The Summer 2022 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Engage Kiss ?
Community score: 3.6
What is this?
The anime is set in Baylong City, an artificial island city established outside of any country's jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean to exploit local natural resources. In particular, the mining of the new energy resource orgonium has resulted in an outbreak of "D disasters" by demons in the city. Private military companies (PMCs) are tasked with dealing with these incidents. Shu is a young man living in Bayron City who runs such a company, but his company is tiny. His life, both publicly and privately, is being supported by the beautiful high school girl Kisara who attends a school in Bayron City. At the root of Kisara's strong attachment to Shu is a contract signed between them. Her true identity is a demon.
How was the first episode?
You know, I think I respect this first episode of Engage Kiss more than I actually like it. Every few seasons we get an anime premiere that appears to be one thing only to pull the rug out from under us in the final few minutes (like School Live! or Re:Zero). But rather than revealing you've just spent the last 20 minutes inside a delusional girl's head or suddenly seeing just how ultra-violent a fantasy world can be, Engage Kiss spends the better part of its first episode performing character assassination on its own main character, Shuu, making him look like a social parasite who sponges of the women in his life rather than getting a job. Given how fickle first impressions are, it takes some serious confidence in your work to think people will stick around to watch such an irredeemable asshole long enough for the twist to arrive.
While watching, I actually wondered how the creators would get me to sympathize with such a loathsome individual, since it's impossible not to become frustrated seeing these girls pine for him even as they bail him out monetarily for the umpteenth time. And sure, the end of the episode puts things in a new context, but that doesn't exactly undo all the damage done. Regardless of the reasons, he is still exploiting those who care for him—especially Kisara, as it's clear that he is using their “relationship” to control her. So yeah, I still find Shuu more than a little unlikeable.
On the other hand, this episode has one of the most entertaining fight scenes I've ever seen. Both Kisara and Ayano are clearly trying to kill each other as they fight demons throughout the casino, but make sure they have plausible deniability by killing a demon with each (attempted friendly-fire) attack. Rather than fight back-to-back, they're fighting front-to-front while Shuu and Ayano's team looks on dumbfounded. It's wonderfully creative and worth the price of admission alone.
So while I don't know if I'll continue watching this series, I'm certainly glad I watched this episode. Even if it didn't quite hit the mark with me overall, I applaud what it was trying to do with its twist, and that fight scene was a ton of fun.
I very rarely go into anime completely, 100% blind; generally, even if I'm not familiar with the source material, I'll have seen a trailer or read a summary somewhere. Usually even just seeing the key art will clue me in on the basic premise, but not so with Engage Kiss. I sincerely had no idea what it was going to be about and I'm starting to think it was better that way, because at least I was entertained as I watched the ridiculous plot twists ramp up one after another.
Without factoring that in, Engage Kiss is pretty terrible. Its protagonist, Shu, is a grade-A scumbag who I hope to see die a messy, ugly death. He has two girls who are essentially his sugar mamas: his gainfully employed blue-haired ex Ayano, who is obviously still in love with him; and Kisara, the yandere-to-be who he's currently sleeping with and letting pay all his bills with her savings. He even allows her to make him dinner, never mind that he forgot to tell her he was going out to a restaurant on Ayano's dime. What a swell, standup guy.
With every minute that passed, my urge to wring Shu's neck grew stronger. He undercuts other demon-hunting PMCs (oh yeah, there's that too) by bidding rates so low that he ends up using most of the payment to hire Ayano, ensuring that not only can he not afford to live, nobody else who works in that industry can either. Is this a commentary on governments selling contracts to the lowest bidder who does subpar work, thus harming the people they're supposed to be serving by spoiling the economy and building insufficient infrastructure? Or is this just another example of Shu being a lovable lout? Is he supposed to be a lovable lout, anyway, or are we supposed to hate him?
The true apex of the episode comes when Kisara and Shu must engage in the sloppiest, moistest makeouts ever committed to animation, her enthusiastically and him awkwardly because oh crap, Ayano is watching, can't let her see him get basically dry-humped by this teenage girl. This allows Kisara to evolve like a Pokémon into a circa 2005 DeviantArt original character do not steal, decked out in Hot Topic's finest and ready to give that one anime goth girl a run for her money.
The first episode of Engage Kiss was stupidly entertaining going in with no prior knowledge, but I'm afraid that if you're reading this, it's already too late. You know what's going to happen and will be forced instead to think about the confusing worldbuilding, bad pacing, and generic character designs. You will not be guessing at what outdated cliche they're going to pull out next, because you'll know. And now, the only thing that will make the show salvageable is if Shu ends up going for a ride on a nice boat, if you know what I mean.
Out of all the things that Engage Kiss' premiere wanted me to feel, I was mostly left feeling a bit confused. Not about the premise, mind you; I can totally roll with Engage Kiss on that level. The world is full of demons, and because capitalism is gonna do what capitalism is gonna do, taking down those demons has become yet another facet of the modern gig economy. Not only can you place bids to take on demon-slaying contracts, but you can also hire gacha girlfriends—erm, I mean “combat partners” to work with you. Toss in some sick fight scenes and halfway decent production values, and you've got a perfectly workable formula for a successful mobile game/anime/manga/pachinko machine/etc franchise. It's dumb as hell, true, but it's also easy enough to grasp from the get-go.
