Friday, December 25, 2015

To Love Ru

Before I begin my review, I feel like I should make something clear: If you do not like nudity, then you will not like this manga. Go back. Turn around. Stop reading this and find something else. That being said, if you're perfectly okay with breasts being displayed in nearly every chapter, perverse scenarios that border on hentai, and ridiculous amounts of fan service, then this manga may be for you.

To Love Ru is about high school student Yuuki Rito, who, after failing to confess to his crush, Sarenji Haruna, goes home and sulks in the bathtub. While he's sulking and lamenting his own pathetic existence, water explodes everywhere and a naked girl appears in his tub. Her name is Lala Satalin Deviluke. Yes, her name is a play on Satan. I don't think this was done with any sort of religious symbolism, but more of a joke on religious mythology. I highly doubt that Saki Hasemi and Kentaro Yabuki worship Satan. I would have stopped reading at chapter 1 if that had been the case. Continuing on, through a series of events that shall not be mentioned because it would take too many words, Lala ends up living with Rito, who unwillingly becomes one of her marriage candidates. It turns out that Lala is actually the daughter of the King of the Galaxy - please notice the caps. The reason that she ended up on earth - and in Rito's bathtub - was because she'd run away from home. Apparently, her father is trying to set her up with marriage candidates, but Lala doesn't really care for her marriage candidates, thus, she decides to marry Rito instead. Yeah, she's basically using him to keep herself from being married off. However, love does eventually blossom within Lala's heart, and she begins to earnestly seek Rito's love and affection, which, more often than not, usually ends with Rito not only embarrassed and humiliated, but beaten to a pulp by whichever female whose breasts he accidentally fell into thanks to Lala's antics.

One thing that I feel like I should make clear before going any further. This story is the epitome of a guilty pleasure. It's like how people read erotica. Most people don't usually read erotica for the plot. They read it for the steamy sex. In that same way, most people don't read To Love Ru for the story, but for the perverse scenarios that the main character finds himself in. Every chapter is filled to the brim with scenes that are odd, erotic, downright unusual, and outright improbable. To Love Ru is like a teenage male's most erotic wet dream, and it plays this fact up. The main female character, Lala, doesn't seem to have any issues with nudity, and she has a bad tendency of walking around the house naked, much to the embarrassment of our resident harem hero, Yuuki Rito. Other situations also occur that would never happen in real life, and considering more than half of these situations are at school, that makes it even more impossible. Seriously, who's ever heard of a school that allows girls to dress in dominatrix costumes and feed people cake with their boobs? Is that even allowed in public? Probably not. Ah, but I'm digressing. The fact is, this isn't a story that most people would read for the plot, and some people might even look at this manga and assume there is no plot to be found.

All that being said, I really did enjoy this manga. Surprised? You probably shouldn't. It's no secret that I'm a fan of this particular genre. That being said, there is a good reason why I hold this manga in higher regard than other manga of its genre: The female cast. Somehow, Saki Hasemi and Kentaro Yabuki have created a erotic harem manga that contains a cast characters that I actually care about.  None of the characters in here are one-dimensional caricatures of stereotypical archetypes that we've seen dozens of times in harem manga. While I can easily recognize which trope each female was derived from, all of the characters here have a personality beyond their trope. Even the side characters get their development and time in the spotlight. The hopes, dreams, and aspirations of these characters matter to me. I find myself rooting for them, and I love watching their antics and seeing all of the completely messed up scenarios they get into. Also, while I knocked on the story before, To Love Ru actually DOES have a story behind it, even if most people don't read it for the story. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't really about Rito Yuuki becoming King of the Galaxy. If anything, To Love Ru is sci-fi mixed with slice of life. The whole "marriage candidate" issue is there, but it's in the background. What this manga really deals with is the interaction between characters and their continued development. A lot of what we see is simply Rito and the girls going about their daily lives, which is always amusing to watch.

Like in every form of media, there are the favorites. Some of us readers even have a tendency to fall in love with fictional characters. If I had to choose my manga crush, then it would have to be Lala Satalin Deviluke. I like how she's different from most leading females of this genre. Usually, in a harem story, the main female is either the best friend, or the tsundere, or the tsundere best friend. Lala is none of those. She's cheerful and bright. She's positive and optimistic. Everything that she does is for the sake of having fun and making friends, and she makes friends with everybody - except for a few people who don't like her, and even then, she is still abnormally friendly to those people, mostly because she's oblivious to their dislike of her. Now, there are a few things about her that I don't like. Lala is notoriously naive. It's more than just how she doesn't understand why nudity is wrong. She doesn't seem to grasp what it really means to be in a relationship. In fact, I'm almost positive that she has no real idea how relationships work. That being said, Lala is also the sweetest girl I've seen in a manga. She doesn't have a mean bone in her body, and I like how supportive she is of her friends. In terms of characters that I like, Lala is my number one, all-time favorite.

The character who I'm the most conflicted about is Rito Yuuki. Out of all the characters present, he is the most one-dimensional. If the girls are vibrant splashes of color that mix together and create rainbows, then Rito is white, a blank slate through which the girls can paint whatever colors they want over him. In other words, he smacks of the Unlucky Everydude. He's also the most accident prone Accidental Pervert that I've ever seen. Period. Despite this flat, one-dimensional-ness, I do think Rito has some good points. For the sake of not spoiling the plot, I won't go into any of those points. Just know that, while falling into the typical tropes of a harem protagonist, he does possess some redeeming qualities.

Now, then, having said all this, it would be remiss of me not take talk about the issue that is prevalent within this series: The objectification of women. Defined as "a woman being viewed primarily as an object of male sexual desire, rather than as a whole person," I feel that there are many people who, upon glancing at this manga, will automatically assume that it objectifies women - and it would be very hard to deny this. The fact is, To Love Ru is rank with fanservice. It's entire plot centers around its fanservice, making any body who reads this manga automatically come under the impression that women are being turned into objects of lust, and honestly, considering how many teenage males likely read this manga and only see the fanservice, I can't blame people for thinking this way. It's hard to view this manga and not assume that it's completely disrespectful towards women. In fact, I won't even deny that there are many parts in this manga that made me downright uncomfortable. However, as I mentioned previously, all of the female cast in this manga are very well-developed. Their personalities are vibrant and easily distinguishable from each other. For the people who can look past the fanservice, they'll find a cast of fully developed characters that have their own personalities, desires, goals, dreams, and ideals. While I don't condone many of the situations in here, I do believe that we should take this fact into account. Objectifying women is turning them into objects of lust and desire. However, while this was certainly done, and those parts made me uncomfortable and almost not want to continue, the strength of To Love Ru's female cast kept me in the running. I wanted to see what these girls would do as the story unfolded.

All of that being said, To Love Ru is a manga that I feel many people won't like. I'm pretty sure that most women who, after reading the first volume of this manga, would turn away in disgust. And I wouldn't blame them for doing so. A manga like this is not something that can be read easily. This is guilty pleasure at its finest - or its worst. I would be embarrassed to read something like this in public. Despite that, I can claim that I really enjoyed reading this series, and I'm going to continue on to read To Love Ru Darkness, the sequel series. At the same time, I'd completely understand if someone else read this series and decided to stop after finishing the first volume.