Video Girl Ai
Ah, the good old-fashioned love triangle. It was what drew me into Robotech/Macross, and it's what drew me into Video Girl Ai. Based on a popular manga series, at turns zany, tender, and unhinged, Video Girl Ai is a blend of styles that shouldn't work together. They do, and they make Video Girl Ai one of my personal favorites.
Yota is a surprisingly ordinary guy who's head over heels with a surprisingly ordinary (though ever-so-sweet) girl, Moemi. Problem is, Moemi has eyes for another guy. A bit depressed by the whole thing, Yota ends up at a video store and winds up with a copy of "Video Girl Love" (for that's what Ai means in Japanese). Not certain exactly what he's in for, he pops the tape into the VCR--and winds up with a real-live girl in his front room. He now has a new companion, conveniently named Ai, who's there for his amusement and enjoyment. Problem is, Yota's too smitten with Moemi to think of anything else.
At first, Ai is annoyed by her predicament. Yota's VCR hasn't been serviced in eons, and as such Ai's tape has some glitches, causing some most interesting problems (ahem!). When Ai gets to know Yota, though, she starts developing a deep soft spot for him and tries her best to get him together with Moemi. There's one problem, though...Ai's videotape can only last so long before it's time to rewind, and dark consequences lie in wait if she breaks the rules of the VHS tape on which she resides. Time is running out for the video girl who's breaking the cardinal rule and secretly falling in love.
The whole package of Video Girl Ai is great throughout the six OVAs. Artwork and music is strong throughout, so no worries there. It does take a little time to get to the meat of the show, however. The first two episodes go for the slapstick, and there's a little bit of lechery here too. Although highly entertaining, neither one gives you a good feel for where the show is going, especially since the second two OVAs are wonderfully romantic.
In the middle section, the hijinks are gone, replaced by a few standout moments of bittersweet longing so well executed that I wouldn't mind going back and rewatching them as I type. The last two episodes split from both comedy and romance and just go psycho as everything finally breaks loose between the characters and the "little bit of magic" that controls Ai's destiny. Amazingly, the dramatic changes in storytelling styles aren't distracting, but they make the show harder to predict. I like being kept on edge, and I was here.
Most folks who have any issues with the series are bothered by the ending, which is far more serious than the rest and draws us into an unexpected fantastical environment, a dramatic change from the otherwise "real" feel the show sets. My argument has always been that Ai is obviously in some way supernatural; why some viewers don't expect her origins to be resolved surprises me. Anyway, if you really don't like out-there endings, even if they are immensely satisfying, consider yourself warned.
There are plenty of shows that exploit the "ordinary guy stuck with extraordinary girl" scenario, but this is one of the best. Some, like Oh My Goddess, work because their characters are just so likable. That's not the case here--Video Girl Ai's characters have quite a few faults they have to work through--but the beauty of the relationships here draws me in every time. With a strong story, good graphics, and a thoroughly rewarding ending, this was an easy purchase when it recently came out on DVD. I'll think you'll find it that way too.
Video Girl Ai -- brief nudity, lechery -- A