I love Ai Yori Aoshi. It's one of my favourite manga and anime. Nobody would mistake it for high art, but it's not trying to be; it's just a fun story with likable characters. Its biggest strength is romance, which it does a lot better than the competition. AYA may be the only show I've ever watched for the romantic storyline, not in spite of it.
But that's not to say there aren't problems with the series. Some are small, like Miyabi addressing Kaoru and Aoi in blatantly non-managerial ways, or Chika fanservice existing. Others are more serious, lying right at the heart of the story. And the biggest, unfortunately, is Aoi.
Don't get me wrong. I love Aoi; she's my favourite character. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who seriously roots for one of the other girls to get Kaoru has no soul. The trouble is, we only ever get half of her story (albeit the same half as many romantic heroines in literature). Aoi has the greatest love in the world that's never tested.
"Wait!" you may say. "She had to fight her family for Kaoru!" Yes, and it was touching each time. But that's not the real test of love. Think back to high school — how many times did you have a crush you would have fought the whole world for? Getting to that point isn't the hard part.
No, the real test of love is how it faces up to disappointment. Sooner or later, no matter how much you love someone, they'll let you down. Sooner or later you'll let them down too. It could be as big as cheating or as small as a missed phone call. If it happens early, while the heat of passion is still on, you can probably coast through it. But after that... well, that's when you find out if you meant all those romantic things you said. Dying for each other is the easy part. It takes real love to live with each other.
Does Aoi have that kind of love for Kaoru? That's the problem — we have no way of knowing. They had the good luck to be absolutely perfect for each other. Kaoru never lets her down even a little. Hell, he's got a harem of attractive single girls and never shows any sign of being tempted by them. Nor does Aoi ever falter; she doubts herself sometimes, but those doubts are never justified. The two of them don't even disagree on anything serious.
That robs the story of some of its power. It's easy to be a saint in paradise. We see many fine qualities in Aoi, but the best qualities are the ones she has no opportunity to show. She never needs to forgive or repent.
Well, what's fanfic for if not to examine things the original stories don't? This fic is about how Aoi might have handled a "Kaoru" who didn't happen to be perfect for her. (More on him later.) To do this, I take advantage of the series' other biggest flaw: overreliance on coincidence. Seriously, in that first episode Aoi randomly bumps into the guy she's looking for in one of the biggest cities in the world, and they replicate an incident from their childhood completely by accident. The only bigger stretch in that episode is how they manage to avoid trading names until they get to Kaoru's place. I figure Aoi had to be right on the edge of a total red-string bender, and upping the hint level just a little bit would have been enough to overcome her shyness.
What happens now that the truth is out? As far as I'm concerned, Aoi and Kaoru still live happily after — they'll just get there a little more cautiously. The problem with believing in some abstract concept like "destiny", detached from a just God or at least a personal one, is that you have no safety net. If bad things happen to you, guess that was just your destiny. You have no reason to expect better, and you can't even get mad at a mindless force. Aoi will need time to rebuild her worldview... and she sure as hell won't abandon herself so easily to another Kaoru, real or not.
Of course, this is just one way the house of cards that is Ai Yori Aoshi could have fallen down. There are a few other FFN writers who have experimented with this. Gojirob considered a Kaoru who returned to the Hanabishis and became more like his grandfather. As I write this, insomniac1970 has a story in progress focusing on Tina, who had a crack at Kaoru before the series started, but passed it up to travel the world. If she'd chosen to confess instead, it's easy to see Kaoru accepting. What would have become of Aoi if she'd come back to find her destined love already taken? She implied in the series that she could live with whatever made Kaoru happy, but that's one more claim that never gets tested.
And for my money, the most interesting fic in the Ai Yori Aoshi section is Star Otaku's "Blue Monarch". It has a premise I didn't expect to like at all: Aoi finds out Kaoru cheated on her and leaves him. I couldn't buy either part at first, but the more I thought about it, the more the second part seemed like a real possibility. We have no idea how Aoi would have dealt with infidelity. Ask the canon Aoi, and she'd surely say she would forgive Kaoru — but you never really know until it happens.
