Ai Yori Aoshi by Kou Fumizuki. Published by TokyoPop. Retail: $9.99. Ratings: T+, older teens, for most volumes (many sexually suggestive situations a.k.a. fan service – the cover gives you a taste for that), Mature for the last volume (tasteful sex between the h/h). 17/17 volumes published.
Two long running romance series have drawn to a close this month, and both deserve mention. This one is different from what I normally review because it’s a shounen harem story, written for boys. Oddly perhaps for those of us in the west, while the other series, Basara, was written for girls it concentrates on warfare and politics albeit emotionally; this series however concentrates on love and relationships. It’s called Ai Yori Aoshi.
Ai Yori Aoshi is, through much of the story, a typical harem manga. That means a young man finds himself living with a group of young women, generally stock characters, all of whom fall in love with him. Circumstances always keep him and the one he truly loves from being together until the end. There’s also a lot of “fan service” included. That means he happens to accidentally walk in on the women bathing, or bending over and revealing a little too much pantie or bra, etc. After all, it’s written as fantasy romance for teenage boys. I typically can’t stand this kind of series unless something lifts it out of the muck and something does for me here, the romance between the main couple, Aoi and Kaoru.
Aoi is the quiet daughter of a very wealthy and powerful family, and she has been promised to Kaoru since she was tiny. She only met him once when they were children, but she fell in love with his kind and caring nature. Her whole life has been centered around preparing to marry him and make him happy; she’s very old-fashioned Japanese.
Kaoru is also the son of a very powerful and wealthy family only he’s a bastard, and when his mother died due to neglect by the family, he disowned them and entered the university determined to make his own life. Unfortunately, that made Aoe’s family break off the engagement. He hadn’t remembered it so he never cared, until Aoe showed up and told him who she was. Despite all the temptation around him, he falls in love with only Aoe and does his best to make himself someone worthy of her. Kaoru, unlike many harem heroes, is a great guy with a steel core when it comes to his love.
Aoi is a very traditional woman in that she’s quiet and determined to serve those she loves. But she has a streak of stubbornness and strength running through her that makes her the strongest character in the series. She leaves home to find Kaoru because she will be his wife, whatever it takes. It turns out it takes a lot. Everything tries to come between them, friends, family, you name it. But because their love is so strong and they try so hard, they overcome all obstacles to gain what they want. (This really isn’t a spoiler since it’s a romance manga, and that requires a HEA. As usual it’s the journey that’s worth reading.)
One of the things that I love about this manga is that it is read and loved by men and women alike. The last volume has just come out, and comments and reviews by boys talk about how they cried at the end, and they say that it’s the best romance they’d ever read. That’s just too cute. I wouldn’t go that far and say it’s the best. It’s probably the best shounen harem romance I’ve read, but that’s not saying much. It’s got a lot of shenanigans throughout that are terribly clichéd, and for the most part I skim over them. The only parts of the story I’m interested in are those with Aoe and Kaoru. I cried several times at their part of the story, good tears, because they had so little but treasured it so much.
For a sample of the artwork, one of the quieter scenes at the beginning of the story, where Kaoru first tells Aoi he loves her (as usual, please read right to left):
I honestly prefer older-looking characters, but these two were so sweet I didn’t mind. The reader should note that in typical shounen fashion, all the characters appear quite young, though most are adults, but some of the members of the household are young indeed. Nothing really untoward happens, though there is suggestive comedy along the lines of slapstick. There is, in the final volume, a consummation of the relationship between the hero and heroine and nudity and tasteful sex are shown so it’s rated Mature. The other volumes are 16+ because of the fan service.
Is it worth dropping the $150 or so to buy a set? Maybe if you’re Bill Gates. But now that all 17 volumes are out, I recommend it as a library loan, using speed reading at the annoying parts. It’s about a C+ for me (D- for all the fan service parts, A- for Aoe and Kaoru).