Step into a world where your social status is decided by the color of your hair.
What They Say:
In a future where social class is determined by the color of one’s hair, Iason sits at the top of the pecking order as a “blondie,” favored by everyone. He is given latitude in his daily life, but draws unwanted attention when he chooses to take a “mongrel” named Riki as his pet. Society has no taboos against staking claim to other humans, but the length and nature of this relationship brings unexpected consequences.
Contains OVA episodes 1-4
The audio presentation for this release is fairly standard fare as we get the original Japanese language track only encoded in stereo at 192kbps. The show doesn’t have a lot in the way of action to it but it has a couple of moments where it ramps things up a bit. Mostly it’s a dialogue and mood piece as the characters move through their problematic lives with a bit of incidental music and sound effects fleshing it out. There’s not much to the mix in general so it doesn’t have to stretch itself at all but it handles what it has pretty well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2012, the transfer for this four part OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Animated by AIC, the series has a good look to it in terms of the character designs and the fluidity of animation when it gets into more active scenes, but it’s also a show that plays largely to darker and murky colors with an oppressive kind of city design and lots of shadowed interiors. The transfer generally handles this well with little in the way of noise in these darker backgrounds and there’s only a touch of line noise in some scenes. While it’s not a striking visual presentation, the transfer here shows the source materials off well and should please the fans of the show.
The packaging for this release has a standard single sized keepcase that puts the two leads in the frogroudn here against an indistinct background with just a few hints of the high tech society behind it. It’s done with a bit of moodiness to it and the two main characters have a dark approach to them that certainly is distinctive with its design. The back cover goes for an all black background and just has a few shots from the show which don’t do much to tell it all that much. The premise is kept simple with what it’s about and it lays out the discs features, production credits and a clean and accurate technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for the release goes with the approach of having everything accessible from the top menu, which gives it a bit of a busy look. The artwork uses the two leads from the front cover and puts them on opposite sides with a large array of etxt through the middle which allows for the language setup, extras access and going into the submenus for the scene selection. Navigationi is a breeze with how it’s laid out but it’s not the most appealing of menus overall, though it gets the job done.
The extras for this release are a bit basic but welcome to have as we get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as seven minutes worth of promotional videos.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the novel by Reiko Yoshihara, Ai no Kusabi is a four episode OVA series animated by AIC. The progress of this property in North America has always been problematic and kind of weird when you get down to it as there was a two part OVA series years ago and the original novel has been released in eight parts here and even re-released in Japan as a six part release. It’s had a certain notoriety about it from back with the 1992 OVA series, also animated by a very different AIC, where it had the gay characters and the push down that path, which was pretty rare for anime series to do though there was and still is a fare bit of manga and novels that play in that field. I’ve certainly seen a fair deal of it over the years and it comes down to this for me; if it has a good story, that’s what I want out of it. Ai no Kusabi, at least in this iteration, had to work hard to really maintain my interest because it just seems like it doesn’t know what it wants to do and spends what feels like most of its time just moping around.
In a lot of ways, this really does feel like a love letter to the fans of the novel rather than a compelling standalone work that will draw in people who haven’t read the novel. We’re introduced to the world of Amoi where things are done differently when it comes to social castes. Everything is determined by hair color with the blondes at the top and the brunettes and black haired citizens at the bottom. Ruled by a computer, the Blondies are the ones that set things and pretty much walk above everyone else. So much so that a lot of people from the lower classes can be bought and sold as pets, and at least a few times are referred to simply as Furniture here as the Blondies can do whatever they want with them. Such is the case when it comes to one young man named Riki who sold himself into this in order to deal with a debt he didn’t want, but found himself in even more trouble when he and another woman that was a pet end up in compromising situation that just gets his owner at the time, Iason, displeased with him.
The series deals with the time that Riki spent under the ownership the Blondie known as Iason and some of the things that occurred under it, but that is more as a bookend thing really as the first episode shows the end result of the time they spent together and how it went down poorly while the last episode takes us to how Riki ended up in his possession for the time period alotted. The middle two episodes gives us a look at how the society works to some degree with Riki back among his own kind and dealing with what had happened during it, and some lingering regrets as well. With the time he spent away, there’s some time spent reconnecting with friends and more that exist there while also dealing with one, a young man named Kirie, who is eager to be brought into service himself.
The series spends its time looking at some of the class issues but mostly wants to focus on the whole character connection issue and the way the system works. But it spends so much of it just seemingly walking around and doing nothing, having no real point to it, that after it sets the initial foundations for the world, it just kind of lingers there and doesn’t actually have anything happen. Especially since the last episode is basically a prequel to the series and shows how Riki got into the situation he was in at the start of it. The show has a pretty good set design to it and I like the character designs, and the way that it feels like the two main men in Riki and Iason are both of strong personality rather than the usual dynamic of a dominant and submissive type, but it carries it only so far. The more it goes on, the more empty and without a point it feels and then you’re just glad to have that flashback episode to provide more of the origins of things since it doesn’t feel like the present day storyline is going to go anywhere.
In a lot of ways, I’m really not sure what to make of Ai no Kusabi. I really like the visual design of it and the story idea itself is pretty intriguing though hard to see how it could all come about in reality. There’s some decent ideas to work with but it doesn’t want to really get into it, instead just using it as a trapping to the character story. Which itself could be pretty interesting to work with and we get some neat moments, but for the most part it doesn’t really do anything with it. The general feeling I get from it is that it’s more of a love letter for the fans of the original work as it gives us some good scenes and interesting ideas, but doesn’t do anything with it. It’s a good little visual treat that feels like something that’s modern in style but having a kind of eighties and nineties feel to it as well, which is appropriate considering the source material. I wanted to like this a lot since I do think we need more of this genre explored and treated right but this isn’t the title that will do it, at least for me.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Promotional Videos, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: April 23rd, 2013
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
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.