Love Hina TV
Love Hina is one of the hottest properties in the US right now after a successful broadcast run in Japan in 2000. Followed up by two specials, a three-OVA sequel, and a special "lost" 25th episode, this show has become quite a sensation. Its cast is the definition of kawaii, or cute, for thousands of fans. It's got romance, adventure, slapstick, and great animation for a TV show. So why am I not all that impressed? It's because Love Hina shamelessly apes virtually every good romantic and screwball comedy made in the last twenty years. There is almost no originality to the piece whatsoever. Is it fun? Sure it is, and in its best moments, Love Hina evokes the ghosts of classics gone by. Too bad that it only reminds us of better shows than really adding to the genre. New anime fans will likely love it, but those of us who have seen a lot of anime will have a head full of deja vu.
Keitaro Urashima has been following a dream for close to twenty years. Back when he was a young child, his best friend and playmate moved away, but not before she promised to meet her soulmate at Tokyo University one day. As the show starts, Keitaro's a ronin, having failed the insanely difficult entrance exams and trying desperately to study hard enough to pass on his second (or third, or fourth) try. Trying to find a local place to stay, he goes to his grandmother's lodge, the Hinata Inn, only to find out in a most...um..."revealing" fashion that it's been turned into an all-girls dormitory.
All the girls start pummeling him, particularly Naru Narusegawa, a senior just about ready to try the Tokyo U exams herself. As fortune would have it, Keitaro's grandmother leaves town and makes Keitaro into the inn's manager. The girls are aghast, but none of them decides to leave. As the show continues, we see Keitaro and Naru start to grow closer, despite her insistence that he is a lecherous lout with no redeeming qualities and his predilection for getting into misunderstandings that reinforce her point of view. Add two cups of sugar, a half cup of spice, and a quart of rum, and you have Love Hina.
It's no wonder why this is a runaway hit. This generation has not had a single solid romantic comedy, and Love Hina is it. The classic love triangle and harem shows--Maison Ikkoku, Kimagure Orange Road, Macross, Tenchi Muyo in its OVA form, even Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2--are the shows of a generation or two ago. There are arguable contenders to Love Hina, but none that keeps the formula alive in so readily agreeable a form. With charming characters that are cute enough to hug, enough hijinks to keep an audience roaring, and a romantic story that's there just enough to keep us returning for another episode, for anybody who hasn't seen any of the above-mentioned shows, Love Hina is a keeper.
The problem exists for those of us who've been around long enough to find this show a retread, and an awkward one at that. The show blatantly steals from other shows. The bunch of wacky people at a boarding house was done better in Maison Ikkoku. The heroine with an attitude and skinny/overweight annoying best friends showed up in KOR. Launching the hero into orbit twice a show appeared first in UY. Tenchi Muyo cemented the harem concept of a billion girls after the same guy. The mild fan service found in Love Hina has been done in a thousand different anime. I can't find a shred of original concept in any frame of this show, except perhaps in the whole bizarre infatuation the show has with turtles. [That one, I admit, is a little different.]
Love Hina has two other serious problems that might bug new viewers who aren't familiar with the romantic shows of a decade or two ago. The first is its filler. Love Hina would have made a great 13 episode series, but it's a bit stretched to fill 24 episodes. The show shouldn't have to repeat itself, but it does. In no less than two episodes, cast members are either possessed or under the control of supernatural forces. Again, two episodes revolve around having to make enough money to keep things afloat. And then there are the episodes revolving around Su Kaolla, the tan-skinned refuge from another country (or another planet, which is the more likely possibility). These episodes stretch all logic to the breaking point; they are meant to be goofy, but don't fit into the show's normal feel. Love Hina works best when it is set in the real world, dealing with real problems and real relationships. When it strays, as it does often, it feels forced.
Then there's the ultimate problem: the love triangle. [Some might consider the rest of this paragraph spoiler material, so if you haven't seen it, consider skipping it.] Love Hina breaks the cardinal rule of relationship drama, that rule that the third wheel cannot be a compelling mate for the male protagonist. Otohime, Naru's rival for Keitaro, is a sweet girl who genuinely likes Keitaro for himself. Naru blasts Keitaro at every opportunity, pounding him at least once an episode. Frankly, she isn't worthy of such a genuinely kind and gracious individual. Otohime is. We're not supposed to root for her, I know, but I couldn't help it. I knew how things would end, but I wasn't pleased by it. The real surprise would have been for Keitaro to wind up with Otohime, but as I've detailed before, courage and originality is not in Love Hina's bag of tricks.
It's hard to make a judgment call about Love Hina for all of my readers, since they come from widely divergent backgrounds. I'm going to have to go with a B- overall to be fair. Add a letter grade if you don't recognize any of the shows I mentioned above, and subtract about half a letter grade if you've been around a while, seen a lot of anime, and are looking for something vaguely unique. I'd also recommend seeing it an episode or two at a time with a large group of people, if possible. The distance between episodes and audience reaction will help dispel my problems with the series.
From sales figures, Love Hina is an unqualified success, so my mild dismissal of it shouldn't hurt anybody. I am probably being too harsh because I certainly didn't hate it by any stretch. How could you not laugh at a giant mechanized turtle attack scored with "Night on Bald Mountain"? However, with absolutely great romantic comedies also sitting out on the sales shelves waiting to be seen, I have to recommend the "old and great" rather than the "new and surprisingly not at all different."
Love Hina TV -- general lechery, mock violence -- B-