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Love Hina: volumes 1, 2, 3 | volume 4

Love Hina: volume six
cast: Yuji Ueda, Masayo Kurata, Yu Asakawa, and Yui Horie

directors: Yoshiaki Iwasaki, Shigeru Ueda

100 minutes (12) 2004
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Excluding the three specials, volume six is the last in the Love Hina series. It's also the first I have seen. Well... that's not entirely true. I first encountered this series in the form of a Flash online game. When I first played it, I thought it was a parody because it was the tale of a teenaged boy who was made the manager of an all-girl dorm (a bit like putting Jonathan King in charge of a kiddies' football team), as you went through the game cute teenaged girls would appear and start hitting you. Obviously I took it to be a sly western crack at the Japanese sense of humour. In truth, that game was a fairly faithful rendition of what my research tells me is a popular if divisive series of manga turned into anime. With hindsight, I think judging that game to be a parody was probably fair enough given that this series is completely and utterly potty.

This volume contains four episodes that centre exclusively on the love triangle featuring amiable, misunderstood nerd Keitaro, explosively violent cutie Naru and ditsy easy-going Mutsumi. The volume begins with Keitaro taking Naru out to dinner to celebrate his improved grades only for her to hysterically insist that it isn't a date. Given that Naru and Keitaro evidently aren't dating, Mutsumi steps in and asks him out only for the jealous Naru to break the date up. Matters are further complicated by the arrival of Mei, Naru's little sister who tries to convince Naru to return home by getting Keitaro and Mutsumi to fall for each other. Keitaro is now torn between his interest in both girls and his promise to attend Tokyo University with a little girl he met 15 years ago. The identity of the little girl isn't clear but Mutsumi also promised to attend University with a little boy she cannot remember. Initially this seems to resolve the mystery of the identity of Keitaro's little girl but in reality the situation is far more complicated, meaning that Keitaro has some difficult decisions to make.

Love Hina is unlike anything produced in the west. Most notable are its drastic and jarring changes in tone. One minute it's a coming-of-age romantic drama with the characters quietly introspecting and wondering about their true feelings and the next it's a bizarre slapstick comedy where Keitaro falls into a pool of naked girls and gets catapulted over the horizon by Naru's explosively violent temper. It's like having the plot of Ally McBeal described to you by a gibbering and jawing cokehead. It's utterly strange but surprisingly enjoyable.

Artistically the programme is really top notch. The art, while never scaling the anime heights of Akira, Ghost In The Shell or Steamboy, is better than a lot of the anime I have seen and it's directed with a real visual flair. The romantic and slapstick components are so well put together that when they switch from one to the other it is never jarring and if it is it's only to underline the comic effect.

The series is also excellent musically, boasting the single catchiest and up-beat theme song of any TV programme I have ever seen. But despite the kinetic J-pop of the title sequence the end credits are more sedate and the scoring is excellent throughout.

The voice acting is also refreshingly good. There are a few bizarre choices such as the Texan accent of one of the residents and the dialogue is characteristically Japanese in its overly expositional good humoured clunky-ness but, considering the kind of resources that probably went into the dub and translation, it wouldn't be fair to expect Spirited Away and it's better performed and written than a lot of native English language stuff.

The plotlines are sentimental but largely well handled even if the characters always seem to understand things 10 minutes after the audience has. There are a few clunkers though such as the fact that Naru's favourite childhood toy has Mutsumi's name written on it in big red letters but Naru had never noticed this before. Also, it's not really clear to me why, if three people are all trying to get into the same university and they could all theoretically get places that only two of those people can 'go together'. This might well be a question of cultural differences (like the bizarre idea of studying at a heated table... conjuring up images of students sitting round a hotplate) but it's the main plot dilemma and frankly I can't see any reason for it. But these are relatively minor questions and I might just be being uncharitable by drawing your attention to them. However, if I really had to find bad things to say about this product I'd point out that for a TV series DVD you're really not getting very much for your money. You only get four short episodes and the extras are rather stingy too. The plot also moves quite slowly; the love triangle is set up in the first episode and played out in the final episode and the two episodes in the middle kind of just tread water, dealing with the issue of Naru's younger sister. But frankly these concerns are unlikely to prevent anyone from buying this DVD.

Despite being easily accessible to new arrivals, there are 20 episodes that come before these four and you've likely made-up your mind about this series already. You either love the wackiness or you hate the simplistic sentimentality. If you haven't made up your mind yet then I warmly recommend checking Love Hina. The sentimentality of the plotlines are made palatable by the sheer visual flair and energy of the slapstick moments and the plot-holes are easily forgiven because of the sheer weirdness of mad scientist Japanese schoolgirls and sword-wielding female samurai. The two extremes of this programme are incredibly well balanced resulting in a series that doesn't seem overly sentimental or self-consciously zany despite clearly being both. This is so utterly unlike anything on TV over here that you can't help feeling that this is exactly what anime watching should be all about.

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