Love Hina Volume 1 review
Love This Show
Based upon the manga series by Ken Akamatsu, Love Hina's basic premise sounds like any man's dream. Keitaro, having failed his Tokyo University entrance exams, is handed the role of manager of an all female dorm while he studies for the next exam. Shortly into the first episode it soon becomes apparent that the dream is not what any expected - least of all Keitaro! Life becomes a whirlwind of exam studies and physical abuse as a result of his purely bad timing. Love Hina is one part romance three parts comedy, and it's a mix that works very well.
Compared to the manga there are some rather significant differences in the story that may surprise those famaliar with it. An example would be Shinobu, who is actually a resident of the Hinata apartments before Keitaro arrives, as opposed to the anime where she isn't. The manga does feel a little better put together as well in terms of pacing and set pieces, but the anime works well as an alternative portrayal of those events, so it feels worthwhile even if you've already gone through the manga.
Volume 1 is naturally the introduction disc, which aims to set the scene for the series and to show us the main (and some of the secondary) characters that will be gracing your DVD player over the course of the series and specials.
Keitaro is the male lead, and really the only guy to get any significant screen time. At this point in time he really serves as the show's punchline - often quite literally as he is subject to physical violence at the hands of some of the residents of the Hinata Apartments due to some bad luck making him look like a pervert. This is generally where the comedy aspect comes in, and it works quite well despite the whole slapstick nature of it. It is very amusing watching the interactions between him and the girls, as the viewer ponders just how he will mess up the next situation.
There is a deeper side to Keitaro, although it is not fully explored in this disc as he more serves his role working the comedy angle. What we do get in this volume is the lingering memory of a promise made many years ago to a girl he no longer knows, which helps explain his unusual drive for trying to get into Tokyo University despite failing already. He's also a very kind hearted person, demonstrated several times as he endeavors to help others. Episode 2 seems almost dedicated to showing this, as it is his interference that allows Shinobu to come to terms with her own circumstances.
In episode one we come across the four initial residents of the apartments. Naru is the lead female and usually is the one to serve up punches to Keitaro whenever she suspects him of perverted behaviour. The tension between Naru and Keitaro is really what gets the show rolling, and the pair manage some amusing scenes together. The scene where Keitaro makes use of the outdoor bath unaware that the place is for girls only goes into overdrive when Naru comes in and realises that her new bathing partner isn't female. Despite her quick to anger attitude Naru is equally a caring person, and even works to help Keitaro study for the exams (when she's not punching him into orbit) as she also intends to get into Tokyo university.
It's not just these two that provide the entertainment, as the other girls manage their own interactions that brings the whole thing together. Kitsune the sly one, eager to get rich quick and is rather laid back in life. Motoko, the swordfighter who refuses to accept a man as the manager of their dorm, but despite her stoic demeanor she can be somewhat clumsy and indecisive. Kaolla is hyperactive even by this show's standards and tends to infuse her scenes with such energy. Then there is Shinobu, who's shyness and hard working nature makes her such a likeable character.
Each of these girls possess their own aspirations and lifestyles, which gives the apartments such a lively feeling. It is genuinely interesting to watch them tackle life's problems, in addition to Keitaro's own mishaps.
The key defining factor that allows the whole show to meld together so well is the sheer hyperactivity of it. Sequences tend to be filled with energy, with misunderstandings resulting in chases and amusing fight scenes causing all sorts of chaos. The way the cast of characters chooses to tackle issues is also decidedly off-the-wall and entertaining to see. Needless to say this disc garnered quite a few laughs from myself as I watched it all.
This aspect is represented pretty well by the music. The opening theme is so manic that I really couldn't imagine any other music style working so well. It would seem quite different to keep up with the words even if I knew Japanese but there is so much spirit behind the singing that I can't help but enjoy it. Oddly, the ending theme takes a much slower tone. It works alright as a way to wind down ready for the next episode but it is not as interesting as the opener.
The inshow music used doesn't quite strike a chord as well as that. The tracks used are nice, fitting in well and do help compliment the action. It's more that they aren't really that memorable. Compared to some other anime backing music like Torukia (GITS:SAC) or Make no Chikara (Chrono Crusade) then Love Hina's seems to lack that special punch. Not bad but could be better.
The voice acting is done very well. Of special note is that of the lead roles voiced by David Umansky (Keitaro) and Dorothy Melendrez (Naru). David's work is the perfect portrayal of a whiny dreamer, and the pitch his voice hits whenever Keitaro lands himself in an awkward troublesome position is spot on. Naru's fiery personality is handled superbly by Dorothy, with changes between anger and calmness done with style. The rest of the voice cast are generally done well too, and voice synching to lip movements is good. The accent for Kitsune is perhaps layered on a little too strongly though.
The visual flair of the series works very nicely too. The most obvious thing to hit home is the vibrancy of the work. Love Hina is very bold and eye catching with its colour usage, so that helps it to be pleasing to the eye. The quality of the artwork used is also excellent. There is a lot of attention to detail to flesh out various parts of every scene, whether it is the characters themselves with the intricate work or the beautifully realised locations that look and feel very much alive.
In fact, the character designs alone deserve special mention. Even without the high quality of the drawings I appreciate the talented transition of the manga drawings into moving screen characters. The animation is superb and helps to form a wealth of people that the viewer will come to like. Emotion comes across well via the actions and expressions from each person. In addition to helping develop the characters it also works to enhance the comical side of things.
The menu design has had some serious work put into it, and the result is worth it. After a brief intro featuring a camera pan over the box artwork we get a sideshow of sorts running in a window with images taken from the episodes. The menu options are laid out in a horizontal fashion with a flashing dot showing the current selection, while the whole setup is vibrant and easy to navigate. You even get the show's opening theme pumping out on the main menu too. Sub menus don't have the exact same flair but they do have the same boldness and clarity as the main menu does.
For those looking for extras and features then Love Hina has some decent stuff. The disc offers both English and Japanese audio, as well as subtitles for either everything or just for written Japanese plus the opening and ending songs (which alternates between English and Romanized Japanese song lyrics for each episode).
In addition you have such wonderful extras like the photo gallery. This disc features Keitaro and Naru in this, where you get some background information and a few stills from the show for each one. Keitaro's sketchbook let's you browse the drawings from his diary (though sadly not the one's in his actual sketchbook). Then we have the usual trailers in here and the DVD credits.
The packaging is great. Volume one's frontcover is emblazoned by a large clear image of Naru and Keitaro in a very cheery setting and pose. The back side features smaller images of all the main characters of the disc, as well as a few images showing the important past event that drives Keitaro forward. The use of colours is just as bold as in the anime itself, making it quite the eye-catching product when sitting on the shelf awaiting the next consumer.
Love Hina volume 1 is a very strong start to the series. It's certainly got a high tempo way of driving the show forward, but that only works to enhance the appeal. By managing to mix a deep background story with expert humour and a likeable cast Love Hina is definitely one to keep the viewer entertained and well worth the investment.
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