Ai Yori Aoshi (藍より青し?) is a Japanese seinen manga written and illustrated by Kou Fumizuki and serialized from 1998 to 2005 in Hakusensha's Young Animal. It is a love story between two characters who haven't seen each other in years but were once childhood friends.
Ai Yori Aoshi was directed by Masami Shimoda and animated by J.C.Staff. The series was made into an anime in 2002, with a 2003 sequel, Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi (藍より青し ～縁～?), set two years later. There are 37 episodes total, counting an alternate-continuity Christmas special. The anime was released in North America by Geneon, and the manga was released in English by Tokyopop. Four visual novels were also released for the PlayStation 2, and for Windows 98.
Kaoru Hanabishi appears to be an average university student, but in actually, he's the eldest son of Yūji Hanabishi, the head of the Hanabishi Zaibatsu, and was set to take over the zaibatsu after his father retired. His mother, Kumi Honjō, and his father never married, making life difficult for both him and his mother. Kaoru's father died when he was five years old. Since then, Yūji's grandfather, Gen'ichiro Hanabishi, took Kaoru under his wing and began educating him for the eventual succession. Yet Kaoru never felt at home in the Hanabishi family and left to live alone in self-imposed exile after his mother died. Day by day he felt alone, thinking that he was living life with no reason pushing him on.
There was, however, a person who loved Kaoru so much that she had to do whatever was necessary to be with him.
Her name is Aoi Sakuraba. Aoi is the only daughter of the owner of the Sakuraba Kimono (Dry Goods in the manga) Store (later renamed to Sakuraba Department Store). Kaoru's family and Aoi's family had accepted for Kaoru to marry Aoi, but after Kaoru walked out, the marriage was canceled. Both families had a friendly relationship and Aoi had been in love with Kaoru from the start, which Kaoru was unaware of. The Sakuraba family had already been searching for someone suitable, but Aoi was unwilling to marry someone else and walked out, chasing Kaoru.
Both were freed from their families' affairs, but did not know how to make their living. Miyabi Kagurazaki, who had been looking out for Aoi, offered the two a way. Aoi and Miyabi would live together in a grand western style summer house owned by the Sakuraba family and Kaoru would live in a house for servants next to it. This would prevent a scandal, much like the one that had made Kaoru's life difficult, as the two would be living separately. But soon, Kaoru's friends, who just happen to be attractive females, took residence in the house, and it quickly became a dormitory. Very soon, Aoi became a landlady of the dormitory.
The first season of the anime ends when Aoi's father decides to arrange her marriage with another man, but she refuses, and is confined. She manages to escape with the help of Miyabi and Aoi spends a day together with Kaoru. Rather than doing what Miyabi expects and eloping, they confront her father the next day and manage to get her father to accept their relationship. Kaoru's best point in his argument with Aoi's father is the fact that, after having lost his family and enduring the pain of that loss, he does not wish to see the same thing happen to Aoi. Her father grudgingly accepts Aoi's choice in order to maintain his relationship with his daughter. In contrast, the manga does not have Kaoru going to meet Aoi's father until the final storyline. Instead, it goes into the plot of Kaoru coming to terms with his painful past by confronting the Hanabishis. The final storyline of the manga involves Karou's half brother attempting to gain control of the Hanabishi Zaibatsu by marrying Aoi.
A best effort to map the story elements of the anime to the manga shows that the anime covers between one and two years in the lives of the characters, while the manga covers 4 years of their life.
Written and illustrated by Kou Fumizuki, the manga was originally serialized in 1998 in Hakusensha's Young Animal magazine. The first volume was published and released in Japan by Hakusensha on May 28, 1999, with 17 volumes the last was released on December 20, 2005. In English the series was released by Tokyopop. Book one was released in January 2004 with the last book being released in October 2007.
The series has also been licensed in Europe (Non English Releases), Asia, and Middle America. In Europe, the series was licensed in French by Pika Édition, in German by EMA, and in Spanish by Norma Editorial. For Asia the series was licenced in Chinese by Jonesky, in Korean by Daiwon CI, and in Russian by Sakura Press. In North America the series has been published in Mexico by Grupo Editorial Vid.
Besides having many similarities with the two anime series, the manga expands on topics such as Kaoru's younger brother and Miyabi's past.
An anime adaptation of the manga was produced by J.C.Staff and directed by Masami Shimoda. Broadcasted on Fuji TV, it premiered on April 4, 2002 and aired weekly until its conclusion on September 25, 2002 spanning twenty-four episodes. Most of the music for the series was composed by Toshio Masuda. Three pieces of theme music were used in the anime series. "Towa no Hana" (永遠の花?, lit. Eternal Flower) performed by Yoko Ishida is the opening theme. "Na mo Shirenu Hana" (名も知れぬ花?, lit. Unknown Flower) performed by The Indigo is the ending theme used for all the episodes except one; "I'll Be Home" performed by Satsuki Yukino is the ending theme for eighteenth episode. In Japan, it was released across eight Region 2 DVD compilation volumes. Geneon Entertainment also licensed the series for English-language dubbed release.
J.C. Staff produced a second anime television series titled Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi (藍より青し ～縁～?), directed by Masami Shimoda. Broadcasted on independent UHF stations, it premiered on October 2003 and ran weekly until its conclusion on December 28, 2003 spanning twelve episodes. The second season of anime adaptation uses three pieces of theme music. "Takaramono" (たからもの?, lit. Treasure) performed by Yoko Ishida is the opening theme. "I Do!" is the first ending theme performed by The Indigo. "Presence" performed by The Indigo is the second ending theme. The series was released across three Region 2 DVD compilations in Japan. Geneon also licensed the series for English-language dubbed release.
A sixteen minute special known as "Episode 00", "Beautiful Snow", or "Enishi Christmas Special" was also made. It includes all of the main characters, but it treats them as having never having met before (save Kaoru and Tina) and is a very fantasy-based episode. The episode appears to be set at Christmas a year or two before the first episode of Ai Yori Aoshi. The special was dubbed in English and on the First Enishi DVD release.
At Anime Expo 2010, North American anime distributor Funimation Entertainment announce that they have rescued both Ai Yori Aoshi and Enishi along with other former Geneon releases and will be re-released in 2011.
KID Corp. published a PlayStation 2 video game based on the series in 2003, and was released in English for Windows PCs by Hirameki International. That game was re-released in 2005 by SUCCESS Corporation with bonus footage and mini-games.
J.C.Staff published 2 games on Windows 98, which were separated into 2 titles based on seasons. Each title comes with voice and screen saver collection. During production the project was codenamed "EVE".
Ai Yori Aoshi did well with its English manga release, with book one ranking #45 on the top 50 Manga's sold of that month. With an estimated 3,329 books sold, the series peaked at #18 of 100 with Volume 6 but soon fell out of the top 100 list for the other releases. The last volume ended at #66 out of 100 on the sales list.
As for reviews the manga has been described as "fun to read" and a "good solid romance story". Adam Beck of Advanced media Network anime pointed out however that some volumes lack dialogue but a good dialogue translation was done by tokyopop.
The first anime season had mixed reviews from people. It has also been described however as a "split personality" anime as half of it wants to be a serious, dramatic romance with a dash of comedy and the other half wants wants to be a One Guy/Lots of Girls slapstick harem show. Despite that the artwork has been labeled as "stunning" with its artwork and the theme music got a good review.
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