MICHELLE: We have gathered here today with special guest Kate Dacey to talk about Ken Akamatsu’s shounen romantic comedy Love Hina. In the spirit of the occasion, I feel like I should start things off by falling down a flight of stairs and ending up accidentally clutching you both upon the bosom.
MELINDA: Also, we should probably all be in the bath.
MICHELLE: And my pants should have fallen down somewhere along the line.
MELINDA: I can shriek in horror, and Kate can make pithy comments while smoking a cigarette.
KATE: That’s the perfect role for me; I’ve sounded like Bea Arthur since I was ten years old.
So what did you guys think of the book?
MICHELLE: Would you like to go first, Melinda, or shall I?
MELINDA: Well, do you want the short version or the long one? The short version pretty much boils down to, “I guess it could have been worse,” though I’m not sure how much of a recommendation that is.
MICHELLE: How about the long version, slightly abridged?
MELINDA: Okay, okay. So. For those who might be unfamiliar, Love Hina tells the story of a tragically awkward and academically unremarkable young man named Keitaro who has already spent too much of his adult life trying and failing to get into the University of Tokyo (Todai) in order to fulfill a childhood promise made to a girl. Having been kicked out of his parents’ home, he heads for the safety of his grandmother’s Inn, which has (conveniently) been converted into an all-female dormitory, complete with an open bath and a cast of lively young women, each clumsier than the last. Through a series of wacky circumstances, Keitaro becomes the manager of the dormitory, allowing him the opportunity to spend yet another year studying for college entrance exams while also grasping as many bosoms as possible.
I have to admit that I nearly decided to abandon this book, when not even half a chapter in, our hero was already getting felt up in the bath by an unsuspecting girl. I looked at the three-volume omnibus in my hands and thought, “I’ll never make it through this. Never.” And I suppose it says something that I actually did.
Interestingly, I discovered what it is that I dislike about this kind of series, and it surprised me a little. While I don’t necessarily love the constant parade of nude young girls, it’s not the nudity or the sexual innuendo that really bothers me. It’s the falling. At a certain point, I just thought I would scream if I had to watch someone else fall down. Sexual situations are fine, but after a while, I could no longer tolerate their pervasively accidental nature. Really, it eventually made me angry. And I suspect that without all the falling, these three volumes could have been reduced to just one.
On the upside, the series’ primary romance has its genuinely sweet moments. They aren’t really interesting enough to make up for the book’s truly maddening qualities, but it did make it readable.
MICHELLE: Excellent! And interesting, because though I didn’t single out falling as the single most annoying attribute, I did get extremely annoyed at all the accidents. Any accident that can happen, will happen. Like when Keitaro attempts to fix the hole in his ceiling that communicates with Naru’s room above—and which provides much opportunity for panty-glimpsing—and an extremely unlikely series of accidents occurs that result in him glimpsing the phrase “fifteen years ago” in her diary, which makes him wonder if she could be the first love with whom he promised to make it into Tokyo University (though he fails to realize she would have been two at the time!).
MELINDA: For the record, I still think it will turn out to be her, through some kind of wacky circumstances. And falling.
What about you Kate?
KATE: The thing I found most grating was how inconsistent the characters were. Take Motoko: she’s fierce and principled, the sort of girl who has a very limited tolerance for foolish behavior. That she would suddenly turn into a puddle simply because she falls on top of Keitaro strained credulity, not least because Keitaro is so utterly incompetent. That the other female characters have similar moments is even more frustrating, as there’s nothing about Keitaro that ought to endear him to the Hinata dormitory residents.
I also took a pretty dim view of all the jokes about the underage girls — frankly, I found them pretty gross. There’s nothing quite like the sight of a twenty-year-old male loser ogling a young teen to really raise my feminist ire.
MICHELLE: And yet… I think I was helped by Jason’s introductory post and Sean’s review to see past all of the ridiculous fanservice and unfunny hijinks and really appreciate the sweeter moments of the series. Sure, it’s creepy that Keitaro gets turned on by a seventh grader’s undies and I can’t say that I actually like him most of the time, but get him together with Naru and let things actually go right just for a minute, and I can see the potential for them as a couple.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I sigh as I read Love Hina (and not in a dreamy way), but I don’t despise it. In fact, I find it much more readable than Mao-chan. I couldn’t even get through the first volume of that one.
