Love Lab Review

This is review number two hundred and forty eight. This anime is part of the Summer 2013 lineup. I’m on my Christmas break right now so I am trying to knock off a few more anime off my list before I enter the Fall 2013 lineup. I did my best but I just wasn’t able to close the Summer lineup before Fall ended. I suck. Anyways, the anime I’ll be reviewing is Love Lab. It’s a thirteen episode anime about two girls in the student council trying to practice being in love or something stupid like that. It is pretty stupid but you’d be surprised how entertaining this particular show is. Let’s read on.

Story

Riko Kurashi is pretty popular at Fujisaki Girls Academy. She is considered the “Wild One” for being such a rough and cool character. One day, Riko suddenly saw the president of the student council making out with a hug pillow. The Princess of the Academy that everyone considers to be perfect actually has a shameful secret like this. Riko was shocked but Natsuo Maki isn’t going to let her go after knowing her secret. Riko is now forced to help Natsuo with her “Love Research”. What is it exactly? It’s Natsuo researching best methods on how to make guy fall in love with him and Riko, lying through her teeth, bragged that she was popular among the boys. Natsuo then considered Riko her master and asked her to teach her more about love.

Taking the Pants Off

I was honestly not expecting much from this show. I actually groaned a bit thinking about watching another four panel anime about four girls in a slice of life setting. I recently found disdain for this genre. Back when I had no job, I actually enjoyed the random format and the fact that nothing really interesting happens in shows like these. Now that I can only watch three episode of an anime a day, I feel impatient with the lack of story and the clear lack of payoff when you watch shows like this. I nearly stopped watching anime when I could barely finish Kiniro Mosaic. It’s not a bad show but it’s a genre that I am not in the mood to watch for now. I’m even planning on scoping the rest of these anime and making sure I watch them for last on lineups to come. Anyways, I expected Love Lab to just be one of those four panel slice of life anime. I was honestly ready to hate it. This show is pretty surprising though. It’s definitely a show that breaks expectations and evolves into something more enjoyable as you keep watching it. Here’s the best thing about this show. It was adapted from a four panel manga yet it seems to possess a story so good you’d think it was adapted from a light novel. I am not joking. The last thing you’d expect is that it was from a four panel manga. I’ve seen a four panel manga try to tell a progressive story and sucked at it. Kotoura is a sad show adapted from a lazy manga so the idea that Love Lab had a story in its four panel walls is just too damn insane to even consider.

When I first watched this show, the general first impression is Shoujo Ai. I think most people would conclude that as well. The main character meets this straight laced woman and she wants to learn more about love. They’re stuck in a room all by themselves and they try to act all lovey dovey definitely hinting at something more between the two. Of course, the show isn’t about that. I just wanted to put that out there because the show seriously had a yuri vibe when you sit down and watch it. As you keep watching though, it’s pretty clear what the show was about. The two main characters would do “love research” and it’s basically bashing tropes and making fun of clichés you’d find in most romantic movies/anime. They’d do about the most common things in most romantic setups like running with a toast in your mouth and bumping to a guy at the turn of the hallway. They’d practice the bit then just finds a way to make fun of it. Right then and there, you’d realize how fun this show would be. With the trope bashing and the wonderful interaction between the two characters, the show is really brilliant in its own right. It still follows the same four panel format though. The two girls would talk about certain clichés and the scene would end with a gag. The wonderful thing is that the scenes are actually cohesive and the central theme made sure the show doesn’t jump around. I recently hate certain four panel anime for just doing random things in one scene then doing another in the next. It breaks the shows story that it barely even use. It’s refreshing to see a four panel anime being so cohesive you can actually see the story coming together and not just random gags about a single theme.

