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Video Girl Ai

Japanese Anime OVA series (1992); original title Denei Shoujo Ai. I.G. Tatsunoko. Based on the Manga by Masakazu Katsura. Directed by Mizuho Nishikubo. Written by Satoru Akahori, Mayori Sekijima and Kuniaki Yamashita. Voice cast includes Yuri Amano, Megumi Hayashibara, Takeshi Kusao, Kenichi Ogata, Hirotaka Suzuoki and Koji Tsujitani. Six 29-minute episodes. Colour.

Teenager Yota Moteuchi's (Kusao) love for Moemi Hayakawa (Amano) is unrequited, as is her love for his best friend Takashi Niimai (Tsujitani). Forlorn, Yota wanders into a shop – the proprietor (Ogata) remarks, "Only the pure of heart can see this store." – and buys a video girlfriend tape to cheer himself up ... however, the tape's girl, Ai Amano (Hayashibara), erupts out of the video screen. Finding an attractive young woman in his bedroom, Yota thanks God, Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Ai says she is here for the duration of the tape – a month – and will help him win Moemi's heart. Meanwhile, Takashi reluctantly agrees to go out with Moemi; the relationship is uncomfortable, and as he points out, she mainly talks about Yota. He, like the viewer, is aware of how at ease Moemi and Yota are with each other.

Yota played Ai's tape on a broken VCR, which has affected her: video girls should not able to feel love, but she begins to fall for him. This confuses her; the inner conflict means she fluctuates between helping Yota with Moemi, trying to romance him herself, and acts of slapstick violence upon him. She also suffers glitches and fading; eventually her Creator (Suzuoki) (see Gods and Demons) appears and returns her to the video store, declaring her defective. When Yota realizes she has gone he runs to the shop, but it has vanished into another Dimension. Here Ai is demanding she be returned to Yota; but the proprietor, though sympathetic, says her tape is fast-forwarding. Though only a short time has elapsed here, a week has passed on Earth (see Time Distortion) and the tape will shortly finish. However, she is allowed to return to say goodbye to Yota before vanishing back into the video screen – but Yota dives in after her.

He experiences illusions, presumably set up by the Creator (see Perception): of Takashi telling him he should focus on Moemi, next of Moemi declaring her love and trying to seduce him – then he sees Ai bound to a crucifix (which displays Technology); climbing a fragile glass staircase to rescue her, he is torn by shards whilst the Creator urges him to give up – but resolute and bloody, Yota reaches the top: Ai's tears dissolve her bonds and they embrace. This is brief – Yota tells us, "In the next moment it all went back to normal." – with the scene cutting to a clock, which fades. Over the final credits we watch the four main characters together and not unhappy, then see this is playing on a video screen in an empty room.

The anime is based on the first three volumes of the fifteen-volume manga, though substantial changes were made to the ending. The previous year had seen a live action film, Video Girl Ai (1991), whilst much later there would be two live action Television series, Video Girl Ai 2018 (2018) and Video Girl Mai 2019 (2019).

After an initial fantastic premise, the series spends most of its time as a heartfelt contemporary romantic comedy (see Humour) that displays emotional depth (and distracting Fan Service) before the final episode leaps headfirst back into genre. The animation is usually workmanlike, until a beautiful riverside scene in episode four and the imaginative surrealism of that final episode. On the surface a Fantasy, some elements – such as Ai manifesting through technology and her name (see AI) – suggests some sf underpinning. Video Girl Ai is considered an anime classic; a little of its lustre has, inevitably, been lost over the subsequent decades, but it remains noteworthy. [SP]

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Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 19:33 pm on 24 September 2022.
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