A better than average moe title.
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? Exposure looms and each new “experiment” brings Riko one step closer to total disaster as love and deception combine into the ultimate explosive mixture in the Love Lab!
As this is a sub-only title, each episode is presented in Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. English subtitles are provide for non-native speakers. I have a difficult time critiquing the audio quality because too much of my focus was on the images and the subtitles, so the best I can say is that there was nothing that jumped out at me.
Love Lab is a very pretty show that makes good use of the Blu-ray format. The colors are vivid, the lines are sharp, and everything looks crisp and clean. Visually, this is a great show.
The front cover features the five main characters: Riko, Natsuo, Suzune, Yuiko, and Sayori. They each carry a marker and stare directly at the viewer. The show’s title, “Love Lab” is displayed as if we were looking through a window and the characters wrote on it for us to read. The spine features the show’s title and a picture of Natsuo, and the back cover contains the standard screenshots from the show along with the show’s synopsis, cast and crew credits, and Blu-ray specifications. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a perfectly fine design with the one caveat that the synopsis was rather small and written in an odd font that made it difficult for me to read. Otherwise, everything is fine.
The menu stays the same for both disks. Riko and Natuso stand in the student council room. Riko is drinking a cup of tea and reading a magazine while Natsuo looks out the window. To their right, in a cloudy, bubbley insert is the episode list, looking like it was written on the type of graph paper Natsuo writes her Love Lab experiments on. There is no “play all” button, but clicking on the first episode enables that function. Oddly, there is no music playing in the background. This is the second time I’ve encountered that (the first being Mononoke) and I wonder if that’s a trend in sub-only titles. Anyway, the menu design is solid and functional and I quite like image chosen for it. The colors in particular are quite lush and beautiful.
Nothing to write home about here, just the standard clean opening and ending sequences and Sentai trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Back in the day, when I first started watching anime, I could and would watch anything and everything. The novelty of the genre was often enough to keep me entertained. However, the more I saw, the more I developed a critical point of view. I learned to distinguish between the good and the bad and recognize patterns. As I have mentioned in other reviews, it seems the majority of anime anymore falls under two distinct categories: interminable tournament fighters like Dragon Ball Z and shows about cute high school girls doing cute high school girl things like Azumanga Daioh. Now, there are plenty of good shows that fall under those categories, but the story and character tropes are so familiar now that I quickly lose interest in new shows because I feel like I’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and ate the burger. It’s just so much old hat. Love Lab definitely is definitely a bit old hat, but it possesses a spark that sets it above other cute-high-school-girls-doing-cute-high-school-girl-things titles out there. While I will never place it up there with Azumanga Daioh or K-On!, it’s a fun show in its own right with some good laughs and a strong emotional core.
The story goes like this: Riko is a boyish, popular girl who has no idea that she’s popular. We meet her on her first day at Fujisaki Girls Academy—an all-girls school. Almost immediately she meets the student council president Natsuo Maki. Natsuo is the princess of Fujisaka: beloved by both faculty and students alike, she embodies poise and femininity (all the qualities that Riko feels she lacks); however, she harbors a secret. She wants to be in love. Unfortunately, Fujisaki’s policies forbid its students from dating, and its status as a unisex school limits Natsuo’s ability to meet any boys. Being a Type-A personality, Natsuo conducts a Love Lab in secret, and using her hug pillow, “Huggy,” she practices various romantic scenarios so she will be ready for the real thing. When she meets Riko, she gets the idea that the new student has had quite a bit of experience with romance, so she ropes Riko (nicknamed “Wild Kid” by their classmates) into joining the student council so she can help her with her experiments.
However, Riko has absolutely no experience with romance. She goes along with it at first because she enjoys the lie, but soon becomes trapped by it, as she and Natsuo become good friends. She fears what will happen if Natsuo learns the truth, and many of her decisions are predicated on keeping her secret safe.
Things get more complicated when Yuiko and Sayori enter the story. Respectively they were the former student council president and treasurer, but Yuiko quit because Natsuo was so efficient that she did all the work for her, and Sayori was fired because of her greed over the student council budget. At first the two try to find a way to discredit Natsuo and get her fired as president, but soon the four become friends. Sayori resumes her position as treasurer and Yuiko serves as vice president.
The two did do some damage, and the existence of Natsuo’s “Love Lab” leaks to the student body. The council begins to get requests for love advice through the anonymous suggestion boxes they installed throughout the school, and the girls find more and more inventive ways to get these answers out to the students.
Of course, the main conflict stems from Riko’s lie, and that finally comes to a head in the final episodes. Up to that point the show had been light and funny and goofy, but it did take a somewhat deeper emotional tone at the end. By the time the conflict comes to a head, I was invested in their friendship and I worried about them splitting up. Typically I dislike it when an anime switches tone, but this time it worked because the show lead up to it naturally instead of just flipping a switch between episodes, and it wasn’t overdone. Sure, it was emotional, but it fit the story.
It’s the bond between Riko and Natsuo that makes Love Lab work. It does elevate this above the rest of the pack, but not enough to make this a great show. It’s fun and cute and heartfelt, but it lacks that special oomph that made K-On! and Azumanga Daioh classics.
Although I am getting pretty tired of stories about cute high school girls doing cute high school girl things, I enjoyed Love Lab quite a bit. While it will never stand as one of my favorites, it does rise above the pack and serves as a show that’s cute, funny, and hearfelt. It’s just too bad that this was sub-only.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 5th, 2014
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p aVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection