Around the same time that I was running through Maison Ikkoku, the previously-mentioned Ken Lau introduced me to another series that had piqued my interest. Maison Ikkoku was a rather bittersweet story and so I guess he felt that since I was really liking it, he should try to pour on another, but much much shorter series with equal parts bitter and sweet, romance and comedy. What resulted for me was this experience that I’ll always look back at and remember how awesome this show was. I invite you to come back with me as we take a look at Video Girl Ai (Den’ei Shoujo).
The premise of this series is that a teenager who is pure of heart (Youta) was recently rejected by the object of his deep affection (Moemi), when he found out through casual conversation that she was pining for his best friend (Takashi). When Takashi spurns her advances in that same conversation, Moemi runs from them citing a previous engagement, but Youta notices her tears as she runs away from them. He weeps for her unhappiness, feeling her pain within himself, and in doing so calls for this very special video shop called Gokuraku (Paradise). The video store only shows itself to those who’re worthy, of which Youta was deemed so by the people who run it. On its shelves are cassettes of video girls promising to comfort him in his time of need. The store clerk recommends he try one video girl with the title of Amano Ai. He leaves and returns home to play the tape, on his VCR which is kind of on its last legs. He watches the tape and about part-way through the little speech she gives him to try and cheer him up, the screen bursts forward with a warm and pleasant light, and the girl pops out of the screen, to his surprise. Unfortunately, because of the fact that he used his failing VCR, she appears in reality vastly different than her on-screen personality: uncouth, rude, and violent.
She explains that her goal is to help him win the affections of Moemi, to be with him and comfort him as much as she can. Throughout the series, she educates him on what appeals to a girl and in doing so they spend a lot of time together. Of course, Ai’s feelings toward Youta at the beginning are rough and playful, almost as through they were brother and sister. Over time, though, Ai’s treatment of Youta becomes more tsundere in nature: keeping up her hard exterior with him, but it’s clear through her eyes that she’s letting herself fall in love as she’s trying to him win Moemi’s heart. This, of course, puts her in conflict. Not just with her mission, but with the fact that video girls aren’t allow to fall in love, period. By the virtue of having been played on a broken VCR, though, there are “errors” in her “programming” that make such an occurrence possible. She works hard to hide this fact from Youta and everyone else, because you see… she only has until the end of her tape and then she disappears forever from his life.
After I watched it for the first time, I was left in tears. The last episode of Den’ei Shoujo is so gut-wrenching and heartstrings-tugging on anyone with a soul that one cannot help but completely lose it. I didn’t even care that I was openly weeping, just kind of left there wanting more from the series. And that’s when Ken told me that it was actually based on a longer-running manga (by Katsura Masakazu, who also wrote/drew two of my other favorites, DNA2 and I”s). Unfortunately, it was only about up to about the third chapter in VIZ’ Animerica magazine, running in parts every other month. I didn’t have the patience to wait for it to finish up, so I guess I kind of forgot about pursuing the manga altogether. It wasn’t actually until recently that I finally picked up all the released VIZ volumes of the translations of each of the tankoubons that were released in Japan and read every single one of them over the course of two days. If you’ve watched the series and need more from it, absolutely hit up the manga to give you a full and complete story. It’s totally worth it, but keep a box of tissue handy.
One of the other cool parts of this series was that at the end of every episode was a little super-deformed short simply entitled “Omake.” In it, they would poke fun at Japanese culture in their own way. One of the omake episodes had to do with the voice acting itself, which was very cool. There was also an interview with the singer of the opening theme, “Ureshi Namida,” Sakai Noriko. I’ve taken the liberty of embedding the opening video for your enjoyment. Speaking of the music, the soundtrack and vocal tracks are memorable. I’ve purchased both OSTs for this series at least twice since 1996, the first time because it was among the CDs that were stolen right out of my car while it was sitting in front of my apartment. The second time around because I lost it outright in the middle of a move in 2002. I’ve own it three times, but it’s amazingly good, as you can tell from the opening theme. Okada Tohru composed the music for the series, with its hauntingly sweet melodies that’ll stick with you for days as it burrows into your mind. My personal favorites as “Kimi no Niji,” “Ano Hi Ni,” and “Suki Nan Desu.”
When I went through a bad spell financially, I had to sell some of my DVD collection to make ends meet. There was a short list of DVDs that I absolutely would never part with, and Den’ei Shoujo was on that list. Yeah, that’s right. I would rather starve than turn it in for cash. Man, my priorities are kind of fucked up… or I’m just an obsessed anime fan. I think that if you ask my wife, you’ll find that she’ll say I’m both. I won’t deny it, either.
I was wondering if the younger generation would find it as appealing as I would. When my nephew, Tim, was staying with us last year, I showed him the first few episodes of the series and he blew through the whole thing in one night. Also, Shon was visiting at that time and he hung out to see how it ended, as he was wrapped up in the story just as much as Tim was. I think one of the coolest things about that night was that even though we were already through the first episode, the story was compelling enough to draw in someone who just happened to catch a few minutes of the last bit. I thought that was a true testament to how awesome the series is.
It’s still available on DVD from VIZ Media, as of this writing. Check it out on Amazon.