Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi Volume 3: Destiny Review

The final four installments of Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi are upon us and while it may at first appear like business as usual for the Sakuraba residents, some inevitable changes are afoot. Kaoru is temporarily distracted by thoughts of his future and exactly what part his relationship with Aoi will play in all this, while Tina is dealing for the first time with her family commitments back in America. A trip to a massive spa resort complex provides some much needed distraction for the young American but when Mayu overhears a phone call conversation Tina has with her parents, she must come clean: She’s heading back to the states over the New Year for her annual family reunion. Given the way she ran out on the photo-club a few years ago, Kaoru isn’t feeling too comfortable with this news. Will Tina’s holiday prove to be a temporary reunion or has this close-knit substitute family finally lost its most energetic member?


The opening episode of this volume sets the general mood leading up to the finale as Kaoru and Aoi go on a romantic date into the heart of the city – resulting in a retrospective look back on their history together and the burgeoning realisation that eventually the solace of Sakuraba house, surrounded by all their friends, will come to an end one day as each member must eventually find their own futures. It’s clear that this volume means business, finally some heavy drama has been introduced into Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi. Sometimes the tone veers towards heavy melodrama and sometimes the blatantly obvious is stated like a new revelation, but there’s a wealth of feeling within this volume as the bonds that tie the group together is delved into much more deeply than in either of the two previous volumes.

Central to this is the relationship between Kaoru, Aoi and Tina so fans of Taeko, Chika or Mayu may be a little disappointed to see them pushed to the sidelines for large chunks of this volume. This triangle incorporates perhaps the closest friendships within the household, Tina was the first real friend Kaoru made at University and there’s a high level of mutual respect and admiration between Aoi and the American, who are two polar opposite characters that wish to be more like the other. When in the first episode Aoi admits that time will eventually move on for everyone living with them it’s some ominous foreshadowing and the fact it’s Tina who is the first among their friends to consider leaving lends a more bittersweet tinge to the dramatics. There are some very touching scenes involving these characters, which fans of the previous season should lap up.

If you were hoping that the comic tone from previous volumes would follow through into the third then fear not, because the second episode provides some comic respite from the dramatics when the group goes on a trip to a fancy spa leisure complex. Naturally it’s the girls that provide all the laughs as Chika and Tina go into hyper-mode, Miyabi lets all that pent up frustration hang loose in the massage parlour and Taeko’s alcohol consumption continues to spiral past even Tina’s booze drenched standards.

So, does Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi bring the story to a fitting conclusion? Well, the clear answer is no. Most of the questions viewers were probably left with at the end of the first season have been left unanswered and looking back on the series as a whole there hasn’t really been an awful lot of character development. However, this summation belies just how entertaining Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi is as a feel-good comedy series. It may sometimes feel like it’s stalling for time, but it was a lot of fun to enter the world of Aoi Sakuraba and Kaoru Hanabishi for twelve more episodes, and any show which has a collection of characters as great as Enishi does can be forgiven for putting story arc aside to revel in the moment. I haven’t read Kou Fumizuki’s original Manga publications so cannot comment on how it ended, but I would imagine that there’s more of Ai Yori Aoshi for the anime studio J.C. Staff to adapt, and I for one hope we see another series soon, be it another twelve-part season or a shorter OVA series.


Episodes

While I have tried my best not to reveal too much about each episode in these synopses, please bare in mind that the second episode and onwards may feature spoilers for the episodes prior.

Episode 9. White: When Kaoru receives some free tickets to a swanky hotel off Professor Itsuki as a gesture of thanks for all his help, it gives him a good opportunity to drag Aoi away from the Sakuraba Mansion for some quality time together. As convenient as this may seem, he first needs to get Miyabi’s permission to take Aoi away from her protective gaze. Surprisingly, all goes well and the two embark on their romantic sojourn into the city. It’s their first proper date in a long while and the couple take full advantage of the tourist attractions, but Kaoru’s not just here for fun, he has some important decisions to make regarding his future and it’s about time he made an announcement to Aoi on how their relationship fits into all this.

