Love Hina (2000)
Directed by Yoshiaki Iwasaki

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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As a child, Keitaro Urashima made a promise to a little girl that the two of them would go to Tokyo University together. Although the girl soon moved away and Keitaro forgot her name and face, he never forgot the promise he had made to her. Unfortunately, years later, having twice failed to pass the entrance exams to get into Tokyo University, his parents have begun pressuring him to change his plans. Unwilling to do so but unsure how he will be able to continue his studies, Keitaro leaves home. Soon after doing so, he lucks into a job as the resident manager of the Hinata Apartments, which are owned by his grandmother. Once he has moved into his new home, Keitaro meets the tenants of the sprawling, palatial complex, all of whom are young women, and begins to fall in love with one of them, Naru, who is also trying to get into Tokyo University.

Yoshiaki Iwasaki's twenty-five part animated television series Love Hina, though far from perfect, is, nonetheless, an entertaining, light-hearted program that is likely to engage the viewer and even make him laugh.

While there are narrative threads running through the whole of the series, each episode of Love Hina tells a largely independent story. Few of these are memorable, but most are enjoyable. Some episodes relate the various comic mishaps that befall Keitaro. Others develop romantic or personal themes, and still others present the viewer with often weird and outrageous adventures. In one episode, for example, the residents of the Hinata Apartments discover a forgotten underground civilization of turtles. In others, they fight magical battles as a part of a play, struggle against a mutated robotic turtle, discover that one of their number can magically transform from a young girl into a woman, and so on and so on. At first, such wildly exaggerated elements do jar with the series' more usual focus on misunderstandings, personal dramas, physical comedy, innocent sensuality, and the like, but they are usually given enough charm and energy that their ridiculous excesses are able to entertain the viewer.

There are, however, a number of times when certain elements present in the series can become irritating. While, for instance, Love Hina's tendency towards exaggeration is often fun, it is, at times, overwhelming. Moreover, some of the program's recurring jokes do get a little tiresome. Many of the female characters, especially Naru, are so violent towards Keitaro, and always so willing to assume that he is trying to spy on them or touch their bodies, that the viewer may feel sorry for the young protagonist and irritated with the women with whom he lives. Even though such details never ruin the series, they do, at times, detract from its enjoyableness.

Finally, I should add that the animation used in the program is appealing, although it is never particularly beautiful. The backgrounds are usually nicely realized and the character designs are attractive, especially those employed for young female characters. While it is unlikely that the viewer will ever be awed by any of the images presented to him in Love Hina, it is probable that the cute faces and frequently nubile figures of many of its protagonists will keep his attention from wandering. What is more, by repeatedly teasing the viewer with his characters' physical charms, and with hints that he could, at any moment, reveal far more of their bodies, the director has given the series a wonderfully naughty sensuality that consistently contributes to its appeal.

While it is hardly a masterpiece, Love Hina is an amusing, affecting, and occasionally funny program that is well worth watching. In fact, the series' frequent naughtiness, innocent sexuality, wild misunderstandings, and often touching depictions of its characters' shyness and lack of security are always appealing. Consequently, even if he is distracted by the program's flaws, the viewer is always drawn back into the lives of its characters.

Review by Keith Allen

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