REPOST: Keitaro Urashima – The Everynerd

Today FUNimation re-released the anime adaptation of Love Hina, the franchise that introduced me and many otaku of my generation to the wonderful world of anime and manga. To celebrate the return of this series, I’d like to repost this essay I wrote about its impact to the anime and manga industry in America, and just why I believe it was able to speak to a whole subculture of geeks around the world.

Originally posted on August 18, 2005.

If you were a manga fan over five years ago, you will recall just how different things were back then compared to now. Manga was flipped, expensive, heavily edited, and had a very limited variety of titles. But then a newcomer by the name of Tokyopop decided to make a radical change to the market. They introduced a new line of manga in which they called, “100% Authentic.” Not only were the pages un-flipped, but the size of the book was smaller, the cost was only 10 bucks a volume, and they didn’t translate any sound effects.

The new format was a hit, and created a new interest in Japanese comics. The shelf space expanded at an exponential rate. And yet, surprisingly, the series that was on the top during this revolution wasn’t from a well known anime actions show like Dragonball Z or Cowboy Bebop. Instead, it was a series about a 20-year-old boarding house manager and the 5 girls who lived with him.

I witnessed first hand just how Love Hina became an addiction to anyone who read it. I bought it one day because I heard some good things about it from an online forum. It wasn’t my first manga, I had a couple Dragonball and Dragonball Z volumes on my shelf, but I had lost interest in getting any more of them. But already being into anime at that time and still curious about the manga medium, I decided to give this one series a shot.

As we were driving back from the store, I started reading my new book. After only 10 pages, I was hooked. Something about it just spoke to me like no other comic had ever done before. I showed it to my best friend, who became instantly hooked on it himself. Then another friend fell in love with it too. I also showed it to a friend of mine in my drama club. He got into it, and then another person got into it, then another, then another…

Mind you, these guys had never read any manga before. But before I knew it, I had to bring my whole Love Hina collection to each drama club meeting because of all the people who wanted to read it. I understand that not only has similar trends been seen in both the US and Japan, but even in European and South American countries as well.

But what gives Love Hina such an universal attraction? Many would say it would be the use of fan service and sexy images. But there have been many sexier series out there that don’t even compare in popularity. Others would say that it’s the comedy that wins the fans over. However, any anime fan out there will tell you that the harem anime concept is clichéd and will cite many other series that have done it in the past.

I believe that the answer lies in the hero of the story – wishy-washy Keitaro Urashima.

“My name is Keitaro Urashima. I’m 19-years-old (and single!). I took the Tokyo U entrance exam and flunked it twice. I’m in the 48th percentile and I’m bad in English, and Math, and Social Studies, and History, and Biology… I’m not cute. I don’t have any special talents. I never played on any of the cool sports teams, and I was always paired up with other guys at dances. And to top it off, my scrapbook is filled with pictures of me!”

You see many types of heroes in shounen manga. You have ninjas, detectives, samurai, ghost hunters, sports stars, tournament fighters… you get the picture. They all possess some special power or ability that makes their adventures entertaining to the adolescent audience. However, Keitaro is not such a hero. Keitaro is shy, clumsy, and not cool. In other words, he is a nerd.

But at this point in his life, he’s not even a successful nerd. He’s never had a girlfriend, and he’s even failed to get into the college he was trying for, Tokyo University. When we are first introduced to him, it seems like he can’t get any more pathetic. How can such a man be considered a hero?

To find out what makes Keitaro so unique, we need to look at the manga audience itself. As much as you don’t want to think about it, everyone who is reading this right now is a nerd. Be it anime fans, bloggers, video game players, or simply the guy who would even consider reading a comic, we are all nerds. But that’s not really a bad thing. It means that we use our intelligence and creativity rather then brute force to fulfill our desires. We have a good grasp on reality, but we’re not afraid to dip into our imaginations every once in a while.

However, society considers this weird, and so we’re not treated too kindly about it. We don’t have the best luck with sports and dating, and often feel sad and pathetic about it, particularly during our adolescence. And so, in a little or in a lot of ways, we can relate to Keitaro. What hit me the hardest was when he said that at school dances, he was always paired off with other boys. That’s happened to me before, and it just leaves you with the feeling of being a complete loser. I understood Keitaro Urashima.

In fact, I was Keitaro Urashima.

Keitaro is not just a nerd, he is the Everynerd. He represents every one of us out there that have ever felt alone or pathetic. No matter what culture or sub-culture you look at, there will always be nerds like us in one form or another. And so people around the world can identify with Keitaro and find him to represent their inner hopes and desires. That’s why we love him so much.

On top of that, he is a hero that we can look up to. Even with all the failure in his life, his heart is still good. He has just one dream, and that is to fall in love. He believes that if he can get into Tokyo U, that he will finally be able to fulfill that dream. And so not matter how hard the goal is or how poorly life is treating him, he still went for it. Like most nerds, he is very passionate about his goals, and we all respect him for that.

Also, he has a very sweet and respectful attitude towards women. The biggest running gag of the series would be of him accidentally walking in on the girls naked, being called a pervert for it, and then getting the crap beat out of him. However, Keitaro is not a pervert at all. Sure, every once in a while he notices a panty shot or something like that, but what man wouldn’t? What really drives him is the desire to make sure that all the girls around him are happy, and he makes personal sacrifices to make sure of it. And so we as the readers know that if anyone deserves to find love and happiness, it is Keitaro.

Love Hina is a clichéd series filled with redundant gags and cheap fan service, and yet it became in international sensation and helped jump-start modern anime fandom in the US. The reason for this lies in the hero of the story, Keitaro Urashima. He represents the unspoken hopes and dreams of nerds around the world. We sympathizes with him as he struggles with the problems life throws at him, and we cheer him on as he goes to accomplish his dreams.

Keitaro is the Everynerd, and we all love and admire him for it.

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