Reviewby Theron Martin,
To Love Ru
DVD - Collection 1
Poor Rito Yuuki; he not only has trouble working up the nerve to confess to classmate Haruna, the apple of his eye, but Fate itself also seems out to get him every time he gets close. The biggest and most problematic of these disruptions to come along is the gorgeous, tail-sporting alien princess Lala Satalin Deviluke, who first appears, completely naked, in his bathtub while running away from her father. Misinterpreting Rito's initial actions as a marriage proposal (planet Deviluke apparently has some strange ideas about this), Lala latches onto Rito as her fiancé, partly because she fell in love with him over his attempts to protect her from villains he thought were trying to kidnap her and partly to give herself an excuse to dodge the other marriage proposals she's constantly beset by. She sets up house with Rito and his younger sister and eventually goes to school with him, too, which naturally causes no small amount of complications for Rito, but even having such a sexy girl almost literally hanging on him doesn't discourage him from trying to win Haruna – and she seems interested, too, when he isn't accidentally groping her.
Being the fiancé of a Deviluke princess also attracts a lot of unwanted attention. Rito regularly finds himself beset by rivals for Lala's hand, zealous fan club presidents, assassins, earnest bodyguards, jealous fellow students, and alien cooking ingredients run wild. Lala's antics even run Rito afoul of the school's resident Morals Officer. What's a young man with so many beauties at hand, who practically blows his top when faced with such lusciousness, to do?
The name of this series, which is based on a manga written by Saki Hasemi and drawn by Black Cat creator Kentaro Yabuki, is a pun based on the similar ways “love” and “trouble” sound when spoken with Japanese syllables and is meant to be representative of the kind of trouble that love brings the main character in the story. That's as subtle as this series ever gets, however. Within the first couple of seconds the opener establishes the tone for the series by showing Lala, the main hottie, cheerily prancing around topless (albeit with strategically-placed hands), and that is only the beginning. What follows in this release are thirteen episodes of unabashedly trashy entertainment which do not even pretend that they are about anything more than rampant fan service and cheap laughs. But sometimes that approach works, and this is one of those cases.
Appreciating the merits of this one does require wading through a lot of faults, however. To call To Love-Ru derivative might be an understatement; its content is, essentially, a conglomeration of structures and gimmicks common to male-oriented romantic comedies put out over the past three decades. An unassuming but good-hearted guy has a gorgeous alien princess fall in love with him and seek to wed him? Yeah, that's never been done more than, oh, about a thousand times before, and this one is not any fresher a variation than any previous iteration. (The most unfortunate legacy of Urusei Yatsura lives on!) Girl first appears in the guy's tub while he's taking a bath? Been there, done that. Despite having a difficult time staying cool around women, guy gets practically swarmed by them? That, too, is also trite, although at least Rito does not get nosebleeds. Unfortunate circumstances constantly put guy in a position to accidentally grope his love interest or bury his face in a girl's crotch? Yeah, you could name about any romantic comedy of the past decade. Hot nurse who wears fantastically school-inappropriate clothing? That's practically a uniform requirement for schools in Japan, isn't it? Haughty “Queen of the School” type who feels threatened by the guy's woman? See Ah! My Goddess. Character who changes gender in certain stressful situations? See Ranma ½, although this is a more extreme case. And so on and so forth. Little of what the series has done so far has even a shred of originality to it. And can we ever get a male lead in one of these who is bold enough to take advantage when a sexy, naked girl keeps crawling into his bed at night?
So what makes something like this actually watchable? Despite its many flaws, it is often quite funny in those little moments where it steps beyond normal anime romantic comedy schlock. The otherwise-weak first episode shows some of the series' comedic potential by keeping Rito from confessing to Haruna on one occasion because he gets trampled by a random herd of elephants – in the middle of a Japanese city, no less. It takes bolder steps forward in the second episode with Zastin, the armored guy, who spent the first episode looking like he was going to be the irritating Overprotective Guy stereotype but instead, shockingly, starts showing great comic timing; one later scene involving something going awry for him during an apparently-serious fight will make almost anyone giggle despite themselves. A later scene involving Lala's cooking ingredients getting out of hand is a hoot, as are most of the bizarre suitors (especially the Rocketman-type alien and his problems with a certain dog) and many of Rito's fantasies. And when Lala's immensely powerful father finally makes an appearance in episode 13 – well, that is a surprise that should not be spoiled, but it will either make you sputter or roll your eyes. The series even has the savvy to play Rito's impossibly good-natured side up for laughs at one point.
