It’s funny how things go back and forth. Back in the olden days when anime was a fresh and exciting product from a distant land, Love Hina was one of the staples that you just had to see- a combination of slapstick humour and slow-burning romance that embodied one of the early entries in the harem genre. You couldn’t call yourself an anime fan if you didn’t have a working knowledge of the antics of Keitaro, Naru and the rest.
As time went on, however, and the anime-sphere expanded, Love Hina came to pass into the realms of the unworthy. Now it was a beginners’ series; profess to like it, and more knowledgeable fans would nod and smile at each other even as they labelled you an anime novice. If you wanted to be considered a serious, experienced viewer, Love Hina was not something you could ever admit to liking.
In time, however, a select few voices decided to speak up in defence of Love Hina, and once again the balance was reversed; now it was mindless crowd-following to bash Love Hina, whilst those who admitted to liking it were to be applauded for their courage. Suddenly, being a Love Hina fan was ‘in’ again.
Nonetheless, the existence of this rant isn’t to address who should and shouldn’t like Love Hina; in fact, lengthy as it was, I only wrote the above by way of introduction. The real reason for suddenly wanting to write about Love Hina lies entirely in the fact that I recently watched the Spring Special, and whilst that in itself was not too bad, it couldn’t help but remind me of the pain I had suffered at the hands of the TV series.
To be fair, Love Hina didn’t start too badly. In its earliest episodes, it seemed as if the slapstick elements would be balanced by romance and a less over-the-top brand of humour- the series may not amount to anything special, but at least it would be an entertaining dose of light fun. Unfortunately, whilst this was to be the case for the first few episodes, as the second DVD drew to a close, things took a turn for the worse.
At the beginning, Love Hina had at least seemed vaguely grounded in reality, but now it became a case of “the wackier the better”. What had once been limited to a small flying turtle and some crazy inventions from resident eccentric whiz kid Kaolla Su turned into something on a larger scale; now giant mecha turtles and ancient turtle-based civilisations were part of an average day for the residents of the Hinata apartments.
Unappealing as it was, however, the crazy ‘humour’ was not the worst Love Hina had to offer- that prize went to the depressing futility of the entire series. The lead, Keitaro, was a born loser beyond almost any other harem lead, so much so that he inhabited a painful realm where nothing could possibly go right. Year after year, his attempts to get into Tokyo U met with rejection; no matter how well he prepared, some outside influence was bound to conspire to make him fail his exams. Any point where Keitaro seemed optimistic was not a sign that his life was about to improve; rather, it was an indication that his tentative hopes were about to be cruelly dashed.
Unsurprisingly, however, it was in love that Keitaro fared even more badly. His ‘relationship’ with Naru quite possibly underwent the slowest progression in history; at any point where Naru started to believe that perhaps Keitaro wasn’t so bad after all, he would invariably manage to walk in whilst she was undressing, accidentally grab her breasts or cause some kind of misunderstanding. In each case, the end result usually consisted of Naru punching Keitaro and sending him flying, and yet neither side ever learned from this.
As the endless cycle of slapstick and repeated jokes began to take their toll, Love Hina entered a downward spiral. The lowest ebb was reached in volume five, a quartet of episodes so tiresome and insipid that they drained the very will to live. By this point, it felt as if we had seen all the series had to offer so many times that whatever appeal it had once had was now long gone. The only reason to continue to the final volume was for that all important sense of completion.
Fortunately, in its last four episodes, the series was able to recover a little, finally offering some development for both the characters and their relationships. Whilst hardly close to being good, at least the ending seemed an improvement on what had come before, especially when added to the relief of knowing it was all finally over and done with (not counting the specials or OVA).
Lead characters, or how not to build a harem
Keitaro Urashima: A born loser, Keitaro is determined to fulfil a promise he once made to a girl by getting into Tokyo University. Unfortunately, his immensely bad luck and his lack of social or intellectual ability stand in the way of every single one of his efforts; the only thing he seems to be good at is getting punched in the face. He manages to start off on the wrong foot by lying to the girls in order to get them to accept him as manager of the Hinata apartments, and things only go downhill from there.
Naru Narusegawa: Lead girl and tsundere, Naru spends half the series pining for her old tutor before finally realising that what she really wants is a punching bag Keitaro. As with Keitaro himself, her efforts to get into Tokyo U are continually met with failure.
Mitsune Konno (Kitsune): Laid back and somewhat self-serving, Kitsune seemingly has nothing better to do in life than run around keeping an eye on Keitaro and Naru. When she’s not actively attempting to make Keitaro’s life difficult, she can usually be found causing an equal amount of damage by trying to help him.
Kaolla Su: A youthful inventor from a strange foreign kingdom that seems to exist within the borders of Japan, Kaolla’s duties include creating mayhem through mecha turtles and other inventions. Even when Kaolla herself isn’t causing trouble, it is equally likely that her family members will show up to cause mayhem with a visit to the Hinata apartments.
Motoko Aoyama: As the token kendo girl and man-hater, Motoko’s appearances are generally restricted to practising sword arts on Keitaro in order to keep him in line. She also comes in handy whenever the story line demands some muscle.
Shinobu Maehara: The quiet one, Shinobu is the one girl who actually likes Keitaro from the start, which gives the others an excuse to beat him up on the pretext of protecting her feelings.
Mutsumi Otohime: The obligatory sick girl and third woman in the “Keitaro-Naru-Mutsumi” triangle, Mutsumi has been just as unlucky as the others in her attempts to get into Tokyo U (since she either passes out during the exam or forgets to write her name). Her duty is to turn up at convenient moments, as dictated by the plot.
Sarah McDougal: Although she doesn’t appear until later in the series, Sarah is noteworthy simply for being the most annoying character in the series. Fuelled by an inexplicably intense grudge against Keitaro, she spends all of her screen time finding ways to makes his life more difficult- as if he needed any more help on that front.
Released together with the bonus episode 25, the Christmas Special isn’t so much poor as just incredibly average. Featuring the requisite amount of running around and misunderstandings before everything comes together for the usual “and they all lived happily ever after…until the next crisis” ending. The extra episode is actually reasonably entertaining, but there are better things to spend 70 minutes on.
After reading some bad reviews, I prepared myself for the worst before watching this special, but with my expectations so low, it actually turned out to be better than I’d hoped. Although the storyline is weak and contrived, there are some worthy character moments sprinkled here and there- and most importantly, the leads are finally able to move beyond the cruel status quo that held them for so long.
Sitting through Love Hina is a bit like running a marathon- it starts off well enough, gets extremely tiring and painful in the middle, and ends with a final spurt of energy and a sense of relief that it is all over. Unfortunately, where those who choose to tackle a marathon usually feel some sense of achievement when it is done, it cannot be said that finishing Love Hina will provide any kind of benefit or satisfaction.