I happen to have a passion for history, and especially history as expressed by fiction. One of the things which I enjoy the most is reading a classic book and through it obtaining both a contemporaneous account of what it was like to live during that time, and also an insight into how and why this particular influential book or author may have affected fiction as we know it today. I mention this as it was a major factor in me choosing to watch Love Hina to start with.
Love Hina is an anime which is historically interesting in two ways. It was the first anime to get a digital fansub; prior to that, English subs were only done via tapes, and you had to know someone who had the tapes and make a copy in order to watch it yourself, meaning that it was more widely accessible than subtitled anime of the past (there were of course some official dubbed videos which were released, in addition to things which were localised and aired on television such as Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura (Cardcaptors) and so on). It was also a manga/anime which influenced many of the tropes and and stereotypes of the modern harem comedy. I thought that as I enjoy reading books of historical interest, that I would also enjoy watching this show.
That was a mistake.
I found that this show was exceedingly difficult to watch, and I ended up watching a few episodes at a time over a period of several years (my MAL tells me I watched the first episode in 2012, I had no idea that it was that long, although it doesn’t surprise me). I haven’t minded reading slow-paced and hard to read books such as War and Peace and Les Miserables and have felt as though the reading was worthwhile and the book gained momentum as I went along, but this slow-paced anime unfortunately didn’t increase in enjoyment as I proceeded. The only reason that I finished the show is because I dislike leaving shows unfinished unless I only watch a couple of episodes and decide it’s not for me.
The basic plot involves Urashima Keitaro, a young man who is a ‘ronin’ (someone who failed their university entrance exams so is taking time to study in the hopes of being accepted next year), who owing to certain circumstances is asked to manage the all-girls accommodation which is owned by his family. Keitaro is determined to get into Tokyo University despite having failed his entrance exams twice owing to a promise he made to a girl when he was a young child. He doesn’t clearly remember the girl but the promise is very important to him. The series focuses on Keitaro and his interactions with the girls in the house, as well as getting to know some of the pasts of the characters. There’s romantic and also some supernatural elements in the story.
The show is very much outside of my genre interests. I don’t usually care for shows focused around romance in general, and particularly romantic comedies. I find that many of the situations feel very contrived, and that the difficulties could be readily resolved if people utilised a reasonable, adult approach and actually spoke to one another about what was concerning them, instead of becoming convinced that they need to stay silent for some reason. Love Hina had these sort of silly romantic comedy complications, combined with some slapstick and some fan service. I probably wasn’t the right person to watch this show. People as a whole have very divergent interests, and I know there are people out there who have really enjoyed this show. I was not one of them.
I would also have loved an explanation or some guidelines behind the supernatural features of the show. The characters seem to take this very much for granted, but their world seems to be otherwise quite normal, and there were no reasons given behind the supernatural events. Magic in worlds, even otherwise everyday worlds can give an interesting aspect to a story, but I like to see a bit of explanation about how this world differs from our own, and Love Hina was lacking in this regard.
I’ve heard that the show differs somewhat from the manga, and contains some unique characters and filler material, but I don’t have any personal experience with the manga and I wouldn’t consider this show to be a resounding recommendation for me reading it.
Regarding the characters, I didn’t find Keitaro a particularly appealing protagonist, and I couldn’t see any reason that all the girls who lived in the accommodation would be romantically attracted to him to some extent aside from the fact that they were in close proximity to him on a daily basis (while I think that proximity can definitely be a big factor in forming romantic attractions, I think that even school-aged people would have some other considerations such as character, personality, and looks). The only facet of his character which stood out to me was his persistence; continuing to attempt to achieve his goal despite major setbacks. I wasn’t even sure if this was positive or negative, but it was certainly notable. I suppose the point of this genre is that the protagonist is supposed to be nothing special because it’s meant to be easy to imagine yourself in their situation, but to me it didn’t help the story.
The girls also didn’t stand out to me, feeling more as though they were a ‘archetype’ than an individual. This is by all accounts pretty common for this type of show, but it was hard to feel attached to the characters or care about their successes and failures. The characters who I liked the most were probably the mysterious old men who lived around the town, and I think that was because we didn’t spend too much time with them and they only appeared for comedic effect.
The character and background designs seem to be pretty typical of that time period. It’s easy to tell all the characters apart and the animation and visuals seem to be fine, although there wasn’t anything that especially grabbed my attention as being very good or very bad.
I did find that there were some comedy moments which were genuinely funny. The show has a certain light-hearted abandon which occasionally produces some very enjoyable results. Unfortunately a lot of the comedy was based around fan-service elements, which I don’t enjoy both because I tend to find them utterly unnecessary from a storytelling perspective, and also because like general romantic comedy situations, they feel exceedingly contrived. In real life, people don’t tend to trip and fall face-first onto another person, or tend to accidentally walk in on someone in the bath/shower. It was just as hard to watch Keitaro get beaten up by the girls for his mistakes. I realise that fiction doesn’t have to adhere entirely to reality, but I find things which are played as being in a realistic setting which are in fact unrealistic quite jarring.
I did enjoy the soundtrack, which I think contributed to the pacing and comedic timing of the show. There were no stand-out instrumental numbers, but the sounds didn’t feel lacking or like they detracted from the story. The opening track is also very catchy.
I could definitely see how some of the events and characterisations of this show have affected modern anime. I’ve not seen things which are just harem comedies, but I have definitely seen shows with some harem elements and/or some comedy elements based around fan-service which seem similar to those in Love Hina.
Overall, I would not recommend this series to anyone else, unless you are really dying to get some historical context for anime. The pacing and the characterisation made this show a real struggle for me to watch, and while obtaining some context was interesting, there are so many other anime out there which have given me far greater enjoyment. I’m not sure about watching other shows purely for historical purposes now, although I may change my mind. Perhaps if you appreciate this genre of show more, it would be easier and more enjoyable to watch Love Hina, but based on my experiences, I definitely think this is worth a miss.
I would genuinely like to hear from people who enjoyed the series, as I know that there are plenty of people out there who really like it. Would it have been better if I’d watched it at the time, are there important aspects that I’d missed? What made the series shine for you?