Back to the Vaults: Ai Yori Aoshi — the Manga!

藍より青し (Manga)
Ai Yori Aoshi — the Manga!

Ai Yori Aoshi -- the Manga!The only reason to have manga on my bookshelves is to reread it some day. Such is the case with Ai Yori Aoshi, which I decided to dust off and read again after reading the final volume in 2007.

I got into this manga series via the anime adaptation. At the time, only the first anime series had been done and I was keen on reading the rest of the story. The first thing that sort of “shocked” me is how ugly the character designs were when compared to the anime adaptation. Don’t get me wrong, I recognized all of the characters right away, but they just didn’t have the polished, sharp look of the anime that I was accustomed to. However, it didn’t take long to get used to things.

For those who don’t know, the story centers around two characters. First is HANABISHI Kaoru, who’s a college student who’s left his powerful family and thus is basically disowned by the head of the family. The second is SAKURABA Aoi, who as a child is arranged to be married to Kaoru, then heir to become the eventual head of the Hanabishi family. As such, she has been raised to become his wife and thus deeply loves him. So when she’s told that the arranged marriage is canceled, she heads to the city where Kaoru reportedly lives. She encounters him at a train station and he helps her out, though neither recognize the other. When Aoi discovers the address she has is for a vacent lot, Kaoru has her rest at his apartment where upon seeing a picture Aoi carried of himself and herself as a child, they recognize each other.

Initially, Kaoru refuses Aoi’s advances as part of a Hanabishi scheme to get him back, but realizes this is wrong. When Aoi’s guardian Miyabi-san arrives to bring Aoi back home, Aoi again flees back to Kaoru. This causes Miyabi to return with Aoi’s mother, who upon seeing her daughters determination, arranges it so that she and Kaoru can be together in secret. Thus a large, western-styled mansion that belongs to the Sakuraba family is given to Aoi and Miyabi to live in, pretending to run a boarding house where Kaoru is a tenant living in the servants quarters.

Ai Yori Aoshi -- the Manga!Through the course of the manga, other characters join the household including the American college student and fellow photo club member Tina Foster (as a boarder), fellow college student MINAZUKI Taeko (as a live-in maid), and her high school cousin MINAZUKI Chika (as a boarder). Also in the mix is the daughter of rich parents, MIYUKI Mayu, who lives alone in a large mansion (along with servants) and despite being only 16, is a freshman at the same college as Kaoru, Tina, and Taeko.

Because of this setting, the manga follows a harem track in that all of the girls fall in love with Kaoru, save for Miyabi — she comes to respect and admire him greatly though. However, unlike traditional harem titles, there is no question as to whom will end up as the couple — Aoi and Kaoru are the couple from volume one and remain so until the manga ends in volume seventeen. Because Aoi and Kaoru have to keep their relationship a closely guarded secret, the other girls all believe they have a chance and circumstances to allow each of them some alone time with Kaoru in what might be construed as romantic settings.

Being a seinen title, there is quite a bit of detailed topless nudity. Indeed, once Chika enters the household, Fumizuki-sensei seems to enjoy getting her naked a lot. When her two high school friends Chizuru and Natsuki are introduced, Fumizuki-sensei had them all in the swim club so that he had an excuse to have them in lengthy dialog sequences with their school swimsuits half-off to show off their naked breasts. Not only is it unneccessary, it rings false because I can’t imagine any women rushing to pull down the top half of their swimsuit so they can then stop getting changed and chat. Whatever. Frankly, I grew weary of this excessive nudity by the time the manga ended even though I liked the characters.

Ai Yori Aoshi 17Everything is good story-wise until volume 15. Here, Kaoru suddenly gets a half-brother who claims to be HANABISHI Kaoru. As such, he lures Aoi to return home and then esentially holds her captive for some “drama” until Kaoru returns and Aoi makes things clear to her parents. This story continues through volume 16 too and frankly went way too long for my tastes and just smacked of false drama. It also made Aoi’s parents seem like complete losers initially for going along with this whole thing. To be fair to Fumizuki-sensei, he did introduce this half-brother in volume 11 so that helps as it doesn’t feel like some hardcore retcon.

For the final volume, I guess Fumizuki-sensei felt that he needed to spend four chapters dealing with Aoi and Kaoru consummating their relationship. While the other two times that Aoi and Kaoru spent alone together, the audience is left to decide whether or not the two made love, in volume 17, Fumizuki-sensei left no doubts. For me, it didn’t come off as some big romantic moment — it came off as cheap titillation and an excuse to ratchet up the ecchi content. That’s just me though.

