Review: Love Hina (2002)

Directed by:

Distributed in Australia by:

Cute alert! Warning! Super-deformed antics ahead! Romantic comedy anime slapstick! Geeky boy and babe girls! Bath scenes, chase scenes, punch-ups and make-ups. Teen angst and happy endings.

If you’re at all familiar with this particular genre of anime, then you’ll already know what to expect. If you’re not familiar, be prepared for some craziness. In the tradition of Ranma ½ or Ah! Megamisama (Oh! My Godess), Love Hina is one of those series that follow a well-mapped formula, which is to say it might seem like old hat to some but it still works. You can’t help but laugh, even if it is ridiculous that one punch can send our aforementioned geeky hero flying into a low earth orbit; even if the situations said hero, one Keitaro Urashima, gets into are almost so silly as to be straining believable.

So laughs are fine, and if you dig this kind of thing then it doesn’t disappoint in that department. But if it’s not really your thing, don’t get ready to quite write it off as brain-candy just yet. It has been said of this series that it has all the trademarks of your ‘typical fanboy’ series, and while this is certainly true there is something else just a little more to it. You see, Love Hina has one thing going for it that elevates it to a level more common with acclaimed romantic series like His and Her Circumstances (Kareshi Kanojo No Jijyo or Kare Kano for short), and that is the fact that it has heart.

Oh not just the ‘I’m such a loser; I wish I had a girlfriend’ kind of heart, even if they practically are the first words that Keitaro utters that can be accorded any kind of realism. No, that’s just too easy and some of the themes that Love Hina plays with in the first volume are in actual fact treading some impressively sensitive ground, despite the overall comic environment. Even in the first opening minutes of Episode One, All-girls Dorm with Outdoor Bath: Hot Spring, it becomes obvious that one of the dominant ideas of this series is a subtle teen-age examination of truth and desire, and when I say truth, I mean emotional truth. When I say desire, I mean that of the soul, not necessarily of the heart or even the body. What Love Hina is most about, it seems, is the control over one’s own life, about finding true direction in a world that imposes so many impersonal, meaningless expectations that happiness seems indeed as far away as an impossible dream.

In the set up of the first episode it is quite plain that Keitaro’s world is divided into reality and fantasy, a fantasy that he constructs for himself not as a means of escape, but as a means of emotional fulfilment, out of the desire to manifest what will make him most happy. His search for his childhood sweetheart, a focal point for this desire, is almost directly offset by the reality that he is struggling to fulfil the promise he made, to get into the elite Tokyo University.

And this is where Love Hina starts to approach your above-average teenage show, because life seems to be trying to teach Keitaro that fulfilling a dream only really works if you understand what matters, what’s real, in the truest sense of the word. In desperation, he makes a pilgrimage back to his youth, to his point of origin and finds himself unexpectedly recruited as manager of Hinata Sou in place of his grandmother (who seems incidentally to have gone off in search of her own dreams). It’s a touching moment when he realises he is running the path that he used to take home as a boy, but it’s not a reiteration of his inability to grow up. Rather it is a revelation that he stands on the brink of maturity and a signpost by which we can measure his journey to come.

If not for Kietaro’s penchant for accidentally screwing up, mainly when it comes to the privacy of the lovely female residents of the dorm, and the constant comedy relief it makes for, such a journey into manhood might have seen this series more KareKano than Ranma ½. As it is it balances comfortably between the two worlds, and while it is obvious that it has no intention of tumbling headlong into romantic drama in favour of romantic comedy it is the true depth of Keitaro’s character that really drives this show, what makes it worth a lot more time than it might initially seem to demand.

Even while Keitaro is ultimately the hero, no matter how much of a loser he thinks he is, it has to be mentioned that character depth has not been neglected in the supporting cast, the women of Hinata Sou. From the is-she-or-isn’t-she-Keitaro’s-long-lost-sweetheart Naru, to the jaded, suspiciously knowing Aunt Haruka, each of the female characters are well drawn (ehem…that’s in the figurative meaning of the word…). Indeed, not just pretty faces, no matter how much one might like to think so.

Speaking of drawn in the literal sense, it has to be mentioned that Love Hina’s animated style is more suited to shoujo anime than then the shounen origins it actually harks from, which really only reinforces its emotive qualities (something that is a major feature of the shoujo genre aimed at the female market). And in fact if it wasn’t for the frequency of bath scenes, that’s exactly what I would have picked this series for. Not necessarily a bad thing, when you think about it. After all it could be argued that it really does have something for everyone.

The real joy of Love Hina isn’t then that it has the potential to appeal so widely, but that it has the emotional power to take what might have been too light and give it true depth. Yes it’s still everything it appears to be on the surface but whether or not you’re only there for the pretty girls, the hot baths and the slapstick chase scenes, you will find this series touching a chord just a little deeper than that. You’ll find yourself caring not about whether Keitaro, good-hearted loser that he is, finds the girlfriend of his dreams, but whether or not he finds himself. And that in the end may be all that really matters.

7 Mysterious Old Guys Who Hang Around Helping Out th out of 10.
Bookmark the permalink.