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Dated 12 October 2006: Ai Yori Aoshi manga v.14

Amazing. Volume 14 of the Ai Yori Aoshi manga was fully awesome.

If you've been following this site for a while, you may remember that I have a curious love affair with the wretchedness that is Ai Yori Aoshi. The anime is mostly mediocre, with a few really good moments, and a lot of really lousy ones. Still, I collected box sets of both seasons, purchasing or pre-ordering the DVDs individually. The anime exemplifies much of what is wrong with harem shows and contains stupid gimmicks and antics. I watch it anyway. This is because at the heart of Ai Yori Aoshi lies a vein of romance pure to the spirits of hope, love, and passion. But yeah, it's mostly shitty.

Ai Yori Aoshi manga volume 14
Ai Yori Aoshi manga volume 14.

However, the Ai Yori Aoshi manga is actually pretty good most of the time. It suffers from some of the same problems as the anime now and then, but at least it doesn't suffer from the disjointed narratives plaguing the episodes of the anime that tried to adapt extended manga plot lines via the dubious method of "just cramming everything all together." This isn't plot advancement; it's called "not making any sense."

In the Ai Yori Aoshi manga, the plot may advance slowly, but the plot does progress naturally. In volume 14, it leaps. I don't want to reveal the spoilers explicitly, but I will say that they involve the following aspects:

  • You know how it doesn't make sense that after all this time nobody has found out about Aoi and Kaoru? Yeah, at least one person has known all along.
  • The story arc in Enishi about Tina returning to America that was resolved in a single episode? It's much more extended in the manga and actually has a reason behind it.
  • There's a bit of retconning regarding Tina's past, but it is consistent with other elements depicted thus far; it's conceivable that it was planned all along.
  • Mayu confronts her feelings. (Mayu, you'll recall, has always been completely unguarded about her devotion to Kaoru...err...Hanabishi-samaaaaaaaaaaaa. For example, see how Mayu turned the tables on Tina in volume 13 with regard to the onsen prank. She's in love with him, and makes damn sure everyone knows about it. And how.) Anyway, the volume-14 bit about Mayu confronting her feelings is a little different than you might expect.
  • Someone important to the plot dies.

Oh, and there is a bonus side-story chapter about one of Chika's friends and her newfound May-December romance. So tawdry.

Ai Yori Aoshi manga volume 13
Ai Yori Aoshi manga volume 13.

Ai Yori Aoshi volume 14 is excellent, and Tokyopop's adaptation of it again finds zero complaints from me. All y'all should buy it, but if you haven't been reading the manga, you'll want to pick up volume 13 as well.

Dated 16 April 2008: Ai Yori Aoshi PC needs more trophy-fucking

The Ai Yori Aoshi PC games
I own the Ai Yori Aoshi PC games.

In addition to playing Tsukihime again, I've also been playing the Ai Yori Aoshi PC game. And when I say "game," I'm using the term in its most generous sense, because the entire thing is basically two stand-alone episodes of the anime with very little variation in game play. Even for a visual novel, there are very few choices to make and not a whole lot of variation or different outcomes.

Opposite side of the Ai Yori Aoshi PC games
Oh God, what have I done?

Still, the game is voiced by the original Japanese cast and reasonably-well subtitled. There are occasional errors in the text, but not enough to detract from whatever enjoyment one might get from playing an Ai Yori Aoshi game. However, the characters only speak one at a time, so there's little chemistry among them, if at all. I have to wonder if the seiyuu recorded their lines "American style" with each reading lines alone in a recording booth. I hesitate to call the acting bad, but it certainly sounds artificial; it's far below their work during the anime series.

Aoi, Mayu, and Tina
To Tina's chagrin, Aoi invites Mayu along.

To be honest, I'm rather amazed by the amount of Ai Yori Aoshi merchandise I own. Let's see, full first-print runs of both seasons' R1 DVDs (including their collector's boxes), a second (unopened) copy of the first DVD from the first season (look, don't ask, okay), the God damned PC game (a two-disc set, frequently discounted by Right Stuf), and all 17 volumes of the manga. That's kind of a lot of Ai Yori Aoshi stuff for someone who claims to dislike the majority of its anime episodes.

Tina, Kaoru, and Mayu
To Tina's chagrin, Kaoru pokes Mayu's backside.

However, I do like the manga—particularly the later volumes. Tokyopop did a damn fine job with this title, and it's a good thing because the Ai Yori Aoshi manga turned out to be really good. Okay, not Monster good, and arguably not even Love Hina good, but way better than the anime, which makes it a must-read if you enjoyed the television series at all, or even if you merely wanted to like it—more on that later.