Episode 10. Bathrobe: The Sakuraba residents pay a visit to an ultra-modern spa resort complex that’s big enough to contain a plethora of wet and dry activities. There’s the various themed baths, onsen, sauna, massage parlour, amusement arcade, restaurant, souvenir store and multiplex cinema. Being the most energetic of the group, Tina and Chika soon get into the swing of things by tearing it up in the various baths, while Miyabi, Mayu and Aoi decide a more leisurely sauna session is in order. While the girls have fun together, poor old Kaoru is left alone on the men’s side with just his scars for company – a painful reminder of his former life with the Hanabishi clan. Still, all this changes once he hits the reservable open-air baths, as a mistake on his part leads to some female intrusion on his peaceful soak.

Episode 11. Moonlight: After overhearing Tina’s phone-call admission that she’ll be returning to America soon, Mayu decides she needs to find out just what the American is planning and confronts her in front of Kaoru and Taeko. Tina’s reaction is to comically laugh off her claims, explaining that she was merely informing her parents that she’ll be going home for her family’s annual New Year reunion. With her friends seemingly satisfied with this explanation, Tina buys herself a digital camera and sets about photographing her housemates like a woman possessed, creating the Sakuraba mansion’s first Cosplay photo shoot in the process. As distracting as all this is though, Kaoru just cannot shake the feeling that there’s more to her homecoming than first meets the eye.

Episode 12. Bonds: Tina is trying her best to settle into her new life back with her folks in the USA, but it isn’t so easy to leave all your friends behind and start afresh. Back in the Sakuraba mansion her presence is sorely missed, with Chika commenting that there’s not so much to do anymore and Taeko observing that the place is a lot easier to clean up without the American’s littering to deal with. Missing her most of all is Kaoru and Aoi, who are slowly coming to the dreaded realisation that Tina’s family reunion may be a little more permanent than what she informed them.


Presentation

If you own the first two volumes you’ll know what to expect here. Presented in the original 4:3 ratio, Geneon have provided a naturally detailed image within the confines of the animation. Free from any niggling artifacts, the print is clean, and there’s nary a hint of cross-colouration, although you may spot some minimal Edge Enhancements. Likewise the colour scheme is rich and vivid and compression is solid with only some minor noise creeping in – most notably during camera pans.

As ever we have a choice of Japanese DD2.0 Surround or English DD2.0 Surround and for the purpose of this review I primarily listened to the original Japanese. It’s another solid track with clean, audible dialogue and some good bass reproduction. The English dub pretty much matches its Japanese counterpart, although it’s just a little bit subdued in comparison.

Optional English subtitles are provided.


Extras

Only a moderate improvement over the last volume in this department I’m afraid. The usual Creditless closing sequence is here, this time for episode nine, and Geneon trailers for Stellvia, Hana Ukyo Maid and Star Ocean Ex – all presented in 4:3.

The standout extra feature is live footage of Japanese singer Yoko Ishida from the 2004 Anime Expo in California. She’s pretty good live and flawlessly performs the opening song from season one: Towa no Hana (Eternal Flower) and the somewhat blander opening song for this season: Takaramono (Together). After the credits roll there’s a brief bio/discography of the starlet, with plenty of plugs for some of Geneons CD releases.

Overall

Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi may not have brought a conclusion to Kaoru and Aoi’s story, but it has provided ample reminder of what made the first season so great – the touching friendship that a group of somewhat isolated individuals have forged within the Sakuraba mansion. Sometimes it was riotously funny, sometimes it was tender and involving, while other times it was sickly-sweet and slightly repetitive, but overall it proved to be a thoroughly entertaining celebration of friendship and a fitting sequel to Ai Yori Aoshi. I can’t really fault Geneon’s presentation across the three volumes, they’ve delivered where it matters most, in the audio and video departments with transfers that only videophiles will probably have any major issues with.


Film
8 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
3 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 01/05/2018 12:03:12

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