What They Say:
Yota Moteuchi has a nickname among his high school peers – “dateless.” Shy and lonely, Yota can’t seem to face the love of his life, Moemi, to tell her his true feelings. Then, while walking the streets in a state of depression, Yota comes across a mysterious video store, Gokuraku, and rents a video starring cute young idol Ai Amano. But when he puts the tape into the deck and hits play, this video girl comes to life and jumps out of the television straight into his arms! Now, this real-life video girl has decided to help Yota improve his love life whether he likes it or not!
The audio presentation for this release is straightforward with a pair of bilingual audio tracks in stereo. This OVA series features a pretty basic stereo mix that sounds decent if a bit shallow. Having heard the uncompressed PCM track and comparing the two, this one definitely feels a fair bit flatter and less full. Dialogue is clear and without distortion with most of it coming through the center channel. The music and some of the more comedic sound effects make use of the stereo channels to put some life into the forward soundstage.
Originally released in 1992, the transfer for this six episode OVA series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Much like the audio track, things in the video department are decent but look somewhat washed out. Colors are nice but not as saturated as they should be. Surprisingly, I also noticed some small nicks in various episodes. There was only a few areas of very minor cross coloration which was surprising considering how many tight lines is used in the character designs. Some of the mid range shots show off a bit of shimmering around characters faces, but usually only when the camera pans across them.
Using artwork not seen previously for video releases, we have a good shot of Ai dominating the cover with softer versions of the other characters in the background. The style is fairly similar to the recently released Japanese box set as well. The back cover provides some minor character shots and a very brief summary. Features and production information are pretty clearly listed, but there’s not a lot going on here to really sell the show. The insert provides another shot of the cover while it opens to two pages of text about the creation of the show and its origins, while the back side lists the chapters.
The menu’s got both good and bad to it; the image is nice in being rows of TV screens with most of them showing static while some show a panning of Ai. Some of the static ones contain the selections, which are laid out nicely and easy to navigate through. The main menu also features some audio in the form of TV static, which sounds strange right off the bat (a “oh my god my receivers dying!”) but only becomes more bothersome if you let it play for any length of time. It doesn’t cycle itself well and sounds worse when it abruptly stops and starts up again.
Included in the extras section are two pieces; the first being a lengthy 21 page text interview with the OVA series director who talks about how he ended up involved in the project and his thoughts on the ending. Since it came from Animerica, it also talks about other things he’s involved in, so it’s not completely Ai-focused. The other extra included here is a brief character profiles section for the main characters.
The Omake Theater segments are provided in the original place at the end of each episode – but I would really have liked to have an instant-access point to them here as well.
Video Girl Ai is a heartwarming and romantic six episode OVA series that at the time of its creation, covered about two volumes of the manga that was at that time still running. It ended at about thirteen volumes, so there was definitely a lot more that could be covered and situations to be resolved. This did allow the anime writers however to come up with their own ending, letting the two exist as their own pieces.
The story focuses around Youta, a high school boy whose madly in love with Moemi. He’s something of an introvert and can’t really express his feelings to her. In flashbacks to recent times, we see Youta and Moemi talking in the park and she reveals that she’s really in love with Youta’s best friend, the hottest guy in school, Takashi. Takashi, better known as He With Devil Hair, is desired by about all the women in the school, but for his own undisclosed reasons, he plays it cool and doesn’t date anyone.
Youta’s love of Moemi is strong enough that it’s noticed by some powers that be; on his way home he comes across a video store that never was there before. Upon entering the empty store, the elderly employee tells him he’s the third customer they’ve had. Youta picks up a Video Girl tape, which really do exist in Japan. The cover features the attractive Ai, and he takes it home to play. Ai appears on the screen and talks of how sad he is and how good of a person he is. She realizes his need is strong so she’ll help him and then proceeds to come out of the TV screen and into Youta’s bedroom.
This would have worked perfectly if not for the fact that Youta’s VCR is breaking. Instead of the nice, pleasant and helpful Video Girl he saw on the screen, he ends up with something wildly different. Ai’s all of those at times, but she’s also rude, forceful and domineering. Her personality is completely out of balance due to the VCR problems. She also ends up with smaller breasts and wicked sense of humor. After convincing Youta that she’s becoming less feminine, he pulls his hand to her crotch saying that she’s got male parts now.
The image of Youta with his hand on her crotch and her holding it there and him realizing she lied is priceless. Especially her follow-up trademarked “tee hee”.
It’s this risque humor tied to a really touching romantic story between Youta and Moemi that makes this series work so well. Youta and Moemi make an interesting pair and watching them play against the growing feelings between Youta and Ai as well as the involvement of Takashi takes the typical triangle and expands it, but makes things rather open ended in how it could go. The characters aren’t fleshed out terribly deeply here since it’s such a short OVA series, but they’re done well enough that it’s really easy to quickly care about all of them and be torn about who you want to go with who.
The first five episodes of the series also feature an Omake Theater, a brief skit of sorts that follows the previews. The first three are anime based, showing things like an Ai fashion show or describing her as a Godzilla like beast from another era. There’s also a brief interview with Katsura talking about the anime, but my favorite is the brief piece with the beautiful Noriko Sakai, who performed the opening song.
While my love of this series strong, I must take the side of many when I say there’s some problems here worth noting. Mainly, it’s in the translation that there’s trouble. A number of sequences that are fairly ordinary in Japanese are drastically localized here that end up really dating the show badly. A simple “Pleased to meet you” from Ai in her sweet mode is changed to “Video Girl at large”. A moment after she flashes him, she mentions that he obviously can’t handle the “Full Monty”. And talking about Drano later on… it’s just needlessly done and only detracts from things.
Revisiting this series again after several years, and watching it with someone who hasn’t seen a heck of a lot of anime, the show has aged hard in some ways and easier in others. It’s a product of its time, some twenty years on now which is scary to think about, but it also has a particular charm to it in how it all unfolds. The characters are fun, it has a warmth and heart to it that’s there right from the start and it plays with atmosphere well to run the game of it all. With this release being over a decade old, there are definitely issues, but a good percentage of them aren’t going to be coming from people like me, the die-had fans of this show, simply because we’re glad to have it in some form. The source materials and encoding don’t hold up well over time, but I will say that even as problematic as it is, the fact that the show is about a distorted VHS character sort of gives it even a bit more charm. This is a show that I’d love to see get a second lease on life.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Directors Interview (text),Character Profiles
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: December 4th, 2001
Running Time: 180
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.