Love Hina Christmas Movie

Love Hina is a property that is popular enough that whatever I say about it won't stick. Although I thought the 24-episode television show was derivative of far better shows, as I said in my review a few weeks back, fans unfamiliar with classic anime of fifteen years ago are quite taken with this series. One of my biggest personal complaints with the series was its conclusion, which was simply weak. This concern has been alleviated somewhat with the release of the "Christmas Movie" DVD in the US, which actually includes the Christmas OVA special, as well as the "lost" 25th episode that never aired. Although Love Hina has not broken into my heart yet, this set came closer to getting me to feel some affection for this gleeful copycat. Though it will make little sense to newcomers, the DVD should satisfy those who wanted a little bit more resolution to the Love Hina triangle.

The "lost" episode is surprisingly strong on its own merits, and it's a side story about the swordswoman Motoko. Her sister has come into town to challenge her to return and take over the Shinmei School of martial arts. With her studies, Motoko's skills have grown dull around the edges, and she knows she cannot best her sister. In a bit of last-minute thinking, Motoko claims that Keitaro is her fiancé, and that she needs to stay with him rather than return to the school right away. This outrageous scheme only works so long, and Motoko is forced not only to defend her honor but also to come to some conclusions about how much she values her growth as a young woman outside of her family's training.

Animation wise, this episode is just like the rest of the series, cute and sparkly even if motion-challenged. Although the show didn't air due to its placement--it wouldn't have been an appropriate closing episode by any stretch--it also contains a bit more fan service than the average episode, which made it more appropriate for a home release. As a story, it's fun. It avoids the whole Naru/Keitaro angle entirely, and that's a welcome relief. I do still have a beef with the episode, in that its ending adds yet another "possession by evil spirit/object" story to the canon. This tactic showed up twice in the regular TV run and makes its third appearance here. That's simply inexcusable for a show that isn't at all about supernatural forces. Otherwise, it's better than many episodes that made air.

However, the DVD is not primarily about that episode, but about the Christmas special. It's only 40 minutes long, so calling it a movie is deliberately misleading, but fans won't care. In this episode, Christmas is rapidly approaching, and the residents of Hinata Inn have all been seized by an urban legend that's making its way through the streets of Tokyo. According to the rumor, if you confess your love for somebody on Christmas Eve, your dearest wish will come true. The usual suspects start considering finally declaring how they feel about each other, with all the typical ramifications and consequences up in the air. Though Keitaro sprains an ankle, Naru causes a misunderstanding with a mysterious letter, and the others get in the way of true love by happenstance, all works out by the time the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Eve. Was there any doubt?

For a show advertised as a movie, it doesn't look it. Sure, it's an OVA, but there's not much improvement over the look of the TV show, except for a bit more detail in the backgrounding. But that's not what this special is about; it's about getting Naru and Keitaro together. Problems still abound like they did in the TV series, but there's a lot of great stuff going on as well. On one hand, the contrivances that keep these two apart cover every anime cliché and push them to the breaking point. There's also a tacked-on ending that exists only to allow extra episodes to come afterwards, making less important the resolution the rest of the show strives to attain. But unlike other episodes, this one kept me going in spite of its faults. There's a sense of melancholy pervading this special that brought additional depth to its characters, and there's not nearly as much useless humor. For once, they play straight with us as an audience, letting us really feel for the characters. The show's true ending at five minutes to Christmas is simple yet lovely. I can honestly say I enjoyed this special.

So what for the future? There's more Love Hina to be reviewed, and the Spring Special and Love Hina Again will be on the docket soon. Frankly, I think the Christmas movie is about the best way they could have ended the series, particularly if you ignore the ignominious last minute, so I'll be going into those shows with a bit of trepidation. But if you've watched the TV show and enjoyed it, then this DVD is required viewing--it's better than virtually any single episode before it. I'm not going so far as to recommend Love Hina itself, but I will recommend this for anybody who's enjoyed getting through the TV episodes.

Love Hina Christmas Movie -- fan service -- B+