"Don't touch me! What if your grades are contagious!"
Naru, on learning Keitaro has failed his entrance exam yet again.
There is absolutely nothing unique, special, or original about Love Hina.
It comes off as a sort of reverse Maison Ikkoku, with the obligatory
nebbishy hero of the series, Keitaro, being tabbed for the manager's job at
a small Tokyo apartment building run by his grandmother. An ALL-GIRL apartment
complex, of course. And hijinks, as they say, ensue. Ever since the classic
Urusei Yatsura, this type of setup (a number of cute girls all chasing
after a single schlub of a guy) has been almost as common in anime as panty
shots and eyes the size of garbage can lids.
And so, the residents of the building are the usual assortment of eclectic
feminine stereotypes that populate anime of this genre. There's Naru, the farsighted
firecracker and the default Main Love Interest of the male lead. There's also
the sleepy-eyed schemer Kitsune, the dark-skinned hyperactive Su, the shy depressed
Shinobu, and the ice-princess swordmistress Motoko. Naturally, all of them are
madly in love with Keitaro, in some way, shape, or form.
Still, unoriginality isn't a cardinal sin in anime. It's okay to use rehashed
cliches (if that's not a redundant statement), as long as you use them in an
entertaining way. Luckily for Love Hina, it manages to keep the same-old
same-old setup used in series ranging from Ranma 1/2 to Tenchi Muyo
entertainingly fresh, It's not a spectacular must-see, but it's not as boring
as you might expect, either. The story is helped immensely by the fact that,
as a modern-day-Japan type of anime, Love Hina is almost entirely giant
robot and superpowered schoolgirl free. Not that I have anything against giant
robots or superpowered schoolgirls, by any means; it's just nice to see an anime
that doesn't rely on them.
What helps distance Love Hina from its near-identical genre brethren
is the surprising amount of slow, serious character development crammed in between
the usual slaps and panty shots. Keitaro's obsessed to the point of insanity
with getting into Tokyo University, Japan's single most prestigious college
(where 70 percent of all applicants fail the entrance exams), because of a promise
he made to a girl he liked when he was an elementary student. He is also a budding
artist, good at his hobby but too insecure to show it to anyone else (especially
the cute girls he shares his world with). Another character, Shinobu, is an
isolated, depressed little girl whose parents are divorcing. She's stuck in
the middle of their custody battle, has no friends at school, and can barely
reach out to anyone, yet her growing relationship with Keitaro lets her show
a first glimmer of self-assertiveness.
Unfortunately, even the characterization in Love Hina isn't perfect.
You may have noticed that I only mentioned two members of the rather extensive
cast of characters in the paragraph above. That's because the characterization
here is like a laser beam: very intense, but also very focused. The development
we get to see is done very well, and add a touch of somber drama to all the
wacky romantic hijinks, but it's too narrow. Some of the characters, LEAD characters,
no less, get no attention at all. For example, four episodes are on this DVD,
and in NONE of them is the main love interest, Naru, developed at all. This
is dangerous, since the only impression we get of her is that she's a brutal
looney who quite literally beats on Keitaro like a redheaded stepchild. Were
this not a romantic comedy, she'd be the villain of the piece, and I'm pretty
positive that's not what Love Hina's creators had in mind.
As if to distract the viewer from that scattershot characterization, the animation
in Love Hina is bright, sharp, and crackles with dynamic humor and energy. It
even manages to make the interminable scenes of the girls beating down Keitaro
for being a pervert rather entertaining. The dub is also adequate, though there
are enough painful voices that you'll probably want to stick to the sub. The
music in this series is excellent, especially the opening theme. And the DVD
has some interesting, if sparse, extra features.
This anime manages to play to the conventions of its genre rather well, but
that's its greatest weakness. It's a really entertaining, mostly amusing tale
of one dorky Beast and a half dozen Beauties, but that's ALL it is. The potential
for it to be more than a sci-fi-less Tenchi clone is definitely buried among
all the scenes of Naru brutalizing Keitaro, but can it really transcend its
roots and live up to that potential? If the excellent characterization is expanded
on in later episodes, perhaps. But if the entire series is going to be just
like the four episodes on this DVD, then there's no reason to bother.
Love Hina is amusing and harmless, and would be fun for a Saturday afternoon
anime club meeting. I just can't imagine shelling out $30 per disc for this.
It's just not different enough from scores of other nearly-identical anime to
justify picking it above them. If you want an anime about a dorky guy surrounded
by adoring big-eyed babes, you're better off with something that at least TRIES
to be clever and different, like Tenchi Muyo or Hand Maid May or
something. Rent Love Hina if you must (and you probably won't regret
it), but save your hard-earned cash for something better.