Love Hina MMF | Welcome to Hinata House

Why Love Hina? Our introductory look at the series tells you why the story of a nebbish young guy running an all-girls dorm is worth a deeper look.

 

 

Is finding true love up to fate, or do we each make our own destiny?
 
Keitaro Urashima has had that question at the forefront of his mind since he was four years old. You see, legend has it that if two people who love each other get into Tokyo University together, they’ll live out their days happily ever after. Four-year-old Keitaro made a promise to make just such a meet up with his very first crush, and now he’s struggling to get into Japan’s most prestigious college, meet up with said crush, and fulfill his romantic destiny.
 
But unfortunately, fate hasn’t exactly helped 19-year-old Keitaro live up to that promise: he’s already failed the Tokyo U. entrance exam twice, and hanging out at the 48th percentile doesn’t make his chances of avoiding third year ronin-hood look all that great. But a promise is a promise, and besides, Keitaro’s luck with the ladies isn’t any better than his study habits so fate is about the only chance he’s got. He decides to make one last go of it by hunkering down for cram sessions at the Hinata House, a hotel run by his grandmother. But what Keitaro doesn’t know is that the Hinata House is no longer a hotel, it’s an all-girls dorm, and after a series of nudity-related mishaps in the building’s outdoor baths, the residents—particularly the prickly Naru Narusegawa, another Tokyo U. hopeful—are ready to kill him. But when word comes out that Grandma Hina is retiring and, preposterously, has left Hinata House to Keitaro, the girls are faced with an unwelcome choice: either accept this two-time loser as their new apartment manager, or have to move back home. Our dim-witted hero gets the job and hijinks, naturally, ensue.
 
But how is a red-blooded boy supposed to get any studying done with so many ladies around? And could Naru, his ever hot-tempered study buddy, possibly be the girl of his promise lo those many years ago?
 
Originally published from 1998 to 2001 in Weekly Shonen Magazine, Love Hina was writer/artist Ken Akamatsu’s second major manga series, coming on the tail of the eight-volume shonen romantic comedy A.I. Love You. Where that series could be quite aptly described as the plot from Weird Science grafted onto the characters from Kosuke Fujishima’s long-running Oh My Goddess!, Love Hina seemed, in many ways, to take its inspiration from Maison Ikkoku, Rumiko Takahashi’s finest title and a high water mark in the history of comic book romance. Both feature protagonists fighting through the particularly Japanese struggle of the ronin, a student fighting to pass his college entrance exams because, as Trish Ledoux’s Maison Ikkoku English dub script so succinctly put it, “You know what they say: good school, good job, good life.” Both protagonists spend the entire series pining for a lady who gives new meaning to the term “ornery” who they believe fate has brought into their lives. Both series put the couple under the same roof, in an apartment full of colorful characters who live to make their lives difficult. And both tell the story from the man’s point of view, showing a coming of age story of a realistic, relatable dope learning what it means to be a man worthy of being loved.
 
But if Love Hina is sometimes reminiscent of Maison Ikkoku, it avoids being a bland rehashing by cranking everything up to eleven. Ikkoku’s Godai faced plenty of romantic complications and he only had two possible paramours, but Keitaro has an entire houseful of ladies to contend with, and the myriad melodramatic misunderstandings that come with them. Naru doesn’t just give Keitaro the cold shoulder, she unleashes a vicious uppercut that sends the poor sap soaring into the stratosphere, and that’s just one example of the punishment meted out by the Hinata House girls: foreign exchange student Su is always ready to give Keitaro a loving kick to the face, kendo champ Motoko offers up that terrifying combo of a sour disposition and a penchant for samurai swords, the cunning older girl Kitsune is perpetually on the prowl to stick our hero into an awkward situation, and even sweet-hearted seventh-grader Shinobu can get so embarrassed by Keitaro’s perversion that it makes you want to shrivel up and die for him. Pair that with Akamatsu’s raunchy sense of humor and a penchant for fanservice—the Hinata House has an open air bath for the girls because of course it has an open air bath for the girls—and you’ve got a comedy that’s silly, slaptsticky, sexy, and, sometimes, sorta sweet.
 
But the real question is: why Love Hina? These sorts of “harem comedies” are infamous for their milquetoast leads and bland female characters only discernable from each other by what fetish they cater to. What makes a series like that worthy of a week-long dissection?
 
Well, for starters, Love Hina is a harem manga done right. A full dissertation on that subject will be coming later in the week, but as a brief preview, the series sets itself apart by firmly establishing an actual romance worth rooting for, starring fully formed characters that are easy to root for in spite of their foibles. Compared with the litany of similar series starring blank slate reader stand-ins and a bevy of Mary Sues and it’s easy to see why, unlike so many of its ilk, Love Hina was a huge hit among readers of both sexes.
 
And make no mistake: Love Hina was a huge hit. Released in English by Tokyopop beginning in 2002, Love Hina would prove to be an early breakout success for the company in the bookstore market. After releasing most of their manga in anthology magazines like MixxZine, the company began experimenting with releasing manga in the single issue comic book format popularized by VIZ and Dark Horse. Love Hina would be one of the last, if not the last, released by the company in that format, with only four issues seeing print before Tokyopop switched to the 200-page, $10 trade paperback format that would revolutionize the industry.
 
The company flooded the market with Love Hina, going from one chapter a month to churning out all 14 collected volumes in a span of just 16 months. The strategy seems to have worked: the series was a sales monster, a constant presence in Diamond’s top graphic novel charts with bookstore sales so strong that, in the month of its release, the penultimate volume finished at #27 among all adult fiction, graphic novel or otherwise. Love Hina’s popularity was furthered by a well-received 25-episode animated series that spawned several straight-to-video sequels, all of which were released in English by Bandai Entertainment.
 
Also, on a more personal note, Love Hina holds a special place in my heart as the series that got me back into manga. There was a time in the mid-90s when your author bought about 75% of the manga translated into English every month (of course, that also means there was a time when so little manga was being translated every month that buying 75% of it was remotely feasible), but as happens to many, college sapped me of the time and money that such an addiction requires and I eventually just…stopped. But after a friend sent me an anime music video of Love Hina footage set to Zebrahead’s “The Hell That Is My Life,” I remembered all the gloriously madcap manga fun I was missing. Heading to the comic shop, I discovered Love Hina #4 on the stands, and that last comic book-sized issue lit a fuse, and the constant flood of new material kept me coming back for more. I may not buy every manga I can get my hands on anymore (that way madness lies), but I’m still a manga fan through and through, and I have Ken Akamatsu’s Love Hina to thank for that. | Jason Green
 
Check back tomorrow for an overview of the characters in Love Hina as well as the first daily roundup of links from the Manga Moveable Feast. Click here for the complete Love Hina MMF archive.

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