Love and Lies
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Love and Lies ?
This week, Love and Lies takes Ririna and Yukari to a government-mandated sex education class, and the results are about as awkward and overdone as you'd imagine a government mandated sex-ed class might be. I almost feel like this is a monkey's paw kind of scenario; I started off bemoaning how underdeveloped and contrived the show's setup felt, after all. Now it's delivering all the worldbuilding and bureaucratic exposition I could have ever asked for, and the show is really suffering for it.
The issue, as it has been for the last couple weeks, is one of tone. L&L simply can't nail down what kind of show it wants to be. It begins with some semi-smutty sex dreams that Ririna is having, reminiscent of the Scum's Wish overtones episode one doled out, but then the episode segues from that to a random character introduction and then right into the sex-ed class that makes up most of the episode. You'd think that dedicating two-thirds of an episode to something like a government-run sex class would make for some ripe satire or even just basic comedy, but L&L never really aims for either. Instead, it tosses out a few halfhearted gags about Yukari's history-nerdiness and Ririna's naiveté about sex and condoms, before spending more time just hammering home plot points that we've seen already: Ririna is confused about her feelings and Yukari doesn't know who to pick as a romantic partner. Heck, the show seems to have such little faith in its audience that a government official even stops by to reiterate the conflict to Yukari (complete with title drop) for no reason other than to imply that the government itself has a very vested interest in which of these girls he's going to decide to shack up with.
This is the core problem of Love and Lies. It uses its vaguely science-fiction setup to force all the dramatic turns in the story, with this sex-ed class literally shoving these two kids into a hotel room and hoping they'll bone. Despite Ririna and Yukari having their own personal mixed feelings, they're both passive participants in their own love triangle, never really making any choices outside of the ones they're forced to make by the plot devices surrounding them. Doubling down on that, even though Love and Lies is desperately trying to elicit the same kind of sexual tension a show like Scum's Wish does, it goes about it all wrong. Sticking a bunch of virgins in a room to watch them literally be overcome by horniness when they're confronted by pornography sounds more like the kind of parody that a show like Shimoneta would deliver; it inspires more laughter than any empathy or sexual tension. Unfortunately for Love and Lies, none of this is any substitute for the personal connections and chemistry that make good romance stories and love triangles so powerful. Love and Lies spends so much time setting up its world that it's neglecting to actually tell a compelling story.
That's why this episode is such a misfire. The show's characters feel like tropes being moved around a chessboard, and the attempt to bludgeon Ririna and Yukari into more sexual tension just shows how disconnected this story is from the actual teenage experience. There is nothing teenagers find less sexy than a bunch of grownups standing in a lecture hall telling them how their junk fits together, and yet we end with Yukari on top of Ririna in a hotel bedroom anyway. Whether or not they actually sleep together or even want to do so is honestly beside the point. A love triangle isn't automatically compelling because three characters have a bunch of forces pushing them together. The parties involved have to actually feel like believable people, and more importantly, the audience needs to believe in the feelings these people have for each other.
Navigating the fraught tightrope of physical desire and emotional connection is what Scum's Wish did amazingly well, but Love and Lies can't seem to decide how far it's willing to go outside of clichés and arbitrary plot points. This is a show that wants to tell a deeply derivative love triangle story, where one of the relationships has primarily been defined by the time a boy gave a girl his eraser. At the same time, it seems to want to tell a psychologically realistic story about suppressed desire, one filled with spit trails and extended makeout scenes that make teenage sexual desire explicit, the kind that most traditional romance anime leave as subtext or a well to mine for cheap comedy. But Love and Lies can't have it both ways - it's like trying to wedge a harlequin romance into the middle of a dystopian YA book. Much like Yukari himself, Love and Lies has to make a choice. It's either going to choose what kind of show it really wants to be, or it's going to stay floundering in some nebulous middle ground, where it won't succeed in either direction.
Love and Lies is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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