The Fall 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Val x Love
How would you rate episode 1 of
Val x Love ?
What is this?
Poor Takuma Akutsu has been branded an “akuma” (devil) for his entire life because of his scary face, which he developed a huge physique to match. Classmates would rather throw themselves out a window than face his imagined displeasure. And now things are even worse – a series of gruesome crimes have been taking place nights in his neighborhood, and people are willing to believe that he's the villain behind what have been dubbed akuma-caused crimes. The high school student would really rather just focus on studying at home by himself, but that's not going to happen – because he's been chosen by Odin to help stop the destruction of the world by helping to raise the levels of the Valkyries of Valhalla, who take the form of nine beautiful girls and women. They're powered up by being in love, and since their (All-)Father has determined that Takuma is to be his lover, his peaceful days are still far from becoming a reality. Val x Love is based on a manga. It's available streaming on HIDIVE, Saturdays at 10:30 am EST.
How was the first episode?
That, I have to say, is a new one on me – here I thought that the Valkyries of Norse mythology just determined who died in battle and brought them to Valhalla, while apparently in the world of Val x Love, they really just need to fall in love in order to raise their powers. Because all girls, you know, just desperately need to be in love to be powerful, right? My disgust with that particular bit aside, this definitely gives the feeling of trying to hard. It's hard to fault it – after all, the harem genre is crowded and it does need new reasons to throw a bunch of girls at a guy who isn't sure he wants them in his home – but its attempt at a mythological set up doesn't do it any favors.
It really does try on that front. The monster that class hot girl Natsuki, who is naturally on of the Valkyrie in question, has to fight is called Hrugnir, which does have an equivalent in Norse myths, albeit not as a unicorn cyclops. The fact that the Valkyries don't get to choose their own hero, as explicitly stated in their own mythology, is a bit annoying, but the whole set up does lead to a couple of unintentionally funny moments, like the shot of Natsuki sitting mostly-naked on Takuma's lap kissing him while Hrugnir rampages in the background. It's also a fairly decent excuse for Takuma to get to smooch, grope, and do whatever else to the girls, because that's how they raise their status – literally, apparently, since Natsuki's kiss seems to trigger some sort of program that announces what requirements she's met to get points towards her overall level.
That part feels unnecessary, as if the story is trying to introduce a video game element into a plot that could easily stand on its own without it. It's part of the sense that this show is trying just a little too hard– it wants so badly to appeal to as many viewers as possible that it's willing to throw in school shenanigans, a girl for almost every taste, a game element, mythology, and fanservice of several stripes. I suspect that as the story progresses, it will manage to stick at least of couple of these, although I really hope it does away with the tired old trope of Natsuki hitting Takuma for imagined slights or things not his fault. But this isn't enough to convince me to give a genre I'm not thrilled with a chance and I think it needs to calm down all of its elements a little before it turns into something more enjoyable all around.
My regular harem-watching days are long behind me, but I'd like to think I can still appreciate a good variation on the formula. And in Val x Love's case, that variation comes through one key variable: the personality of its male protagonist, the hulking Takuma Akutsu. At sixteen years old and surrounded by a flock of beautiful would-be valkyries, Takuma mostly wants one thing: for all of these girls to leave him alone.
Takuma isn't the first harem protagonist to actively resent his harem, but I still really felt for his plight across this episode. Confronted with stale old situations like the crotch faceplant or the mid-dressing door-opening, Takuma consistently responded with genuine horror and alarm, mostly just wishing for all these horny valkyries to leave his house. Likely my favorite moment this episode was when lead heroine and tsundere template Natsuki sulkily asked “do you hate studying with me that much,” to which he immediately responded “yes, I would much rather be studying alone.” And beyond just being a funny twist on the usual formula, Takuma actually comes across as a troubled and genuinely sympathetic young man, which puts him well above the genre's average protagonist.
Outside of Takuma's unique personality, this episode mostly offered a standard fantasy-harem setup, centered on the idea that valkyries are powered by some kind of “love points” that they must harness through lovey-dovey behavior. In practice, this gave the show an easy reason to keep shoving Takuma and Natsuki together, and will presumably help keep Takuma feeling relevant as the enemy threats scale up (something that Action Girlfriend x Average Joe harems can often struggle with). There's a wide array of distinct yet reasonably archetypal valkyrie designs, and though this episode hits plenty of the standard harem beats, it goes far enough in its salaciousness to likely please any horny comedy fans. Val x Love probably won't appeal to anyone who's not actively seeking a harem, but if you're a fan of the genre, this seems like a fine pick.
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