MELINDA: I admit I was a bit stunned by the story’s abundance of underage girls, and perhaps more so that we apparently aren’t supposed to think anything of them being constantly exposed in front of Keitaro. On one hand, it seems very natural that young girls might have a crush on an older guy (maybe not this older guy, but that’s what we’ve got) but it all comes out feeling creepy when it’s being relayed by way of the male gaze.
KATE: You’re a more patient woman than I am, Michelle! The prevailing tone reminded me too much of a Benny Hill episode for me to give a fig about Keitaro; I wanted nothing more than a big foot to descend from the sky and flatten him, Monty Python style.
MICHELLE: He’s definitely extremely pathetic and I don’t feel any sympathy for him for the ludicrous and/or perverted situations he ends up in, but I guess the calm scenes won me over at least a little, though now that I stop and think about it I wonder what exactly Naru is supposed to be gaining from associating with such a loser.
KATE: I’m so glad you mentioned Naru, Michelle! She may be the only character I actually like in Love Hina (aside from Keitaro’s sardonic, chain-smoking auntie). It’s maddening to think that Ken Akamatsu will find a way for Keitaro and Naru to be together, not least because the relationship is totally unequal: Naru is brilliant and attractive, while Keitaro can barely tie his shoes, let alone solve a quadratic equation. I don’t mean to suggest that book smarts are the only measure of a man’s worth, but when the male lead is so dumb and clueless, it’s insulting to female readers to see the series’ strongest, most appealing female character positioned to become his girlfriend.
MELINDA: I can relate to both of you, actually. While, like Michelle, I was able to enjoy the romantic plot with Keitaro and Naru, I found it really difficult to stomach Keitaro most of the time. I really do see him as a loser, and not because he’s having trouble getting into a super-competative university, or because he’s inexperienced with girls. I see him as a loser because he is a slave to his own desperation, and it ends up making him disgusting. I think if he had some kind of personality other than just “desperate” I could like him, but he’s really given nothing, so all we’re left with is a clumsy, groping, panty-sniffing loser.
MICHELLE: Yeah, I’m trying to think of a positive quality he possesses, but I’m coming up blank. I mean, he does try hard at certain things, it’s just that this never really works out well. He’s earnest about redeeming himself in Shinobu’s eyes for letting her believe he had already gotten into university, but then he turns around and gets all excited when he believes she’s invited him to bathe with her. One step forward, two steps back.
MELINDA: I think it’s probably fair to point out that we’re clearly not the audience for this manga. I’ll fully admit to an intolerance for the kind of sexually-charged antics that are the life’s blood of Love Hina. I’ve had the same issue with quite a number of BL manga with this type of sensibility, so it isn’t entirely an issue with the male gaze, either. It just really isn’t my thing. I suspect it all began with a childhood hatred of Three’s Company. Yes, Jack Tripper scarred me for life.
One of the things I particularly enjoy about the Manga Moveable Feast is the opportunity to read things I might otherwise have ignored, and in that spirit, I’m happy to have tried Love Hina. But I’m afraid it falls pretty flat with me.
MICHELLE: Oh, totally. And I hope it comes through that we all tried to like it, but that it just didn’t resound with us for various reasons.
I confess that I am a little curious to see how it ends. I guess I like it enough to care about how it wraps up. But I don’t think I like it enough to read all the volumes in between, which will undoubtedly be full of boobies and pratfalls with a small sprinkling of encouragement delivered by Naru. And there is so much other brilliant manga out there that I already don’t have time to read, I feel like I shouldn’t squander any more precious moments on Love Hina.
MELINDA: Well said, Michelle. I feel much the same way.
Many thanks to Kate for joining us in this special edition of Off the Shelf! Be sure to check in at PLAYBACK:stl for the complete Love Hina MMF archive!