I somewhat recently watched a short OVA from the 90s called Video Girl Ai. I enjoyed it overall, even if I did have mixed feelings about the actual romantic drama that it built up, thanks to its well-acted cast and a few interesting twists on the “rival” characters and jealousy that are so common in romance series. But while the OVA as a whole was surprisingly solid, the biggest surprise, for me, was the sudden shift in its use of visuals for the final episode.
The use of television screens, their contents, and the ambient lighting therefrom, to create a level of uncomfortable detachment between the Video Girl (Ai) and her humanity – the newfound love that she was never supposed to have – bears a striking resemblance to the use of computer monitors provide a similar eerie detachment between the Computer Girl (Lain) and the physical world around her as she transitioned into the Wired. It really caught me off-guard to see one of Lain’s signature visual cues used in – of all things – a romcom OVA from half a decade prior, with no immediately identifiably shared staff (correct me if I’m wrong here). It’s a very effective technique, serving as a powerful reminder that Ai is not, in fact human, and instead originates from within Youta’s television set, bringing to visual life Ai’s crisis with her own identity, just as Lain struggled with her multiple selves.
The most powerful of these scenes is when we see Ai watching Youta through the screen as he searches for her. She pounds on the glass, telling him that she’s right there for him, but he can’t hear her. The tables have turned, and now the character inside the television set is shouting at the screen, helpless to stop what’s happening on the other side.
The rest of the episode was interestingly directed as well – the backgrounds in the video world took on very sparse color schemes, and the climax, featuring Youta fighting to reach Ai by painfully and symbolically climbing a glass staircase as it shattered beneath his feet, brought to mind the similar climactic scene of the recent Mawaru Penguindrum, with a touch of blatant Christian imagery for good measure because why not.
In the end, though, despite all this uncharacteristic focus on strong symbolic imagery from the show in its finale, my biggest takeaway from Video Girl Ai’s visuals – not just from episode 6, but from the series as a whole – was something more nostalgic. It was a reminder of the one thing that I love most about anime made in the 90s. It was the sketchy-line cheek shading.
Dear Anime, Please bring this back. Love, Satchii