Love Lab – 13 (Fin)

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After overhearing Riko, Maki’s behavior changes. She starts making clumsy mistakes and suspends love lab work. Riko tells herself she’ll tell Maki the truth tomorrow, and practices her confession to Sayo in a wig. That afternoon at cram school, a friend of Nagino’s tells Maki she’s naive for believing Riko said she was popular with the guys. Riko arrives and kicks him, then blames herself. Nagino bails her out by admitting he liked her. Maki runs home, and Nagi orders Riko to go after her.

At Maki’s house, Riko finally confesses that she’s also a beginner in love and lied to her. She says she’ll make amends by quitting the love lab, but doesn’t want to, nor does Maki want her too. Maki is sad and disappointed, but also relieved Riko wasn’t forcing herself to hang out with her, and even happy that she’s a beginner like her. At school, Riko confesses and apologizes to Suzu and Eno, and after everyone attacks her with huge slapsticks, the newspaper club enters with the first issue of the underground newspaper.

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Love Lab probably wins the prize for least enticing title and premise: a school club devoted to affairs of the heart. And while it’s hit a few bumps here and there, on the whole it was a very nicely-animated exploration of how a small lie at the start of a friendship can grow into a major problem that threatens those bonds, but how a true friendship can endure such hardships, as long as its participants are honest and forthright in the end. Riko is both of these things, thanks in part to Sayo’s prodding (who says her over-thinking is keeping her from acting) and the fact things have gotten so awkward in the club. Minute for minute, this episode probably contained more drama than any previous Love Lab episode.

Even so, the show didn’t abandon its trademark bawdy slapstick comedy either. We get a nice balance of both, which keeps the drama from going melo. The random kid spilling the beans, was, well, random, but it gave Nagi the chance to shine, and also made it imperative that Riko confess. When she did, it was a surprisingly well-acted scene for both her and Maki. It turns the lie about her popularity wasn’t the foundation of any of her friendships, as she feared. The lie was just some of the grout, which can be mended. Maki, Suzu and even Sayo and Eno are friends with her because she’s a kind person who is ready to help others without a second thought. That’s probably why Nagi like(d) her too.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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Love Lab – 12

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Momo and Nana expound on their scheme to turn love lab requests into fictional stories; the student council is excited about the idea. Riko still hasn’t told Maki the truth, and when Maki joins her cram school, Nagi almost tells her, and Yan does, but Maki doesn’t believe him. Riko continues to procrastinate, and is finally (almost) able to come out with the truth before a teacher drags her away for wearing a hair band. In the hall, Riko runs into her friend Mika, who knows she’s a love novice. Maki overhears them, but pretends she didn’t.

Those hoping Riko would finally come clean and face either Maki’s wrath or her forgiveness will have to wait one more week; the lie is going all the way down to the wire. As her cram school teacher can attest, Maki is very academically gifted, but we also thing she’s capable of putting two and two (and two) together: Yan’s blabbing about Riko not being popular; Riko’s half-confession after their run; Mika talking with Riko in the hall; all of it points to Riko lying about her romantic experience.Even if Riko wasn’t able to deliver a full confession, everything’s out there, and Maki has the wit to see it. But does she have the heart to?

What we mean is, Maki and Riko are good friends now, and she’s always going to give Riko the benefit of the doubt, and doesn’t want to consider the possibility that Riko has lied to her, even if that’s what all the evidence suggests. Her fondness for Riko, is preventing her from accepting that conclusion. It’s still up to Riko to once and for all tell her the truth and face the consequences. Unless – God forbid – a second season allows her to keep her lie going as a constant cloud over her friendships, Riko is out of time. To her credit, Riko did start her confession. Now she just needs to finish it.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Love Lab – 11

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The Love Lab gets a request regarding “Hairstyles boys like”, so Riko asks Nagi at cram school, who tells her about a girl whom his classmates idolize, who is probably Maki. Meanwhile Maki’s sister reads her love research and alerts her dad, who decides to let Maki attend a co-ed cram school. It happens to be the same one Riko, Nagi, and Yan attend, and she makes a scene when Yan calls her “Natsuo”. Nagi suspects that Riko’s been putting on airs to fool her friends. When the school reverses its policy forbidding contact with boys, Momo and Nana offer space in their newspaper for “Love Lab Correspondence.”

– “Are you a master of love?”
– “W-Well, yeah! I’ve had a few boyfriends, of course.”