No, what had me so confused in Engage Kiss were its characters, and specifically our hero, Shu. The premiere clearly establishes him as a generic-looking scumbag with no prospects and absolutely zero financial stability, a total washout who has only survived thanks to not one, but two different sugar mamas. Even when he manages to successfully snag a middling contract and a low-level demon to make some cash, he winds up spending nearly 80 percent of that contract hiring Ayano, aka Blue-Haired Waifu, leaving him nearly as broke as he was before. Not only does he do this despite the fact that he and his ostensible girlfriend are so bereft that they had nothing to eat but a pile of raw cabbage for dinner, we later learn that said “girlfriend” is actually a supremely powerful and murderous demon who can waste other demons with ease, and all she needs to go full sicko mode is a hot makeout session with the guy that she is obsessed with for no discernable reason.
Now, maybe I missed out on some key detail in the dialogue, but for as much fun as I had with the dumb fight scenes in Engage Kiss, I couldn't help but be incredibly distracted by some of the basic questions that I was asking when the episode finished. For one, how the hell is this loser Shu not, like, a millionaire at this point? Also, is this going to be another one of those anime that takes the very obvious “step on me, monster waifu” kinks of the premise and tries to pretend that the protagonist is somehow burdened by the women who are willing to pour every ounce of their hearts and bodies (and wallets) into maintaining his lifestyle? This man could make who knows how much cash simply by satisfying his horny demon girlfriend's physical needs and maybe opening up a savings account, for crying out loud. Given how lacking he is in any semblance of charm, charisma, or basic life skills, I'm going to have a really difficult time getting into the rom-com, love triangle shenanigans that Engage Kiss is apparently going to be focusing on.
I know what you're going to say, too. “James, you're not supposed to think about shows like Engage Kiss!” And you know what? That's fair. This is some proud and loud b-grade shlock, and it's not really pretending to have any higher ambitions. So far as entertaining action nonsense is concerned, Engage Kiss is a pretty okay time, especially if you need more conspicuously well-animated make-out scenes in your anime.
It feels weird to say watching Engage Kiss was nostalgic. The era where this kind of show proliferated anime seasons isn't exactly far behind us – we just had a new season of Date A Live after all – but after seasons on end of unceasing isekai stories it's almost comforting to go back to the days of chuuni stuff like this. It's still trashy as hell, but it's trash from a time when The Future Diary was the king of too-edgy-for-its-own-good anime and studios would still adapt horny bishoujo games. That doesn't make Engage Kiss good by any measure, but it does make it stick out a bit in the current season and overall landscape.
And I'll admit to having fun with that trashiness, even as I 100% understand why everything about this show would grate on the nerves of most viewers. Our male lead, Shu, is a deadbeat dirtbag who sponges off both his current and ex-girlfriends for rent and food. He's not even charming about it, just smarmy and kind of pathetic, and the show's attempts to make him look cool during the final battle only serve to reinforce how much of a dipstick he is. Our leading lady is a borderline yandere who bounces between “comedic” suicide proposals and trying to kill Shu's ex. The two girls straight up have a catfight in the middle of a battle with a demon over this total loser of a male lead. Kisara gets her powers from making out with Shu, and they show her getting deep into his red zone while they play tonsil hockey. It is shameless, but I honestly appreciate the lack of obfuscation.
Helps that it actually looks really good. I'm not wild about the designs, but they absolutely ooze the kind of edgelord energy a show about getting to first base with your demon girlfriend should. The action scenes are well-paced, littered with flashy and elastic action animation, and manage to make the conceit of deadbeat demon fighters seem cool for a few minutes. There's even some clever direction and use of split-screens that keep this episode a lot more engaging than you'd expect, and it helps make what might have otherwise been a dull premiere watchable.
Maybe this show is just benefiting from lowered expectations, or a serious lack of competition this season, but I honestly had a decent time watching it. It's not good, not even really the good kind of trashy, but it has an identity that it's executing well. That's something.
This is clearly not my day. Like Lycoris Recoil before it, I can absolutely see that Engage Kiss has some very, well, engaging elements, and it's hard to deny that it looks good – attractive character designs, interesting monsters, and that kiss…slobbery kisses aren't my thing, but they clearly went all out for that one, as well as some of the fighting. Unfortunately I found myself sympathizing the most with the three grunts who, around twenty minutes in, were just sort of staring in disbelief at Shu and Kisara having a couple's spat instead of fighting the demon before asking if they could just shoot them. Maybe they weren't as active a threat as the monster (although Kisara's fighting did make the building collapse), but they sure as heck weren't helping at the moment.
The most difficult element of this episode for me to swallow, however, was the fact that Shu is a total schnorrer who can't keep the lights on, the phone on, or food in the house, and yet he somehow has two ladies falling all over themselves to take care of him. He doesn't even seem that good at his job, which I think is to dispose of the demons that pop up in Bayron City from time to time: he had to get Ayano AND Kisara both to help him carry out the job he bid for, meaning that if they didn't have such a thing for him, he would have been dead or maimed on top of broke. I'm not sure what it says about me or my taste in entertainment that I found it harder to believe that both ladies would be into him than that demons show up or that Kisara's some kind of needy succubus who requires make-out sessions before she can transform and fight to her full potential.
Now that the character relationships are on their way to being established, there may very well be room for the story to pick up, and there certainly are a lot of questions to answer that might help with that – why the demons exist, who and what Kisara is (and how old she is), and what made Shu leave what was apparently a decent job with Ayano's mom to go out on his own could all inform the plot quite a bit. But the character writing needs to keep pace with the visuals if this is going to live up to any potential it may have.
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