Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Love Hina Manga

Genre: Comedy / Romance
Parental Guidance Recommended
Credits: 1998 Ken Akamatsu

Love Hina DVDs
Manga and Illustration Books
Original Soundtrack
Love Hina Item Shop
lensman's Description:
When Keitaro Urashima was a little child, he gave a childhood promise to a little girl,that he would attend Tokyo University, Japan's most prestigious institution, in order to be with her when he grows up. Now, 21 years later, after having failed his entrance exams 2 times already, and being thrown out of his parent's house, things are looking pretty bleak for him. Hoping to get some support from his grandmother, he stops by his grandmother’s Hinata Apartments, not knowing that the inn he used to stay in as a little boy has been turned into a girls’ dormitory. After an embarrassing and eventful start, and lots of mishaps, he winds up becoming the inn’s landlord, much to the dismay of the girls. Will he be able to withstand the trials and problems that the girls impose upon him? Will he able to earn their trust? And will he finally be able to get into Tokyo U and meet his promise girl?

Throw the anime away! >>> by lensman
The Love Hina franchise and I have a weird history together. Weird in that I actually got to know it backwards. Most people read the manga first, then watch the anime and then play the game. I got to play the Dating RPG first (over at Newgrounds), liked it, wound up watching the anime because I didn't get many of its in-jokes and then read the manga because I loved it and wanted to find out what happens after the anime ends.

Why this particular flashback? Because at first, I was hesitant to pick it up. Despite watching anime for 5 years at the time, I was still thinking, "I've seen the anime, why should I check out the manga?” (A sentiment which, by the way, makes mangakas everywhere cry tears of sorrow). Love Hina was the first manga that I DID have a reason to check out, so I picked it up at volume 9, which is, chronologically, after the Spring Special...

I liked it so much I've bought and read the other 13 volumes...

...And I've never been able to watch the Love Hina anime ever since...

To say that the manga is better than the anime would be the understatement of the century. Where should I start? First of all the characters have more depth in them and are way better developed. Naru is actually a likeable character, while in the anime she was just a pig-headed girl who barely deserved any sympathy. Motoko is a way more conflicted and complicated person and she changes greatly throughout the 14-volume run of the series. Shinobu is much more than just a shy and timid wallflower. Mutsumi is still the girl of my dreams in here but she is actually cuter, if that's even possible. And Keitaro...

Keitaro's very different in the manga. While the anime portrayed him just as a clumsy idiot, Keitaro in the manga is a guy that has plenty of potential, both in the romance and the academic department. He is not stupid, and can have some pretty keen insights. The reason he fails in the exams is because he lacks focus and a good reason to do so. And the reason why he is a failure with girls is because he lacks self-confidence and thinks he is a failure, not because he’s unattractive. He is not a pervert. In fact, there are points in the manga where he could take advantage of the girls but goes to ridiculous lengths in order to not do so.

One very interesting aspect of the manga is that the girls don't immediately fawn over Keitaro. Quite the opposite. In fact, in the very first volume, they gang up on him and try to get him to quit as a landlord. Keitaro eventually manages to earn their trust, but they are still wary of him.

As the story progresses, Keitaro manages to gain more confidence in himself and his abilities, finds his true calling in life, and winds up being more than worthy for the girls. As such, Love Hina, is not really a story of love, but Keitaro's coming of age — of how he turns himself from a loser to a winner. The final three volumes of Love Hina show Keitaro at his best, getting even with the girls (especially Motoko) for all the problems that they caused him and showing incredible maturity and strength, which brings the story to a great emotional and action-filled climax. A totally satisfying finale...

...None of which showed up in any form in the anime, by the way...

Seriously, they cut the best parts out. The inner conflicts, the reflections, the aspirations, the considerations, and the character developments got scrapped. All that was left in the anime was a bunch of gags with an open-ended romantic ending.

Are you still wondering why I can't bring myself to re-watch the animated series?

Ken Akamatsu's art improves greatly over the course of the series. At the beginning, it's very simple and very similar to "A.I. Love You." However, as the story progresses, volume by volume, it becomes more detailed, more complex and more fluid. The girls become prettier, and Keitaro actually gains a fashion sense. The climactic finale, with its action scenes and the plot twists, still stands out today.

Akamatsu is well known for the large amount of fan service that he instills in his work, and Love Hina is the reason. Every chapter has more than its fair amount of implied nudity and panty shots, which I feel kind of detracts from the overall story. The erotica in Love Hina seems a bit forced at times and it's like it's just there for the sake of it. Now, don't get me wrong, I like fan service as much as the next guy (in fact, I like it more than the next guy), but there is a certain amount of T&A that you can take before it starts to feel weird.

Tokyopop, in overall, did a good job in bringing Love Hina to the US, however I do have some major issues with the translation.

To point, the honorifics were discarded and the characters call themselves by their first names. Now, this is very important, because in the original, Keitaro called Naru by her last name, which helped convey that Keitaro actually respected and appreciated her. The various honorifics that he used with girls also conveyed respect and appreciation. With the elimination of the honorifics and the name-change, this sense of respect is lost, thereby making the story lose a lot of its impact. This becomes especially evident in the finale.

Also, there are no translation notes. If you don't count a few footnotes here and there, that can help you understand some of the context and implied meaning of the story. The sound effects are also not translated, while there are some jokes that have been very poorly "imported" without any explanation, leaving the reader sometimes clueless.

Finally, I did notice some "dumbing down" of the script in some cases. While I can understand that this is done in order to get a joke across, there are cases where, for instance, some of Keitaro's crucial dialogue is scrapped and replaced by him commenting on the girl's figures and underwear. It undermines his character and makes him sound like a pervert while he is clearly not, at least not in the original.

Hopefully, Tokyopop will follow Del Rey's example and will revise her translation by adding honorifics, translating the sound effects, adding notes, and paying more respect to the source material. Seriously, If they do that, I will re-buy the entire Love Hina series...

I can dream, can't I?

Despite its flawed translation, Love Hina is still a good read, a masterpiece of its genre that still does well after all these years. It keeps the reader coming back for more even after he finishes going through it. It is a must for every manga fan.

Just don't watch the anime AFTER you read it. You will be severely disappointed.

Individual Rating: Art 9; Story 8; Characters 9

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