One of the first Anime series I watched was Ai Yori Aoshi. It is not a deep or mysterious series, but to someone like me who was unfamiliar with the genre it was continuously unexpected. I’d never seen anything quite like this story (there is certainly nothing like it in American entertinment) and so I never knew what was going to happen next. This series introduced Aoi Sakuraba, who is still one of my favorite anime characters.
From here on are some mild spoilers. What I’m giving away isn’t exactly anything the average otaku couldn’t probably see coming a mile away, but if you want to set-up episodes to be a secret, it’s best to skip this.
Kaoru Hanabishi is a young man attending school in modern-day Japan. He is smart, hard-working, and honorable. He was once a member of the powerful and very traditionalist Hanabishi clan. As a child, the Hanabishi arranged that he would someday marry the daughter of another family, Aoi Sakuraba.
His time with the Hanabishi was grim (His flashbacks to this time were quite moving.) and eventually Kaoru left the family. He was also (he thought) walking away from his arranged marriage to Aoi Sakuraba. Certainly the Sakuraba would no longer be interested in having their daughter marry Kaoru, now that he had no money or standing. The marriage was forgotten by everyone…
Everyone except Aoi Sakuraba.
Even as a little girl, Aoi took the arrangement seriously and made it her goal to someday marry Kaoru Hanabishi. This wasn’t some little-girl fantasy, as she kept this goal all through adolesence. At the start of the story she seeks him out.
Kaoru is astounded. They haven’t seen each other since they were children. She didn’t know what he looked like or what his situation was, but she came with the intention of marrying him anyway. He has nothing to offer the girl now. She has snuck away from her family and doesn’t even have a place to stay. He takes her in until he can decide what he should do next.
Both of them were raised in a very traditional Japanese environment. Sex outside of marriage is a taboo for both of them, so they are not going to act the way a more modern couple might. In fact, even holding hands is pretty risqué for these two at first. Nevertheless, they are sharing a cramped one-room apartment and neither one of them (Aoi in particular) has spent a great deal of time in such close proximity to the opposite sex. There is a lot of blushing and tension and many akward moments. They don’t know what the rules are now. They are a bit like newlyweds, but also a bit like a couple on the first date. This is one of my favorite parts of the series.
(An example: Kaoru is on his way home from school, and he suddenly realizes that he’s not just going home, he’s going home to someone. I remember the same feeling struck me after being married. The series has a gift for capturing little details like this.)
Kaoru gets a firm determination to do whatever he needs to do to provide for Aoi and keep her safe. They agree to marry. They both realize they are in a dangerous situation. The Sakuraba are powerful (the story never suggested that the families were involved with organized crime, although I came away with the impression that they were) and would never agree to Aoi marrying this nobody.
The series had a dangerous and serious vibe at this point. How can these two overcome these challenges and make it together? They have many of the problems facing any young couple, plus the looming threat of the Sakuraba and / or Hanabishi clans and their inevitable efforts to seperate them. Kaoru is a brave young man, but he’s also quite poor and clearly no match for either family.
Then, Aoi’s minder / governess, Miyabi Kagurazaki, finds them and is enraged. She takes Aoi back to the Sakuraba. The series gets a bit dark, as we see the effect this has on the two of them. Miyabi sees how serious Aoi is about this, and (despite some really bad first impressions) realizes that Kaoru is a fine young man.
So Miyabi arranges for herself and Aoi to live in one of the Sakuraba mansions, and hires Kaoru as a sort of handyman / groundskeeper. Kaoru stays in the small guest house. He will be near Aoi, but the two cannot profess their love for one another, or word could get back to the Sakuraba and cause them to intervene. It will keep Aoi from running off with Kaoru before he is finished with school, and let them be near each other under the strict supervision of Miss. Miyabi. It sort of makes sense, although there are many nitpicks with this setup that I won’t go into now.
All of this happens in the first few episodes. After this, the whole series abruptly changes gears, and transforms from something like Romeo and Juliet into Three’s company. Various girls from Kaoru’s school end up living in the mansion for various semi-plausible reasons.
I found out later this is a fairly classic style of Anime called a “Harem Comedy”. The story usually revolves around one male protagonist and a number of females who throw themselves at him repeatedly. All of the other males in the story are usually very undesireable or unavailable, thus leaving our hero as the only eligible guy in town. The joke in this one is that Kaoru is already taken, but can’t tell the others and thus end their advances. The plot has to bend him a bit to keep this going, and he follows this rule a bit more strictly than I think a reasonable man would, but such are the needs of the story.
You have all of the Anime stereotypes: The buxom clumsy glasses girl (extra cliche’ bonus points: she’s the maid!), the young and spunky girl, the loudmouth, the spoiled rich girl, the shy traditional girl (Aoi herself) and so on.
Once the characters are in place, the main plot fades into the background and the story becomes very fun and lighthearted. There are many charming moments amidst the mayhem and fan service.
Kaoru often finds himself waking up with someone unexcpected or unwanted his bed, ending up in the wrong bath, seeing something he shouldn’t, or simply getting knocked over and falling into various preposterous positions with the girls. These situations are usually the result of Kaoru going out of his way to be polite and honorable. He will go to great lengths to be a gentleman, only to have his efforts backfire and make him look like a lecherous cad. You should understand that Aoi is exceptionally understanding about these sorts of things.
This is not a deep series, although I enjoyed it quite a bit. From what other fans have said, I gather this series is derrivitive in some ways. This didn’t affect me, since I’d never seen another show like it. As far I as I knew this show was pure innovation. It also helps that I really liked Aoi. The show also has a good deal of charm. Towards the end the main plot began to return and threatened to seperate Aoi and Kaoru, and I found myself thinking, “Oh no! Can’t they have just a little more time together?”
The series is based on a manga. I know nothing about it, but I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that it takes the above setup (Kaoru living with a bunch of girls who are crazy about him while he dodges their advances and tries to get private moments with Aoi) and extends it on forever.
Ending spoilers be here. Click and drag over the text to read:
The restrictions of the original manga became apparent at the end, because they couldn’t give us what we REALLY wanted, which was a wedding. However, they did give the next best thing, which was the grudging acceptance of Aoi’s father. It seems like Kaoru and Aoi should have been free at that point to tell everyone, which would have brought a lot of sanity to the mansion. But the writers felt the need to preserve the status quo, so Kaoru and Aoi continue to keep their engagement a secret. This leaves them free to make more episodes using the same setup. (Indeed, they did make some additional episodes, and they contribute almost nothing to the main plot.) Given that the ending was limited by the needs of the original story, I think they did very well with it.
The product of fandom run unchecked, this novel began as a short story and grew into something of a cult hit.
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