That little conversation when Riko and Maki first met began the now long-standing fiction that can only end badly unless Riko sets the story straight. Whenever Maki, Eno, and/or Suzu gush over Riko’s non-existent romantic prowess, she always squirms with guilt that only Sayo has detected thus far. Now that Maki attends cram school with Riko and her two childhood friends, there’s no way the lie can survive. The question is, will she come clean of her own accord, or wait for it to all blow up in her face, wounding all her friendships new and old?

Whatever happens, there should be some decent character drama in store to go along with the comedy, which was particularly abundant this week. Maki’s whacked-out courtship fantasies are always entertaining (as is the commentary by whomever is enduring them), and this week she made Yan her straight man, overreacting to a simple misunderstanding about her name. She’s pretty useless around guys, but Riko doesn’t do much better, and Nagi doesn’t help. You get the feeling the two actually like each other, but are simply never able do or say the right thing at the right time, causing mutual frustration leading to discord.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Eno complaining about hair fluttering while actually doing it, followed by the others doing it in unison, was pretty funny.
  • It’s Riko’s fault she’s in this dilemma for lying, but Maki’s sister didn’t help matter by pleading with their father to let Maki attend cram school with boys.
  • Maki’s dad is pretty protective, and sings songs about lingerie, but at least he doesn’t force her to pose for nude photo shoots every year, unlike some rich dads…
  • Maki rides in a spankin’ new Mercedes CLS. What do those go for in Japan? Oh, a cool ¥9,450,000, or US$95,185.

Love Lab – 10

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The other council members try to give Sayo a makeover. Sayo’s boyfriend Yamazaki Yuu narrates the story of how he met her in elementary school, where her aloof personality and strength won him over. Suzu tells the story of why her siblings are wearing dog ears in an old photo taken with her. Later we follow Suzu on a typical school day, offering commentary on Sayo, Eno, Maki and Riko.

After the last two weeks focused on a single main story, this was a bit of a tuna noodle casserole of an episode; by that we mean it was made up of many smaller disparate parts that, if served separately, wouldn’t quite be enough for a whole meal. Unlike a casserole, we’re not sure the whole is worth the sum of the parts, as some parts outperformed others, and there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to their ordering.

Eno’s interactions with her NEET brother weren’t that interesting, and the “Suzu’s Day”, while admirable for trying to show us things from her perspective, didn’t really show us anything new. On the other hand her flashback with her doting brother and sister was surprisingly charming. But the star ingredient in this dish was Sayo’s flashback as told by Yuu, in which we get to see a pint-size Sayo who is no less tough, resolute, and shrewd as her present-day self.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Love Lab – 09

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When they learn that Nana inadvertently got Sayori in trouble and that she’ll be forced to leave the student council, Maki, Riko, Suzu, Eno, Nana and Momo formulate a “rescue operation.” They collaborate to clear Sayo of wrongdoing by telling the teachers it wasn’t a boy she was meeting with, but Maki, dressed as “Makio Evolved”. By having the trustworthy Maki at point and peppering their lies with kernels of truth, they’re able to pull it off. Maki’s stock falls, but Sayori’s rises and she’s able to stay on the council.

Riko may not care for Sayori’s tendency to go after peoples’ weak spots (in Riko’s case, the lie about her being a love expert), but she, Maki and Suzu had grown accustomed to her in the student council, and obviously she and Eno are attached at the hip as they’ve always been. So when she gets into a spot of trouble and says she won’t bother fighting it, they do what any real friends would do and step up and fight for her. Even if their efforts cost them their own reputations, losing Sayori would be a bigger blow to them.

Similarly, we’re so used to Maki acting nutty – and she’s so used to acting nutty in the council office – we initially forget that the newspaper association is sitting right there, and they’re seeing her like that for the first time (Momo’s impressed, but Nana’s a little scared). Their plan is far-fetched, but they make sure to get all the details right – like the fake mole on Maki’s face; mix the truth in with the lies, and rely on Maki’s substantial political capital with the teachers to rescue Sayori from exile, and they succeed! It was nice to see everyone putting the past behind them and getting along in order to save her.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Love Lab – 08

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When Riko hears that everyone calls her “Wild One” she starts emulating Maki, acting as cute and girly as possible. A member of the broadcasting club delivers two new questions to the council, asking if guys like “darker” or “chubbier” girls. The council suspects the questions were created by the newspaper association. They investigate and learn that a newspaper contest that only clubs can enter is coming up, so they want to be upgraded back to a full club.

