animefringe february 2003 / reviews

Video Girl Ai Vol.5
Format: Left-Right Manga, 189 pages
Production: VIZ / Katsura Masakazu
Comments: Exceptional artwork combined with realistic characters that really tug at the emotions.
Animefringe Reviews:
Video Girl Ai Vol.5

I love Video Girl Ai. There have been many stories featuring a character wanting to be human, but Amano Ai is the most adorable, believable, and expressive one of them all. This series began rather simply; after realizing the girl he's fallen for is in love with his best friend, Moteuchi "Dateless" Yota hides his feelings from Moemi (the girl) and decides to help her try to win the hand of Takashi (his friend). Yet, this selfless act breaks his heart, and on a dark, lonely night, he finds himself wandering the streets, alone. And that's when he notices a video store that hadn't been there before. As it turns out, only people with a pure soul can see the store, and it possesses a library of videos designed to help out those in emotional need. He comes home with a video, pops it in his temperamental VCR, and then he meets Ai...as she comes out through the television screen into the real world.

Despite the strong fantasy elements here, this is primarily a romance. Ai explains that it's her job to help Yota win over Moemi, but due to a defect in Yota's VCR, Ai begins to malfunction. In her case, this defect manifests itself by allowing the video girl to love - something her kind is forbidden to do under any circumstances. Of course, what makes matters worse is she begins to fall in love with Yota, and he begins to care for her, but he still wants to remain loyal to Moemi...and everything gets complex rather quickly. In the third volume of the manga series, Ai's cruel Creator recalls her because she is not able to perform her duties, and Yota demonstrates his feelings for her by doing everything in his power to try and wrest her from her owner's grasp. In the end, however, he was unsuccessful.

Resolved to live his life as Ai would have wanted, Yota is able to move on. However, one day, Ai transfers into his class. As it turns out, the kindly video storekeeper made a backup copy of Ai before the Creator destroyed her tape, and though she's suffering from amnesia, she still exists. Romantically, though, this only makes things more confusing for Yota, for he is currently dating a third girl who has been attracted to him for years. This series is packed with twists and turns, and while some of them may be heart-rending, many of them have the ability to generate some true happiness for these characters. When this volume begins, we're introduced to a rival video girl named Mai, sent by the Creator to seek out and destroy Ai once and for all. Meanwhile, Yota's feelings for Ai are slowly rekindling as he begins to have trouble with his current girlfriend Nobuko. Who will end up with whom? Will Ai be destroyed? Only this and the volumes to come will tell the rest of the tale, and I can't wait to read them.

One of the reasons I'm so enthralled by this series is the depth the characters display. Just as in real life, there are no clear-cut right or wrong choices. In Video Girl Ai, Yota is an incredibly nice guy torn between three women (or two women and a video girl), and he doesn't come off as a lecher at all. His emotions are just the same confused, tremulous, unsure feelings we all get when we're in or pursuing a relationship. No matter who you are, you have been or will be where Yota is. Out of the hundreds of people we interact with each day, there are probably many that you could fall in love with. Even if you've chosen one to date, there's a good chance that there are many others that you still love, if only as a friend. How do you choose "the one?" Video Girl Ai comes closer than any other work I've read to capturing the intricacies of forming a relationship, and Katsura includes the good parts as well as the bad. This is a bittersweet story, with some serious ups and downs along the way, but the characters are so realistic, you'll want to stay with them the entire time.

Even without the great story, Video Girl Ai contains some of the most lovable characters ever created. Each has his or her flaws, but they each possess an impressively complex depth that one can't help but admire. Ai is easily in the top five of my list of the most attractive manga women of all time. Even though she's not human, her flaws are as endearing as her good points. From her poor cooking skills and unawareness of social conventions to her amazingly cheerful nature, there's nothing about Ai that isn't likable. Yota is another character that is very easy to cheer for, despite his sometimes-frustrating choices concerning his behavior.

So, what's there besides a superb storyline and characters you fall in love with? How about some of the best artwork in modern manga? Katura's work is incredible. Many scenes involve complex shading and well-drawn backgrounds. His character designs are up to the task of representing the beloved personas I've been raving about this whole time, and he has a knack for expressing the perfect emotions exactly when they're needed in the book. Even the cover design is attractive, with Mai's creepy red eyes capturing a casual viewer's attention easily.

The book is average size for Viz's publications, and the same price as always, too. This would be a near-perfect work if it weren't flipped (that is, if it was printed in the original Japanese style so it would read from right to left). And I'd love to see the next volume a little quicker than the previous ones have been released, but Viz hasn't displayed any signs of speeding things up yet, so we'll just have to see.

This is shonen at its best, and fans of all ages and genders should easily get into this charming work. There's quite a bit of fanservice, but I can't help but see it as being cute more than vulgar. If you can't stand the sight of breasts, there may be too many casual shots in here for you to handle. As far as I'm concerned, all the fanservice in this series is completely harmless. Oh, and if you're wondering, the anime series is good as well (with Hayashibara Megumi as Ai's voice actress!), but since it ends around the second graphic novel, this is the place to go if you're looking for more Video Girl action. Try it out - I'm sure you'll love it as much as I did.