Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi (13 episodes) is a sequel to Ai Yori Aoshi (24 episodes)
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What is Ai Yori Aoshi?
This is the premise of Ai Yori Aoshi: Kaoru Hanabishi and Aoi Sakuraba are both born to wealthy, prominent families. They were betrothed to be married when they were children, and met once at that time. Since then, Kaoru left the Hanabishi family because wealthy, prominent families everywhere tend to treat their bastard offspring badly. Aoi, on the other hand, lived her entire life devoted to the memory of Kaoru, spending all her time training to be his perfect bride.
Through very cute (if predictable) circumstances, Aoi and Kaoru meet up again later in life, and fall in love. Watching them fall in love was sweet and wonderful. And the next bit of drama is good as well. After learning that Kaoru had left the Hanabishi family, Aoi ran away from home to look for Kaoru. So when Aoi's worried mother and her governess Miyabi track Aoi down, Aoi speaks up to her mother for the first time in her life and says, "I found something precious and I don't want to let it go." Awwwww. Her mother is impressed. And so far, the first three episodes of Ai Yori Aoshi are very good.
And then it gets very very bad.
Aoi's mother permits Aoi to live with Kaoru, but only under her conditions to avoid sullying the good Sakuraba name: they are to live in a house that belongs to the Sakuraba family, and Miyabi will live with them to chaperone. Kaoru should pretend that he's a tenant and Aoi is his landlord.
As the series progresses, they get several more tenants. Two classmates of Kaoru from college end up living there: Tina and Taeko. Taeko also has a cousin named Chika who comes to live with them in Enishi. There is another girl named Mayu who doesn't live in the house, but she hangs out there a lot. All these girls are in love with Kaoru, and none of these girls know about the relationship between Aoi and Kaoru.
So after the lovely beginning episodes, Ai Yori Aoshi devolves quickly into what is known as a "harem comedy."
Harem Comedies: An Analysis (I'm serious! Okay, sort of.)
The reason it's sad that Ai Yori Aoshi becomes a "harem comedy" is not because I find all harem comedies terrible and disgusting. They are fun ... in their own way. Probably the best example of a "harem comedy" is Love Hina, where a young man named Keitaro lives with a bunch of young girls in a hot spring inn. The young girls often enjoy a dip in the springs, and so they are always getting undressed, and always accidentally tumbling into Keitaro's way.
The reason this situation is funny is that when faced with nubile and naked young girls, Keitaro, against his better judgment, can't help but be titillated by what he sees. He doesn't try to peek at them. But when multiple sets of boobies are shoved into his face, his brain gets scrambled and his knees buckle. He's a horny teenager and can't help it, and then gets unjustly beat up for being a perv. That's what is (supposedly) funny.
This type of comedy just isn't possible in Ai Yori Aoshi, because we can't laugh at Kaoru the same way. We've just had an intense beginning where Kaoru and Aoi pledge their undying love to each other. And once you have "undying love" as part of the equation, naked-encounters with other people are no longer funny, they are horrifying. (Especially when one of the "undying" lovers is Aoi, a girl so modest she can't bring herself to wear a bathing suit at the beach.)
And Kaoru's naked-encounters are not accidents, but more like "accidentally on purpose" - these girls really want to get into his pants, so they brazenly invade his shower and his bed. And it's just not funny because Kaoru, unlike Keitaro in Love Hina, isn't turned on by them. (And if he was, Aoi would probably commit ritual suicide or something.) The whole thing is just wrong, and painful to watch.
Enishi: What's New?
So that was a long intro. It was necessary because there is nothing going on in Enishi.
I wanted to watch Enishi for the same reason I slogged through all 24 episodes of Ai Yori Aoshi - the beginning three episodes were so sweet that I kept watching, hoping it will be that good again. Man, I'm a sucker.
Two years have passed, and Chika moves in, but since she was already introduced in the original series, it's not much of a change for the viewer. And they don't bother with the "harem comedy" angle anymore, thank goodness. But unfortunately, that leaves the viewer with pretty much nothing.
So the only new element that Enishi comes up with is the notion that the three girls and Aoi and Kaoru have become like a family. ("Enishi" means "bond.") To make this point, they flesh out Tina's backstory: she's a blonde, blue-eyed American, but she grew up in Japan. So she feels like she doesn't fit in anywhere. That's got some dramatic potential, but aside from simply going through the steps of the alienation Tina supposedly feels, the story doesn't really come up with anything interesting to say about it, except to simply conclude that she loves living with Kaoru and the other girls so much that the Sakuraba house has become her true home.
In the end, I didn't buy this at all. There are a lot of good series where unrelated people end up living together and become a family. But I don't think Ai Yori Aoshi's characters earned that warmth or connection. When Tina graduates from college and leaves for America, Aoi cries, and I'm left wondering, "Why?" It wasn't something that was developed in any real way before, and felt like something the writers came up with for lack of a better story idea.
