Ai Yori Aoshi, the story of two people arranged to marry, separated for years, and reunited by chance.
Aoi Sakuraba and Kaoru Hanabishi's lives have taken decidedly different turns ever since they were promised to wed while both very young. Aoi is the only daughter of a traditional Japanese clothing conglomerate, and has lived her entire life preparing for the day she would eventually marry Kaoru. Kaoru, however, had since abandoned the Hanabishi conglomerate and set off living on his own and going to college, completely estranged from the influence and wealth of Hanabishi. A chance meeting in the railway station in Tokyo reunites them, though they do not realize it at the time.
Unlike similar shows such as Love Hina, the main characters confirm their love for each other very early on. The focus here is not falling in love or admitting love, rather dealing with the intricacies of being in a precarious situation while being true to one another. The problem is, Aoi's family, as wealthy as it is, does not support her devotion to Kaoru as he is no longer part of the Hanabishi family. As such, they must be very careful not to let on to anyone else that they are together, or else they will bring scandal to the Sakuraba family.
Aoi, however, is not without her family's support. They are eventually allowed to stay in an unused mansion near Kaoru's apartment, though Kaoru himself must stay in the guest house. The mansion is made to be an apartment or inn, as Aoi acts as the landlady, Miyabi (Aoi's watcher, so to speak) as the manager, and Kaoru as a tenant. Several of Kaoru's friends from college come to live there as well. Tina Foster is an old friend of Kaoru's from the photo club. She is an American, very independent, and loves to drink. Taeko Minazuki is a new member of the photo club at the college, and eventually comes to work as the maid there helping Aoi keep the mansion in order.
The antics and ineptitude of Tina and Taeko and the other supporting cast members are sometimes funny, though at times they seem like filler as well. At the heart of the show is the love and romance between Aoi and Kaoru. This is what carries the series forward. Early on, as they are feeling their way through the relationship, they are very awkward and unsure in expressing their feelings. As the show continues you see the gradual improvement in their confidence and dedication to each other, and their love continues to grow. They share more and more moments together, and their relationship is very tender and pure. There always is an awkwardness though, having to keep their engagement secret from everyone they live with, and with each episode you may find yourself hoping that maybe this time they will be able to tell their friends and share their love with the world. Without giving anything away, the series ends well, though certainly there are things left unresolved. At this moment the second season, Ai Yori Aoshi ~ Enishi, is running in Japan. And so the story continues.
The music for the series is excellent. At most times it is very subdued and quiet, yet quite lovely, so as to not draw attention away from the action itself. The visuals are cheerful and vibrant, almost as if they are living in a dream at times. I have to say this is a very pleasant, relaxing series to watch. Aoi and Kaoru try to make the best of their situation, and though it would be easy to become despondent about it, they never dwell on the negative aspects, always looking forward to the future when they will not have to hide their love.
The voice acting work for the show is well done, too, and there are some excellent voice actors in the main roles. Ayako Kawasumi (Herikawa in Please Teacher, and Megumi in Rahxephon, among others) does the voice of Aoi. Kaoru is voiced by Souichiro Hoshi (Kei in Please Teacher and Kira in Gundam SEED), and Satsuki Yukino (one of my favorites :) - Mutsumi in Love Hina and Kaname in Full Metal Panic) voices Tina Foster. They all did well, though Ms Yukino seemed to have some difficulty speaking English lines. The story's explanation was that Tina had not spoken English for some time herself.
If you are looking for a nice realistic love story with some humor in it as well, then I would heartily recommend Ai Yori Aoshi to you. I absolutely recommend it if you liked Love Hina, but couldn't get over the way they had trouble committing to each other.
Composite grade A+ (4.00)