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Pioneer presents
Video Girl Ai (1992)

"That's ok. Video Girls aren't able to fall in love."
- Ai (Megumi Hayashibara)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: January 03, 2002

Stars: Uri Amano, Megumi Hayashibara
Other Stars: Takeshi Kusao, Koji Tsujitani
Director: Mizuho Nishikubo

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes, brief nudity)
Run Time: 02h:54m:47s
Release Date: December 04, 2001
UPC: 782009084532
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+B-B D

DVD Review

Video Girl Ai originated as an 18-part manga comic series in the late 1980s in Japan; it was immensely popular, and was eventually made into both a live action film and a six-part OVA series. The series only cover the first three sections of the comic, and I wish it did more—the show easily ranks with the best anime I have seen.

Breaking from the normal anime focus of sci-fi, magic, and fantasy, Video Girl Ai rests squarely in the romantic comedy genre (though there are still some sci-fi elements). Yota is a lovelorn high school student so unpopular with the ladies that he's earned the nickname "dateless." He's in love with fellow classmate Moemi, but discovers that she only has eyes for his popular best friend, Takashi. Wandering the streets in despair, Yota comes upon a mysterious video shop, where he rents a "video girl" tape. Said girl turns out to be Ai, who surprises Yota by actually emerging from the TV set to comfort him. It seems the video store offers hope and comfort to the hopeless—the tapes have a playing time of one month, and during that time, the video girl will be a constant companion. Unfortunately, Yota's VCR wasn't in the best shape, and as a result, Ai's programming seems to be a bit scrambled. She begins developing feelings for him, which conflicts were her intended mission of uniting him with Meomi.

Video Girl Ai is a lot of fun to watch. Director Mizuho Nishikubo freely mixes realistic and cartoonish anime, ladling generous amounts of humor, physical comedy, and overstated reactions onto the somewhat soap-opera storyline. Yes, the love triangle between Meomi, Yota, and Ai isn't unique by any means, but the engaging, well-written characters certainly enliven the material. The script does a particularly good job of recreating high school angst without overdoing it, providing a realistic (an sadly, for me, all too relatable) picture of the pain of your first unrequited love.

Ai, voiced by the incomparable anime voice actress Megumi Hayashibara, is the real reason to watch, though. She's a very engaging character, quick-witted and loveable, and her developing love of Yota is made all the more affecting by her status as a temporary creation—the image of the ticking VCR timer, counting down her time in the world, is constant throughout. Yota is likewise a likeable character, and his affections for Ai develop very naturally, balanced by his somewhat unrealistic expectations of Meomi. Meomi and Takashi, meanwhile, make suitably subdued background characters, never taking too much of the focus away from Yota and especially Ai.

If Video Girl Ai has any faults, it's in the overly graphic, slightly disturbing ending. Anime series never seem to end quite the way I want them too, and this one is likewise a bittersweet affair. Also, the sci-fi shift in the final episode is rather jarring (though I believe it was greatly expanded upon in the comic version). Still, the series does manage to wrap itself up nicely, while leaving the true interpretation of the ending to the audience.

Lest you get bogged down in the melodrama, each episode ends with a highly amusing installment of "Video Girl Ai" theater, featuring super deformed versions of the characters acting out wacky scenarios. My favorite involved the redubbing of dialogue with different styles of colloquial speech.

One final note: I always prefer listening to anime (or any foreign film or series, for that matter) in its original language. In this case, though, preference becomes necessity. The US dub is badly overacted, and the character of Ai is nowhere near as effective without the voice of Megumi Hayashibara.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: As far as anime transfer go, I have seen better. Though there is little cross coloration, colors appear very washed-out on the whole. Many scenes show some blurring on fine detail in scenes with motion, and the image looks a bit unstable here and there overall.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Japaneseyes

Audio Transfer Review: This is a pretty basic stereo mix. Dialogue is always clear, though it sounds a bit unsupported. Sound effects tend towards sounding a bit harsh, and would've been helped by strong LFE in the mix. Music makes good use of the front mains and the more cartoonish scenes sometimes feature some goofy audio that fills out the soundstage nicely, even providing some directionality.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Text interview with director Mizuho Nishikubo
  2. Character Profiles
Extras Review: Extras are limited to brief character profiles and a text interview with director Mizuho Nishikubo, taken from Animerica magazine. It covers both the adaptation of the Video Girl Ai manga and some of his other projects.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Video Girl Ai is my first experience with an anime that isn't fantasy of sci-fi based. I really enjoyed it. It's equal parts funny and moving, with surprisingly endearing characters. I am consistently amazed by the maturity of animation in Japan. I only wish I was able to see more of it. Definitely recommended for the otaku among you.


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