Fan service also stands in the series' favor, as it certainly does not lack in quantity when it comes to near-nudity, panty flashes, ripped clothing, sexy outfits, groping, and even some highly suggestive scenes involving tentacles, shibari techniques, and one of the more sexual uniform transformation scenes you'll ever see outside of a hentai title (although, mercifully that only gets used a couple of times early on); it even liberally layers the fan service across the visuals of its eyecatches and both its opener and its closer. The quality of the fan service matters just as much, though. Lala may be an irrepressibly cheery airhead with some very bizarre inventions at her disposal, but she is also damn fine-looking naked and the series gives you ample opportunities to appreciate that. Most other girls also get their turns in some stages of undress, and rarely do they disappoint. The series even toys with self-censorship by typically adding in just enough mist or haziness to avoid outright nipple shots while still sometimes allowing hints of visible areolas. Those looking for a fully uncensored version will be disappointed, though.
The series also has fan service of other forms. Although references to other anime are sparse – the only obvious ones in these episodes are to Dragon Ball, Black Cat, and Gundam Seed – numerous other American and Japanese pop culture references can be spotted by sharp-eyed viewers. The opening scenes of the first episode have a very Star Wars flavor, chunks of one episode parody the American movies Rocky and Karate Kid, one of Lala's costumes in episode 3 looks suspiciously like Snow White's dress, dream sequences parody a Japanese flavor of stand-up comedy in one episode, and a sly reference or two to ero games might be noted, among other things. The series is nowhere near as stocked with this content as is a Hayate the Combat Butler, but it is there.
The look of the series is certainly not a negative, except for a series-opening sequence which looks like something left over from late '80s cell animation. The artistry clearly focuses its effort on the design and rendering of its female characters; Lala is the outright sexiest (although that made-for-cosplay costume has got to go), but the more petite Haruna has plenty of her own appeal and Rito's sister Mikan has that “I'm going to be a knock-out when I'm a few years older” kind of appeal to her. Prefer the loli look? The assassin Golden Darkness, with all of her buckles, provides that. Almost none of the other female characters will be found lacking, either. Male character designs get decidedly less attention, often even looking dumpy, with Zastin being the rare exception. The CG effects are quite sharp and virtually seamless in application; studio Xebec has outdone itself in that aspect. They did not put anywhere near as much effort into the background art or animation, though.
The musical score is most distinctive for a strong set of opener and closer. "forever we can make it!" by THYME is a strong J-Rock opener paired with some clever Japanese credit placements in its fan service shots. (For instance, one of the credits is tanned inside the tan line of one female character's swimsuit, which she has pulled back to reveal, while another set is on a shirt washing instructions tag.) Closer “Lucky Tune” by ANNA offers an equally catchy, upbeat J-Pop number featuring bubble patterns flashing over Lala in various model-like poses. The soundtrack in between ranges from remarkably bland to quite lively depending on the scene, working best with the heavier rock pieces used for some action scenes and the high-energy synthesized number used when things are going comically amiss and least effectively in the lower-key scene-backing tunes.
Sentai Filmworks' release of the title puts the thirteen episodes on two disks in a regular-sized case in a facing-each-other packaging arrangement which makes each disk convenient to handle – by far the best packing arrangement of any American company currently releasing two-disk cases. The only Extras, as per the recent norm for Sentai, are clean opener and closer, and the former actually suffers for not having the credits included. (It makes some of the zoom shots seem pointless.) The Subtitle Mistake count for this set is at two, both on the second disk and both involving an accidental replacement of the obviously-correct word with a similarly-spelled incorrect word. Also curiously, one of the menus for the first disk features a character who does not appear until a second-disk episode. As per the norm, there is no English dub and the opener and closer are both the Japanese originals, with English credits only at the very end of each episode.
To Love-Ru was definitely not created with a female audience in mind. It is a series squarely aimed at male otaku, and does exactly what it intends to do: deliver a lot of fan service and a good number of effective laughs. That makes any arguments about how lowbrow or derivative it is largely irrelevant.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Plentiful quality fan service, sometimes quite funny, opener and closer.
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