It began as little more than a curiosity inspired by an animated avatar of Maki bouncing around in excitement. After a bit of inquiry, I would learn that this was from Love Lab, an anime about Natsuo Maki and Riko Kurahashi’s friendship as the two begin setting out to learn more about the intricacies of courtship. The former is seen as a model student, while the latter is admired for her forward personality. After Riko stumbles across Maki messing with a dakimakura while delivering some papers to the student council, she joins Maki in practising romance, simultaneously keeping Maki’s hidden side away from the rest of the students. When I began watching Love Lab, I was simultaneously watching Higurashi: When They Cry. Love Lab thus acted as a foil to Higurashi, providing a series that was purely comedy driven and negating some of the darker elements in the latter. Thus, I found myself watching this after finishing a series of Higurashi episodes to lighten the mood up, and found the antics in Love Lab to be most amusing. However, even in this comedic series, there is a point worth mentioning that ties all of the episodes together.
- A tomboy with a bold and forward character, Riko Kurahashi is popular with the girls at Fujisaki Girls academy: in her presence, the other girls become enamored with her and display heart-shaped eyes, although it seems that Riko chooses either not to notice, or else isn’t aware that this is the case.
- Natsuo Maki, on the other hand, is admired by most of the students at Fujisaki Girls academy for her refined mannerisms and solid performance in anything she puts her mind to. However, Riko discovers a hitherto unknown side to her, and in helping Maki keep her secret about a wish to learn romance, joins the student council.
- Suzune Tanahashi is a shy junior student who greatly respects Maki and is shocked to learn about the latter’s desire for romantic practise, but soon finds herself in charge of making harisen, or paper fans used to hit the boke in the tsukkomi/boke act.
- Riko demonstrates how to wield such fans properly on Maki.
- Yuiko Enomoto and Sayori Mizushima are former members of the student council. After Maki’s overwhelming efficiency leads her to dismiss Yuiko and Sayori, the two plot revenge against Maki and wind up stumbling across the Love Labs that Maki is holding.
- While the Love Labs come close to being disclosed to the entire school, Yuiko and Sayori manage to turn things around before things get too ugly. Both join the Love Lab later on, joining Riko, Maki and Suzu in their journeys to learn more about romance and love-related situations. Following this point, the Love Lab begins receiving requests for advice from anonymous students in the school.
- As time wears on, Sayori is increasingly aware of Riko’s lack of experience in romance, while Riko herself feels an ever-increasing amount of guilt for being unable to bring herself to tell Maki and the others the truth. In spite of this, Riko’s advice is general enough to be applicable to a limited extent.
- Maki’s father is the owner of a well-known undergarments manufacturer: Yuiko and Sayori mention this year, much to Maki’s embarrassment. In other anime, such as Tari Tari or CLANNAD, mild patches of pink denote embarrassment, but in Love Lab, a part of the visual impact does come from the fact that the whole of the character’s face takes on a red luminescence whenever they are flustered.
- Despite having the strongest desire of anyone to experience romance, Maki is also the most capable of dressing convincingly as a male student. She resembles Haganai‘s Yozora Mikazuki to some extent here, and initially takes on such an appearance to motivate Riko to study harder for her exams.
- To the right is Satoshi Nagino, who had a crush on Riko back in their childhood. The precise circumstances behind how Riko rejected him is not known given that the story is always interrupted. Rejections in reality have almost no comedic impact;
As surprising as it may seem, Love Lab does have one overarching theme: the impact of Riko’s lie about her popularity with boys, and her experiences with relationships. Even early in the anime, it becomes apparent that Rika is quite guilty about her lie, but is unwilling to hurt Maki’s feelings. As a consequence, this lie snowballs, and even as new members (Sazune Tanahashi, Yuiko Enomoto and Sayori Mizushima) join the Love Lab, Riko realises that it will become increasingly difficult to maintain her deceit, especially as Maki begins attending cram school later on in the series to gain a better sense of what social interaction is. Eventually, the truth does come out during a tearful conversation, where Maki makes it clear that, lie or not, she values Riko as a friend because the latter is always willing to help her. This acts as the climax to Love Lab, and while the consequences of this misunderstanding is nowhere near as far-reaching as those that lead to the events of Gundam Unicorn, they nonetheless act as a subtle reminder of just how difficult it is for the truth to be presented as time wears on.
- The girls pay a visit to Riko’s place to experience what it is like to speak with a boy (namely Riko’s younger brother, Rentaro). The experience leads Suzu to learn how comebacks are staged, and Rentaro himself develops a crush of sorts on Maki.
- If I may speak freely, this post was actually quite difficult to write for. Almost half of the summer has passed; at this point in time, I’m slowly making my way through the backlogged books I have (Visit Sunny Chernobyl and Other Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places and Tom Clancy’s Command Authority). I’ve also finished a sketch of Tari Tari‘s Wakana Sakai, and are currently sketching Hana Izusu from Girls und Panzer.
