Video Girl Ai

Puppet Princess (Former Staff) — April 20th, 2003
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Now this is old school. Okay, so maybe it's not "Ribon no Kishi" old school, or even "Bubblegum Crisis" old school, but "Video Girl Ai" still brings a nostalgia-induced tear to my jaded little eyes. From its peppy enthusiasm to its Boy-George-would-be-proud clothes, Ai reeks of that sweet late 80s-early 90s feel, back when romantic comedies were simple and sweet and proud of it. And really, even though it suffers in the final third act-when the sweet romance is traded in for an explosive ending-this little OVA proves that all you need is solid writing and an enjoyable cast to create a magical anime production that will be remembered for quite some time. Solid stuff.

The basic premise of the OVA series is that Yota, an eternally dateless "nice guy," has just witnessed Moemi-his crush-totally make a fool of herself by confessing her love to another guy and getting turned down. So thus he is not only sad for Moemi's sake but also for his own, with this recognition that she is entirely devoted to her own love. However, his life takes a turn for the better as he walks into a mysterious video store that specializes in "video girls" (tapes of girls who talk, comfort, and probably strip for you). Yota chooses a tape featuring a young platinum blonde, Ai (whose name means "love"), and takes it home to watch. Now, it seems the storeowner left out a very important detail: these are magical video girls, and they actually leap out of your TV to comfort you. And Ai does just that, though hindered a bit by Yota's defunctive VCR (it reduces her breast size). She then vows to help Yota win Moemi's heart, though after a while it becomes apparent that Ai is falling for Yota herself. But video girls can't fall in love; that's the rule.

As you can see, "Video Girl Ai" is one of those high-concept romantic comedies that were popular at the time. And like "Ah! My Goddess" or even "Ranma 1/2," its true strengths become evident when the mystical or wacky parts are stripped away, and we are left with nothing but the core four characters and their mixed up lives. It becomes tragically obvious that no one here knows how to handle their own, much less anyone else's, feelings-not even Ai, who was sent there to do just that. And really, much like actual teenagers, they are relentless in their pursuit of their "dream love," even when in the back of their minds they know that door number two is the better option. Really, the one fault in the characterization is that the series actively attempts to push Ai and Yota together. While they do supply us with adequate reason to enjoy and support the relationship in the first two episodes, the second third of the series feels as if they skipped some major development to get to the sweet parts. I realize they're somewhat limited in time, but I felt a few other dynamics could have been explored.

This brings me to the last episode. Oh dear. I don't want to reveal too much, but suffice to say a lot of things come out left field and make no sense at all unless you have read the manga (I have). Sure, it's sweet, but I think it missed out on a lot of angles that were laid out earlier, and is by far the weakest of the lot. Really, if you want a great ending, watch it until the last episode, and then marathon-read the manga. You'll thank me, I promise.

The design of the series is genuine late 80s, and truth be told it's what really drew me into the show. Pastel shades of purple, yellow, and pink abound; and the fashion/hairstyles are ridiculously outlandish and yet somehow seem everyday in the pretty-pretty world the characters live in. The music is likewise bouncy, and even meeting the artist who sings the OP in one of the omakes didn't deter me from enjoying the song (Japanese singers are ridiculously happy. It's kind of creepy, really.).

Really, what makes "Video Girl Ai" great is that it is a solid, memorable piece of anime. The characters are compelling and due to the show's realism the plot is more complex than your average boy-meets-girl-who-will-do-anything-for-him anime. The weak points are few and acceptable given the amount of goodness to be found in the series. It's sweet, funny, and overall just a well crafted story that anime creators today should learn a lesson from. Okay, I'm going to go now and dance in a field of flowers with the wind flowing through my hair. G'night.

Distributor:Viz / Pioneer

Plot: B+
Character Design: B+
Animation Quality: B
Music: B+
Overall: B+