The Winter 2014 Anime Preview Guide

Theron Martin

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Ichijo Raku is the scion of a prominent yakuza family, but he works hard at school to aim for much more ordinary goals. Thus his only romantic experience is a locket/key exchange with a girl ten years back. One girl at school whom he's sweet on does have a key that may or may not go with his locket, but a new transfer student gets in the way of her finding out: Kirisaki Chitoge, a biracial blond beauty who accidentally kneed Ichijo in the face on their first encounter and quickly gets into an antagonistic relationship with him. And of course she turns out to be the daughter of a rival yakuza family that the Raku clan is having problems with, and of course the scheme to keep the feud from getting violent is for the two successors to date in the hopes that it will discourage the hotheads on each side from interfering in their “love.” Hence they will have to pretend that what their classmates think is going on anyway is actually happening.

Even if one goes into Nisekoi knowing nothing about it (as I did), the plot twist at the end of the first episode can be seen coming a mile away. Even so, the concept has definite comic potential, and the first episode does offer up several entertaining moments. However, the main barrier to this manga-based series getting off to a better start than it does is actually its strongest pedigree: the direction by Akiyuki Shinbo. He brings in his inimitable style in scene framing and progression and uses it here in an apparent attempt to reshape how conventional rom-coms looks, but it serves more as a distraction than an enhancement. It breaks up the flow too much, resulting the episode mechanically playing out like a short-gag format when it is actually more of a continuous narrative, and that is more than a bit jarring. Otherwise this is pretty standard romantic comedy fare, albeit remarkably tame fare; the closest thing it gets to fan service is where the camera seems to linger longest on body shots.

Based on the first episode, expectations for Nisekoi are not high, but neither does it fail in a big way.

Nisekoi is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Bamboo Dong

Rating: 3

Ah, childhood promises. So many anime relationships have been mercilessly shorn by the silly marital promises of youth. And yet they persist, dangled furtively in the lonely eyes of youths who dream of one day marrying their beaus.

Such is one side of the Nisekoi love triangle, which is one part Childhood Promise Anime and two parts old-timey European continent royal family arranged relationship. Only instead of, say, France and Austria, it's Yakuza Family #1 and Upstart Yakuza Family #2, and both heads want their children to fake a relationship for appearance sake. Combined with another possible Childhood Promise girl (the stable boy, in my analogy), it's a little nutty, but it makes for a charming setup that has the potential for both comedy and drama.

Most of the kicks in the first episode largely derive from the love/hate relationship between Yakuza son Raku and transfer student/rival gang daughter Chitoge, a hot-blooded gal whose beauty and talent are marred only by her temper and mean streak. Their uneasy friendship is documented by Raku's listing of their encounters, and as the episode progresses, we see that his descriptor for her slowly morphs from "monkey" to just her name. Naturally, things get a little hairy when their fathers ask them to carry out a mock relationship, but things are muddled further when Raku's school crush starts hinting that she may be the Girl from the Childhood Promise.

Whether or not she really is, though, doesn't seem like that much of a mystery, although the first episode would have you believe it is. After all, given how much screen time Chitoge has, versus the schoolyard crush, and relying on romcom love/hate character relationship shtick, there's a niggling sense that come Hell or high water, Chitoge will come out on top. However, the entertainment factor in the series seems to be less about "who will he choose?" than the journey itself. Character-wise, Raku and Chitoge's similar yet diverse backgrounds make them amusing to watch. Visually, the series gallops between different art styles and animation techniques (the show is produced by SHAFT and directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, well known for his work on Madoka Magica), resulting in a viewing experience that's both entertaining, and also distracts from any staleness in the script.

Regardless of who ends up with whom, Nisekoi appears to be a fun little toddle into the tumultuous waves of teenage love. There's not too much about the series that stands out for now, but the setup shows promise. If fictional romances in film and literature are any indication, all great loves are borne from immense hate, and in that case, Raku and Chitoge are destined for a love like none other. It's a cute show, with a charming pair of bickering love interests, and I'm eager to see where this series will go.

