What better way to understand love than the run experiments about it?
What They Say:
Perhaps it was from the shock of discovering her school’s most respected girl kissing a life-size huggie doll, but in those first awkward moments Riko Kurahashi said something she wishes she hadn’t. Not only did student council president Natsuo Maki completely swallow Riko’s glib fib about being “popular with the boys,” but she drafted Riko as her aide and advisor in love and romance!
It would have been bad enough if Natsuo only wanted advice, but Fujisaki Girls Academy’s most brilliant student is also the most obsessive, and simply talking about the opposite sex isn’t sufficient. No, Natsuo postulates hypothetical scenarios and “researches” them in her secret Love Lab! And since interaction with boys is banned at Fujisaki, guess who has to help act those fantasies out? As other girls join the Love Lab, Riko’s role as the group’s love-master becomes even worse – because she ISN’T one! Most boys don’t even LIKE her, but how can she admit that without destroying the friendships she now cherishes?
Contains episodes 1-13.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty simple but works well as we get the original Japanese language in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that is pretty much dialogue based with a few wild take moments along the way that works well to give it a little more bump, but mostly it’s just pretty much standard fare. The encoding for it works well in conveying it as there’s a good bit of dialogue across the forward soundstage that lets it hit some good notes, but it is by and large a fairly standard show in a lot of ways. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episode series is spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by Doga Kobo, the series has a bright, colorful and upbeat look about it that definitely makes out better because of the high definition presentation here. There’s a decent bit of activity throughout it and it moves along at a good pace with some high motion scenes, but it also has some good standard school scenes that look great with the combination of color and detail among all the rest of it. The series is one that in a lot of ways won’t stand out against a sea of other school based shows, but there’s a lot to like here and it has a very good design about it that gives it its own life without it trying to come across as the most unique school in the world.
The packaging for this release comes with a standard Blu-ray case that has the two discs held against the interior walls. The front cover uses a good piece of artwork that we saw during the pre-broadcast presentation with the main group of girls together with all smiles and personality while providing some good drawings across it that fits with their whole writing in notebooks widget thing. The back cover uses a good combination of shots from the show as photos and some cute character artwork from the show as well. The bulk of it is given over the summary of the premise in a clean and clear way that works well without revealing too much. The discs episode counts and extras are clearly listed and we get a standard production credits listing and a solid and clean technical grid that lays it all out accurately in an easy to read fashion. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release plays to the school setting well as we get a navigation strip along the right that plays like a notebook which features the episodes by name and title with all sorts of colors and widgets around it. It’s cute and nicely laid out while also looking great when it’s brought up during playback as the pop-up menu. The two discs look good with the rest of it being given over to a static image, the first a little wistful with a sunset from the classroom image used while the second has a more upbeat group image of the girls. Both menus load quickly and are easy to navigate and use while also just look good all around with what it needs to do.
The only extras on this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Ruri Miyahara, Love Lab is a thirteen episode series animated by Doga Kobo that aired in the summer of 2013. The original manga has over nine volumes so far and is moving right along for a four panel title. Those are kind of unusual ones when it comes to adaptations as some are better at translating to longer form than shorter form and Love Lab manages to handle that transition well. While it doesn’t break things down into smaller components to work through its arcs, it does opt to do different things in most episodes so that it doesn’t run a particular gag or story idea into the ground. It also manages to work a larger storyline throughout the season that we get here, which helps to provide something larger to wonder if it’ll get dealt with.
Taking place at Fuji Girls Academy, the show revolves around Riko, a high school girl who is certainly popular with her outgoing personality, friendly nature and the kind of sort of tomboy-ish attitude she has with things. As she goes through her time, she ends up getting caught in a sticky situation, partially of her own making, that complicates her life but also gives her waht she really needs. When she walks in on the student council president named Maki making out with a homemade body pillow made up to look like a boy, Maki pleads with her to keep her silence and ends up drawing Riko into the student council. It’s not your normal student council at the start here because Maki’s the only one in it, having kind of run out all the others for various reasons because of their personalities and because Maki is able to do all of it herself with the way her mind works. Riko ends up becoming a friend for Maki in all of this, though initially it’s all because Maki wants Riko to keep her secret.
