What do you do when you want to meet boys but don’t know how?
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.
This release is sub-only, with the Japanese track offered in 2.0. The mix is pretty basic, with some minor directionality in sound effects. Everything else basically stays centered. As this is a title that relies mostly on dialogue, that’s not a huge deal. The tracks are clean and suffer no dropout, so there’s no complaints from me.
The transfer on this release looks really nice. I like the character designs for this release; they are distinct and show nice variety. Colors are bright, and there is nice contrast among the various shades. Nothing is either overpowering or muted; good balance. Lining is solid and clean too. I did not notice any real technical issues on this viewing, and the subtitles showed up well, with good use of multiple colors if more than one person was talking.
The packaging for this release is basic, but well designed. The three discs are held in a single size amaray case with center insert for the first two discs. The front cover has a shot of the five girls in the student council, with Riko and Maki prominent in the center. They each have markers and are drawing hearts and other doodles on the cover as if they are on the other side of it looking out at us. The series logo looks scribbled on too. It’s a playful design that I really like. The back of the case has some art of Riko and Maki along the left, with the series summary in a cloud bubble to the right and some screen shots scattered about. All in all, I really like the design of this package.
The menus are also basic, but follow similar playful principles on display on the packaging. Each disc has some shot of Riko and Maki doing something fun along the left with the episodes selectable on the right. The episode titles are written in with a fun marker cursor, again similar to the front cover. The selection is easy to see and follow.
All that is offered for extras are clean versions of the OP/ED.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Riko is a fun loving girl. She goes out of her way to help people and generally just tries to have fun in life. The only problem is that while she has plenty of admirers, she doesn’t really have any friends. People are either in awe of her boisterousness, or just generally feel she is better than them. Maki is the most popular girl in school. The student council president, she is beautiful, refined, and perfect at everything she attempts to do. Everybody at school looks up to her. But like Riko, she also does not have any real friends as she is considered out of everybody’s league.
But Maki also has a secret: she is a hopeless (and absurd) romantic with absolutely no experience with boys and a desire to find her one true love. When Riko accidentally walks in on Maki practicing her love techniques on a huggie doll, she becomes party to Maki’s dark secret. And when Maki misinterprets Riko’s outgoing nature as a sign she is popular with boys, Riko finds herself going along with the lie and agreeing to teach Maki how to catch a man. Thus the student council room secretly becomes the Love Lab, where crazy social experiments are conducted in the hopes they will lead to true love. And as new members join the Love Lab (and less importantly, the student council), the experiments become more wide ranging. The question becomes how long Riko can live the lie before it becomes obvious she is making everything up.
Love Lab follows a tried and true formula that has been successful for anime for quite a while now: take cute girls and give them cute things to do. While I am not technically opposed to the formula, I will say that recently I’ve felt as if the formula is getting fairly played out. However, I will admit that I enjoyed Love Lab more than I thought I would.
I think a large part of the reason why I enjoyed Love Lab so much is the innocence in it. Love Lab takes place in middle school, and (thankfully) the creators avoided the typical fan-service-y sort of designs and humor that is often present in a show like this (even if it is set in middle school). Instead, these girls are trying to figure out the very adult notion of love but are struggling because they are viewing it through their very childish spectrum. It adds a bit of sweetness to the humor that would be missing had they gone for more adult humor. I appreciated that.
Of course, any show like this is only as strong as its cast, and that’s somewhere I think Love Lab really shines as well, particularly with the two main protagonists: Riko and Maki. They definitely have something of an opposites attract friendship, as Maki wishes that she could be as outgoing as Riko, while Riko wishes she could be more like Maki’s refined side. Between them builds a great friendship that is only strengthened by the weirdness that Maki comes up with and the willingness of Riko to go along with it.
But this strong friendship is tempered by a subtle tension that hovers throughout the entire series. As she has never had any real friends before, Riko really values the friendship she has built with Maki (and the other girls of Love Lab), but she knows that the origin of that friendship rests on the little lie she tells about her popularity with boys. And as that lie grows bigger and bigger, she becomes less and less comfortable with the deception she is leading. But to tell Maki the truth might ruin everything she has come to cherish, so the lie just continues to grow, threatening to become untenable. It adds some nice drama to an otherwise really cheerful series, as well as a bit of depth in a genre that often lacks it.
Love Lab was a bit of a surprise for me. I went into it figuring I’d enjoy it to an extent, but I ended up liking it a lot more than I expected. Riko and Maki are terrific protagonists, and there is some nice depth to both their characters and their relationship. The youthful exuberance and innocence that marks the plot and humor lent a good tone to the series as well. To be honest, I don’t really have anything particularly critical to say about it. It wasn’t brilliant by any stretch, but it was a lot of fun all the way through its 13 episodes. Recommended.
Japanese 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: N/A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 5th, 2014
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System