Urashima Keitarou is trying to his best to get into the prestigious Tokyo University ("Toudai"), but keeps failing. He refuses to give up, because he believes that if he gets into Toudai, he will meet the girl he made a promise to back when he was a child. What sort of promise, do you ask? There is an urban legend that those who promise to go to Tokyo University together will fall in love and be happy forever. Unfortunately, he's forgotten the name of the girl he promised to be with ... and worse, he's been kicked out of his parents' house for being an abject failure at college.
So he travels to his grandmother Hina's resort to better concentrate on his studies, for a better study environment so he can pass the tests. Unfortunately, it appears that his grandmother has skipped out on the resort, and never bothered to mention that it had been turned into a girl's dormitory. Something Keitarou finds out the hard way. And so now, Keitarou is surrounded by a gaggle of cute girls, including the high-spirited (and rather violent) Narusegawa Naru. Could she be the girl he made the promise to so long ago? And will he, in fact, ever be able to attend Tokyo University and find his true love?
Boy, does Keitarou bring new meaning to the archetype of the "loser hero". When you first watch this series, you'll think it's going to be another Tenchi Clone(tm). And even the manga artist seemingly intended the series to be nothing but filler.
Somewhere along the line, Love Hina got really good, and therefore, the TV adaptation was made. And the series quickly establishes that it is most definitely NOT a regular "harem anime". In fact, not all the girls fall in love with the hapless, but persistent Keitarou. Instead, Love Hina plays like an updated version of Maison Ikkoku, with the ronin cramming to get into college so he can be worthy of being with his true love, a zany supporting cast that frequently serves as a distraction, and the beautiful, flawed, yet completely likable main heroine, Naru.
Granted, this series shows a lot more flesh than Maison Ikkoku would ever think of doing. Fan service is the name of the game here. What can you expect from a series based in a hot springs resort? Swimsuits, towels, panties, and, quite often, much less than that. Don't even get me started on the kotatsu scene. But despite the blatant camera angles and jiggling, I could still get into it. It's surprisingly clean and innocent, much more so than a show like this has any right to be. For all the "opportunities" Keitarou gets, especially with Naru, he doesn't get anywhere with any of the girls, and it emphasizes just how much of a loser the poor boy is, especially when he's getting punched into the stratosphere on a regular basis.
But it's not just situationally perverted comedy or slapstick that makes that series work. The characters are excellent, especially Narusegawa Naru. Characters like her are very difficult to pull off believably. It's too easy to want to make these girls too perfect (Belldandy in the Oh My Goddess OAVs) or too over-the-top (Ryouko AND Aeka in Tenchi Muyo). Naru is not so perfect that female viewers like myself feel alienated or intimidated by her - you know girls like her, you've probably gone to school with girls like her, you may even be related to her. She's sort of an EveryWoman. And so you end up rooting for her to hook up with Keitarou just as much as you root for Keitarou to hook up with her, because she in her own way is just as much of a loser as Keitarou. And if you don't see them as the Destined Couple of the Series, well, you just haven't seen enough anime.
Not that the rest of the cast is weak by any means. My personal favorites are Konno Mitsune ("Kitsune") and Kaolla Suu, respectively the nosy, meddling alcoholic and the strange, random, genki foreigner of the series. Both of them are there to make situations a little more interesting, using the forces of chaos to their full extent, just so the budding relationship between Keitarou and Naru doesn't happen quite so simply. Then there's Aoyama Motoko, the sword-wielding descendant of samurai who seems completely aloof to everything, and the super-cute (and super-shy) Maehara Shinobu, who harbors a not-so-secret (but totally innocent) crush on Keitarou, which might be more of a factor if she weren't so young. All of the cast is well-acted, and a whole lot of fun.
Animation-wise, the series is quite obviously computer-generated cel-style animation. Unlike Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, which often degrades in close-ups and action scenes, Love Hina never really falters in the technical department. Mind you, it's nowhere near OAV quality, but it's more than adequate for the story being told. The incidental music is a bit too brash for my tastes, and the opening song, an unusual industrial-sounding offering from Hayashibara Megumi (who plays Keitarou's aunt in the series), takes some getting used to. Don't leave it on loop and leave the room while it's playing, or your roommate will kill you. But overall, it's not bad, but better than the TV show's premise really deserves, and it grows on you.
I very, very much recommend Love Hina. While it's not the best anime ever made, it's cute, funny, and makes for a great date show. And take a hint from Naru. Next time your man acts like a complete idiot, kick him to the curb! Yeah! Now that's girl power.
[Editor's Note: And Carlos runs for cover.]
There's a lot to love about Love Hina. — Christina Carpenter
Recommended Audience: 13 and up. Lots of fan service, though nothing is shown explicitly, and a goodly amount of slapstick violence (with a fair amount of blood that is purely cosmetic).
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub; R1 DVD
Review Status: Partial (18/24)
Love Hina © 2000 Ken Akamatsu / Kodansha / Love Hina Production Committee / TV Tokyo
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