The show really just has one plot point and it’s about the girls doing their “love research”. One of the great things about the show though is that it evolves into something more as you keep watching. The show slowly spurns out a lot of subplots concerning the plot point and it then develops those subplots. It’s actually pretty brilliant because it gave the show structure that is easy to watch. I think there are four subplots that sprung out of the initial plot point. I don’t want to spoil much but forgive me because my structured review format oddly doesn’t fit for this anime. Anyways, the main premise of the show is that the straight laced “princess” of Fuji Academy, Natsuo Maki, is secretly a weirdo where she even went as far as to draw a man in a hug pillow and kiss the damn thing in her spare time. This is a secret she doesn’t want anyone else to know. Then one day, this girl named Riko Kurahashi opened the door to the student council room to find our princess making out with her hug pillow. Riko is forced to share the secret and she was soon dragged into Maki’s crazy antics where she would test out certain romantic scenarios so she can one day land a guy in such a manner. Thus, the love research was born. Riko can’t back out now. Not only does she learn of Maki’s secret but she also bragged about being so experienced with men that she has broken plenty of hearts. It was an obvious lie she now can’t take back. Riko from now on is part of the student council and she now helps Maki with her love researches.

One of the subplots that sprung up from the initial plot point is the fact that Maki is the only active member of the student council. It appears that there are other members but the rest was ousted by Maki herself. Maki often does things efficiently that she doesn’t need help from others. She banned the treasurer from the student council and the actual president was forced to give up her seat because of how perfect Maki is at handling the entire work load by herself. The treasurer and the president now vowed to get revenge on Maki one way or another. The best way to hit Maki at her lowest would simply be to expose the one thing that would shatter her princess image and that’s the completely insane love research she’s been working on with Riko. What would happen when the love research is exposed and how can Riko and Maki stop the bitter student council member from succeeding in their evil plan?

The first subplot is actually where you can definitely see the story’s potential being achieved. Basically, it’s just a way to introduce the rest of the cast. Love Lab is your typical four panel anime about girls talking about random shit that takes away precious seconds of your life you can never get back. The show was able to build a story out of the only plot point it had, introduce the characters, build some tension and then reach a pretty wonderful climax. This subplot was fairly resolved towards the end of the first half but it really gave you an idea how complex the show was. It felt restrictive but it still had a way to develop a subplot to really make the show interesting. The cast also become full circle in this first subplot. The rest of the characters are eased in carefully and the wonderful interaction eventually grows into something more entertaining.

The second subplot that grew out of the initial plot point is the love requests. At some point in the show, the suggestion boxes placed all over the school becomes riddled with love requests from various students. Maki took it upon herself to make sure that the requests and the various questions the students of Fuji All Girls are answered. This poses a problem though because the love research is supposed to be kept secret and the teachers would frown upon the student council doing something so ridiculous in their spare time. They need to find a way to answer the requests without the love research being exposed and the students being fully satisfied with the answers to their requests. This is another wonderful display of the show really evolving into something more complex. The second subplot is pretty remarkable because the story really transformed from the typical four panel anime you’d expect with the girls just wasting time on the clubroom into something more engaging. The progression of the second subplot is probably one of the more interesting aspects of the show because it was able to feature everything good about the anime in such a smart manner. The solution to the student council’s problem is pretty fun to watch and you won’t believe how all of it comes together in the end.

The third subplot is about the newspaper association. This one is pretty much like the first subplot. The newspaper association has beef with Maki after they were downgraded from a club into an association and now they want revenge on the student council. This is the club that delivers news to the rest of the school so naturally, they’d want to dig some dirt on the members of the council. This can only mean one thing: the love research being exposed. Maki and Riko must now scramble to find a way to stop the newspaper association from finding out their secret. The newspaper council is pretty persistent though and is hell bent on causing trouble for the student council. They ruffled enough feathers that a secret was eventually exposed. They caused enough trouble that one of the student council members is forced to quit. The third subplot may look like it had the same progression as the first one but it definitely made sure it was exciting in its own right. The various random skits of the show eventually build up into one exciting climax for the third subplot and it’s probably one of the best parts of the show. The third subplot is actually pretty complex with a lot of elements contributing to its wonderful climax. The anime has built up some interesting aspects of the show up until this point and they all came together to make the third plot point pretty damn fun. The introduction of two new characters was also a surprise because four panel anime doesn’t really do this. They’d introduce all the characters three episodes in, keep the status quo intact until the end of the show and then just be repetitive for the rest of its days. It rarely introduces new characters so late in the show and I guess I was just really shocked that Love Lab just isn’t your typical four panel anime.