Dated 10 May 2008: The End of Ai Yori Aoshi: My Purest Heart for Thee. Be glad it isn't Death(TRUE), Tina

I've confessed on multiple occasions that I really enjoy the Ai Yori Aoshi manga despite having a rather low opinion of its banal, freakishly-nipple-free anime adaptation—Kawasumi Ayako's soothing cooing as Aoi notwithstanding. It's not easy for me to explain exactly why I enjoy the manga so much. I think perhaps part of the reason is that it is so transparent with its ambitions.

Ai Yori Aoshi volumes 17 and 16
Ai Yori Aoshi volumes 17 and 16.

Compare the Ai Yori Aoshi promise with the central promise in Love Hina, a manga that is arguably as much about promises as it is about onsens and accidentlly seeing other people's butts. In Love Hina, the identity of the Promised Girl remains ambiguous for nearly the entire run, and even the terms of the promise itself come into question at times. Ai Yori Aoshi establishes an unambiguous promise in its opening chapters that never faces a serious challenge in the eyes of the reader.

Compare Ai Yori Aoshi with Ah! My Goddess. The committment between Keiichi and Belldandy never faces a credible challenge. The promise inherent in the wish has a large catalog of exceptions and loop-holes, but the underlying bond keeping Keiichi and Belldandy together will go on as long as it has to—this is a manga that never ends. Thankfully, the title focuses more now on the slice-of-life whacky-type adventures mostly driven by its extensive supporting cast, so it's still wildly entertaining. But I digress. Unlike Aa! Megami-sama, Ai Yori Aoshi ENDS.

Peorth tricks Chrono
Why is an Aa! Megami-sama picture in an Ai Yori Aoshi entry?
I'm not sure, but it's probably Peorth's fault.

I am very pleased with how the Ai Yori Aoshi manga wrapped up the story in its final volumes. I did have some reservations at first when New Character appeared out of thin air, but it worked out well. Be content to think of the matter as a catalyst and be glad it wasn't a deus ex machina. (Ultimately, what happens to our main characters doesn't really require New Character's presence at all.)

Speaking of which, what does happen to Aoi and Kaoru? Well, I'm not going to outright spoil the climax or lay out the story, but the events in volume 17 should come as no surprise to anybody who has been paying even bare attention. Fans of the series should find the ending satisfying. A consumate professional, mangaka Fumizuki Kou nails it.

Dated 19 April 2011: Winter 2011 season summary

The real antagonists in Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica are trolls, not witches.

Despite my disdain for SHAFTXSHINBO, Mahou Shojo Madoka Magica (at least what I've seen of it so far, as the remaining episodes were pre-empted due to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami—they're expected to air in a few days) is really good. [Update: The final two episodes did have some surprises. The rating remains unchanged.] Whether it's good in spite of SHAFTXSHINBO because of Kajiura Yuki and Urobuchi Gen isn't so much important as the fact that they took something which I had fully expected to be unconventional, made it so, and still managed to impress. Although I did not enjoy Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica nearly as much as its true fans did, it was still easily the best show I watched from winter 2011, admittedly not a very difficult feat when the runner up probably only placed as high as it did thanks to the Hanakana Distortion Field.

Ichika and Charles
Infinite Stratos needed more Full Frontal Bageena Char.

Infinite Stratos was by no stretch of the imagination a good show, but it was fun to watch. Curiously, it's often the male protagonist that makes or breaks harem comedies, not the bevy of girls themselves. Thankfully, Infinite Stratos does well on both fronts. Potato-kun is mostly unobjectionable, with neither an overpoweringly "strong sense of justice" nor a timid adversion to girls, the two most common flaws of the typical harem comedy putz.

Charles and Ichika
There ain't no way Ichika owns that many books.

Unfortunately, not having those two flaws means Potato-kun needs some other character flaw to be the excuse why he doesn't trophy fuck love all the girls during the course of the show. In Ichika's case, he's a moron. It works out, though, because nearly every girl in his harem is also a moron. This is probably why Charles is so popular, as she's the only girl in the harem who is neither dumb nor crazy. Okay, she did pretend to be a very unconvincing boy for a while, but she gave that up after a few episodes, and the only reason other people bought that act is because the entire school is filled with complete idiots.

Ichika and Charles
What's that fishy odor?

