Moonlight" and Episode 12: "Bonds"
If you are a fan of the gang rather than specific characters, brace yourself. The last two episodes dwell almost exclusively on Tina, with a little bit of Kaoru and Aoi thrown in for good measure. As a two-part cliffhanger, these episodes are not as dramatic as they could be, because the outcome is all but certain. In the meantime, we're treated to some rather boring scenes of Tina and the rest moping about.
The primary strength of this finale is that it emphasizes the bonds of friendship among the housemates, which is the whole point of the Enishi subplot. The characters have introspective interactions, and despite its overblown execution the homecoming is exciting. The best thing I can say about these episodes is that they have more ambition and depth than most of the other Enishi episodes, even if we can see right through the manipulation.
So there you have it. We're basically right back where we started, which is amid a group of unlikely people forming a family, with a love hexagon confusing matters. Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi was able to generate a handful of captivating memories, though most of the heat was used up in Volume One. Despite the trite aspects, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi maintains a more sophisticated and idealistic tone than most harem anime, which is innately appealing.
As is true with the previous volumes, the show looks and sounds fantastic. The music is well matched to the events, shifting moods with the viewer. Volume Three gives us a broader range of values and visual textures than Volume Two did, which makes it even more interesting to watch. There was a trace of twitter in a few vertical pans, but overall the image is rock-stable and generously saturated. The most noticeable improvement is an intriguing extra, a music-video-type performance by Japanese singer Yoko Ishida. It was rewarding to watch her perform live. The extra content in this series has not been overwhelming, but at least there is something.
These twelve episodes are extended footnotes in the Ai Yori Aoshi universe, which is both good and bad. The bad is that the pace will underwhelm some viewers. The trade-off is that we're given an unhurried look into the people and relationships that make this show unique. Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi will probably appeal to fans more than casual observers. Nonetheless, everyone can understand the universal language of feeling and experience that this series uses to create its moments. It is guilty of forced sentiment from time to time...but overall, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi is pure and innocent.
Review content copyright © 2005 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 (Signs Only)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Creditless Closing Sequence for for "White"
* Geneon Trailers
* Live footage of Japanese singer Yoko Ishida from the 2004 Anime Expo
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict review of Volume One
* DVD Verdict review of Volume Two