Riccardinho (Webmaster)

Based on: Complete Manga

Publisher:  TokyoPop

The animé series of Love Hina is highly enjoyable, but the manga blows it out of the water.  The plot is the same, with the ever hopeful student Keitaro Urushima ending up landlord of a girl’s dormitory, but the depth of the story and character development is in another league.

Although the premise is clichéd (young bespectacled student surrounded by bevy of beautiful women who all seem to fancy him), it is written and drawn with such skill and charm by Ken Akamatsu that it near enough revitalises the genre.  The hackneyed characters – Samurai girl Motoko Aoyama, cutesy schoolgirl Shinobu Maehera, knowing and fun loving twenty-something Mitsune ‘Kitsune’ Konno and fiery principal love interest Naru Narusegawa to name a few – are given a depth of character that belies their eye candy status.

As well as explaining the past and motivations of each character, the story allows them to grow and change, with the artwork reflecting their increasing maturity as time wears on.  This is a refreshing change when compared to many manga series, where, despite the action taking place over a number of years, no-ones appearance or character changes.  It is especially noticeable in the most clichéd of the characters, in particular Keitaro, Motoko and Shinobu, who by volume 14 are completely different to when they first appear.  It is also interesting to note the sadness in some of the characters, especially Kitsune Konno and Mutsumi Otohime, who help their friends at the cost of their own happiness.

Although the characterisation in Love Hina is its strongest attribute, it must also be said that the artwork is awesome, detailed and distinctive, and that the story is excellent.  Combining the comedy of Urusei Yatsura with the romance of Maison Ikkoku, Love Hina stays fresh and funny whilst also being moving and cleverly uses melancholy and reflection to slow the pace.  Although occasionally bordering on the stupid, the comedy always manages to avoid falling into absurdity and repetition, with even the running gags – such as Motoko’s turtle phobia and Keitaro’s frequent beatings – remaining amusing even in the later volumes.

What also sets Love Hina apart from the crowd is its modern feel and sense of fun, things that are often sorely lacking in the genre.

One thing I was massively impressed by with the series is the way it ended.  For the customary epilogue a new character is introduced and the closing events are seen from their point of view.  This works incredibly well, as it gives not only a view of characters you have seen evolve over 14 volumes of story as if you were seeing them for the first time, but also prevents the ending from being cheesy, as events are half glimpsed by someone who has no idea what’s going on.  It shows the skill of Ken Akamatsu that he is able to pull this, and several other unconventional ideas, off convincingly, and at the end of the story you are aching to read more.

It’s kind of strange to try and explain, but after watching these people grow and mature you are almost sad to know you won’t be seeing them again.  The characters are so well realised and likeable that you often feel like you’re reading about real people rather than fictional creations.  I suppose it is another sign of how well written it is that you almost miss them when you have finished volume 14, but it must also be said that it is better that it ended leaving you wanting more than dragging on pointlessly.

All in all there are some bits that don’t work perfectly, and I personally think that Maison Ikkoku is a better romance, but Love Hina is an excellent series that is moving, fun and one of the best Manga series you are likely to read.

Best Bit: The epilogue at the end of volume 14

Worst Bit: Kanako’s disguises.

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