By Ken Akamatsu. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.
Things are beginning to pick up a bit in this third volume of Love Hina. Yes, there is still a lot of Keitaro seeing people naked and Keitaro getting hit, but it’s far less than in the first few volumes. Akamatsu is finding he can indeed do things other than ecchi comedy, and is also starting to realize something important: he has no idea where to go with this once his heroes achieve their goal.
Yes, surprise, Keitaro, Naru and Mutsumi all make it into Todai in this collection. Admittedly, it takes 2/3 of the omnibus for this to happen, including a visit to another turtle-infested South Sea island. The reason for this being that Keitaro, convinced he failed, has run away. Except… he didn’t fail. He’s in… provided he submits his paperwork on time. This is what drives most of the comedy here, a fast-paced race against time chase with increasingly ludicrous situations. Something that should be very familiar to Negima readers. Yes, Ken can still bring the ecchi comedy, but the difference between this and the start of the series is the *pacing*. The first volume is glacial, and you only realize how much after seeing these volumes.
Speaking of realization, as I noted, Akamatsu has realized he does not really want Keitaro in college stories. This is what leads to the broken leg that keeps him sidelined most of the last third of the book. And kudos to Akamatsu for lampshading this heavily, given the amount of abuse he’s taken from Naru. Everyone jokes that they had thought he was immortal. Admittedly, making him physically vulnerable does undercut the ‘comedic sociopathy doesn’t hurt’ rules of this universe… I suppose I should be lucky he didn’t get the broken leg via a Naru punch. Anyway, getting back to my point, Keitaro as a hapless college student, worrying he and Naru are growing further apart is kinda boring. But Keitaro the competent archaeologist, using his bad luck for good rather than for evil? That works. Keitaro on the island is the most likeable we’ve ever seen him. (Akamatsu will go too far with this, but we aren’t quite there yet.)
On the romance front, Keitaro has at last confessed to Naru. Who takes her own sweet time in answering him, mostly as she’s just as bad as he is in most respects. This gets contrasted with Seta and Haruka, who not only turn out to have dated when they were students, but also have many similarities to the current Keitaro and Naru. In fact, Haruka’s enraged beating of Seta after embarrassing her one too many times could easily have been a typical Keitaro/Naru farce. It’s a really sweet chapter, though, and one hopes that they can resolve things soon… especially as our heroes seem to realize the parallels with their own situation.
Motoko and Shinobu also get some short arcs towards the end. Shinobu proves to be a fairly mediocre student, and most of her story is spent trying to teach her to study properly while showing off her crush on Keitaro. (Naru doesn’t help by still being in the ‘who likes that idiot?’ phase of her life.) And Motoko’s sister, Tsuruko shows up, supposedly to test Motoko’s allegiance to her sword art, but in reality to try to make her mature more and get over some of her worst hangups. Of course, this being Love Hina, Tsuruko goes about this via some tough love. This gives us an iconic image of Motoko dressed as a maid, determined to become the perfect feminine woman since she can’t please her sister by her sword mastery. The anime would take this and run with it, I seem to recall.
So things look almost ready to wrap up here. Keitaro and Naru aren’t together, but both know their feelings for each other. And they got into Todai. Looks as if this series is ready to wrap up. Of course, it’s not. There’s 2 more omnibuses to go. Join us next time when we introduce the second most controversial character in all of Love Hina (Naru being first, of course.)