Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ai Yori Aoshi (manga, vol. 1) by Kou Fumizuki

On his way to catch a train, Kaoru Hanabishi comes across a lost, naive young woman named Aoi. She's decided to find her childhood sweetheart and marry him, and she soon realizes that Kaoru is the one she was looking for. She becomes determined to stay with him and be his wife, but, unfortunately, her family won't hear of it. For the sake of her powerful family's reputation, she must marry someone from a family with similar standing. Kaoru was once the Hanabishi heir, and if this were still the case he could marry Aoi. However, things have changed since they were children, and Kaoru is determined never to go back to the Hanabishi family.

Aoi is what I imagine many young men's fantasies of the perfect woman are like. Although she's virginal, gentle, shy, and sweet-natured, she can become blushingly sexy at the drop of a hat, and she always knows just the right moment to become naked. I don't know any real women who are at all like her, but I suppose that's not the point. Judging by this first volume, Ai Yori Aoshi is romance for older teenage boys, and romance is often idealized.

Judging by Kou Fumizuki's page in Anime News Network, Ai Yori Aoshi is likely his first published series, and it shows. The way characters are drawn is inconsistent and sometimes a little off. Fumizuki uses what I personally think of as the "Escaflowne style of noses" - when you see characters a little in profile, their noses are long and sharp, with a little blunted bit. It's not a style I like, but I grew to like the story in Vision of Escaflowne enough that I got over my reaction to the noses. However I feel about the noses, Fumizuki does manage facial expressions pretty well, which is important for such an emotional series.

I think I'm too much of a woman to ever really like Ai Yori Aoshi - Aoi is too much of a sexy wet washcloth for me to like her, and Kaoru only barely starts getting developed by the end of the first volume. However, I can see why young guys might like this series. There's plenty of fanservice (in the form of nudity in the story, as well as provocative poses, nudity, and the suggestion of nipples through cloth on some of the chapter title pages), the cliched boob-grabbing joke you see pretty much everywhere in this genre, and the ordinary guy who gets the starry-eyed affection of a beautiful woman.

  • Oh My Goddess! (manga) by Kosuke Fujishima - Keiichi Morisato, a student at a technical university, accidentally calls a Goddess Help Line while attempting to call a restaurant for some take-out. A beautiful goddess named Belldandy shows up and tells him he can have one wish. He wishes for her to be his girlfriend forever, and things get more complicated from there. There are other goddesses who come calling throughout the series, magic goes awry, and magic is used to help people be happier. Oh My Goddess!, like Ai Yori Aoshi, is romance for guys, and some people are just as annoyed by Belldandy's unconditional love for Keiichi as I am by Aoi's love for Kaoru - I've heard her referred to as a doormat before. However, I find Belldandy much easier to swallow than Aoi. Although there's fanservice, it doesn't feel like Fujishima breaks established character personality traits in order to provide that fanservice. Of course, there's also less fanservice in this series than there is in Ai Yori Aoshi, so take your pick.
  • Love Hina (manga) by Ken Akamatsu - Keitaro Urashima has been trying to get into Tokyo University for two years because when he was a child he promised a girl that they could go there together, but he keeps failing the entrance exams. After he is kicked out of his parents' house he goes to live at his Grandmother's inn, which has apparently become an all-girls dorm. Keitaro becomes the dorm manager and gets into all kinds of trouble with the girls, including Naru Narusegawa, who has her own reasons for trying to get into Tokyo University. This is a classic harem manga - one ordinary, somewhat nerdy guy surrounded by lots of girls of all physical types and personalities (it's practically guaranteed that there's one to suit the tastes of any male reader) who tease and flirt with the ordinary guy. There's lots of nudity of the Barbie doll variety (loads of skin, but nobody has nipples or anything else more detailed) and, of course, the accidental boob grabbing jokes. Readers who liked the "childhood sweetheart rediscovered" aspect of Ai Yori Aoshi may like this series.
  • Video Girl Ai (manga) by Masakazu Katsura - Dejected because he's just given up the girl he loves to his best friend, Yota goes to a video store and comes away with something that he thinks is an X-rated video. When Yota tries to watch the video, Ai, a video girl, pops out of his TV. Video girls are supposed to comfort those who are pure of heart and in pain - unfortunately, Ai's video was defective, so she's flat-chested and foul-mouthed. However, even as she finds herself falling for Yota, she tries to match him up with the girl of his dreams. Readers who liked the "girl who will do anything for the ordinary guy she loves" aspect of Ai Yori Aoshi might like this series.
  • Chobits (manga) by CLAMP - This series takes place in the future, when most people have persocoms, robots that serve as computers and companions. Poor Hideki is a cram school student who came to Tokyo from the country, where far fewer people have persocoms. He doesn't have money for a persocom of his own, but he gets lucky and stumbles upon one that was left by a dumpster. Unfortunately, she seems to be broken, since she doesn't know how to do anything and all she can say is "Chi" (which is what he ends up naming her). As the series progresses, there are indications that Chi is special, but Hideki's biggest concern is figuring out how he feels about her. Should people really be caring for their persocoms to the exclusion of their relationships with other humans? If he really does care for Chi, where does that put Hideki? Like Ai Yori Aoshi, this series has lots of fanservice and a girl (or at least a girl-shaped robot) who would do anything for the ordinary guy she lives with, but there's also a lot in this series to inspire thought. Although I'm a woman and would've appreciated a few more male persocoms, I found this series to be lovely and sweet.

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