Nisekoi is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Hope Chapman

Rating: 3

Nisekoi (or "False Love" in English,) is a Shaft show that seeks to out-Shaft all others before it. Not because of its outrageous content or bizarre imagery, but because it has no outrageous content or bizarre imagery. With its conventional love triangle premise and completely normal characters and settings, Nisekoi has no real reason to be given the Shaft treatment, but by God, Shinbo and his crew are going to Shaft it right up anyway! The same wholly unique and intentionally off-putting visual language used in the Monogatari series, Arakawa Under the Bridge, [email protected] and many many other Shaft shows is applied to Nisekoi and unfortunately, the result further exposes this style as art without matter. Not to say that it hurts the show, it just doesn't affect it much one way or the other, which is revealing.

There is no reason for Shaft's signature oblique angles, quick cuts, surprise subtitling and abuse of negative color and space to exist in this romcom. The story is simple: little boy promises to marry little girl someday, grows up to be heir to yakuza family, becomes forced into relationship to different girl he can't stand, hijinks ensue between the three young lovebirds. On that level, it's an average romantic comedy, somewhat promising, somewhat ordinary, maybe worth a watch-and-see but not really novel enough to provoke discussion yet. Therefore, Shaft's signature style language has such a tiny playground to run around in that all the flourishes and strange shots and lighting lose their meaning. Telling a simple story in a complex way kills the pacing, in this case. Plot points and character moments that could be communicated in one minute take three in Shinbo-style, and it just doesn't add anything when the story is this small and straightforward. Add to that, the tricks Shaft employs are usually responsible for setting a tone of discomfort, used most effectively in Madoka Magica, (which also had a complex plot and characters to go with its intricate visual language,) and discomfort is not a mood appropriate to this silly love story.

Again, that's not to say that Shaftifying this simple story harms it in any way. It just draws it out and in no way deepens it. Applying the same visual idioms to every story only serves to destroy any significance that style may have had, and with Nisekoi, Shinbo is further muddying his own footprint.

Nisekoi is available streaming at

Carl Kimlinger

Rating: 4

Review: This may be the fastest that a review has turned around and bitten me in the ass. I just finished tearing into No-Rin for being a horrifically improbable romantic fantasy full of painfully predictable rom-com developments. Specifically, I rained hate down upon the show's (truly terrible) “transfer student” scene. And now I find myself in the awkward position of having very much enjoyed Nisekoi, a (different) horrifically improbable romantic fantasy full of painfully predictable rom-com developments. Including, yes, the transfer-student gambit. Thank you, several-hours-ago Carl. Thank you very much.

All I can really say is that Nisekoi does the improbable romantic fantasy thing right. To begin with, director Akiyuki Shinbo brings to bear all of the cinematic trickery for which he is known: inventive camerawork, elliptical editing, expressionistic mise-en-scène, deliberate flouting of conventional shot structure. The series has the fragmented, self-aware feel that is typical of Shinbo's work. Which not only looks great and injects life and imagination into Nisekoi’s familiar tale, but also brings out its playful self-consciousness.

Nisekoi is a genre beast—there's no denying that it's neck-deep in romance clichés—but it's a beast that knows its tropes and has fun with them. The show takes the blatant fantasy at its heart—humdrum yakuza heir Ichijo is forced to fake-date the beautiful daughter of a rival gang leader—and gleefully lets the air out of it by giving Chitoge, the rival heir, a wild animal's constitution and explosively bad chemistry with her faux-boyfriend. Their fated meeting is dressed up like a shojo-manga collision (complete with toast-in-mouth), but plays out as a violent pratfall. And the transfer student scene? It hits the expected notes, but immediately undercuts itself when its sparkly transfer student beats the snot out of the hero. Add in the show's emotional prospects (Shinbo has greatly improved in that respect) and you've got a winner. Realism be damned.

Nisekoi is available streaming at Crunchyroll and Daisuki.

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