When Riko and Maki confront Minami, planning to stall, she tells them she could publish love research in an underground newspaper, not asking for anything in return, confusing them. Sayori meets with her boyfriend after school, and Nana snaps a picture with which to blackmail her. A teacher catches them struggling in the hall and brings them to her office, where Sayo admits to having a boyfriend but denies the other council members know anything.

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First of all, we were disappointed by the use of blackface in a (strangely isolated) 45-second sequence of an anime produced and taking place in the present day. Call it Japanese cultural differences if you must (though this definitely wasn’t ganguro – reference was made to a “soul sister”); if that crap ever appears again, we’ll be dropping the series on the spot; no third chances. For fuck’s sake, when we first heard “darker” girls; we thought they meant ganguro or even EMO girls; why didn’t they just riff on them, or another group not defined by race?

Those 45 seconds marred an otherwise good episode, in which the newspaper association (née club)’s apparent vendetta turns out to be more complicated than originally thought, and in which Mana threatens to expose Sayo’s illicit relationship and ends up actually exposing it, getting her into real trouble. Riko’s temporary turn as the comic (rather than the straght man as usual) was a hilarious change of pace, as was the increasing complex newspaper situation. Sayo also shows depth by not only accepting her estranged BF’s invitation, but by covering for her friends when she’s caught.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Riko finally finds a way of getting to Sayori: by acting sickeningly cute around her.
  • One subtle trick Riko uses in her efforts to look cuter: a longer skirt.
  • “Underarm ravines? That’s a new one…
  • We got a kick out of Maki trying to throw off Riko’s mimicry by striking one ridiculous pose after another; Riko keeps up well.
  • Eno is actually useful this week, finding out the newspaper’s motives from a particularly apathetic teacher.

Love Lab – 07

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With the newspaper club continuing to snoop around, the Love Lab realizes they have to step up their security to ensure they don’t get any more scoops. After Maki’s dismal performance with Jan, Riko decides it best for Maki to practice on her little brother Rentarou, so she invites her and the others to her house on Sunday. Ren is smitten with the outwardly prim, proper Maki, but rude to the others, though Suzane practices talking back to him. The next day RIko’s mom finds her low-scoring exam and sends her to cram school, where she reunites with Jan and Satoshi.

Whenever you have a sibling of similar age and the opposite sex, that sibling is always going to be curious about your friends, and your friends might in turn be curious about you. Both parties represent different and usually separate sides of you; the family side and the social side, and therefore your sibling(s) and friends learn more about you through your interaction with them. Riko’s pretty much all talk when it comes to her popularity with the guys, but Rentarou actually is popular with the girls, and is pleasantly surprised when the first of Riko’s friends he meets is exactly the kind of upstanding girl you’d expect of Fuji Girl’s Academy.

We know there’s a lot more to Maki that would keep Ren up at night, but it’s a nice reminder that when she wants to she can keep up appearances like nobody’s business. In fact, we wouldn’t even call Maki’s behavior an act so much as her default behavioral mode; it only seems like an act because she’s so wild in the presence of Riko and the others. But here she’s on her best behavior, and could wrap Ren around her little finger if she chose to. Ren’s less smitten with the other girls (“Masssive”, “Tiny”, and “Bushy-brows”, as he calls them) but he later smooths things over with Eno, saying her brows look nice.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Love Lab – 06

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While at the mall with Maki and Sayo, a boy who knew Riko approaches her. When Sayo wonders if Riko broke his heart, he blushes and runs off. She goes nuts trying to remember who he is. When a classmate tells her someone asked about her at cram school, Riko goes there and not only meets a second childhood friend, Jan, but the first guy as well, who doesn’t react well when she tells him she doesn’t remember him.

Back home she remembers him as Satoshi, whom she rejected in the third grade. The next day she goes back with Maki, who fails at trying to converse with Jan while Riko tries to smooth things over with Satoshi. Back at school, the council receives more requests for love advice, suggesting rumors they’re involved are spreading. When Riko and Maki’s guard is down, they let slip their involvement to Momo, a reporter for the school paper.

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This is an episode about complication. First, Riko, desperate to earn the lofty title of love master bestowed upon her by Maki and Suzu, is haunted by a guy whose heart she actually broke in the past, but can’t for the life of her remember. It isn’t until she’s up close and reads the same reaction she saw once years before that she starts to recall. And as it turns out, she couldn’t remember him for the same reason her mom gave, which pissed Riko off at the time: he’d gotten much manlier…as in he doesn’t look like a girl anymore (until he smiles, that is.)