- The now-disbanded newspaper club engages in activities to expose the Love Lab after their club lost its status; they hope that pressure on the student council will eventually lead them to relent and restore their status as a club. However, once the disagreements are settled, they agree to help run an underground newspaper that will help in provided responses to the flood of romance-related requests the Love Lab is receiving.
- Through the course of Love Lab, there is a degree of conflict that is seated underneath the general comedic elements. The combination of comedy and more subtle conflict elements adds flair to Love Lab, providing a unique set of dynamics that give the characters more depth. Indeed, even though there are five girls that could have been depicted in the archetypes common to such series, Love Lab gives each character a different personality that, though seemingly incompatible, ultimately lends the series the opportunity to let these individuals bounce off each other.
- From a work perspective, I’ve made some headway into Unity now and have found it to be a remarkably efficient tool. Having figured out how to move a camera along a preset path, and allowing the camera to be controlled by the user at any point during the simulation. Smooth transitions between different scenes in Unity are also operational now: with a little more than a month to opening night, I’m aiming to have the last of the infrastructure ready to roll within the next week or two.
- Unity and C# were reasonably straightforwards to learn: when I previously mentioned Unity, I was somewhat apprehensive about learning another new tool, but now, things feel more familiar (even if I do prefer Xcode and Visual Studio over Monodevelop). Over two months have passed since I began using Unity, and although I am capable of doing the basics now, there is always something new to learn as new functions are added to the requirements.
- Spectacle is exactly what makes Love Lab so amusing at its best: misunderstandings reign, and upon noticing that Satoshi is on speaking terms with Maki, the other boys glower at him. Near Love Lab’s end, Maki decides to enroll in a cram school to gain the opportunity to interact with males after her older sister discovers Maki’s meticulous set of notes; both she and Maki speak with her father about Maki’s need/desire to interact more. Maki proves that she doesn’t actually need the cram school lessons and schools Masaomi Ikezawa.
- After thirteen episodes, Riko finally gets the truth in the open. Bearing testament to the strength of their friendship, Maki notes that Riko’s inexperience means that they can now share their own stories about romance at the same level, and the two resolve to continue conducting research at the Love Lab. For me, this was my favourite moment in the series, as the final unanswered question finally is addressed.
- With all of the conflicts now resolved, it’s speculation time: Love Lab is a relatively new anime and aired during Summer 2013. As a four-panel manga that is ongoing, it is possible that a second season could be made. Such a season would probably see the Love Lab’s exercises step out of the theoretical bounds and see practical application. However, this speculation is based on what would be appropriate for an animated adaptation; I haven’t seen the manga, so I have no idea whether or not the status quo is actually broken or not.
- Adventure and friendship ultimately characterise the thirteen episodes of Love Lab, and with season one now finished, for better or worse, the Love Lab has five permanent members now. As I am wont to do, I will take a few moments to look at upcoming posts. The next few will be short gaming posts concerning the Steam 2014 summer sale, AudioSurf and Metro: Last Light‘s swamp mission. This brings us to the end of June. I’ll probably get reflections out for Is the Order a Rabbit? by no later than mid-July. As for the summer 2014 anime, the list of shows I’m watching has grown to five. To simplify things, Glasslip will get a conventional review format (three posts). Aldnoah Zero and Sword Art Online II will get a new reflection format (two posts: a reflection on the first three episodes, and then a final reflections). Sabagebu! and Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yattemita will be given either one final reflection post apiece (or if they impress early on, two posts). For the time being, though, I’m looking to get a start on the HGUC Full Armour Unicorn Gundam (Destroy Mode) and will be busy next week, and I also would like to kick off Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Tomb Raider: Underworld in July and August, respectively. Exciting times await!
Of course, being an anime about school-aged girls, Love Lab keeps things comedic and light, while interspersing a small amount of drama to keep things interesting. Contrasting most series, Love Lab utilises a slightly different approach towards the characters; they do not follow the traditional archetypes and as such, their dynamics are quite conducive to a unique style of humour that can only be found in a group discussing and practising romantic moments. These experiments are varied, ranging from first meetings to a rather diverse range of improbable situations. As Love Lab wears on, the girls must also handle an increasing volume of requests from other students at Fujisaki Girls Academy, a school known for its proper, disciplined students. All in all, while some of Maki’s visions are overly optimistic concerning males, Riko is surprisingly down-to-earth with her suggestions. The romance advice in Love Lab can be a hit-or-miss, and in my experiences, love is hardly ever as ideal as Maki imagines. Even so, romance might be thought of as a sudden-death hockey game in overtime: one doesn’t need a hat trick, since one goal is all it takes. Instead, by putting enough shots on goal, eventually, one will find its way past the goaltender.