Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi Volume 1: Fate Review
Ah Megumi Sama! clones, when done well they’re great and for my money the best three in recent years have been Love Hina (For having enough madcap energy to power a small city), Fruits Basket (For switching the genders and having one girl living among boys) and Ai Yori Aoshi. What made Ai Yori Aoshi so special was that the main characters actually announce their love for each other in the first few episodes, leaving lots of time to really develop their relationship. Sure it was chock full of fan service but more than anything it was a really sweet love story. After twenty-four episodes the series came to a neat but open-ended close with the demure Aoi and kind hearted Kaoru finally winning the full backing of Aoi’s parents.
But the story doesn’t end there, Kou Fumizuki’s Manga ran for a good thirteen volumes so it was inevitable that more episodes would arrive – whether in the form of an OVA mini-series or a fully-fledged second season. Luckily for us it turned out to be the latter and in 2003 Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi hit Japanese airwaves.
Continuing roughly two years after Aoi and Kaoru were reunited, we are once more introduced to their would-be love nest and the surrogate family unit they have set up with Miyabe, Taeko, Tina and now Chika. Chika has adapted to the manic household and seems to be happy with her new life, but it’s not long before she declares her love for Kaoru - much to the chagrin of her female housemates. With the new lodger being the most energetic and clingy Kaoru admirer yet will the loved up duo ever find time alone?
If you’re not familiar with the original series then I will attempt to sum up the proceedings so far: Aoi Sakuraba and Kaoru Hanabishi are the sole heirs to powerful family businesses. When they were small children their families got together and decided they would be betrothed to form a powerful alliance among the groups. Luckily for the families, when the two youngsters were introduced it was love at first sight. Since that meeting Aoi led a rather peaceful life and kept Kaoru in her heart at all times, anxiously awaiting her wedding day. However, Kaoru’s life as a Hanabishi was miserable. His father died at a young age and his mother was kicked out of the estate for not being of noble blood – separating mother and son forever. She died a few years later and his grandfather burnt all her belongings in a cruel attempt to rob Kaoru of his memories of her. The plan backfired though and Kaoru severed all ties with the Hanabishi clan – his engagement to Aoi included. Heartbroken by the news, Aoi eventually took matters into her own hands by embarking on a trip to visit Kaoru in Tokyo, where he was attending university. They met for the first time since they were young and their love, along with the engagement, was instantly rekindled. Unfortunately, because Kaoru was no longer from a rich and powerful household, their relationship would cause a major scandal within the Sakuraba group as Aoi’s husband would be called upon to run the company once she inherits it all. This meant that the couple was forced to keep their relationship away from public scrutiny and live together under the protective gaze of Aoi’s tutor, Miyabe. They moved into a nearby Mansion owned by Aoi’s family and all seemed fine - until Kaoru’s university friends, Tina and Taeko, gatecrashed the party. Now with these two living alongside them the couple have to keep their relationship a secret not only in public but at home as well.
The first season was quite eventful, and although newcomers will probably be a little nonplussed as to certain aspects of the story the opening episode of this second season does a pretty good job of re-establishing the dynamics between the relationships in the Sakuraba Mansion. Well, it’s not that difficult a task really. Basically all the women who live with Kaoru are in love with him, but he only has eyes for Aoi. Nevertheless, there are a few matters left over from season one that need to be tied up. When will the others find out about Kaoru and Aoi’s engagement and how will they take the news? What about the Hanabishi and Sakuraba groups, have the couple’s family responsibilities truly been left behind or will something crop up to threaten the relationship? For the moment though, we’ll have to wait and see, because the first four episodes on this disc are all about fun. Taeko is as clumsy as ever, Mayu and Tina’s rivalry unquenched and Miyabe is maintaining her position as head of the household and overseer of Aoi’s love life with a rod of iron. This means the betrothed Aoi and Karou are still suffering from a lack of quality time together – in fact it’s harder than ever for them now because it seems things are hotting up considerably between them and Kaoru is revealing a little more of his perverted side with each passing episode. Although their relationship has barely progressed in the time between seasons one and two, their feelings are clearly as strong as ever so it will be interesting to see whether they make it down the aisle by the end of the season.