It’s not just Riko’s love life getting more complicated. In the process of confronting Satoshi, Riko had to cut Maki loose with a guy, and while Maki has no earthly idea how to talk to a guy, Jan doesn’t make it easy with his aloof defensiveness (he thought Maki was making fun of him). But while she fails, she gained firsthand knowledge that some guys can be jerks. Romance aside, the complication that threatens Riko and Maki the most is the possibility their secret love advice ring will be brought out of the shadows, potentially ruining their reputations and the trust of the faculty, and thus ending their high school lives. Or…they could use the newspaper to anonymously publish their love advice…

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Love Lab – 05

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With Riko guarding the broadcasting room and Sayo and Suzu distracting the faculty, Maki and Eno hold their radio broadcast, answering the request of their anonymous client. After the broadcast Riko gets in trouble, and when Maki finds out she’s furious. After promising not to sacrifice herself again, Riko is tutored in English by Maki, who cross-dresses as a bishounen, “Maki Makio” and Riko’s English exam score improves. The Council gets a reply from the client that she was met with honorable defeat, but doesn’t plan to give up, and will use what she’s learned in future strategies.

The first Love Lab broadcast is a success, if not a resounding one, with everyone executing nicely in their assigned roles. Bottom line, the girl doesn’t get the guy this time, but that’s almost to be expected considering none of the council members have ever snagged a guy by the means they espouse. Sayo technically has a boyfriend, but that was the result of caving to his persistence, not pursuing him in any way. The broadcast and its mixed result not only provided useful experience to the client, but the members as well, as now they know that things won’t always go smoothly even if you are brave and speak up to the one you like.

Riko also experiences a taste of the hellfire that will rain upon her if Maki ever finds out she’s not the master of romance she’s led her to believe. This time, Maki only finds out Riko is lying about having gone to the bathroom when she actually got reamed by a teacher, who considered her the ringleader in the broadcast stunt. Maki sets the record straight with the teacher (who’s a little disappointed) but one thing’s clear: Maki doesn’t like it when Riko lies (though we do much prefer her “Maki Makio” bit to “Huggy”). Hiding secrets may also get tougher if Nana and Momo lift up the rock that is the Love Lab in a newspaper scoop, potentially ruining Maki and Riko’s reps.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Love Lab – 04

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With the ranks of the Love Lab increased, Maki suggests they re-commence love research. Sayo immediately tries to call into question Maki’s ability to serve as an expert on matters of love, but despite constantly prodding her, Maki only digs her hole deeper, keeping up the lie she’s a “love sniper.” Eno, meanwhile, lets slip that Maki’s dad runs a lingerie company. When a suggestion box request asks what the best gift for a boy is, the members distribute surveys to guys they know. Because the client was anonymous, they plan to hijack the PA system to announce the compiled results.

The addition of Eno and Sayo to the Love Lab gets off to a bumpy start, mostly because the “expert” on all matters romantic is in reality no expert at all, but is simply perpetuating Maki and Suzune’s assumptions about her. Riko’s the “Wild One”, so of course she’s had loads of suitors, right? Wrong. In fact, the only one with a boyfriend turns out to be Sayo, though she hasn’t seen him since they started dating six months ago, so that’s not much to work on. We derive a lot of pleasure from Sayo making Riko squirm.

Sayo makes it clear to Riko that she’s highly skepical of Riko’s romantic prowess. The thing is, she isn’t just being sadistic. Riko knows that it’s not right to keep perpetuating a lie to her friends, who eventually pick up on Sayo’s behavior and scold her for doubting Riko. This is a perfect opportunity to fess up, but Riko just can’t do it. You have to think if she doesn’t do so soon, at some point it’ll end up hurting her friends. In any case, it’s an unenviable position, perhaps best resolved by…dating a guy!


Rating: 6 (Good)

Love Lab – 03

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Now that she knows Sayo is after her, Maki is working herself to the bone, worrying Riko. Eno, desperate to get Maki to acknowledge her, yells insults from the roof. Eno and Sayo sneak into the council office and Sayo finds a binder containing Maki and Riko’s love research, which she plans to use as leverage. When Maki collapses from exhaustion, Riko asks Sayo to return as treasurer. Sayo tells her about her and Eno’s scheme, and Eno shows up as Sayo is praising her. Eno defends her actions to Riko as wanting to get acknowledge.