And one huge problem with this alleged "bond" is that it's essentially based on a lie. Someday Aoi and Kaoru are going to end up together (or else Aoi will commit hara-kiri ... really, she's that intense about Kaoru), and I don't know where the other girls fit in to that.
There's some attempt in Enishi to show how much the other girls admire Aoi, for being such a great homemaker or womanly role model or something like that. The point seems to be that they will be happy for the couple in the end, because Aoi is so wonderful and they love her so much.
Aoi = Martha Stewart, minus the (alleged) Megalomania
Which brings me to the fact that there is a fairly repugnant element of this entire series that needs to be addressed: the completely servile nature of Aoi's character. Aoi is one of those women whose every happiness comes from making her man happy. She derives incomparable joy from cooking for and cleaning after Kaoru. And since she hasn't seen Kaoru since they were children, she spent her whole life wondering if he really loved her back. But she beared it by telling herself that the opportunity to love him was a privilege in itself. (And that is kind of ... ewww.) I mean, she wore her hair short all her life because she knew Kaoru likes short hair on women. How does she know this, when she met him once when she was five-years-old? The Power of Love or something, I guess.
So Aoi's attitude sounds like something that feels like it should be offensive ... but it isn't, really. I'm not against the concept of being totally giving and generous in your relationship. And I can't deny that there is a kind of joy in domestic chores and taking care of someone you love. Still, there is something self-effacing about Aoi that rankles ... like, doing Kaoru's laundry makes her the happiest woman in the world ... yeah, I can't really relate, but it doesn't offend me, either.
So Aoi is a very traditional-Japanese-wife-type, and I'm fine with that. (However, I do wonder if guys watch Ai Yori Aoshi and think that Aoi is their ideal woman or something. That would sort of make me gag.)
Anyway, my complaint about Aoi's self-effacing nature isn't because I think she's an insult to all women. It's that it makes her so freaking boring. In fact, the only good parts of this series are when Aoi asserts herself: when she runs away from home to look for Kaoru, when she is determined to stay with him. But for these few moments of backbone, her raison d'etre is about being good at cooking and cleaning.
Aoi and Kaoru, Sitting in a Tree
So I guess the only sort-of-good thing about this series is to enjoy the growing love between Kaoru and Aoi. It's a pretty chaste courtship and a 12-year-old's version of fantasy love, but they do have some sweet moments together. I don't think these moments make this series worthwhile, but they are the only moments that resemble any kind of genuine emotion.
But while I think the love part is sweet, I also think it's ultimately not convincing. Basically, this is the kind of love story where you are bludgeoned with the fact that these people are in love, a grand, epic romance of the ages.
But ultimately, you're not really feeling it. Aside from Aoi's lifelong devotion, what does Kaoru feel? Although at first he is glad to see his childhood friend Aoi, he is initially ambivalent. He asks himself, since he's never even had a girlfriend, does he want to be immediately engaged? And he refuses to go back to the Hanabishi family so he can marry Aoi right away. Although he has a pretty good reason for that, it also shows that he won't do absolutely everything for her, like she would for him. (Aoi was willing to give up the Sakuraba name for him.)
Probably the worst thing Kaoru does is ... to accept dates with the other girls. I mean, what the hell? Okay, they're really pushy, and he's supposedly too nice to say no. But Aoi is grateful for simply breathing the same air as Kaoru. And when she sees him going on dates with other girls, even though she knows nothing really happens between them, she is still pretty tortured about it. And as a viewer, I feel manipulated by the faux-drama created solely by the cruel and pointless stupidity of one character.
So I like that Aoi is like, "Okay, this is my man, and even though I've been meek and quiet all my lie, I'm going to do whatever it takes to make him mine! So hands off, bitches!" Yes, that's kind of awesome. But I don't know how I feel about it ultimately, when the man she wants is kind of ... lame. So the series was never able to convince me that I needed to care about Kaoru and Aoi all that much.
And because of the circumstances, the Kaoru-Aoi romance stuff is based on stuff like how Aoi feels incomparable joy when she can manage to go grocery shopping alone with Kaoru, or share a snack with him. That's very sweet and all, but do I want to see an entire episode about it? And again, Kaoru really isn't doing much of the work or making any big sacrifices here, it's just Aoi. All he really needs to do is buy her a piece of taiyaki once in a while, and she's filled with bliss.
So basically, as a viewer, I feel like I've been put in Aoi's position. Like I'm supposed to be grateful for the few morsels in the series that are halfway decent, but must first endure a lot of pointless filler.
I found both Ai Yori Aoshi and Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi mind-numbingly boring. It was a useless sequel to an already unremarkable series which did nothing but just add to the overall boring quotient. Three good episodes in no way makes up for the 30-some episodes' worth of blah that follows. What a tease.
I feel like I should be angry. I sat through nearly 15 hours waiting for something that never happened. My overall impression was that Ai Yori Aoshi & Enishi were so innocuous and bland that I can't even muster up the energy to be upset at wasting my time watching it.