After overmuch delay, I watched the classic Love Hina. Released in 2000, and based on a manga, it boasts romance, humor, and a harem. Harem? I’m there! More than once, I have read the mandarins over at bigger anime sites advise their audiences to skip Love Hina, and they’re often wrong. As one of those shows longtime fans seem to have almost all seen an infinitely long time ago, and can’t stop talking or thinking about (even if they wanted to), I was drawn to watch it too, and not be left out.
Minus the promise of several females courting one male, I didn’t know what it was about. The first episode‘s pacing was way too fast, but I still made out that protagonist Keitaro Urashima had tried and failed, twice, to get into Todai (Tokyo University, a real university reputed to be the best in Japan). He is trying to fulfill a childhood promise, made with a girl as they played in a sandbox, to attend the school together as lovers. Upon Keitaro‘s second failure, he returns to live with his grandmother at Hinata House, a hotel she runs. But after the first of many, many mistakes of the “accidental pervert” type, he learns Hinata House is now a girls-only apartment complex! But it needs a new manager, so despite his sex he becomes the manager, initially presenting himself as a current Tokyu U. student as he furtively prepares to tackle the entrance exams a third time.
But don’t get excited! Here, eligible women closing in equals pain. Love Hina is filled with slapstick violence! The foremost of the Hina residents, Naru Narusegawa, also studying to get into Tokyo University (and possibly the girl from the all-important childhood promise), is positively brutal whenever Keitaro accidentally views her (or, tellingly, another resident) in a state or undress, or commits a comparable act of unintended perversion. She sends him flying out the window many times. And yet, it isn’t long before feelings begin to develop between the two...? This may be the destiny, but since her assaults don’t let up, and she never accepts that Keitaro is but the habitual victim of circumstance, the romance feels contrived. For every tender word, expect two fists. It quickly grows tiresome.
And the harem? The girls plain rather than voluptuous. Misandric kendo master Motoko, and mature and flirtatious Kitsune, have tall body types similar to Naru’s but with smaller chests, and their personalities have upsides. Petite middle schooler Shinobu is something of a fan favorite, though I prefer Kaolla, I found hyperactive, monkeyish Kaolla, a dark-skinned transfer student from a fictional Pacific island nation, very endearing. Yes, there are two lolis. More girls enter Keitaro’s orbit later, one more buxom, though I won’t spoil. The above is as explicit as it gets, even in the OVA, so the fanservice is mild and tame, very tame. And this with an onsen on the property!
The zaniness reminded me a lot of Excel Saga and School Rumble. The most preposterous things are always happening, and the outlandish things often work best. Excluding the excellent Christmas and Spring specials, the romance is rarely taken seriously and marred by cartoonish violence. But where love fails, flying turtle Tama succeeds! Strangely, there is even a mythic element special to the anime version, where elders in pink robes often mill about the streets near Hinata House, speaking cryptically of dreams. There is a really intriguing scene where, in confronting a mysterious character, they see the outline of a B-52 in the sky and become alarmed. A flashback from wartime childhoods? While strictly just an add-on, their questioning of aspirations and connection with days far removed from the present tranquility makes them seem like a chthonic force, something permanent connected to the soul of the land.
There were some highlights, and some characters with rarely a dull moment on screen, but Love Hina seems like a series from a time when the quality and frequency of harem anime was not as great. Naru and others are particularly hard to like. It has been said the protagonist in harem anime is supposed to be a viewer-insert. If so, prepare for a beating! The plot is also flawed. I am a fan of “childhood friend” anime, but Keitaro can’t remember who the girl he promised to go to Todai with was! Was it really so important? Plus, after two years, one would normally assume she‘d be at least halfway done with higher education. In real life, I think even the most devoted two-time flunkers would assume they‘d missed the boat and move on.