She demands Riko quit as Maki’s assistant. Riko refuses, and talks break down. When copies Eno makes get mixed up, the incriminating love research is distributed to the student council during their meeting, upsetting them. Riko pins the blame on “President” Eno, but Sayo comes up with the story the research was not personal, but being done in response to a request from the suggestion box. All four girls escape the meeting unharmed, and Eno decides to return, this time as vice-president, and Sayo as Treasurer.

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Love Lab was very clever in this very involved third week. Last week it undersold the characters of Eno and Sayo as fairly standard school rivals bent on making life difficult for our heroines, Maki and Riko, so they can return to their old posts. This week they get a lot more fleshed out, all the more surprising considering our initially low expectations. This week Maki and Riko’s situation is weighed against Eno and Sayo’s and in the end we sympathize with both, especially when all four end up on the hot seat with the council regarding the love research (the distribution of which was very blatantly telegraphed). Also, in the end, it behooves all parties involved to make peace and re/join forces.

It’s good that that’s the case, and that they all arrive at that conclusion without too much dilly-dallying. Everyone stands to gain something: With more help, Maki won’t get overworked and die, and Riko can focus on more love research, leaving all other council matters to the others. Sayo will get to handle the money again, and her friend will be back in a position of power (vice is better than nothing). Eno shows maturity by accepting the vice presidency. Her ability to and ease with trusting and relying on others will gradually rub off on Maki, while Maki’s efficient work ethic will rub off on Eno. All’s well that ends well, but with these four (plus Suzune, so five), things are just beginning.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Love Lab – 02

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Riko tracks down the shy Tanahashi Suzune and finds out that she doesn’t hate her or Maki; she was just embarrassed to see them acting so differently than they do in public. Suzune apologizes to Riko and Maki, and they have a “Princess Carry” lesson. Riko and Maki receive harassing paper airplanes from the former president and treasurer, Enomoto Yuiko and Mizushima Sayori. Eno wants her position back, and Sayo wants to handle cash again, so she snoops around the room and very subtly “declares war” on them.

This week we’re introduced to the balance of Love Lab’s quintet. Suzune, the high-pitched, super-shy girl, and Eno, the eyebrow-endowed former president, wasn’t that exciting as characters go. The tall, money-obsessed, deep-plotting Sayo was more interesting. She sneaks into the Love Lab without being noticed, catching Riko, Maki, and Suzuno off guard, and as vindictive high school girls are wont to do, she declares war with a friendly smile and a wave, announcing her intention to ruin their reputations. We also like how she looks down on her boss, though calling Eno a “perv” probably goes too far.

Another running theme this week was Maki and Suzune’s belief that Riko is highly experienced in charming young men. She isn’t, but just isn’t able to come clean this week, or perhaps ever, so enraptured are her two “proteges.” Meanwhile, we actually feel kind of bad for Maki; here she was, the vice-president, just trying to do her job as quickly as possible, driving Eno and Sayo away. Now they want to come back for some reason, even though they’re not needed, and they’re willing to destroy Maki to do so. Hopefully the war is a brief one and Riko can hammer out some kind of mutually beneficial arrangement.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Love Lab – 01

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The popular school tomboy Kurahashi Riko has become bored with school life, until she walks in on the also-popular student council president Maki Natsuo making out with a dutch wife. Riko gets caught up in Natsuo’s skits and schemes dealing with training for a romantic relationship. The training includes the toast-in-mouth bump and the handkerchief drop, but while Natsuo is supremely capable girl, she often goes too far with the training, to Riko’s chagrin. Still, she agrees to keep advising her and they become buddies.

Having seen so very many of these school comedies in which a handful of students start a club about nothing and banter for most of the episodes, something like Love Lab has to offer something different in order for us to stick with it for this very busy Summer season. And we’re not going to lie; this wasn’t awful, and we found ourselves laughing at the comedy and ridiculous action on numerous occasions, even if it somewhat heavily relies on swift escalation, randomness and sheer absurdity. But that kinda stuff is often up our alley, so we didn’t really mind.

Like Kill Me Baby!, we’re dealing with a classic double act: Maki Natsuo is the erratic, eccentric comic, while Riko is the straight man, who often comments on the strangeness and inappropriateness of the former’s behavior. This series differs in three key places: the comedy is less random and simplistic, focusing on the subject of love; both characters are actually immensely popular at their school for different reasons (Maki’s a princess, Riko’s a badass); and the animation is really top-notch (rare for these kinds of series), which when combined with the crackling dialogue and quick pacing, compels us to keep watching, at least for now; we’re suckers for pretty series.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)