The fourth subplot and possibly the most mind blowing of all is the introduction of boys in the show. I don’t want to spoil much of the details but some boys does appear in the show and make a slight love connection with the main characters of the show. I love this sub plot of all because seeing the girls just talk with boys and screw it up one way or another is pretty damn funny. This was another testament to the ever evolving aspect of the show. An anime that started out in a confined space of a clubroom grew into something so much more complex yet interesting in a whole new different take. This subplot doesn’t have much though. It doesn’t reach a notable climax like the rest of the subplots but it’s one of the more standout elements of the show. Imagine the straight laced, yet secretly a weirdo, Maki talking to a boy and her imagination just goes wild. A simple conversation can turn into a disaster in a blink of an eye. What about the tomboyish Riko talking to boy and then suddenly acting all shy and blushing like a kid? These are particular gems of the show that I often keep going back to simply because it’s just too damn cute not to like. For girls that simply daydream of a romantic meeting with a guy, it seems that real life just doesn’t have the same appeal as the things they imagine and it does make for some great moments for the show.

Despite the growing subplots, this is still your standard four panel affair though. The elements of the genre are still very much present in the show. The show is still consisting of various skits that compose and episode. Most of the skits would end with a gag and a bunch of the characters reacting to a funny situation. The thing that makes the skits special though is that they aren’t random. The plot point of the show gives it a steady base and the characters just follow the same format throughout the show. Between the trope bashing and the character interaction, the skits are fun to watch on their own. One thing Love Lab has in common though with the rest of its four panel brethren is that it is still a very repetitive show. The subplots take a while to take off and the skits do get boring at some point. A good four panel anime is repetitive. I believe in that statement and the same applies for Love Lab. There is great payoff though if you keep watching and it’s in the form of the climax of the subplots so you are entertained through and through.

lovelab7

The characters are pretty great and they help make the show more special. The main character is Riko Kurahashi and Natsuo Maki. These two has a nice thing going. Natsuo would be the comedy man and Riko would be the straight man of the group. Riko would be the serious one in the group ready to slap Natsuo when she does something stupid. The wonderful interaction between the two is really a nice touch because it made it easier to connect with the characters. The wonderful part about the characters is that they do gradually get fleshed out as the show progresses. It’s not much since the show still relies on the comedy of the duo but they still had some serious moments where the characters do transform. The comedy between the two is pretty great because it’s just so well executed. Their personalities really complement each other and it made every punch line and every gag funny. If the show wasn’t being funny, it was featuring the wonderful friendship between the two characters. Natsuo is a girl that doesn’t depend on others yet has grown to rely on Riko and RIko considers herself as a rough girl that no one likes yet Natsuo clings to her like they’re best friends. They have a cute thing going that really adds a lot to the show.

The rest of the characters are pretty great as well. As I said before, they make the show become full circle. There is the timid and short secretary that everyone wants to take care of because she’s like the little sister you never had. There is the treasurer addicted to money and a massive sadist that she often delivers hurtful blows towards other characters for comedic effects. Then there is the president who is the resident tsundere and she has a pretty childish attitude that the rest of the characters poke fun of. When these girls come together in the clubroom, you are guaranteed of something really entertaining. Like the two main characters, these characters are also gradually fleshed out and they add a lot to the development of the story.

lol1

I did check the manga and it is pretty much like Kotoura. It’s an anime from the Winter 2013 lineup about a girl that can read minds. I didn’t like the show and I chalk it up to a lazy manga being adapted into a show. The four panel limit was restrictive and the whole manga felt like the author did four panels because they can’t commit to creating a proper manga. I thought that was the case as well for Love Lab. Most scenes are done in regular manga panel format but the bulk of the story is told in just four panels with eight panels per page. I am really amazed the manga had so much content considering how restrictive the four panel format is. Love Lab didn’t try anything daring and it tried to keep things simple. Koutura should learn from Love Lab and never try to achieve something so ambitious in a four panel format. Love Lab is surprising and it had a lot of room to work on because it kept itself simple. It’s a four panel manga about girls talking about things in their clubroom. That’s the main idea but the author was smart to make sure that’s not all you get. Brownie points for Dogakobo though. This is a studio that doesn’t like to leave its comfort zone a lot. It’s been stuck in the four panel hell since it decided to release GJ-bu. They do some risky things from time to time like the coldly received Natsuyuki Rendezvous but I think they did great with Love Lab. Let’s hope for more good things from this studio. I hope to God though that they finally realize that four panel anime just isn’t enough. Love Lab is a rarity and I’m glad my passive attitude towards the show was completely off base.

