The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
To Love-Ru Vol. 1-2
What's It About?High school kid Rito has pined for Haruna since the two were in middle school together. Rito has no problems making friends, excels at sports, and has a fulfilling social life but just can't hack confessing to Haruna no matter how hard he tries. One day after returning home after another failed attempt, he's surprised to find a gorgeous naked girl in his bathtub. The beauty tells him her name is Lala and she's an alien princess on the run from her dad who keeps trying to marry her off. Rito finds himself in the middle of intergalactic trouble and to make matters worse, the whole Lala business is totally cramping any potential he has to hook up with Haruna. To Love Ru is an original manga written by Saki Hasemi with art by Kentaro Yabuki. The first double volume is available for US$19.99 from Seven Seas' Ghost Ship imprint. An anime adaptation is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Sentai Filmworks.
Is It Worth Reading?
It's been many a year since I first encountered Rito and his bathtub alien girlfriend Lala. It's sequel To Love Ru: Darkness has overshadowed the original at this point running for nearly six years as thinly veiled hentai. The original looks downright tame by comparison, with more focus on wacky hijinks and comedic missteps than completely stripping down its female cast. Not there isn't nudity, but something about To Love Ru feels earnestly pure underneath its perviness.
The story starts like many others. Our hero can't seem to work up the nerve to confess to his long-time crush. Just when he's about to, a magical girlfriend enters the scene in the form of Lala. Magical girlfriends come in many forms, the more memorable ones like Belldandy, Chi, and Nagi have distinctive personalities and gimmicks aside from their undying devotion to their new boyfriend. Lala isn't quite up there outside of a wacky costume and childishly named gadgets, she's more of a Lime than a Lum. Rito's main squeeze Haruna is also the pure-hearted, classical girlfriend type. The personality types of this love-triangle are retreading well worn ground at this point.
I'd describe To Love Ru as a pure harem, which feels a little novel nowadays. Main characters are busy getting accidentally warped or reincarnated into other worlds and running smack into their potential female suitors, but less often is romance the hook anymore. Harem set-ups have become more like background dressing for fantasy and slice-of-life plots. Watching Rito get chased down the hall by a stampede of jealous dudes took me back to the first time I saw Akane fight off her wannabe lovers in Ranma ½. It's not really en vogue anymore unless the male hero is also a giant pervert.
Kentaro Yabuki's comedic artwork is pretty top-notch. Rito pulls out all kinds of expressions ranging from exasperated to overbearingly impassioned. Arguably, the artwork shines most during its humorous moments more than when its attempting to be sexy. There's too much silliness going on, nude alien girls in bathtubs, transforming robot clothes, accidentally teleporting into the girls' locker room, to feel any legitimate romantic tension. This is all wacky strawberry cheesecake. Sure, you can get strawberry cheesecake at most places but it's never a bad dessert choice and it always tastes exactly how it's advertised. To Love Ru is the same way, both easily readable and delivering exactly what it set out to do.
The first two-in-one omnibus edition of the To Love Ru manga makes no bones about being a fanservice love comedy, and in that respect, it succeeds. For those familiar with the gigantic-harem route the series and its spin-off eventually take, this flashback to Rito's days in a love triangle (albeit one with an alien) seems rather quaint. This volume reminds the reader that the series works just fine with Rito having two love interests, which makes latter additions to his love life seem rather unnecessary. That aside, there isn't a lot of substance to To Love Ru's first two volumes, but there are plenty of comedic moments and risqué fanservice shots, almost to the point of gratuitousness were it not the main objective of the series.
In series of this ilk, the boy at the center of the harem typically falls into one of two categories: dull, milquetoast passive or lecherous, criminal aggressive. Rito, though not an incredibly fleshed-out character, manages to straddle the two categories perfectly, so he doesn't often offend with the train of his thoughts, but nor does he bore. Alien princess Lala is refreshingly charming, prone to going commando for one legitimate reason or another, but not overly possessive of Rito or even cognizant of what's going on around her. Haruna, Rito's original crush, is sweet and also doesn't venture too far into tired tropes, like the easily-jealous girl-next-door or the girl who accidentally gets touched and overreacts as if the act were intentional. However, Hasemi and Yabuki put Haruna in overly exploitative situations almost entirely for titillation's sake, which significantly ups the creepiness factor of a title otherwise walking that line between sexy and depraved fairly adeptly.
Though the fate of the world is literally at stake, To Love Ru is more concerned with the daily romantic mishaps of a hapless young man. Still, the alien angle makes for some humorous and rather original setups, from Lala's other fiancés coming to win her heart via far-from-romantic methods to Lala's wacky inventions livening up the daily grind.
