Monday, July 8, 2013

Video Girl Ai

Video Girl Ai is a 6-episode OVA series that came out in late March to late August of 1992. Released by Jump Video, it was based off the manga of the same name from Shonen Jump. It focuses on Moteuchi Yota as he rents a tape that inadvertenly spawns a girl from the TV. While this may make some readers flash back to Yamamura Sadako climbing out of the TV in Ringu, the girl, Amano Ai, is cute and perky, and her sole purpose in life is to cheer up the miserable Yota. However, Yota's faulty VHS player causes Ai to come out "broken", leading her to lost several capabilities she was set to have, such as cooking and bust size. Over the course of the series, Yota must decide if he loves Ai, or the girl he was originally fawning over, Moemi. Not helping matters is that Moemi has admitted to being in love with Yota's best friend, Takashi.
Because while freaking out over TV girls, it's important to stay hydrated. This is the first of a long line of references to various drinks and a fellow Shonen Jump title.
Video Girl Ai is somewhat long by OVA standards (most OVAs being 1-3 episodes each), but still is rather short, covering only about volumes 1-3 of the manga. Despite this, the OVA has a pretty coherent plot (well, at least until episode 6), leaving nothing feeling unfinished or rushed. The reason I call episode 6 out specifically is because even with a coherent plot, the ending made no sense. While suspension of disbelief is necessary in all fictional series, this one pushes the limits with its trippiness. And while we see a resolution to the series during the end credits, like Midori Days, it is thinly done at best, being a dialogueless montage of a scene showing the characters together. Many questions are left unanswered, such as what ever became of the other characters' relationships, both with each other and with Yota and Ai.
Ai looks just as cute in the anime as she does in the manga.
It was noted on Wikipedia that the animation stayed very true to the manga in style. This is definitely true, and is at times simply beautiful. The amount of detail is not present in a lot of series today, and the shape of the eyes and style of the hair cements this as an EARLY 90's series. Considering the time and effort on the part of Production I.G. on getting the characters right, you'd think that the visuals and audio would be lacking in other areas, but they're really not. The animation is fluid, and the soundtrack in particular shines, with each episode having its own insert theme. The background tracks are also nice, though as with all 90's series (and Midori Days), there is the token music box track.
The series has a lot of animation tropes that really only 90's anime viewers will recognize. If you've seen a 90's series, you know what that trail of sparkles coming from a girl leaving means.
The series was imported to North America by the Ocean Group in 1999, and most series of this era were plagued by horrible dubbed voice acting (I'm looking at YOU, I My Me! Strawberry Eggs). Ocean, however, simply nailed it with their choice of dub voice actors. The voice cast is better than a good chunk of voice acting choices of today's anime, actually. The jokes are close to the original and still quite funny, the emotion is correct and doesn't really feel forced, despite the horror stories Google dug up about Viz's fabled Wordfit System. On one occasion the dialogue felt out of sync with the mouth movements, but if that's the only gripe in that area, they're doing damn good.
Every odd-numbered episode has a bonus Omake theatre segment at the end.
While Video Girl Ai might seem dated in the context (always funny to hear "Isn't Modern Technology Great!? while holding up a VHS), it still has a lot to offer to today's market. The jokes are still fresh, the soundtrack isn't terribly old-sounding, and the art is nice and crisp. Combined with the cute story, it's worth viewing if you like Sci-fi or romantic comedies (or both). If I could find one fault with the series, it would be the trippy-ass ending, but if I could find another, it would be the opening. The song is cute, but I remember hearing at an anime convention once that it is very self-indulgent, featuring no characters besides Ai (unless a puppy counts as a character). It's a small beef, but a valid one, being that it's little more than a hodgepodge of various clips of Ai doing things. It says little about the series or its occupants.
Just a montage of Ai. I should mention this freaked me out since I started watching this series alone on a sunday while eating a miniature peach pie after doing some laundry.

Video Girl Ai is available from SNS, Kagura, a4e and Simu. It is easily available at BakaBT. Though it was dubbed by The Ocean Group back in 1999 and distributed by Viz Media in North America, it's not hard to imagine that it is long out of print. Despite the difficulty, it is worth tracking down, if only because it is so short.

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