Love and Lies
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Love and Lies ?
Love and Lies walks a very fine tightrope of being enjoyably stupid and tediously stupid. At its core, it's filled with the same overplayed and underdeveloped romance clichés we've seen a thousand times before, but its ludicrous premise has provided a slightly more interesting take on the classic love triangle than I initially expected. More than anything else, Riri's immature, gradually evolving understanding of her own sexuality and her feelings for her assigned husband is the element of Love and Lies's premise that gives it something more fresh and original to work with. The series' first episode hinted at a degree of Scum's Wish-level smuttiness that hasn't really been delivered, and Misaki and Yukari's relationship still isn't enough to be compelling without Ririna's interference. There's a very specific wavelength that Love and Lies has to hit to stand out against the other maudlin teen soaps that flood the medium. When it does hit that wavelength, Love and Lies is just the right kind of guilty pleasure entertainment, but in episodes like this one where the balance feels off, the show becomes a much more predictably boring thing to sit through.
This week is the standard camping episode that covers all of the bases you might expect. There's some awkward banter between the four teens that segues into basic story beats like Yukari peeking on the girls in their bathing suits, or Ririna twisting her ankle and needing to be carried back to the camp. This last development was one of the most worrisome of the week, as it saw Ririna getting all hot n' bothered and acting like the predictable “Baka!”-spewing tsundere I was always afraid she could be. Her naïve and confused desire to further Yukari and Misaki's relationship was both sweet enough and tragic enough to make her the most compelling character in the series, but between this nonsense and Misaki trying to impede on her matchmaking attempts, I'm worried that Love and Lies will land on the predictable love triangle angle sooner rather than later. If that's going to be the case, then Love and Lies will almost certainly devolve into uninteresting blandness, with the "Government Arranged Marriage" premise being the only thing to distinguish it from a hundred other shows of its ilk.
Speaking of which, the biggest issue this episode presents is the new information Nisaka shares about Yukari and Misaki's situation, mainly the fact that people can totally reject their government arranged marriages, with the only consequences being a fine and some social stigma that follows. Now, while I can understand how losing face like this would mean much more in Japan than it might here in the West, the very fact that these government assigned marriages aren't set in stone makes Love and Lies's foundation somehow even more inane. When it seemed like following the government's idiotic mandate was a citizen's only option, there were at least some high-level stakes intrinsic to falling in love with someone else. Now it just makes Yukari and Misaki's histrionics even more immature and silly, since we all know that if they really wanted to be together, the only thing stopping them is a little red tape and a transfer to a less fancy college.
What all of this means is that the contrived artificiality of Love and Lies's premise rings even more hollow, and the angsty indecision these kids face is really no different from the same kind of angsty indecision that all kids face in our own reality. This show could have easily been set in a time period where arranged marriages were more popular, or in a culture defined by economic turmoil and prejudice, or any number of social situations that didn't rely on the most ridiculous kind of government overreach imaginable. Now Ririna isn't risking setting up her partner and her friend despite having no choice but to live alongside that relationship; she could just help nullify the government arrangement and convince Mikasi and Yukari to marry each other. Her choice not to do so is being framed as just another complication of the love triangle. Even if the system has become a bit more nuanced than before, it's also exponentially less interesting for its lack of drama.
Of course, I'm aware that Misaki's baggage and her complicated relationship with Yusuke is something Love and Lies keeps foreshadowing, but it's still so undefined that it's hard to consider it much of a factor. Yusuke's sexuality and the complicated feelings he must have for his entire society have hardly factored into his characterization, and he remains the least developed aspect of the show so far. Although he gets a bit of comedy to balance out his aloof stoicism, Yusuke still functions less as a character in his own right and more as a jealous stumbling block to get in the way of Yukari's other relationships. I hope the show addresses this soon, because Yusuke's status as a gay man in a profoundly heteronormative system could potentially be fascinating, but all that potential has yet to be addressed.
This wasn't a terrible episode on its own; the comedy and gentle banter that filled most of the episode was perfectly fine, and despite the art being even rougher and more inconsistent than usual, there was no single thing that necessarily pulled the whole thing down. Rather, the episode featured some storytelling decisions that threaten the foundation of Love and Lies as a story going forward, combining with the weak art and lack of any relationship development to make this the series' weakest episode yet.
Love and Lies is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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