Yabuki's art is almost entirely framed around and focused on the female body. Not only is there virtually every overdone locale one can think of to show nude or mostly-nude young women (the pool, the bath, the onsen), but even innocuous scenes include a shot up the skirt or two. The characters are attractive and devoid of sharp angles, lending an upbeat tone to the series. Background art is used sparingly but just enough so that blank and screentoned backdrops don't seem overdone.
To Love Ru isn't for everyone, but for readers looking for fanservice with a little more fun, this collection of the first two volumes will definitely entertain. As the series is fast-paced and simple this early on, time will fly when reading these volumes, so long as you're in the mood for T&A.
This is my introduction to the To-Love-Ru franchise, and I have to say that I was expecting much worse. Although it does indulge in some of the less wonderful aspects of harem stories, such as a male lead forced into a relationship he doesn't want and random girl-on-girl sexual harassment, it's still surprisingly tame and the characters have the potential to grow as the story goes on. While there's also a good chance that Rito will simply come to fall in love with Lala, moving on from his crush on Haruna, it also feels likely that Lala will realize that Rito and Haruna's feelings are mutual, and instead play cupid for them.
In any event, these two introductory volumes have a lot of fun with their story. While it's clearly a bit dated, with the whole “beautiful girl pops out of your bathtub/microwave/math book” scenario having largely fallen out of favor, the basic plot remains familiar, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Lala is delightfully zany and always clearly has the best intentions, even if carrying them out doesn't work the way she thinks they will, and Rito is never anything but clear about his own feelings towards her, even if he can't bring himself to tell Haruna that he likes her. For her part, Haruna seems to be willing to be friends with Lala even if she's her rival, and there's just a general good-natured feel to the three protagonists' interactions.
That said, this is still kind of stale as far as plot goes. Thus far we've had the obligatory random marriage announcement, the school swimsuit chapter, the hot springs chapter, and the test of courage plotline, with bonus aquarium trip and tentacle attack. Despite the pleasant characters, this really is very cliché and isn't doing a whole lot to disguise the fact. While it can get away with it to a point, it won't be able to glide by on fanservice (relatively tame, actually) and sympathetic leads alone. While I appreciate the expediency of an omnibus format, it does allow us to see how very familiar the story is with two volumes in close proximity, and that may not help this series in the end.
Despite this, if you're a fan of harem rom coms or even just Kentaro Yabuki's art, which does a very nice job of being both dynamic and attractive here, this is worth checking out. It doesn't try to do anything new with its genre, but it is decently fun, and if nothing else, it's the kind of book you might want to pick up at the library.
I know why Seven Seas picked up To Love-Ru - the anime reportedly sells really well and it maintains a sturdy, dedicated fanbase, but the jokes in writer Saki Hasemi and artist Kentaro Yakubi's are ripped straight from harem comedy classics like Ranma ½, Tenchi Muyo and Love Hina. The plot is a straight rip-off of Urusei Yatsura. Only here the morally bankrupt and enjoyably dysfunctional denizens of Tomobiki have been replaced by a gaggle of milquetoast high-schoolers and “wacky” aliens who could be from any other mid-2000s romantic comedy. An attempt is made near the end of the first volume to deepen the intrigue by introducing a roster of rival suitors who will battle Rito for Lulu's hand, but even before they appear it's clear they'll be defeated not by wit or guile but by zany comedic happenstance.
You can tell, because this is how Rito defeats Lulu's bodyguard Zastin and earns his reluctant respect. You can tell, because this is how Rito proposes to Lulu when he meant to propose to his childhood sweetheart, Haruna. You can tell, because this is how everything happens in To-Love-Ru. It's an incredibly contrived – and too-often shrill – style of comedy that relies entirely on ironic misunderstandings and asinine accidents and sudden bursts of violence to stall any development in the relationship between Rito and Lala and Haruna while forcing them into compromising situations and risque poses in pursuit of its real goal: fanservice.
All those better series which To-Love-Ru is often cribbing its jokes directly from could make this sensibility work at times because they at least had the good sense to broaden their scope by introducing martial or adventure elements when their formula became too tired. Most also knew how to draw alluring women and interesting locales. Kentaro Yabuki does not. He could be the most utterly unremarkable artist in Shonen Jump's history. Rito's classmates may rant and rave about how cute Lulu is, Rito himself may have constant dirty fantasies about Haruna, but there's nothing believable in all this fervor when the girls' designs are so plain. Harder still to imagine even the horny real-life readership of Shonen Jump getting so riled up that their demand warranted a To-Love-Ru a sequel series and multiple anime. Yabuki doesn't even have the good grace to present sexually enticing scenarios to offset his bland designs: the most lascivious sequence in this collection is also the vilest, featuring the sexualized kidnapping and molestation of Haruna.
When the most remarkable thing you can say about a series is that its sexual morals are particularly ugly, it was probably never worth dredging up.
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