Anyway, Infinite Stratos was an amusing, harmless diversion and was pretty fun until it decided it needed a plot towards the end. Instead of the Final Battle against MacGuffin, they should have devoted the last three episodes to a footrace or an extended game of tag.

This is the best reaction shot of the entire series. [P.S. Spoilers.]

Kimi ni Todoke really took a dive with 2nd Season in my view and dipped below the Detective Conan Line during the middle episodes because it upset the precarious balance of misunderstandings and heartfulness. Basically the entire season dragged out due to terribly painful communication problems. It made me wish the show was about Ume instead, or maybe Yano falling in love with Pin. (It's not a spoiler, okay? It's right there in the OP!) Thankfully, Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season pulled itself together during the final three episodes. Pity the entire season couldn't be that good. Had it been, then Kimi ni Todoke Second Season would have been as good as, well, Kimi ni Todoke First Season.

Ai Yori Aoshi volumes 17 and 16
Ai Yori Aoshi volumes 17 and 16.

Somewhat unexpectedly, finishing Kimi ni Todoke S2 makes me wish for a third season of Ai Yori Aoshi—one that follows the manga instead of jumping all over Creation. The final volumes of Ai Yori Aoshi really deserve a lot better than the lackluster impression the two inconsistent anime seasons left behind. They may have to animate Aoi's bra in the series climax with CGI, though. (Ha ha. "Climax.")

Take Fractale easy.

Viewers seem fairly divided on Fractale, particularly with regard to its ending. Much as I postulated when describing my early impressions of the show, the way I see it, there are two camps: Those that care about its pedigree and subsequently chose to watch Fractale critically, and those who just wanted to enjoy themselves because anime is still a hobby. That latter group likely enjoyed Nessa's turbo-genki moments quite a lot more, and even if there might be a Hanakana Distortion Field at work, they presumably enjoyed the show more as a whole.

Phryne and Nessa
How did they end up in the ending to Heartcatch Precure!?

This is not to say Fractale doesn't suffer from a host of problems. Personally, I felt all of the fighting and battle scenes were comically bad, and a lot of things (especially towards the end) didn't make any sense. I was also somewhat crestfallen to learn Phryne wasn't just acting stupid—she really was an idiot. It's because of these problems that I don't rank Fractale higher among the winter 2011 shows. Nevertheless, it was still pretty good overall, and including an audio cameo by Nausicaä herself towards the end to bookend the visual references from earlier in the season was pretty nice, even if I totally missed it.

If you advance this scene frame by frame you can catch
the exact moment Ran's heart breaks. [P.S. Spoilers.]

Detective Conan is Detective Conan. As I mentioned before, Detective Conan is basically my control group when it comes to ranking shows. Each season of Detective Conan is about the same and typically as good as any of its myriad previous seasons. This remained true during winter 2011, although I would like to point out the "Tear Drops" OP totally messes with the heads of Shinichi + Ran 'shippers.

Kumojacky and Cure Marine

The end of Heartcatch Precure! was all right, even though Cure Blossom remained mostly useless. Probably the highlight for me was Cure Marine suckerpunching Kumojacky in the face on general principle before he could launch into an idiomatic, vaguely evil speech.

Cure Rhythm
More punching, less baking.

Suite Precure is decent, but nothing really special unless you care about voice actresses. Koshimizu Ami, Orikasa Fumiko, Toyoguchi Megumi, and Mitsuishi Kotono are all on board. In fact, I should probably check Danbooru for what I'm sure must be copious amounts of seiyuu_joke parody/crossover fan art.

I dropped Freezing not because it was exploitative, but because it was kinda retarded. I can't wait for the second season of Seikon no Qwaser, though. (No, seriously.)

I was intriqed by Ri♡ -Rainbow Gate!- because it was Highlander with card battles, but I think I lost interest after two episodes beause Rio's hair sucks.

Yumekui Merry didn't suck, but I dropped it after the first episode because I wasn't interested. I heard it gets better later, but I still suspect Merry might actually be a boy.

Sister Layer
Cosprayers Line.

I dropped Wolverine after a single episode because it was God awful. Congratulations, Wolverine, you are easily WORSE THAN COSPRAYERS. All you need to know about the show is that in the first episode, a group of people flying around with jetpacks bent on attacking Wolverine with rifles decide to all fly close enough for him to gut them with his claws. Then later on Wolverine breaks one of Sir Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion. Look, I'm okay with his indestructible skeleton and canonical ability to regenerate from a single remaining drop of blood, but c'mon.

