I have got to pick up this manga series. It's not often that you find a series that's strictly about relationships. No bad guys, no good guys -- just the real-life interpersonal relationships that make things awkward. While the premise of have your own "I Dream of Jeanne" at your beck-and-call may seem a bit strange, it does serve to point out what's really important about friendships and partnerships.
Video Girl Ai is yet another example of the quintessential Japanese teen love-triangle romance story. It's filled with angst, humour, situational comedy and the all-important element of character. Yota, Takeshi and Moemi are real characters, with real feelings about each other. Just like the classic love triangle as shown in Kimagure Orange Road, the relationships in this OAV series is full of real emotions. Perhaps of most notable interest is the depth to which these three friends care about each other. Takeshi cares enough about Yota to try to get him and Moemi together. Yota cares enough about Moemi to keep quiet about his own feelings, and tries to support her bid to get Takeshi to notice her. Moemi, like many other teen-aged girls concerned with her own developing feelings, is mostly unaware of Yota's feelings, and completely enthralled with Takeshi.
But then there's Amano Ai, the character that sets this romance off from so many others. Played by Hayashibara Megumi, she's much like a cross between the helpful Belldandy and the racy Urd from A!MG!. She's perhaps a little miscast here; while here exhuberant side works very well, there's a subtlety lacking in this earlier work -- its's not a problem in moments of comic relief, but the tender moments end up being a little bit stiff. Still, we pretty much have a pretty good idea of how this relationship is going to work out...
Animation is crisp, and above-average for even an OAV series. Character designs are a little unusual, if perhaps dated in appearance -- Niima Takashi, for example, sports "wings" in his hair (which I only get if I don't cut my hair often enough), and even Amano Ai has interesting swirls in her bangs... and perhaps rather uncharacteristically, neither of the two female leads have the super-long, "flowing-in-the-breeze" hair. Music is wonderfully rendered, though the ending theme is somewhat weakly performed. Of course, everyone has probably heard the opening song (or has obtained the MIDI file) Ureshi Namida (Happy Tears), sung by one of the most popular J-pop stars of the time, Sakai Noriko.
There's a fair amount of adult-oriented material and sexual referneces in this episode, which might make some people nervous. One of the running gags in this series is the effects of Yota's defective VCR on Ai's chest; plus there's a fair amount of fan service -- there's probably some unwritten rule somewhere concerning the necessity of including some minimum amount of nudity and panty flashing...
Even with the less-than-stellar acting, this is still a pretty captivating story -- especially for an opener. Some of you might think this series is pretty stock and derivative -- and there's no doubt that we've seen this similar premise before -- but as with many other anime titles, it's the characterisations that make this a worthwhile watch.
- AN, 1999.11.21