I had a lot of fun re-immersing myself in Kou Fumizuki’s world and whether this series continues to focus on the comedy or develops the characters more and concludes the story once and for all I’m sure the high standards set in season one and these opening episodes will continue throughout.
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 1. Spring Blossom: Two years have passed since Kaoru and Aoi were reunited and their love for each other is stronger than ever – although, unfortunately for them their household is as busy and crowded as ever as well. Seizing a rare opportunity to spend some quality time with her Fiancé, Aoi wakes up a couple hours early to lie alongside Kaoru in his futon. When she lifts up his sheets though, she’s shocked to discover that Chika-chan has beaten her to it! It seems Chika likes to snuggle up to someone in her sleep and has chosen Kaoru as her prime target. Her naïve candidness causes further furore in the household later when she asks the girls what their feelings for Kaoru are – it seems they’re going to have a hard time answering this question honestly.
Episode 2. Friends: Chika is fully settled in her new school and has made two new best friends: Natsuki and Chizuru. As such, she decides to invite them both to spend a day at the Sakuraba Mansion and meet her “family”, but problems arise when she drops a photo of her and Kaoru. Natsuki takes one look at it and her friends immediately assume that Chika has an adult boyfriend and they’re determined to meet him during their visit. Unable to convince them otherwise Chika decides that it’s best if she ensures that Kaoru doesn’t bump into her friends while they’re visiting the house – a decision which will lead to a very frantic and stressful day for Chika and the rest of the Sakuraba Mansion inhabitants.
Episode 3. Tennis: After hearing that Chika has to play Tennis on her next school field day and is more than a little rusty, Tina suggests an outing for everyone to catch up on some quality practice. As expected Taeko is too clumsy to play well, Tina is too forceful - smashing the balls into oblivion, and Kaoru is having a hard time concentrating on his game while surrounded by beautiful girls in extremely short skirts. Luckily for Chika, Miyabe is something of a Tennis monster and Aoi isn’t too shabby either, so they get to impart some quality training tips for the youngster.
Episode 4. Phantom: Tina hears a creepy scraping sound emanating from the ceiling and convinces herself the house must be haunted. Meanwhile Taeko’s clumsiness is reaching unprecedented extremes, causing more damage than ever to the Sakuraba Mansion. Before she can get too disheartened though she’s called upon as the household’s resident paranormal expert to solve the riddle of the creepy noises. She discovers that they are originating from a long abandoned room upstairs and gathers the whole team together to investigate whether the house really has a ghostly resident.
Note: There is a bonus fifth episode on the disc entitled Miyuki, but you will find more info on this in the Extras section of this review.
PresentationPresented in the original 4:3 ratio this is another quality transfer from Geneon. The image is sharp with no cross-colouration that I noticed and colours are crisp and clean. Compression is also excellent. The only thing that lets their transfers down are the Jaggies that appear during camera pans and fine movements. They can look very ugly on a PC display but on an interlaced display they’re less noticeable – only on camera pans.
In the audio department there’s a choice of DD2.0 surround tracks in either the original Japanese or an English Dub. I am not a fan of the English dub for this series so I primarily listened to the series in Japanese. The Japanese DD2.0 is loud - very loud, resulting in some audio tearing on my set up (whether this is a limitation of my speakers I cannot say for sure). Aside from this aggressiveness it’s a nice sounding track; bass is nice and deep and the dialogue is always audible. The English track fares better in the volume stakes, providing a slightly better audio experience, it’s still loud and the dialogue does tear from time to time but overall it’s a smoother track. Of course, the only problem is you have to put up with the lousy acting of the US cast.
English subtitles are available with no spelling or grammatical errors that I can recall.