It's a generally accepted rule that you mustn't judge a book by it's cover. Clearly whoever came up with such sage advice had never seen the opening credits of Love Hina. Indeed, if the bouncy, riotous and wholly carefree opening was any more indicative of the show's content, you could probably put it on a 20-minute loop and watch that instead of the episode it precedes. In so doing, however, you would deprive yourself of a surprisingly enjoyable experience.
Love Hina is a series with no delusions of grandeur. It recognises which genre it pertains to and never attempts to stray outside of it; only to excel within its boundaries. The result is something which is about as subtle as a spade to the face and yet every bit as effective when it comes to attracting the viewer's attention. The humour is loud and visual, the characters are simple and unambiguous, the plot is straightforward - in brief, this is hardly the thinking person's anime. Which is why it's so good.
The comedy serves as a wonderful example of how something can, in fact, be funny the umpteenth time. At least once per episode, Keitaro will - entirely by accident - touch a girl inappropriately or perhaps see someone in a state of undress. Then things will pause, allowing the realisation to dawn on him. Then he will be brutally assaulted by one or more of the female characters. What makes this amusing is not necessarily the sequence of events, but rather the constant stream of increasingly unlikely misfortunes that befall Keitaro to land him in these situations and the disproportionate, inconceivably painful results. Through its explicit recognition that "male falls face-first into breasts of female" is a hugely contrived situation, Love Hina is able to exaggerate it mercilessly. As a result, what would have been a stupid and even embarrassing element of the anime becomes a source of comedy.
In fact, most of the humour is equally self-aware and shows a flagrant disregard for the fourth wall. Many are the direct references to stock character archetypes, dating sims and other things which Love Hina's world and protagonists very clearly resemble. This doesn't just serve to generate laughter; it also absolves the show of any criticism it may have incurred for overuse of stereotypes or its formulaic nature. Again, this is a series that knows exactly what it is and is neither afraid nor ashamed to flaunt it.
As a result, it's a pleasant surprise when the hand that so relentlessly pounded on the fourth wall doles out moments that are genuinely touching. In spite of the plot being uncomplicated and frankly thin on the ground, the show contains a sprinkling of scenes which present simple, understated emotion and which belie the raucous energy that characterises the majority of the series. This juxtaposition alone renders the story satisfying, even though its conclusion is disappointingly incomplete, not quite reaching as far as the end of the manga. Whilst there are some episodes which do little to advance the story, there is sufficient magic and madness contained within each for the show to remain entertaining throughout.
In terms of animation, time seems to have been kind to Love Hina, and there are no tell-tale signs to indicate that this anime dates back to the beginning of the century. The character designs are sharp and distinctive, whilst a calculated sufficiency in detail means that nothing ever looks bad, just occasionally unambitious.
The series also makes use of cartoony animation to provide a lot of visual jokes. By way of example, Keitaro's face at one point becomes strangely elastic and Naru is able to stretch it over a couple of metres. Quirks like this are always unexpected and - in an impressive display of variety and creativity - never overused.
Love Hina's opening and ending themes could hardly be more different. In contrast to the irresistibly lively opening, the ending tune is a solemn but memorable ballad of longing. However, as a BGM, and with the addition of an electric guitar, it becomes a powerful theme of both sadness and triumph, bringing each emotion out in the appropriate scenes. At one point, the opening theme is also adapted for use within the show itself, with an a capella ensemble performance that can best be described as some sort of musical fanservice. The rest of the background music fits in with the generally jaunty atmosphere, although it can be a little intrusive in places.
The voicing is well done. Although there are very few moments of emotional complexity, those that do exist are handled successfully by the voice cast. One irritant worth picking out, however, is the sound effect which accompanies the childish Kaolla Su seemingly wherever she goes. Its overuse alone is bothersome, but it is also lost in the proverbial translation. Western ears will recognise it as a wolf whistle, which is wholly inappropriate for her character.
Whilst the characters generally lack depth, they make amends for this by oozing what personality they have at every given opportunity. There is seemingly no occasion which cannot bring their identity to the forefront - be it Kaolla Su smiling like an idiot during a rockslide or the protective Motoko carrying the smaller girls under her arms whilst fleeing danger. Indeed, although the characters are barely conflicted and mostly simple to read, it does not preclude the viewer from enjoying and sympathising with them.
It is also worth giving special mention to Keitaro here. Whilst most male leads in a harem anime are dry, obnoxious, or both, Keitaro is a sympathetic character, all the more admirable for his failings and his attempts to overcome them. He is bold enough to motor the love story yet sensitive enough to not deserve the punches to the face he so frequently receives.
Love Hina will not appeal to everyone. The same is true of any anime. What the show does, however, is recognise this truism and cater directly to the sort of audience who will enjoy a harem-based romance comedy. Resultantly, if you think you won't like this, then you're almost certainly right. But if a simple, energetic, and just occasionally stupid love comedy is what you're after, I couldn't recommend this highly enough. As a pioneer of its genre it's still one of the very best and resembles the product of years of trial and error, rather than an inspiration and originator for what has come since.
Keitaro Urashima is somewhat of a failure. In order to fulfill a promise he made to a girl fifteen years ago, he has tried time and again to get into Tokyo U but has never managed to pass the exam. However, fate smiles upon him and he ends up working for his aunt, managing an all-girls dorm! Living with the feral Kaolla, the timid Shinobu, the sake-loving Mitsune, the blade mistress Motoko and the punch-happy Naru, can Keitaro keep his focus and keep his promise? And will he ever end up meeting that girl from his past?
When it comes to anime, I tend to be a fan of comedy, shoujo, romance or anything else that will put a smile on my face. However, I'll review pretty much anything. Whether you like or dislike my reviews, I'm always glad to receive feedback, and I'm always happy to get into intelligent discussions.