The reason why certain premises are recycled and re-worked time and again without so much as a twist is a pretty simple one - you don't mess with success. After all, if you put one male character in a house with a bunch of quirky females and layer it with a simple romance plot, what can possibly go wrong? To this last question, rhetorical though it may have been, Ai Yori Aoshi provides a comprehensive - if excruciatingly overlong - answer.
Predictability will always be a calling card of the harem romance, as much a part of its makeup as colorful hair, cute girls and awkward situations. However, Ai Yori Aoshi takes this a step further, practically redefining the the concept by stretching it to breaking point. Suffice to say that if you are unable to guess how things will turn out after watching just the first episode of this series, it will be because you set your sights too high and hoped for a surprise, a shock, a bombshell or any kind of diversion from the plot's unwaveringly linear course.
This alone is not enough to render the series entirely without merit. Instead, that crucial task is delegated to the many failed attempts at comedy, sentiment or anything which would have given the anime some measure of personality. Although there are a couple of rowdy characters in the mix, Ai Yori Aoshi's humour is executed with all the enthusiasm and wit of a chartered accountant with a gun pointed at his head. The only real way to tell that a scene was supposed to be funny is the occasional sweat drops which materialise on the back of characters' heads. If this show had canned laughter, I probably wouldn't be sane enough to write this.
The anime's experiments in sentimentality are equally clumsy and ill-advised. In addition to the aforementioned predictability and the tedious characters, something which I will get onto later, the show ruins most of its emotional scenes with its incessant drive to patronise the viewer by having characters voice their thoughts and feelings in a manner more suited to an infant's puppet show than what is ostensibly a series aimed at relatively mature individuals. In one scene, for example, the heroine Aoi stares wistfully at the clock, then at the empty chair opposite her, then at the full plate of food laid out in front of the empty chair. A few seconds pass before she announces, seemingly to herself "I wonder where Kaoru has got to? He should be home by now" or something equally banal but just as bleeding obvious from the circumstances.
With all of this said, I would be doing the show an injustice if I let this review pass by without divulging the fact that occasionally - very, very occasionally, mind you - Ai Yori Aoshi delivered a moment that amused me, engaged me, or otherwise got my attention. However, watching the entire series just for these sporadic flashes of averageness would be akin to sailing the Seven Seas in search of a treasure chest containing 50p and a half-eaten digestive.
Ai Yori Aoshi's animation is unadventurous, generic and ordinary, but at least it is competent. There's nothing eye-catching or memorable and - although the characters occasionally lack detail and even correct proportions when viewed from a distance - there's nothing overwhelmingly bad about it. It's colorful but not garish and the face faults, while they might not be amusing, at least aren't annoying.
In visual terms, there is one thing which sticks out like a bear in a paddling pool. As clearly evidenced by the opening animation and a scene in the first episode, Aoi has neither pubic hair nor nipples - an omission so glaring that even the most virginal contingent of this anime's demographic cannot fail to miss it. I can only assume that this is down to some censorship or certification issues, but such an assumption hardly makes things any less unsettling or bizarre.
The incidental music is just that - incidental. Although I'm sure it's preferable to having complete silence or Vanilla Ice's Greatest Hits, there's nothing memorable or extraordinary about the background tunes. The OP fares a little better, being pleasant and almost catchy, while the ED is plain and just a touch irksome, in keeping with the series as a whole.
The voicing, on the other hand, is one of the show's few positives. Although I found one or two of the voices bordering on annoying, every single one of them fit the characters so perfectly that it feels entirely unfair to lay any blame here.
If someone said to me "You know, I'm thinking of making a haremy, romancey, slice-of-lifey comedy kinda thing", the first thing I would say to them is "well, just you make sure that the characters are interesting and likeable." Dismayingly, nobody was on hand to offer Ai Yori Aoshi's creators such sage advice or, if they were, the advice was ignored and the piece of paper it was written on shredded and tossed into a fire as soon as their back was turned. To sum up, the characters are dull and fail to engage on any level, which costs the show dearly.
The male lead, Kaoru, is as faceless as most other male harem characters but I expected this. What drags the show down is that the girls are as bad, if not worse. Aoi - who would sooner clean a mansion from top to bottom in preparation for Kaoru's return than have an independent thought - is an embarrassment to her gender, and the implicit suggestion that this is the kind of girl that men would be interested in manages to insult the other half of the human race. Aoi is not alone, however. Most of the other characters are equally needy and emotionally feeble; even though several of them clearly adore the ordinary Kaoru and worship the ground on which he walks, the conflicts between them never get any more serious than a bout of face-pulling.
Only Miyabi, who has the good sense to dislike Kaoru the moment she sets eyes on him, retains some dignity and seems like an actual human being. Every other character is either on the lookout for breasts to fondle, stood next to Kaoru with their arms permanently wrapped around his waist like some kind of pathetic koala or - in Tina's case - both. It's incredibly difficult to feel sympathy for or even to like any of the protagonists, which makes the series fail on pretty much every front.
The title of the anime translates as "Bluer than Indigo", but I think a far better description would be "Beiger than Beige". The series is uninteresting, uninvolving and largely forgettable. There are many similar anime out there which are far better on every front - Love Hina being one such example. Already seen it? No matter; I'd have sooner watched it for a third time than exposed myself to this torrent of blandness and inadequacy.
Aoi Sakuraba, heir to the Sakura department store, has only one thing on her mind-- her beloved. Betrothed from a very young age, she has been in love with him, Kaoru Hanabishi, ever since. After Kaoru left his family, their bethrothal was nullified. Aoi sets out to find him. Will they be able to stand against the barriers that will try to keep them apart?
When it comes to anime, I tend to be a fan of comedy, shoujo, romance or anything else that will put a smile on my face. However, I'll review pretty much anything. Whether you like or dislike my reviews, I'm always glad to receive feedback, and I'm always happy to get into intelligent discussions.