Aoi House: In Love
Aoi House: The Lost Episode
Arnold, Adam (story), Shiei (art)
OEL Manga – Comedy, ecchi, harem, romance, supernatural
2 Volumes + 2 Volumes + 1 Chapter (complete)
Anime fans Sandy and Alex are thrown out of their dorm thanks to their pet hamster. When the two guys see an ad for an anime club and dorm, they apply… only to find the club is full of women! Not only that, they’re crazy yaoi anime fans — and they think Sandy and Alex are too!
Seriously… who would have thought a story about two otaku and a bunch of babes would be so confusing.
The late 90s and early 00s. While in terms of civil rights and technology, of course it was worse than now. But in terms of pop culture, it was pretty awesome. It was before the big reality boom, and there were a lot of animated shows, sitcoms, and teen shows. In the anime fandom, the boom was just starting to really take off and starting to go more mainstream. But Aoi House includes a lot of references to various anime releases. Some, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, are still popular today. Others, like Pita-Ten, are likely barely a blip on fans’ radars nowadays. Some of these references are straight-up jokes, like dreaming of a harem a la Love Hina. In other cases, they may just express excitement at having all of a series. Certain readers may get tickled pink at all these name drops; at times though, it may be a little much.
Alexis, better known as Alex, and Sandy are two of these anime fans, and their anime activities have raised some eyebrows. But just as the dean is about to give them another chance, Ebichoo the perverted hamster ruins their hopes. They aren’t allowed to find a place off-campus, but fortunately, they find an ad for Aoi House, an anime club, they decide to check it out. Open the door, and there are a bunch of girls there. In fact, it’s only girls. There’s another girl, Maria, applying at the same time, but the current members are all… interesting. Alex and Sandy notice they seem to be asking some odd questions, but the combination of good-looking girls (especially Jessica the flirt) and needing a place to stay wins. They certainly notice Elle, the club president, is less than happy about their arrival, but she’s essentially overruled by the lackadaisical VP, Nina.
Long story short, Aoi House was supposed to be Yaoi House, a haven for fans of boys’ love manga. They assume Alex and Sandy are in a relationship, and when they try to correct the fangirls… well, that’s not going to stop them from living out their yaoi dreams. The guys are forced to go to the bathroom together, and Morgan, the hyper one, calls Alex and Sandy her “yaoi pets”. The girls also have a connection to the mysterious “Oniisan”, and he seems to know a lot…
Aoi House checks off all the items on a standard harem/ecchi list: lots of girls with different personalities, an average- to below-average protagonist, a mascot, and unlikely situations like landing right between a woman’s chest. And it knows this. It’s like the manga is often turning toward readers and going, “OMG, isn’t this just like the scene from [insert manga here]?! Isn’t that sooooo funny?!”
But a good parody has to walk a fine line. There still has to be a story in there somewhere. Otherwise, it’d just be an imitation. Here, Alex and Sandy have to learn to survive in a house full of females who love man x man action. The woman aren’t all bad though. Jessica is like a big sis, and Maria is sweet and kind. Jessica’s costumes and Nina not caring about nudity means Sandy and Alex get some gratuitous fanservice. But living at Aoi House also means getting caught up in Morgan’s spying and demands for candy as well as dealing with the short-tempered, bossy Elle.
Here’s the problem though: Aoi House is absolutely unable to transition smoothly between its comedy and its plot. In fact, at times, I couldn’t tell if things were manga-style exaggerations or an accurate reflection of what’s going on. Like the whole ending sequence, set in a place that’s revisited in The Lost Episode, was WTF. Some of the gags also go so long; a bizarre riff of Revolutionary Girl Utena first appeared to be their own parody movie, but the fact it goes so long and then they abandoned it… so maybe they weren’t filming but just screwing around? Hard to tell.
Besides Aoi House‘s references to anime and manga series, a lot of the humor comes from the character interactions and eccentricities: Alex and Sandy quaking in fear of Elle, Ebichoo’s panty obsession that leads to trouble, and Morgan’s child-like personality. But a lot of the humor seems mean-spirited or creepy. Morgan puts a camera on Ebichoo (the Ecchi Cam), and residents of Aoi House watch as he gets upskirt images and goes inside the women’s swim team’s locker room. The guys also meet the founder of Aoi House, Carlo, who is a transvestite*. Carlo is very flirtatious, and Alex is sent out on a date with Carlo as a punishment game. In the girls’ defense, Carlo makes a lot of passes, but it is all humorous and it’s not like Carlo had a broken heart after this. Still, just meeting the outgoing Carlo is enough to scare Alex and Sandy. In any other work, there are bound to be things that are not proper, nice, or — for lack of a better term — “cool”, but Aoi House has quite a few. If this was the only major issue with Aoi House, it wouldn’t be much of an issue, but this is in conjunction with the rest of Aoi House‘s problems.
*(This is the term used in Aoi House. Carlo is originally referred to as “he” and then later “she”. I’m not 100% sure of Carlo’s gender identity, but I believe transgender would be the proper term today.)
Aoi House isn’t all bad though. I think my favorite joke was when the gang is doing their Final Fantasy VIII parody, and “Zell” tries to summon the dragon Bahamut. It seems to be taking quite a while, and then Bahamut walks by and says, “Sorry, kids. I work union hours.” Sandy physically looks like a stereotypical nerd (glasses, overweight, obsessed with fandom), but one of the girls takes a romantic interest in him. It’s fun finding all the anime references, and when they actually do their anime panel, it’s pretty good. Shiei’s art also captures the anime spirit with all the costumes and Ebichoo’s mascot design. There are some full color extras which are a treat. The manga has a strong Love Hina feel to it, and you can definitely draw some connections between the two.
Ultimately, though, the plot is all over the place. Trips to the mall, wars with other anime clubs, octopuses… it’s all bizarre. Not the fun kind of bizarre, but the “let’s through everything including the kitchen sink and see what sticks” type of bizarre. It seems episodic, and then it suddenly has a long arc. Even in Aoi House: In Love, where the romances really take shape compared to the more yaoi joke-centered Aoi House, most feelings operate on an on/off switch. Plus, there’s quite a few new characters introduced here, including a love interest for one of the girls. Technically, it’s a four volume series (and an extra chapter that fits after the main story but before the epilogue), but with all the characters and the proper development they needed, Aoi House probably could have used two to three times more in length. And an ending that didn’t make me wonder if the characters were on something or I was on something. Why does an anime series that is supposed to be a ribbing of the American anime fandom need supernatural elements?
(And okay, the ending I’m complaining about isn’t technically the ending — there’s a final chapter that operates more as a flash forward through college, a side story, and then the epilogue. But when I say “the ending”, I mean the last part of the main story. And if that confuses you… well, see the first image.)
The pacing is not good, and this drags the art down since it also has to jump around. Some of the visual “jokes” also reflect some skeeviness, like the yaoi paddle and a judge dressed as pedobear. (Why…?) There’s no full nudity, but plenty of fanservice that keeps it around the teen/older teen level.
I just didn’t get Aoi House. Maybe the jokes were funnier a decade ago when it came out, but I think it would have been best if it were something more like Anime News Nina or any long-running comedy show where it ignores the passage of time and just concentrates on the laughs. Aoi House can’t balance its homage to the Love Hina-type manga with its love of parodying American anime fandom and all the anime references.
Arnold and Shiei collaborated together on Vampire Cheerleaders, which includes an Aoi House spin-off. Shiei has also drawn Amazing Agent Luna, My Little Pony: The Manga, and others. All are available from Seven Seas.