And that secret naturally spirals out of control as it gets going early on here. Being an all girls school that doesn’t allow any dating or fraternizing with boys for the most part, Maki’s hugely curious and is running her own secret notebook of reports, her Love Lab, which details all sorts of things about what relationships are like. When Riko discovers it, it gets kind of silly as you then have Riko embellishing her own exploits over the last few years where she says she’s dated a lot and has been involved with a few guys, and has rejected a number as well. Naturally, the reality is the opposite as she’s never dated anyone and has been rejected constantly for a variety of reasons. But once Riko starts telling the small lies, they become more and Maki herself makes it even more so as she starts reading more into it and expanding on what Riko’s exploits are. The two certainly feed off of each other in a way, but it sets in motion the main background arc in that Riko wants to come clean to Maki, but never finds the right time and it all just draws her in deeper as it goes on.
As the show goes on, more girls are drawn back into the student council to get involved in this as Riko provides a new kind of life to the place and it all expands from there until we get a group of five working it. The first that comes into play is Suzune, who is an adorable younger looking girl who suffers from immense shyness that practically has her stuttering. She’s just as curious about the love labs that the group starts to run in creative ways, but her shyness has her playing a very minor role overall and she’s probably the least developed of the series. Another character that gets a lot more time is Yuiko, who was originally the student council president until Maki made her useless and took over after Yuiko left. Yuiko’s jealous of what’s going on because Riko has changed the dynamic, so through a little back and forth for a few episodes, she eventually ends up as friends with them again and finds herself serving as vice president of the student council. Yuiko’s amusing to watch because she’s kind of got a little grudge for a part of it all and that doesn’t add tension but provides a little give and take on both sides, making it so that they become friends more over time rather than instant friends. Yuiko’s also the rich girl of the group so she has a bit of attitude that comes into play and the combination of it all works well.
The other eventual returnee is Sayori, who is childhood friends with Yuiko who was formerly the treasurer on the student council. She ended up booted because she was pretty much all about the money and was causing troubles there, but is drawn back in because of Yuiko and wanting to help her while also figuring out what Riko is up to. Sayori is the one that realizes the truth about Riko when it comes to her love life and prods her along the way about it, though it takes awhile for her to say it outright that she knows what’s going on. Sayori adds some of the snark to the show as well as some obliviousness as it delves into her own love life, the only one in the group to actually have a boyfriend of some sort, and what she brings to the table is fun overall as part of the larger group that all clicks together well once they’re mostly on the same page.
The girls exploration of love and what it means is pretty simple overall, very chaste and what you’d expect from a show of this nature. They get some of their experiments kicked off with the suggestion box that the student council maintains with some people asking questions, which are done anonymously, and they then do their research and find creative ways of getting it expressed outside for more to hear about. Dealing with advice, talking about their own curiosities and adding to the overall love lab books are a lot of fun. There’s a chaotic moment of course where they get caught in some of the regular student council books which has teachers nearly seeing them, and we get the other fun of festivals and the like. There’s not a lot of grand deviation from the standard school setting devices, but the focus on love is what it all comes down to it and it does have some fun with it.
The gags are good. The characters are fun. The interactions work well as they play off of each other. But the chaste side of it is what gets me. A lot of it stems from the fact that it comes from a four panel series and that’s all about the quick gags. Expanding it here, it sticks more to the humor while working the way each of the characters interact and the relationships form and that’s all well and good. But it’s the love side of it that just doesn’t work well for me. The things they come up with to talk about and question and help with are all natural questions, but they feel more like middle school questions and instances than anything else. For a high school setting, I would have wanted things a little more interesting and engaging to come up with the involvement of love and relationships. But they also try to play this into the fact that it’s a girls school and most of them have been separated from boys for most of their school lives. Which means they downplay outside interactions to a huge degree. What they do here works, but it feels like it could have been a lot more interesting.
Love Lab is a pretty fun series that plays well with its cast, deals in a lot of simple if mostly forgettable love labs themselves and mostly works with the idea of bringing together a group of different people after a difficult time and finding that they can be good friends. Riko drives the series most of the time, especially with the extended subplot of her lies – which she’s fully aware are getting worse, but Maki also has a lot of very good screen time that helps to make it fun and not all about one character. There’s a good group to work with here, though Suzune is the weak link for me, and you can pretty much latch onto most of them and enjoy their individual stories and their place in the larger whole. Love Lab is a pretty fun show with some good lines, fun situations and a good group dynamic as it adapts the original four panel work into a larger form.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 5th, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.