Do read that one, but be warned: I was too much of a romantic not to get Aoi together with the real Kaoru in the end. Star Otaku is not.
Okay, that covers the main point of the fic. Here are a few smaller things I want to mention.
* I try not to be too weeaboo when I write for anime, but this is a series that loves its wordplay, so I couldn't resist indulging in some myself. "Aoi Sakuraba" really does very loosely mean "blue cherry". "Aoi" can mean either "blue" or "hollyhock" depending on how it's written. In Aoi's case it's actually the latter, even though the title Ai Yori Aoshi puns on the former. (It's from a proverb that goes "Blue comes from indigo, yet blue is bluer than indigo" — a metaphor for students surpassing their teachers.) Fake-Kaoru, who never saw her name written down, only thought of the more common word; a florist, of course, would know both. "Sakuraba" means cherry-blossom garden, not just cherry, but Aoi was willing to gloss over that.
* Speaking of the florist, this is totally irrelevant to the story, but I wrote her with another anime florist in mind: Ino from Naruto. She strikes me as potentially quite the man-eater when it comes to men who meet her standards, but contemptuous of those who don't. And without ninjutsu as an outlet, she'd probably be even bitchier.
* I like naming my chapters thematically. Considering the title of the overall story, I decided to go with blues standards this time. They're all good songs, but the blues isn't really my genre, and in fact I cheated with the last one — "Blues Run the Game" is just my favourite song with "blues" in the title. It's actually folk. Simon and Garfunkel do a gorgeous version of it.
* I have no idea what the Hanabishi group sells. As far as I can tell, it's never mentioned, probably because it's not really important. (In fact, the anime and manga don't even bother being consistent on what the Sakurabas sell.) They're referred to as a zaibatsu, so they must have been in some business at some point, but maybe they got rich in past generations and they're just old money now. Fortunately, the trap works either way — whatever the answer is, "Kaoru" didn't know it.
* And just to be technical, when Mrs. Sakuraba asks how "Hanabishi" is spelled, what she's "really" asking is what kanji it's written with. You can't just sound names out in Japanese. That's why fake-Kaoru didn't have an answer ready. (When it came to the note for the flowers, he either guessed or used one of the kana alphabets, which do work phonetically.)
And now... the big one. I wrote fake-Kaoru with a specific character in mind. This was a late addition; at some point after I came up with the premise, I asked myself, "Who's the worst guy Aoi might have bumped into?" I decided not to reveal his identity in the fic for several reasons: because it didn't really matter to the story, because not all readers would be familiar with this character, and because I didn't want to get killed by those who were. But I threw in a lot of hints, and figured I would reveal it here.
So... do you want to know?
Are you sure? Honestly, it doesn't matter that much. You can just skip to the omake if you want.
Oh, okay, here goes. One of the reviewers recognized him anyway. It's Makoto from School Days.
WAIT! I can explain. I know this is sacrilege — Makoto is one of the most hated characters in anime, and I've dared to bring him in contact with the immaculate Aoi. But he was exactly what I needed for this story.
Both Makoto and School Days are widely misunderstood. A violent ending isn't the only thing that sets the series apart. The fact is, it's not a harem show at all. It's a deconstruction of them, a cruel twist, and it works by making the characters act like real people might. Have you ever met a bunch of teenage girls who could get along while aggressively pursuing the same guy — or a teenage boy who could be in that position and resist them all?
Makoto's fatal flaw isn't lust. It's a total lack of self-control. That's what makes him the perfect anti-Kaoru. The two of them stand at opposite extremes: Makoto's never met a temptation he could resist, and Kaoru's never met one he was actually tempted by. (Aoi's not on the scale — as I argued before, she hasn't met temptation at all.) As people, they're not all that different. Kaoru's more mature, but his childhood forced that on him, and he's older too.
