~by Ken Akamatsu
A few years ago I read about half of Ken Akamatsu's manga series Love Hina, but for some reason never finished it. At the time, Tokyopop had published the fourteen volumes between 2002 and 2003; Love Hina was a very successful series for the company. Love Hina was also successful in its native Japan. Serialized between 1998 and 2001, Love Hina went on to inspire anime, light novel, and even video game adaptations. In 2001, Love Hina also won the Kodansha Manga Award for the shōnen category. Love Hina was selected for the September 2011 Manga Moveable Feast, although for various reasons we held it in October, to coincide with Kodansha Comics new English release of the series. Kodansha was even kind enough to send out review copies of the new omnibus edition, collecting the first three volumes of the series, to some of the participants. I figured it was a good opportunity to give the series another try.
Keitaro Urashima is a second year rōnin. He has applied to the prestigious Tokyo University twice and failed entry both times. It's really not that surprising though if you take a look at his atrocious test scores. Regardless, he is determined to make it in because of a promise he made to a childhood friend (a girl) who he hasn't seen or heard from in fifteen years. Unfortunately, Keitaro's parents are fed up with the situation and have kicked him out of the house. And so he hopes his grandmother will let him stay at her inn. What he doesn't know is that Hinata Inn has been turned into an all-female dormitory. Finding his grandmother away and himself suddenly the manager of the property, Keitaro has a lot more to worry about than just his entrance exams. The poor guy has very little experience with women, and the residents of Hinata Inn are not going to make it easy on him.
Much of the humor in Love Hina involves Keitaro unintentionally stumbling upon the girls in various stages of dress or undress and subsequently being declared a pervert and getting pummeled by them for it. I'll admit that I find this rather amusing, but it does get somewhat repetitive, something that even the characters notice. The resulting fanservice caused by these incidents tend to be fairly mild, more imagined than shown, although there are still plenty of panty shots and the like to be found. I'm actually not all that bothered by the fanservice in Love Hina because it serves a legitimate purpose to the story--there are narrative reasons for it to be there. But much like the repeated gags to which it is so closely tied, the fanservice, too, becomes fairly monotonous over time.
While I don't actively dislike Love Hina, I'm not finding myself particularly engaged by it, either. I'm not really sure why, because there are parts I really like. I appreciate the fact that all the young women living at Hinata Inn have distinct personalities that are, for the most part, independent from Keitaro. It is fairly clear from their interactions with one another that the household has an established rapport and that Keitaro has simply been added to the mix. Unfortunately, once the characters have been fully introduced, there isn't much further development in these early volumes. At this point, I also feel that the narrative flow is somewhat disjointed. Love Hina isn't exactly an episodic series, but some of the transitions between chapters, or lack thereof, can be jarring. Still, there are some genuinely funny moments in Love Hina amongst the silliness and I'm glad that I gave the series another look.