After word first leaked out that the animation for episode seven of Love Lab was well below the standards set by the first six episodes I expected to be using this space to write about how Love Lab once again took a step back after a solid episode six. Surprisingly, the actual content of the seventh episode ended up trumping any deficiencies in the animation department.
Let’s turn the clock back a bit to episode six where Love Lab took a bold step by introducing actual, real live, in the (2D) flesh boys. I’m being mostly sarcastic here with the bold label but it is fairly uncommon for one of these 4koma manga about a club of girls at an all-girls school to introduce plot-relevant male characters. Most such works favor settling for yuri-bait with all the girls in magical “no-boys-allowed-land” (not that I’m complaining) so to see it done well here scores some points for Love Lab.
This issue had been in the back of my mind for a while due to the main characters’ explicit heterosexuality being weighed against the track record of similar adaptations. I had been leaning towards boys never appearing given the Makio scenes and the ever-present army of female admirers swooning over the main cast. We can agree that the decision was mildly surprising but the real question is, does it work? My answer is an unequivocal yes.
The first boy we are introduced to is Satoshi Nagino, a boy who knows Riko even though she for some reason has no recollection of her.
His interactions with the main cast thus far are limited to getting embarrassed around Riko but in my mind he’s a welcome addition in that he brings out a new side for Riko and the reactions he prompts out of Maki are great. It also doesn’t hurt that he can blush with the best of them.
Speaking of blushing, our second male cast member is Masomi “don’t call me Yan” Ikezawa, another student at Riko’s cram school. The interaction between Yan and Maki was probably my favorite part of episode six. Maki may have worked really hard on her theory but she finds that in practice she is woefully unprepared.
I’m a big fan of humor derived from somebody with a very specific idea of how events should play out getting thrown off when things don’t happen as he/she envisioned. Maki’s reactions were perfect culminating in her declaration of “I don’t understand boys!” as she ran away. I’m with Yan on this one: I don’t think anybody understands you Maki.
The episode wraps up with a call back to the hint dropped at the end of the previous episode when Maki and Riko encounter a pair of girls from the newspaper club in search of a scoop. This proved (again) to be a red herring as the two proceed to play only a small role at the start of episode seven followed by them being ignored for the rest of that episode. As you’ll recall, this is where the shoddy animation reared its ugly head:
As I said earlier, the gags managed to make up for the off-model faces for the most part. First we had the return of Makio which I’m hoping means the Makio gag becomes a thing. Maki being able to charm the skirts of the rest of the student council at will holds a lot of comedic value and seeing it come back was a big positive for me. The scene then shifted to Kurahashi household and our third male character: Rentarou, Riko’s younger brother. He is about to have some harsh realizations.
It’s sad that Ren has to go through these sad epiphanies because he has demonstrated himself to be a man of impeccable taste. Case in point, it took only one look at Maki for Ren to be smitten with her. After quickly falling for the best student council member he proceeded to layer verbal abuse on the rest of the council which brought out some adorable forced reprimands from Suzu. Afterwards, Ren just couldn’t catch a break. In addition to having the worst luck when it comes to saying things he doesn’t want other people to hear, Ren has a second painful realization regarding Maki and her preferences regarding younger boys.
Having failed in his mission to woo Maki Ren decides to get revenge by sending Riko back to cram school against her will. This change of scenery leaves us back where we started: BOYS! I’m glad to see that the writers plan to use these characters rather than trash them as single episode one-offs.
From a more general angle I’m also a big proponent of sequences that make use of a new setting to bring out new aspects of the characters. Regular changes in scenery and cast are necessary to keep a work like this fresh. This is true of any work but it is especially true with 4koma adaptations since they can get stale pretty quickly when the setting is the same every damn week. (See: bu, GJ) Without any overarching plot to keep things fresh new settings are needed to keep the later episodes from falling flat. The writers behind Love Lab seem to have a good grasp of this as we get new settings briefly at cram school and the mall in episode six and more thoroughly at Riko’s house in episode seven.
And on that note, props to the writers again for picking up the slack left by the animators in this week’s episode. Solid writing is the lifeblood of any comedy and, while I don’t believe Love Lab can continue to be as enjoyable as it has been if the animation doesn’t get back to where it was previously, the staff has demonstrated that some weakness on the animation front won’t completely kill the show’s entertainment value.