Usually harem titles annoy the heck out of me (being that I’m not the target audience for them), but I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of Aoi House Omnibus Collection 1, written by Adam Arnold and illustrated by Carmela “Shiei” Doneza, because of the quirky plot hook. Alex and Sandy are two down-on-their-luck college students who get kicked out of their dorm due to a misunderstanding involving Ramune soda, tentacle porn, and a hamster who steals women’s undergarments. Since it is their first semester and they have to live on campus, they’re in trouble if they can’t find new housing. Then they spot an ad for Aoi House, a house where anime fans can live together enjoying their favorite hobby. What they don’t realize is that the house is actually “Y”AOI House, run by five yaoi fangirls and their mysterious Oniisan.
The reason why I wanted to review Aoi House, despite it being a harem title, is because of how it treats the yaoi fangirls. They are not treated like idiots. Yes they do take the opportunity to abuse the guys and force them into faux-yaoi situations, but only for a little while. After that their fandom is treated as just as valid as that of the boys and the connections between anime fans, no matter their preferred genre, are highlighted. There are plenty of anime inside jokes, but most of them feature titles that have made it to the States in licensed releases, so the jokes are more accessible than in Japanese works about fandom such as Fujoshi Rumi (Media Blasters).
Character development isn’t a main focus of the story as the plot is mostly silly reasons to get the girls stripped down to their skivvies, but there is enough to make the characters distinct from one another, especially the girls. The one real downside is the only actually gay character, Carlo. He is a caricature of a gay man, over-the-top about hitting on straight guys, cross-dressing poorly, calling everyone “girl” and “doll” and “darlin’.” He’s a weak attempt at humor that doesn’t jibe with the rest of the characters, especially since even the sexiest girl is given working brains.
Back to strong points, though, because I want to mention the art. Shiei’s art is not a copy of manga or a poor attempt to draw “manga-like.” It is a fresh style that uses the vocabulary of manga (chibis, sound effects, giant eyes, etc.) the correct way, resulting in a title that “feels manga” and that flows smoothly. Pacing is especially important in a humor title and Shiei is good at drawing out scenes where needed, but also at adding just enough detail to make things laughably chaotic. Her girls are the correct amount of pretty, with enough variation in body types to make them realistic. I especially appreciated that the girl who is a synchronized swimmer was drawn with a more athletic body, which is how she would look in real life. But Shiei doesn’t neglect the boy eye candy. The chapter where Alex lets down his hair (literally) is very funny and shows the effect that a cute bishonen can have on a yaoi fangirl.
If you’re looking for something a little different or if you want to share your love of yaoi with a non-yaoi-appreciating male anime fan, Aoi House might be just the ticket for you. It’s available now in two omnibus editions, which each contain two original volumes. At $10.99 a volume, that’s a decent price, especially since Seven Seas’ bindings are strong and printings are clear and readable.
NOTE: This review was previously posted at an old blog of mine, Fujoshi Librarian.
Aoi House Omnibus Collection, vol. 1
Written by Adam Arnold; Illustrated by Carmela “Shiei” Doneza
Seven Seas, 2008