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Dated 22 May 2010: Love Hina and its place in anime history

Love Hina opening credits
At least there's no spinning watermark.

Although I own all the DVDs, I chose to re-watch my archive of Love Hina fansubs over the past few months. As you might expect, the video and audio quality is atrocious by modern standards, with 320x240 15fps encodes being the norm. (The entire season fits on two CD-Rs.) Depending on the group, the subtitles themselves can also be quite poor by today's standards. Many lines are poorly timed and some episodes were clearly finished by non-native English speakers. Every single episode was generally inferior from a technical perspective than the samples in my recent Chu-Bra!! PSP experiment. Nevertheless, Love Hina in this crude form invokes a certain nostalgia when remembering the brief, recent history of anime distribution in America.

Motoko and Keitaro
Try a little tenderness, Keitaro.

Love Hina was one of the first shows successfully distributed widely in entirely digital formats. Although the initial rips came from analog broadcasts, the Internet (and sneakernet) distribution of Love Hina episodes was accomplished digitally. Heretofore, American anime fans typically purchased, traded, or copied videotapes of fansubs. This is how I first watched All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, for example. For those unfamiliar with the medium, videotapes are purely analog, so the quality degrades significantly after each generation. If you were lucky, you got to watch something that was low enough on the copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy chain that it did not look like mush.

Tsuruko, Motoko's sister
Aneue > Onee-sama.

What a long way we've come in merely a decade. Fansubs today appear with soft-subs that can be turned off and video quality that surpasses DVD limitations by a large margin. No wonder the anime DVD bubble collapsed so quickly. I, like many buyers, contracted my buying habits once DVDs became clearly inferior to recordings of initial broadcasts—waiting for Blu-ray releases. I'm still waiting. FUNimation is taking cautious steps, but I won't be cajoled long by lackluster upscales.

Keitaro and Mutsumi
Keitaro's dilemma at the end of Love Hina is not
unlike Shinji's struggle with Instrumentality.

So what about Love Hina itself? Many former fans have recanted their affection for the title, disclaiming, "I hadn't seen much anime at that time, so I didn't know better." I still find Love Hina as charming and funny as ever. It balances a winning combination of absurd mechanized turtles and emotional resonance. It's a relic from a time of the big-boobed tsundere (before the stereotype turned into a complete joke), to be sure, and its harem comedy roots were unoriginal even then, but its cast remains engaging. Megumi Hayashibara is still absolutely dead-on as Aunt Haruka, and a round or two with Motoko reminds me how sorely Asakawa Yuu is missed. Likewise, the motif about promises still rings true today; it carries more import than the typical canned motivations anime characters generally spout. And perhaps it also implores viewers to remember a past they once loved and should not forget.

Dated 9 July 2006: Cowboy Bebop

I've been re-watching a number of older series lately—among them, Sunrise's 1998 Cowboy Bebop. This show is likely well known by even the casual anime fan, but I figured this would be a good time to revisit the series just so I could better see if the comparisons Coyote Ragtime Show generate are justified.

Jet chokes someone out.
Jet chokes someone out.

After a teaser glimpse of the conclusion of the first arc, the first episode of Cowboy Bebop gets down to business and establishes that the show is set in a future where space travel is completely unremarkable. Automated toll receipts from gate jumps of tremendous distances pile up as common litter, like cigarette butts. Nevertheless, although technology is obvious far advanced beyond the present day, humanity's general standard of living seems no better. Graffiti and trash still plague decaying city streets, and seamy bars still attract criminal lowlifes. And vice.

Someone chokes out Spike
Someone chokes out Spike.

Where Cowboy Bebop triumphs is in its lazy depiction of what it's like to be one of the Good Guys in this decrepit future. Beautiful, melancholy jazz music haunts every episode, punctuated by Spike and Jet's banter, and their occasional angst-less philosophical musings.

Spike
Spike.

The voice acting is quite good, with Kouichi Yamadera still carrying the unperturbed, unflappable coolness (and some smarminess) that he brought to Ryoji Kaji in Neon Genesis Evangelion a few years earlier. Unshou Ishizuka brings a mature wisdom to Jet in a way that, for some reason, I sort of want to call "a Norio Wakamoto without the irony." (I don't know why.)

Jet
Jet.

I'm also a big fan of Megumi Hayashibara's work as Faye Valentine, but I'll get to her when (read: if) that episode rolls around.

Bebop exits a gate
The Bebop exits a gate.

I never liked the CG usage in Cowboy Bebop much, since it doesn't match the rest of the animation well enough in my opinion. Nevertheless, it is pretty good considering the time. It does hold up better than the CG in VanDread, for example.

As far as comparisons with Coyote Ragtime Show go, both series feature sharp bursts of violence unapologetically. At least with regard to the violence in the two shows' first episodes, the violence in Coyote Ragtime Show is a bit more gratuitous. One key stylistic difference stands out, too: Moe. Moe as we know it today wasn't nearly so prevalent in 1998. Coyote Ragtime Show, on the other hand, while not exactly a moe vehicle, certainly is no stranger to the phenomenon.

Dated 8 June 2003: All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku appreciation

All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku is a lesser known anime that's deserves way more love.

The basic premise of the original six-episode OAV is that scientist-dad has split from his wife and her military hardware family business, making off with their son and scientist-dad's android masterpiece.

Kyusaku, Ryunouke, and cat
Kyusaku, Ryunouke, and cat

While they're on the lam (actually while taking a piss), the kid adopts a stray cat.

Unfortunately, the cat dies after they're attacked by one of the wife's attack helicopters.

Poison-1
Poison-1

No problem. Scientist dad implants the brain of the cat into the android and pawns the whole package off as a high school girl.

Nuku Nuku
Nuku Nuku

By the way there are plenty of the traditional anime idioms to be found here, such as the waterfall crying, the laughing eyes, and what not, but the anime on a whole does look pretty good.

Nuku Nuku pounding on Poison-1
Nuku Nuku pounding on Poison-1

Nuku Nuku takes a stand against the wife and her cronies so she, the boy, and scientist-dad can all live like a normal family.

Nuku Nuku falling
All anime robots girls are required to have these ear-things

There are mecha, and giant robots, and fairly discrete fan service, and did I mention a near-indestructible high school girl robot with the brain of a cat?

Kyouko and Arisa
Kyouko and Arisa

Sealing the deal is the the voice acting of Megumi Hayashibara (as Nuku Nuku) and Aya Hisakawa (as Arisa, the more war-mongering of the two henchmen).

Kyouko, Akiko, and Arisa
Kyouko, Akiko, and Arisa

Incidentally, the wife's henchmen are fucking cool, and it's not just the killer helmets.

Akiko and Kyusaku
Akiko and Kyusaku

Episode Three features the mom trying to be domestic and traditional a la Aoi from Ai Yori Aoshi. This episode is especially hilarious. If it has any weakness at all it's that the henchmen aren't in it as much.

All six episodes of the first All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku OAV are available on one R1 DVD by ADV. There are some shitty fansubs floating around, and I do know a DVD rip was posted to USENET a few months ago. But c'mon, six episodes on one DVD—it's totally worth it.

There are also later OAVs, but I haven't seen them so I can't attest to their quality. The original OAV, though, is excellent.

Dated 25 July 2002: Love Hina

I have heard good things about Love Hina for years. The buzz for both the manga and the anime was uniformly good enough that I kept it on the radar and made an effort to avoid spoilers. Now that I've finally seen the anime, I am happy to say that as much as Serial Experiments Lain disappointed me earlier, the brilliance of Love Hina exceeded my wildest expectations.

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