One thing that never sits well with me, even with my adolescent years, is how manga and anime manifests so strongly the bubbly wet dreams of young boys. Nothing exemplifies this better than the existence of so many titles of similar themes that warrant the harem genre. So it was with skepticism that I loaded the first episode of Love Hina despite all the written praise I have read of it.
Spectacled nerd. Coward. Loser. Dropped into a girls-only dormitory with 100% guarantee rate to catch them naked one way or another. All (or most) girls inexplicably still falling in love with hopeless boy. Yup, this is the kind of characteristics that turn me off. Badly.
But boy, could I be so wrong that such genres cannot be entertaining.
We follow the life of Urashima Keitarou, a boy just past his teens and trying, in vain, to gain admission into the prestigious Tokyo University (called "toudai" in short by locals). Having lost patience, Keitarou's mother essentially puts him out on the street and he goes over to his grandmother's inn Hinata Sou. With nobody around and unaware of his surroundings, he eventually settles in the outdoor hotspring bath, only to be joined shortly by a girl. And here is where all the havoc, fan service, and fun begins.
Let's face it. Most harem series suck. It takes a very special gift of thought to embed an inspiring underlying theme and some clever wit to make jokes actually funny beyond the otherwise superficial sexual fantasies. And those are attributes Akamatsu Ken (original manga author) and the directorial staff of Production I.G possessed. Life at Hinata Sou is never boring; we are treated to incident after incident of Keitarou affecting the lives of the girls. Negative impacts (chancing upon them in a modesty-disfavourable position; which form the bulk of the jokes) are reciprocated by the girls' incredible combat skills - punches, kicks, sword slices, and even missiles abound to discipline Keitarou. Maybe "abuse" is a better word, for these scenes picture the kind of lovable torment he has to endure to keep his job as the inn manager, a post his grandmother easily delegated to him while she goes on vacation.
All these well-shot scenes are well done by large part thanks to voices of a stellar cast with the likes of Ueda Yuji (Keitarou), Horie Yui (Naru), Noda Junko (Kitsune), Asakawa Yuu (Motoko), Takagi Reiko (Kaolla), Yukino Satsuki (Mutsumi), and then everyone's favourite veteran Hayashibara Megumi (Haruka; and also sings the catchy opening song Sakura Saku). They perform with perfect characterisation for their assigned characters, giving them life above and beyond that already in the manga, which had already given them a fantastic level of development. Few anime can boast of such an ensemble. Very very few indeed. To top things off the music creates the mood with such natural ease, again accentuating the delivery to a new level.
While the anime does a solid job maintaining the theme and characterisation of the manga, it does not faithfully recreate the flow of the original story. Some episodes are entirely filler not found in the manga; one sometimes feel they could have been better spent on delivering more of the manga plot, for in the end the series drops off in an incomplete state and leaving a large chunk of the manga unaccounted for. (These portions are later covered by future episodes which unfortunately drops severely in directing quality) Anybody who has read the manga can tell you how superior the flow and cohesion that version possesses over the anime in terms of storytelling. But this is not to say the filler content is worthless; contrary to that they are entertaining in their own right, thanks again to clever ideas and a lauded group of seiyuus. The rest of the anime still does instill the underlying lesson of knowing what one's dream is, and putting in the courage and effort to fight towards that dream, despite repeated setbacks.
Despite being incomplete, Love Hina is the epitome of using the inherent strengths of animation production to boost an already outstanding manga. So successful and great a following it created that the cast was commissioned to hold Love Hina concerts; a full-house phenomenon one hardly sees anywhere else in the world. They love it so much, and so will you.
Overall rating: 9/10
Spectacular seiyuu cast; following music; genuinely funny and fun; some life lessons; creative filler
The usual harem characteristics; incomplete