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Aoi (Ai Yori Aoshi)

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Gentle in demeanor...unyielding in seeking to be with her man.

Sakuraba Aoi is the female lead of the ani-manga romance series, Ai Yori Aoshi. For most of the course of the series, she is seen by most characters as the landlady of the cottage they rent rooms in; in fact she is secretly the betrothed from childhood of Hanabishi Kaoru. Aoi is the heiress of the Sakurabas' wealthy business concerns, while Kaoru is the heir to the Hanabishi Zaibatsu, or business conglomerate. Friends from childhood, the two had not seen each other for some years. Kaoru had endured a difficult and abusive childhood at the hands of his strict grandfather, until he could bear no more and left his family behind. When the Hanabishis announced that the engagement was therefore ended, Aoi found this unacceptable and pursued him.

Aoi had been raised as a Yamato Nadeshiko, seen as the perfect ideal of a Japanese woman. Besides their friendship, Aoi had been raised with the idea of being the perfect wife for Kaoru, and a life without him was not within her to contemplate. The conlfict between obedience to her family, which decided to accept the broken engagement, and devotion to Kaoru on all levels proved too much and Aoi ventured forth into a world she was ill-prepared for, having only a forwarding address to go by. Kaoru, by this time attending college while working a job in order to get by on his own, found her and tried to aid her in finding the man who turned out to be himself. Kaoru realized how his departure had affected Aoi, but could not bring himself to return to his abusive family. Taking her to his apartment, an awkward but intimate night was followed by an attempted departure that both were glad Aoi relented on. This was followed in turn by the arrival of Aoi's childhood guardian and mentor, Kagurazaki Miyabi, who, astonished that her demands for Aoi's return were resisted by the normally obedient girl, reluctantly made an arrangement that would let them be together while keeping the Sakurubas' honor intact. Aoi's mother for her part seemed impressed that her fragile flower of a daughter was showing such strength.

A property owned by the Sakurubas was set aside for their use, under several restrictive conditions. The property had two houses, a large main house and a cottage once meant for use by servants. Aoi would stay in the main house, while Kaoru would stay in the cottage, only to be invited in to the main house with the approval of Miyabi, and only on some occasions--he would never be able to stay there. Aoi and Kaoru must not elope or try to. Their relationship must stay a secret from all others, unless Kaoru returned to being the heir of his grandfather. All activity on the part of the two would be monitored by Miyabi, who would make regular reports to the Sakurubas. It was also made at least implicit that Aoi's father deeply disapproved of these arrangements, and made them only begrudgingly and somewhat bitterly.

Agreeing to abide by all terms laid down in order to be together, the young lovers encountered yet more complications. Part of Kaoru's cover story at school was that Aoi was the landlady and Miyabi the manager of the cottage he rented a room in. In short order, Kaoru's friends Tina Foster and Minazuki Taeko offer to rent rooms there as well, at least in part to be near Kaoru, whom Tina loves deeply and who Taeko at least has a crush on. The two conclude, and Miyabi reluctantly agrees, that in order to keep knowledge of their relationship private, they must rent the rooms to Kaoru's friends and gently fend off their more amorous advances without telling them why. With the boisterous very physical Tina, this is a serious challenge. It sometimes causes Aoi discomfort to see Kaoru with the other women, but to his credit, he goes out of his way to make this up to her, only causing her to love him all the more. The pair will sometimes take pains to avoid all their pursuers, a difficult task.

Despite these unintended (if one-sided) rivals, Aoi is fast friends with these ladies, and Tina especially admires her training as a Yamato Nadeshiko, since that is seen as a Japanese ideal, and she had always felt like an outsider both in Japan and back home in America. Taeko is given a chance by Aoi to serve as a maid at both the cottage and the main house, again over Miyabi's objections. On the other hand, Miyabi's stand against the relationship begins to soften, though she never relents in her instructions from the Sakurubas to persuade Kaoru to go back to his family. Some time later, two final tenants join the cottage : Uzume, a ferret bought by Tina, who becomes something of a household pet, and Taeko's young cousin Minazuki Chika, who is worshipful of both Aoi and Kaoru, referring to them by affectionate titles reserved for older siblings.

The relative happiness of this time is tempered, though. Obligated by her employers, Miyabi must keep on and even increase the pressure on Kaoru to rejoin the Hanabishis. Aoi takes increasingly dismissive phone calls from her father, demanding she end the relationship. The affectionate attempts by Tina and her polar opposite, wealthy young Miyuki Mayu, to win over the already-spoken for Kaoru grow both more numerous and bolder with each pass. Having so many people in the house means that the couple can barely see each other, let alone spend time together in secret.

The anime does not depict the final outcome of their relationship, though it does bear a resemblance to the manga ending's resolution. In both versions, Kaoru must confront Aoi's father to keep her from being married off to someone else. In the anime, the relationship simply continues for another season, and there is no rival for Aoi's hand save her father's wishes. In the manga, Aoi is made to meet with her new betrothed, Kaoru's half-brother, ironically enough also named Kaoru Hanabishi, bitter about once having been overlooked as heir and wishing to take everything he can from the main Kaoru. To settle these family concerns, Aoi and Kaoru both renounce all claims to their families' wealth and power. With the house that was the focus of their lives due to be torn down, Aoi and Kaoru make love for the first time inside it before saying goodbye to it, and are soon after married.

Scenes depicting events four years later show Tina visiting all their old friends, and finding Aoi and Kaoru in a small but unsurprisingly spotless apartment using the surname Honjou, which was that of Kaoru's late mother. There are still frustrations. Kaoru's work still keeps them apart too much of the time, and Mayu still visits as though Kaoru were not married. But as Tina captures in a picture, they are at last happily and openly together.



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