Animated by studio Xebec, and it’s probably the only above average show they ever managed to make.
Directed by some guy who did nothing but harems in his whole career and this is by far his best work.
Based on the manga of Akamatsu Ken, who prior to this had done a sci-fi romcom called A.I. Love You, which was not bad but surely felt standard. After Love Hina he made Mahou Sensei Negima, which was hardly as good. So in all, this is the best thing all three of the above categories of people ever managed to produce in their whole lives.
When I am to mention quality harem anime, very few exist as far as I care. This is one, Ah My Goddess is another, and if I stretch it Urusei Yatsura from the mid 80’s counts, even if it is closer to a slapstick comedy than a harem. Actually, Love Hina does take many pointers from Urusei Yatsura, albeit it is more mainstream than it. It is by no means an original show but it sure is the first one in its kind to reach an almost masterful level.
Love Hina was also made in a time when the genre was still rather young and it lasted long enough for the reader/viewer to get to know and like the characters. They had personality and goals, so they weren’t completely ridiculed by the bold (for its time anyways) fan service. This is what managed to create the perfect balance of good pacing and erotic humour, something of which 99% of similar shows never get it right.
Let’s dig into this balance by checking out the overall story. A man is trying to enter university while looking for the girl that promised to marry him as kids. He ends up in a place full of pretty chicks but he still strives to head forward as do the girls themselves. There is a main objective, as well as a side story for each girl, and as simplistic as they feel they are still enough to provide an ulterior motive for each one as they try to achieve it. Plus the ending of the main series may be open but if we are to include the various specials and OVAs that followed, by the end of it you feel like there is a sort of closure to all this. Not too secured or amazing but there definitely is one. And notice how it was never about sex, unlike most harems which begin with some lame excuse of a hentai premise that heads nowhere. The quality of the scripts varies from very good to very bad on various occasions but in overall Akamatsu did a fine job to balance the good times with the bad times and keeping you interested.
Then we have the depth of the characters. Each one begins as a typical stereotype but is colorized enough throughout the series to be deemed very interesting as far as romantic comedies go. The girls are not defined by some sexual fetish alone as they are given a demeanour as well as a backdrop, plus some unique quirks that are present and excused as the story goes on. By the end of the show you really feel each one of them is a character that can stand on its own and even starring in his or her own series. Of course that also has to do with it being amongst the first well made harem shows. If it was made today chances are it wouldn’t feel that special as the character archetypes have been recycled over and over to the point you get bored of them in a few episodes. It was amongst the first harems most of my generation watched and loved, without repetition having kicked in yet. Still, going by volume I still remember more scenes of them striving to achieve their goals and less of them doing silly ecchi stuff. That means a lot since I remember them clearly as personalities and not as softporn material. The series was also a full season with lots of extra OVAs so there was plenty of time to get to like them, unlike the half seasons we get today.
Not all of it is roses of course. One of the things I always disliked is the indecisive lead archetype. Keitaro is the father of the kind and he is lame as his descendants. I mean, ok, it is funny how he keeps bumping on naked girls and is beaten senselessly for it. That makes the situation funny but not the character. He is of course supposed to represent the comical archetype of the wimp male that is completely incapable to have a normal relationship and at the time the show was made he felt less lame. Otherwise, I hate the guy.
The production values are fine for such a show as there is a lot of vividness and bright colours to easily become eye catchy. The animation part suffers a lot as most motions are jerky but it is meant to be part of the comedy factor. And trust me when I say it is extreme as on each episode the craziest things happen in a most extreme form of slapstick humour. It always has to do with Keitaro getting his ass handed on a plate but he always gets back on his feet and does a form of comeback, because as they said at one point he has infinite hit points. There are huge quality fluctuations amongst the series and the following specials, which may feel bad for some, but I personally didn’t mind it much.
The best thing is by far the OST as the songs are very cheerful and well performed and even after all these years I still remember their tunes. Plus they are part of the story in a way, as the lead girl, Naru, plans to become a pop idol at some point.
By the end of the day Love Hina is the ideal for of a harem. It has a story that heads somewhere, even if it is simple and silly. It develops its characters by providing backdrop stories and different objectives for each one of them. It maintains their interest from the viewer without ever going overboard with the fan service and ridiculing them. And above all at no point it is trying to play out as a typical harem where the lead can’t decide which girl he wants. The chosen couple is secured early on and the rest are there mostly as teasing and fleshing out. Many times their almost hate-love relationship is tested by having Keitaro being surrounded by other women but all that don’t last much as he eventually returns back to his first option. Very bad for shipping wars but who cares, Love Hina managed to become memorable and successful without ever having to resort to such lame methods of attention.
That shows quality and brilliance, a sense of direction and respect for an otherwise archetypical cast that despite having been copied a million times since then, very few manages to get close to it. As far as I care only Ah My Goddess is its equal (although the damn thing doesn’t have a conclusion, unlike Love Hina). You get a sense of fulfilment from this show unlike most other similar ones, as it is very funny, as well as with fleshed out characters and a story that heads somewhere. What more should someone ask for in a harem? … Ok, I know, sex. There isn’t any but nobody’s perfect.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (wacky)
Character Figures 2/2 (memorable)
Backgrounds 2/2 (fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (silly but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 4/4 (great)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (erratic)
Complexity 1/2 (silly but at times it’s rather heavy)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 8/10
Presence 2/2 (funny/sexy)
Personality 2/2 (wacky)
Backdrop 2/2 (they all have some)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 9/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 2/3 (high if you are into the genre)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely well done to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 8/10
Art 1/1 (looks wacky)
Sound 2/2 (sounds fine)
Story 2/3 (loose but at least it heads somewhere)
Characters 3/4 (they are great as far as a harem cast goes; I still hate Keitaro)