Final tally: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica > IS: Infinite Stratos > Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season > Fractale > Detective Conan > Heartcatch Precure! > Suite Precure | Dropped: Freezing > Ri♡ -Rainbow Gate!- > Yumekui Merry | WORSE THAN COSPRAYERS: Wolverine.

Dated 10 April 2012: Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha versus Ai Yori Aoshi, an advanced study in contrasts

Savage childhood beatings build character.

I lied. This is totally not a study, not advanced, and not really even about contrasts. I just wanted an excuse to dig out my Ai Yori Aoshi DVDs.

Fate and Precia
There's a 50/50 chance Fate got Precia that whip for Mother's Day.

Thanks to the flood of official_art pictures of Fate Testarossa from Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha not wearing a lot of clothes (partially due to the upcoming A's movie—the flood part anyway), I've noticed something peculiar: Fate doesn't have any scars. It seems to me she should look at lot more like Kaoru from Ai Yori Aoshi than as she's commonly depicted. Maybe it's a benefit of having magic powers.

Dated 6 May 2012: The Ai Yori Aoshi and Full Moon o Sagashite Re-Watching Projects

Ai Yori Aoshi and Full Moon wo Sagashite DVDs
Still miss Pioneer. Still bitter about Viz.

In observance of the 10-year anniversaries of their first airing, I've started re-watching Ai Yori Aoshi and Full Moon wo Sagashite this season as well, rationing myself to a single episode of each per week to roughly approximate the original broadcasts. I have all the available (R1) DVDs of each series, but I'm going to run out of Full Moon wo Sagashite once I reach the end of its seventh volume, as Viz never released the second half of the show. All the episodes are available in streaming format, but it's not the same. Pioneer, on the other hand, did an exceptional job with its Ai Yori Aoshi DVDs and collector box—arguably better than the series deserves, considering how far the anime falls once the setting relocates from Kaoru's little apartment to Aoi's massive mansion and a bunch of cockblockers move in. It also occurs to me that I've been blogging about anime now for more than 10 years, although the very early posts were honestly more sporadic than regular. I should dig up and incorporate those old archives to see just exactly how many anime blog posts I wrote back during the Geocities days.

Dated 8 September 2012: Status updates for the Fushigi no Umi no Nadia, Full Moon wo Sagashite, and Ai Yori Aoshi re-watching projects

Kaoru and Aoi
Aoi lap-pillows the shit out of Kaoru.

I finished re-watching Ai Yori Aoshi even though that meant going outside the one-episode-per-week framework I previously decided upon in my attempt to mimic its initial broadcast schedule from 10 years ago. This was not because Ai Yori Aoshi is so great I couldn't help myself, but rather because I was re-watching it via my old Pioneer DVDs, so it was easier to burn through a block of five episodes in a row than to fuss with disc swaps every week. I don't mean this as another sign physical media are dead, since I do still value the tangible qualities they impart, but there are certainly inconveniences associated with optical media that seem anachronistic in an ever-increasingly instant-gratification age.

Nadia is pouting in this scene because
Jean never visits her bunk. True story.

I don't remember Nadia being such a harpy. That girl just will not stop bitching. Frankly, I am amazed Jean manages to put up with her unrelenting complaining and her hippie bullshit. Then again, maybe it's a good thing that she's so disagreeable all the time. Were it not for her acerbic personality, Jean probably wouldn't be able to keep his mind on science and aeronautics. He's at that age, y'know. And they're stuck on a boat together (and/or island sometimes). And she doesn't seem to like wearing a lot of clothes. And she's a very bendy and athletic circus acrobat. I'm just sayin'.

I love Madoka even though she is not a cunt all the time.

Full Moon wo Sagashite? Still the best anime of all time, although I guess you wouldn't necessarily realize it at this point (episode 22). After 10 years, Full Moon wo Sagashite still remains somewhat of a difficult sell, particularly now that in many respects it not only is "old" but it sort of looks old, too. I'm not sure what it is...perhaps the lack of shiny skin? Since Full Moon wo Sagashite aired in 2002, myco (Mitsuki and Fullmoon's voice actress and singer) has released a solo album, my collage, and another album as the lead vocalist for the band Quintillion Quiz. I was able to purchase a my collage CD, but Quintillion Quiz's Mement Mori appears to only be available on iTunes. Both albums are good, but Mement Mori in particular is a steal at only eight bucks or so for the entire album. It rocks quite a bit more than myco's earlier work with the band Changin' My Life. I'm afraid I have no idea what Kana is up to these days, though....