So in fact, I didn't choose the worst possible person to find Aoi. That's part of the tragedy of School Days: Makoto with only one girl in his life is a decent guy. His initial romance with Kotonoha is actually sweet. If he had met only her, or only Sekai, he would have been just fine. Aoi's even safer here; she overloads his circuits, as she would do to any guy. He would have tried really hard to be good to her.
That said, once she's well and truly gone, Makoto becomes a temptation magnet again. That's the other tragedy of School Days: it's all inevitable. The characters are on a collision course from the start, and their love for each other just brings the crash on faster. Nothing like that will ever happen to Kaoru — love in his world is only a positive thing, bringing together people who logically shouldn't get along. He wouldn't last any longer in Makoto's world than Makoto did in his.
So that's the method to my madness. I'm not just on some quest to hook Makoto up with as many anime girls as possible (as readers of "Hell Days" may be thinking by now).
Annnnnnyway, this concludes our feature presentation. Thanks for reading. I hope you had fun — for all my wordiness, that was the main goal. Ai Yori Aoshi is a gem of a series, and I'd love to see more interest in it at FFN. In fact, I actually have a second fic on the back burner, one which explores the harem stuff I skipped over here, and which is, if anything, even weirder than this one. Stay tuned for that after I visit some other series.
Okay, I'm out. But the omake is not!
"And that," said Kaoru, "is the true story of how I met your mother."
"...Wow," said his daughter, Kumi. "That's not how Mom tells it at all."
"Nope. So remember, don't tell her I told you all this."
His son Soushi struggled to get up. "I can't believe how LONG that story was. It started out so short! You faked us out!"
"Was it all true?" asked Kumi.
Kaoru sighed. How had he raised kids who spoke to him like this? "Of course it's true."
"Even the part where Aunt Miyabi drank all that soda?"
"...Yes," he said, looking back and forth.
"What happened to that other guy?" asked Soushi.
"Well, this wasn't until long after your mom and I were married, but I did look him up once out of curiosity. He was doing okay — had a little yacht business, I think."
"Did you go punch him again?"
"Because punching is bad and you shouldn't do it. It hurts your hand too."
Soushi raised an eyebrow. "But aren't you mad at the guy?"
"Not really. I haven't been mad for a long time. In a weird way, I'm even grateful. Without that opportunity to play hero, I bet I would've had a harder time winning your grandparents over. I think maybe I'll send him a fruit basket sometime."
"But he stole Mom! Literally!"
"Hey now," said Kaoru. "If there's one thing I want you to learn from this story — which you are not to mention to your mom, remember — it's that people make mistakes when they're young. Pretty big ones sometimes. I want you to know that so you won't panic when it happens to you."
"But it can't," said Kumi. "You haven't arranged marriages for us."
Soushi's eyes went wide. "You haven't arranged marriages for us, right?"
"Of course not! I'm talking about big mistakes in general. You'll make them sooner or later and I want you to –"
"So you don't trust us?" said Kumi.
"Or do you just think we're dumb?" added Soushi.
Kaoru dropped his face into his hands. "Maybe I should have told you one of my other stories."
Both kids looked at him in horror. "You have MORE?" asked Kumi.
"Oh yeah. Lots. For instance, I could always tell you how I met your Aunt Mayu..."
"What the MMPH!"
"...no, I don't think I'll tell you that one. Oh, I know! I'll tell you about the other time somebody tried to take my name."
Soushi blinked. "It happened twice?"
"Yep. Actually, this guy really did have the same name as me. Which would have been fine, except he wanted your mom too. It all started when..."
"Wow, look how late it is!" said Kumi, making a show of looking at the clock.
"Oh, don't worry. This one is only a bit longer than the last story."
"L-longer?" said Soushi.
"It all started when I took your mom out for a little holiday. We were both really excited. See, this was the first time your Aunt Miyabi was going to let us spend the night together..."
Kumi and Soushi were upstairs before he could finish the sentence.
"And that," said Kaoru, "is the true story of how I got the kids to bed by nine."
Aoi wrapped her arms around his neck. "Have I told you how much I love your stories, darling?"