Stew’s Reviews: Love Hina
It’s M8nga Week, edition three! I haven’t forgotten yet, which is mildly surprising to me. I usually have the attention span of… something that wouldn’t remember to do something three times in a row, that’s for sure.
That said, I really need to get more manga if I’m going to keep this up! I have several more weeks available to me in books I own either own physically and have read a fair bit or books I own digitally that would be new to me, but… eh, I guess if I’m doing these once out of every ten, that’s still a long ways off of becoming a problem. Nevermind, don’t mind me. Just fretting for no reason.
TITLE: Love Hina
Writer and Artist: Ken Akamatsu
Protagonists: Keitaro, Naru, Shinobu, Motoko, Kaolla, Mitsumi, Kitsune
Antagonists: Eh, no one. Keitaro himself?
This was actually the first manga series I ever read. In my college days, I was working at a bookstore in the airport, and we had a small rack of manga right next to the register. Something about Love Hina caught me eye.
If only I could remember why I chose this book to read when I was a young man in my very early 20’s.
Ah well… I suppose it is a mystery lost to time and my aging mind.
Love Hina is what I would come to find out is classified more-or-less as a “harem manga”, and BOY is that an awful name for anything. Like, I feel worse about myself as a human being now. But the plot is as follows: young man Keitaro Urashima is struggling to get into prestigious Tokyo University because as a small child, he made a promise to a girl he thought was cute that they would get into the school together. Keitaro has not seen the girl of his dreams since he was about five or so, but has always been motivated by the memory. He doesn’t have much in the way of brains or discernible talents, but he makes up for it with tenacity and dedication! Having been kicked out by his parents, he goes to visit his grandmother at the girls’ dormitory she runs. She isn’t there, but a small group of residents are… and they are all shocked to find out Keitaro has been named the manager of the dorm!
I got, like, two sentences into that and just decided to go nuts with it and write like a dust jacket blurb. I think I have a future in that.
Anyway, from there, Keitaro moves into the girls’ lives. Some of the girls like him, some hate him, and some hate how much they like him, but everyone is changed.
Wait… I’m still doing it. I have to shake that. Something about this book…
But that’s really it. Keitaro moves into this dorm and infiltrates the poor girls’ lives like a hookworm. The initial and primary cast stars Naru, an uptight star student who is also trying to get into Tokyo U; Shinobu, a shy young girl; Su, a rambunctious girl with a huge personality; Kitsune, the eldest of the ladies who is usually up to some plot; and Motoko, a warrior in training. Over the course of the 14 volumes or so, several other characters pop in and become important, as well: Kanako (Keitaro’s adopted sister), Sarah and her dad Seta, and Mutsumi (an absent-minded girl with feelings for Keitaro) are chief among them.
The book centers a lot around cheesecake art, lonely dork wish fulfillment, and misunderstanding hijinks, but it’s not bad. The characters have little depth (most of their personalities can be summed up in one declarative sentence like I did up above and the phrase “and eventually develops feelings for Keitaro”), but they are enjoyable and fun. That’s what the series can be boiled down to: It’s a sweet, sugary drink. All empty calories, and you may feel great shame and regret when you are done with it, but it’s a pleasant experience while you are enjoying it. You will get kind of tired of all the scenes where Keitaro stumbles over something and falls into another character’s ass cheeks or boobs (because it happens several times per volume), but Akamatsu will invariably make up for it a few pages later with a genuinely sweet, endearing moment.
Different than a lot of the manga I usually read, there are a LOT of words in this series. Pages are just loaded with dialogue and sound effects and narratives and thought bubbles. A lot of the manga I have tended towards are much less verbose than this series, but Akamatsu isn’t going to be accused of not giving you as much information as possible. The downside to this is that if you open to any random page mid-series, you can be put off by how busy some of the pages can be… especially if you aren’t used to manga.
I distinctly recall being Team Shinobu when I read this the first time, but I don’t know if that would hold up if I re-read it. She was just so damn sweet and innocent, but I worry in retrospect that she is the low-hanging fruit of the series. But she is a better character that that. She’s got the silent strength. Motoko is solid, as well. She actually has much more of a personal arc than anyone else. She starts off as this generic, angry warrior girl who just wants to hit all of her problems with a sword, but she learns to accept being a woman and being open to her feelings. While most of the rest of the cast never really “grow”, they just kind of… shift, Motoko genuinely ends up a different character by the last volume.
Talking Point: Like I said, this book is pretty much empty calories. It’s not killing you or anything, but it’s not exactly enriching your life, either. It’s hammy and silly and cheesy But sometimes you need that stuff in your life. What are some of your “empty calorie” comic favorites?
It’s weirdly endearing, and the characters are fun, if archetypal. It’s not brilliant, but it has ruined any other “harem” series for me because I think you only have room for one of those in your heart.