I will say that the “four years later” chapter at the end of the manga is a joy to read because we get to see where all the characters are now. I liked how Tina questioned Aoi on why she still addressed Kaoru as “Kaoru-sama.” I noticed how Mayu no longer addresses Kaoru as “Hanabishi-sama” but rather “Kaoru-san.” There’s just a lot of enjoyable moments as we touch all the characters and their lives now.

Ai Yori Aoshi mangaLet me say something about the translation/adaptation by the twins Alethea and Athena Nibley. Ai Yori Aoshi is a title deeply rooted in Japanese culture, both in traditional Japanese elements (Aoi) and modern Japanese elements. I think of how Aoi always addresses Kaoru as “Kaoru-sama.” Someone keen on domesticating the adaptation would have removed that and come up with some tortured translation to fit, which would have weakened things on the whole because none of the standard translations of “sama” work (“master,” “mister,” “darling,” “my dear,” “lord,” etc.). Alethea and Athena leaving all of the honorifics in, including brother and sister honorifics, gives the title a richness that it otherwise would not have and does not detract from the story but adds to it. I love it (and as an aside, the anime subtitles are one of the few that Pioneer used honorifics for). So my hat is off to Alethea and Athena for the excellent job.

TokyoPop started the series with a much stronger commitment than most titles. By this I mean that the first four volumes contain a “glossary” (translator notes) and they are great. With volume 5, TokyoPop scraps the glossary in favor of using the pages for more ads. Yeah, that’s quality stuff, TP.

Despite the excessive ecchi fanservice content at times and volumes 15 and 16 being kind of tedious, I give the manga series as a whole a hearty recommendation for those looking for a sweet, wholesome love story that is mixed with a lot of fun and enjoyable characters.

The manga series is still mostly for sale at RightStuf.

Update: After TokyoPop went under, I’m surprised that no one license rescued this series.

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10 Responses to “Back to the Vaults: Ai Yori Aoshi — the Manga!”

  1. mastermack0 says:

    good series that i never finished.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve never read the manga but I did love both anime seasons. I think I’ll try out the manga.

  3. AstroNerdBoy says:

    @Mastermack0 — you never finished the anime or manga?

    @Anon — if you liked the anime, I think you’ll like the manga.

  4. jeff-morris says:

    I got really tired of the “lolita” bits once Chicka showed up, but overall I did like the series.

    Especially Miyabi. That was one capable woman.

  5. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Yes she is. ^_^

    I may now have to pull the anime off the shelf at some point and watch it again.

  6. jeff-morris says:

    The other thing I liked about the manga is that the ending really did surprise me; I figured Kaoru would end up taking over the Hanabishi house so that he could marry Aoi.

    I have to admit I prefer this ending–the “bad guy” gets his comeuppance but also the thing he desired most, and Kaoru gets the two things he most wanted–his freedom and Aoi.

    I have to admit I snickered, though, about Aoi abandoning her family name. Yeah, that’ll last right up until the first grandchild. 🙂

    I wondered too if they weren’t hinting about a relationship between Miyabi and Taeko?

  7. AstroNerdBoy says:

    I wondered too if they weren’t hinting about a relationship between Miyabi and Taeko?

    I never considered that as a possibility but that may have been the intent. The only thing I wondered is how Taeko managed to keep a job, even if working for the very tolerant Miyabi. *lol*

  8. Gyt Kaliba says:

    I’ve been on the ropes about this series for a while now, as to whether or not it’s worth checking out (the anime not the manga, but still. I’d get to both eitherway once I got to one. :P). Now I know I need to though, it sounds like somethin I would thouroughly enjoy.

    I’ve found lately I become obsessed with romance stories as it is. I blame Masakazu Katsura’s I”s manga…and a girl named Alc, but that’s a different story. And this seems like the closest thing to another I”s I’ve found yet (a normal-world based romance instead of a fantasy like say Midori Days or a joke one like School Rumble), and that’s what I prefer.

    And now…sleep. *Collapses on the floor*

  9. AstroNerdBoy says:

    This manga series does have jokes and traditional harem elements, but the romance between Aoi and Kaoru is the real win. ^_^

  10. Anonymous says:

    I always thought that the entire “live together but not” was more of a stupid plot of her parents. The idea was that he had always been this “ideal boy” that she had fantasized about for years. The plan was that just being around the real, imperfect person would make her realize that he was not this ideal and that she would “grow up” and listen to her parents; yes, they missed that irony. Instead, the couple made a life together, confronting new experiences & new challenges together.

    I suspect her mother always knew that Aoi would pick Kaoru over her parents ultimately, but proposed this plan as a compromise from her father’s plan of just imprisoning her until she married someone “worthy” of being HIS heir. I figure the idiot father was too busy being a “Master of the Universe” to understand his daughter had any choice in the matter.

    Craig in Houston

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