Ken Akamatsu’s classic series finally gets reissued and should be a must see for anybody who missed it the first time around.
What They Say
Attempting to fulfill a promise to his childhood sweetheart, Keitaro Urashima is determined to enter Tokyo University. After being rejected twice, he decides to leave home and stay at his grandmother's apartment complex to study. But when he arrives, his grandmother is gone and he finds himself under attack by the all-female residents. Will the girls accept him as their new apartment manager? Will his bones ever mend? More importantly, can he concentrate on his studies when he discovers that one of his tenants might be his long-lost sweetheart?
Contains episodes 1-25.
For this viewing, I listened to the English 2.0 dub. The Japanese track is also available in 2.0. The tracks were nice and clear with no distortion or dropout. Directionality was a bit limited, but that is not a big deal considering much of the series centers on the dialogue. In particular, I really liked the music in this series. The soundtrack was a mix of light instrumentals that always worked with the situations being presented. It may not be the greatest soundtrack ever, but it fit well with the series.
For the most part, the video on this release was pretty good. There were no real technical flaws, which surprised me a bit since Funimation managed to cram all 25 episodes onto 4 discs. The masters were also free from blemishes; however, the colors seemed faded on this release, which I assume is aging on the part of the masters. Love Hina is a very colorful series, but that does not show too well here. I would not say that the colors are washed out, but they are a bit duller than I might have liked to see. Still, it is otherwise a good looking title, and after a while, I did not notice the lack of vividness as much. It is just a bit of a disappointment.
I like the packaging for this release. The 4 discs are in two double sided thinpaks with a sleeve to keep them in. The front of the box has a very nice image of the five female tenants of Hinata all wearing similar outfits set against a plain white background. The backside has a brief series summary with screen shots and some original art of the girls in the hot spring bath. The technical details are along the bottom. Interestingly, there are also “nude” shots of Naru and Mitsune on the interior of the box, though all the interesting bits are covered up.
The two thinpak cases have shots on the front and back of various characters in the series, with the disc numbers printed along the spine. The thinpaks are clear, allowing for the reverse side of the cover to show, which has more images of the characters along with episode lists. I suppose the covers could be reversible, though the reverse sides do not have any series markers. The discs have the same sort of images as the shots of Naru and Mitsune from inside the box, but this time with the other female characters. All in all, it is a fairly slick package. The composition is well done, and it fits the show well.
The menus on this release are pretty basic. The main menu has the same static shot that adorns the front cover of the sleeve, with the selections given to the right. The submenus reuse the “nude” images from the discs as their backgrounds. While the menus are up, the main series theme plays. The menus are simple in design, but they are easy to follow, and that is what is important.
Considering that Funimation got the whole series on four discs and managed to keep the transfer decent, I am not surprised that they scrimped on the extras. All the disc space went to the episodes. Still, there is very little here. Aside from some previews, the only extra is textless songs on the fourth disc. It was a little disappointing, and I would have almost been happier if they just jettisoned the extras all together. Still, if you like having textless versions of the songs, then this set gives them to you.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Love Hina is probably the best known work from Ken Akamatsu and is really good representation of the harem genre. It is a title that I was interested in seeing, but somehow managed to miss it the first time around with Bandai’s releases. So I was happy to see Funimation pick up the license a few years ago and finally put this collection out. Having now seen it, I am doubly glad.
For his entire life, Keitaro Urashima has dreamed of getting into Tokyo University. When he was a little boy, a girl he really liked moved away, and they made a promise that one day they would meet up again at Tokyo University and live happily ever after. Unfortunately for Keitaro, Tokyo University is not easy to get into, and he has failed his entrance exams two years in a row. To make matters worse, his parents are refusing to support him anymore and force him to go find work.
Enter help from his Grandmother. She calls him one day to ask him to visit, but when he arrives, he finds that she has gone out of town for a long vacation, leaving him the task of managing the apartment building she owns, Hinata Apartment. On the one hand, he is grateful to have a job; on the other, his grandmother failed to mention that Hinata is girls only, and the tenants are not exactly pleased to have a male as the building manager. When you throw in that the Apartment building has its own hot spring bath, misunderstandings are bound to happen.
Luckily for Keitaro, his Aunt Haruka owns a restaurant nearby and is well known to the residents, so she is able to sooth out any rumpled feelings; unfortunately for him, she misunderstands his situation and introduces him as a student of Tokyo U. Since his matriculation at Tokyo University is the only thing that gets the girls to accept him, he is forced to keep up the charade.