Sight and Sound

Ruri Miyahara’s design, in all honesty, sucks. If you saw the manga then you can tell that it just lacks refinement and it felt like it was drawn by an amateur. I mean no disrespect but even the mouth placement and the shape of the face doesn’t stay consistent through the four panel sequence. The way the face is drawn is a bit off putting and it sucks because the characters are supposed to be cute. The hair designs of the characters and their various details are present though but they just don’t look appealing at all. Thank God Chiaki Nakajima had a perfect idea of what the characters should look like and she was able to transform the characters from the way they look in the manga. She was able to take all her experience from Yuru Yuri and apply it greatly on the characters of Love Lab. She gave the characters a more gentle face with the less box shaped face. She also gave more details to the eyes and a little blush on the cheeks to make them look more tame. This made Ruri’s design so much more appealing and it made the characters look cuter. This is then completed with a decent color scheme that gives of a cute and gentle aura that also suggests some slight yuri, but that’s just me, really. There is very little detail work on the character design but their personality really covers all the loose seams of each character.

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Animation is great. This is something slice of life anime is pretty known for. There aren’t a lot to animate so the standards is pretty high from the get go. The way the characters move is pretty smooth and the comedic transition was nicely executed. There are still some noticeable faults like characters not blinking and only the mouth moving but it doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of the show. There are a lot of running and other scenes that has high animation and I think the show was able to give the scene justice. I particularly love it when Natsuo goes chibi when Riko hits her with a slap stick. You can clearly see the precise movement and the small details afterwards like Natsuo suddenly watering up as if about to cry. There are a lot of wonderful scenes in the anime that I personally want to make a GIF of but I’m honestly too busy right now. You can definitely see the basic gist of the show though from the GIF above so enjoy. I also love the girls on the background of the show that has hearts over their heads because of how much they adore Riko or Natsuo. It’s a nice touch for the show giving it a pretty mellow vibe. The camera angles were also smartly used to make certain scenes more amazing. I love how some scenes have close ups and 360 degree turns that compliments a scenic approach of a scene. You can really see how sophisticated the animation is just by those complex camera angle movements and that was certainly a nice touch.

The anime’s OP is “Love Shitai!” by Fuji-Jo Seitokai Shikkou-Bu. This is a very cute song about love and friendship. I think the fact that the main characters sang the song was also a nice addition to its novelty. It’s a cute song with a very lovely verse. Most of the girls only had one line in the verses though and it’s mostly Natsuo and Riko singing the song. Still, it builds into a really cute and catchy chorus. The OP sequence features all the characters and a few moments of the show. It also had a cheesy setup of the girls running happily together and then waltzing through the air with a heart on their palm. It’s a cute OP despite my cynical objections.

The anime’s ED is “Best FriendS” by Fuji-Jo Seitokai Shikkou-Bu. This is pretty much like the OP song. It’s cute and it’s more of a duo between Riko and Natsuo. It also has a nice theme of friendship and love though. I love how catchy this song is and the verse had a stable progression leading into the chorus. The chorus is as catchy as the first one and the gentle voices of the characters really add a lot to the beauty of the song. The ED sequence features the characters in chibi form riding a car and driving away. It goes on a loop but it’s very cute.

Overall Score

7/10 “It’s your different kind of four panel anime. It’s more story conscious and it had a more engaging content that you can’t find in most four panel anime.”

This is an incredible show. It is full of surprises and it just defies your expectations countless times that you really can’t help but enjoy every second of it. The story is really paced well, the characters are engaging and there is enough craziness in the anime to keep you entertained. If you like a great story in your anime then you’ll love the one in this show. If you’re a fan of the cute girls doing cute things genre then you’ll enjoy this show. If you’re a fan of comedy then this show won’t disappoint. I highly recommend it.

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