#1 A precursor to Chobits
Youta Moteuchi has just endured the embarrassment of a lifetime. While hanging out with his crush Moemi, he was too much of a coward to confess his love for her and instead got her to admit that she herself had a crush on their mutual friend: the athletic, talented, and handsome Takashi Niimai.
Overcome with heartbreak, he rents a video from a mysterious rental shop that promises it’ll cheer him right up. As he fires up the VHS tape, likely assuming it to be porn, the girl from the cover then bursts through the screen and lands on his bed. She is Ai Amano, the (titular) video girl, and she is there to help him cure his failing love life.
This 1992 OVA has a very similar feel to CLAMP’s Chobits, which is both an all-time favorite manga and anime of mine. Both are romance stories with a blend of comedy and drama to them, as a young man becomes conflicted between his existing love for a fellow human and the allure of an idealized construct resembling a person. Ai is charming, beautiful, and always there for him, but how real is she? Are these programmed behaviors or is there a possibility that genuine feelings reside underneath?
While Youta struggles with these questions about what Ai truly means for him, he also has to cope with the three-way tension between him, Takashi, and Moemi. Youta still very much hopes for Moemi to return his feelings, but also wants her to be happy and pushes hard for her and Takashi to get together. Takashi ended up being a very interesting character to me, though for spoiler reasons I can’t really get into the reasons why.
The strong cast of characters, the interesting romantic dilemma, and Video Girl Ai‘s excellent way of handling its philosophical questions make it a fantastic anime. It’s clear why a tidal wave of other “magical girlfriend” type shows followed in its wake, but Video Girl Ai stands strong even when compared to later series that sprung from it.
#2 Ai’s defective personality
Magical Girlfriend shows are often appealing because they offer pure wish fulfillment. They are stories about average Joes who stumble upon a beautiful woman that is completely devoted to them and their happiness; a perfect girlfriend that will always be there for them. Despite being a progenitor of this trope within anime, Video Girl Ai also immediately flips this concept around.
Ai Amano is marketed as a beautiful, sweet, and busty maiden, but as a result of Youta’s busted VCR, she arrives in the real world a little distorted. The intro to her video has her speak gently and almost motherly, but the Ai that emerges is loud, belligerent, and has a love for teasing her client. Her feminine features are also reduced to match her new tomboyish personality, neither of which AI is very pleased about.
Not only do these changes distress her personally, but they also get in the way of her objective: helping Youta sort out his feelings for Moemi. The anime ramps up the tension really well as Ai’s situation deteriorates further, with the end of her video tape (or the possible breakdown of the VCR) being constant threats that loom over the series.
#3 Art by Masakazu Katsura
Masakazu Katsura is a man whose work I’ve touched on before in this blog through the regrettably mediocre DNA². He is a brilliant artist whose unique artstyle has made many of his works cult classics among fans of old school anime, and Video Girl Ai may be his finest work to date.
This is a stylish anime with a soft aesthetic to it that is easy on the eyes and subtle character design. Youta, Moemi, and Takashi have very nuanced designs that suit the show well, whereas DNA² suffered when exaggerated shounen characters were put into a show with a similar feel to it.
Ai Amano is a brilliantly-designed character too. Her hairstyle and clothing set her apart as the artificial, perfect girlfriend she is meant to be, but her normal hair color and believable features root her in the same fictional reality as the other (female) characters. This adds to her appeal and its a testament to Katsura’s skill that one of his best-looking characters is also one of his most realistic. At least, realistic compared to other leading ladies like DNA‘s Karin or Iria Zweiram‘s Iria.