What follows is a fairly typical plotline for harem comedies, as Keitaro continually finds himself in awkward situations, causing everybody to think of him as a pervert, but yet he is loveable enough that everybody eventually accepts him as a vital part of their little community. The humor does get a little repetitive at times, and it is pretty standard for these types of shows, but I found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout. So in that sense, it worked.
But it is where the series deviates from the norms of the genre that makes it stand out from the crowd. The first area is that there is a pretty focused and consistent love interest throughout with Keitaro and Naru Narusegawa. Naru is the first tenant that Keitaro meets when she actually walks in on him taking a bath in the hot spring. She has a bit of a violent streak, and does not hesitate to take it out on Keitaro when she thinks he is acting perverted.
Naru is also the first to discover that Keitaro is actually in cram school when she overhears Keitaro explaining his situation with his aunt, but instead of blurting out his secret, she decides to help him out, and when she discovers they are actually in the same cram school and both studying to take the Tokyo University entrance exams, she also agrees to help him. This kick starts a chain reaction where Keitaro slowly begins to forget the promise he made as a kid and instead wants to get into Tokyo U. to be with Naru. He is pretty open with his feelings, but something always happens that keeps him from being able to confess. While some of the other females come to harbor feelings for Keitaro in one way or another, he never stops trying to get Naru’s attention, and they accept that in him.
I enjoyed this aspect because it was able to play on the standard jokes and situations of the harem genre, but it never really offered any ambiguity into what the ultimate “dream” scenario would be. The other girls are essentially sub-characters in the Keitaro/Naru love story. This is a nice change from the genre norm where a series may focus more on a certain couple of characters, but stop short from actually declaring what the best outcome is, deciding instead that the community is more important than any of its parts. Love Hina goes against that principle in openly declaring that if all goes well, Keitaro and Naru will be together.
The other part that I really liked is that story kept evolving and complicating the situation at Hinata. When the first episode ended, I fully expected Keitaro’s ruse of being a Tokyo U. student to carry the plot for at least the majority of the series, but the tenants instead quickly tumbled to his deception. The decision is made that rather than firing him outright, they would give him the chance to pass and earn the right to stay. This lasts for only a few episodes too. Then Keitaro finds out that Naru also made a promise to somebody that she would get into Tokyo University, and he jumped to the conclusion that she was the girl from his childhood, but that also does not take long debunk.
As I said, I fully expected the misunderstanding that he was actually in the prestigious school to be a focal point for a long time, and I loved the fact that it did not. Each time they added a new wrinkle, I kept thinking that was going to be it, in particular Keitaro’s misunderstanding of Naru’s promise, but they kept twisting it ever so slightly so that the story stayed fresh. It kept the characters on their toes and allowed them to grow a bit more than the genre typically allows. This in turn engaged me with the story more than I might have otherwise had, and it helped me to pretty much ignore the biggest flaw with the story: repetition.
Make no mistake, the humor in Love Hina is mostly based on Keitaro stumbling into some situation where he sees one of the girls naked, grabbing them in inappropriate areas, or other such issues, and Naru beating the hell out of him for it. There is little else, and the set-pieces quickly become predictable. Naru lives right above Keitaro, and there is a hole in her floor/his ceiling that connects the two that has been there for ages. Keitaro only has to pop his head through it one or two times to ask questions only to find Naru changing before one starts to wonder if he will ever learn not to do that, yet it seems that it happens at least once per episode. And do not get me started on how much the convenient hot spring bath is used for similar effect.
Still, everything else that the series does is so well done, that I did not mind this much. Somehow, I still found it funny every time it happened. In fact, it even seemed that the creators were aware of how much they were reusing material, because as the series went on, Keitaro even begins to look for the coming violence from Naru before she even has a chance to wind up. He tries apologizing to cut her off, but it never works. He even tries apologizing as an automatic reflex even when she is not around to chastise him. For the most part, the repetition just worked for me.
Love Hina was a lot of fun to watch. If you get any joy out of harem comedies, and have yet to see this one, then you should pick this up as fast as you can. The humor, while repetitive, is fast and furious, and the series makes some nice deviations from the standards of the harem genre. Even those who are not particularly big on these types of shows would probably find something to like in this one. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System