Riko Kurahashi, nicknamed "Wild Kid", is a popular girl at all-girls high school Fujisaki Girls Academy, known for its proper students. Riko is not among those; loud, brash, and forward, with a tomboy air to her, she is adored by all the girls for being cool. But she's not as loved as Natsuo Maki, the beautiful, graceful Student Council President. Riko accidentally bumps into Maki when she encounters her one day in the Student Council room kissing a body pillow shaped like a guy for "love practice". Fearing that her image will be ruined, Maki asks Riko to keep it a secret. Riko decides to help her by using her "experience" with boys to help her nab a boyfriend. Thus starts the experiment that Maki dubs Love Lab.
Tim: Back in spring 2013, I recommended to Stig watching Love Lab due to our enjoyment of series director Masahiko Ohta's earlier work on Mitsudomoe. The aforementioned show was a weird, juvenile, but nonetheless funny and even charming at times series.
Stig: There was also the fact that the show was fairly well received on ANN, mostly due to its particular brand of comedy. Meaning I was vaguely optimistic about the whole deal, because lord knows things can and will get so much worse.
Much like Heaven's Lost Property, Love Lab is one of those shows that wasn't advertised very well. Despite initial impressions, it's not a yuri comedy. It's also much better than either of us anticipated -- that is to say, at least one of us had any ideas what he was getting into. Meaning we were not disappointed with Tim's suggestion of Love Lab when everything was watched and done. Mind you, the show isn't even close to being as perverted as Heaven's Lost Property. Fanservice is actually nearly nonexistent. Its comedy just adapts a vaguely sexual bent from time to time. Nothing too outrageous -- pretty much on par for teenagers most of the time.
One reason we feel Love Lab works is that, unlike most high school comedy anime, this series actually has an ongoing plot. Except for one episode made up of various vignettes, Love Lab actually tells a complete story with its characters. This also means that we were spared of having to sit through side characters' gags and stories for the most part, unlike some anime out there. (What's up, My Ordinary Life and GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class?) It's more of a set overall goal, though, rather than a clear destination; the council made it their goal to help the students with their problems, whatever they may be, and that's just what they did. It's still open enough for continuation if time and viewer interest permit. It doesn't reek of that "the manga is unfinished" stink like a lot of adapations.
The main cast of characters are a fun bunch. Riko and Maki have decent enough chemistry that balance each other off well, their own aspects of idiocy different enough to fit together like two adjacent puzzle pieces. Riko is outgoing and has knowledge of boys -- well, kind of -- but had to go through her childhood being seen as a guy. Maki, however, has the looks to snag any boy she could wish for, but she can barely talk to them without going into panic attacks. It's a funny balance that leads to some good jokes, typically playing at Maki's eccentric behaviors or the consequences of Riko's unfortunate lies. The real star of Love Lab, however, is Sayo (Sayori), whose hilarious deadpan, genre-savvy wit has her steal near every scene she's in, and it's almost a shame that she didn't get a better closure by the end of the show. The remaining two council members aren't as memorable; Suzu (Suzune) is the requisite shy girl, albeit with an odd ability to quickly make paper fans (which sadly don't get used nearly as often as we wished for), and Eno (Yuiko) can be summed up as Big Bushy Eyebrow Comical Tsundere.
And who can forget Huggy, the body pillow with the poorly-drawn male body that Maki uses for practice for her love experiments? You'd be hard pressed not to remember Huggy, since "he" is mentioned a lot in the series. He's even the main focus of the ending theme animation! Many jokes were made in those days, but his life -- or lack thereof -- was all for naughty. Maki's naughty, that is.
And hey, there are real boys in this series, too! Love Lab does eventually get around to Maki talking to guys, which reinforces Riko's past encounters and generally bad dealings with them. (And the girl you probably think the least likely in the series to have a boyfriend actually has a boyfriend!) So the series' basic goal of helping Maki get a boyfriend isn't totally an excuse for goofy high-school hijinx. (Not that there isn't any of that, mind you.)
It was also nice to see that the show treated both genders with an equal amount of respect; it gave both the boys and the girls the same chance to both be sensible or screw things up. It might look like the girls are doing more of that, but that's mostly because they also outrank the boys in screen time with a solid margin. But more importantly, it didn't put the boys into some kind of homogenous unit. In a survey the Love Lab members held to find out what kind of gifts would be good to get a boy, the show pointed out (quite sensibly) that one shouldn't expect something to work on everyone, spearheaded with a funny gag where one of the girls was sure that the boys would like something homemade best of all, only to have that shot down by the survey as the number one entry of the least popular gifts of all. (One of the other girls laughed that up with the matter-of-fact tone that of course they'd appreciate something expensive. You want to take a guess at what was the #2 entry on the corresponding survey list of least favorite gifts?)
We also like that unlike some other comedies, Love Lab never takes itself all that seriously. Even in the series' more dramatic moments, there's lighthearted comedy to lighten the mood, whether it be Sayo's deviousness, Maki's weirdness, Riko's boy struggles, or Suzu's penchant for paper fans. Which is good, because it makes for less awkward moments when sad piano plays and people either cry or make a scene about something. Love Lab thankfully chose a more steady path than, say, Stella Women's Academy, and that's good. Very good indeed.
What isn't brownie points, though, is the two-thirds point or so of the series, where one of the girls nearly leaves the club due to interference from the Newspaper Club introduced shortly before this arc. We knew it wasn't going to happen, but one is forced to sit through a couple of episodes of it anyway. There's also Riko's inability to tell her friends the truth which, while funny the first few times (especially because Sayo knows from day one, using it to amusingly tease her), gets old well before series' end. It takes until the last few minutes of the series for Riko to finally come clean, and it's resolved unrealistically well, too. We could've needed more of Suzu's fans in the last couple of episodes for Riko.
Tim: Comedies are a hit-or-miss genre in anime, so it's nice to have shows like Love Lab to remind us there's more than comedy than sight gags, boobs, or sexual innuendo. Beneath the stale promotional art and grating opening theme are some genuinely funny characters (especially Sayo) and situations. I haven't laughed this much watching an anime comedy in a long time. Aside from the slow first episode and the somewhat half-hearted finale, I enjoyed this series from beginning to end. Even the animation is really nice at times. If you're a fan of comedies but are tired of high school comedy anime that are mainly talking head series, give Love Lab a try.
Stig: I've often stressed this before, but good comedy in anime is not always a given, so I've learned to appreciate it more when a show does this well. It also helps that the show is grounded enough to let the least cute of the girls be the one who actually has a boyfriend because she's actually funny AND relatively sensible, which lends some credence to the fact that guys do not go just for the cute ones when they could instead choose someone who's actually fun to be with. And when a comedy is funny, well...that's really the only thing I ask for.
It drags a bit at the end, but overall Love Lab is one of the funniest, quirkiest entries in the now well-tread high school girl comedy anime genre we've seen in a good while. Sayo herself is worth one of those stars. — Stig Høgset and Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Occasional innuendo (and the very rare fan service) aside, there's nothing too extreme to be found. Younger teens and up should be able to watch this just fine.
Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Love Lab © 2013 Ruri Miyahara / Houbunsha / Fujion'na Student Council
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