Love and Lies
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Love and Lies ?
The screenshot I posted above captures a moment that I think perfectly represents Love and Lies' flaws, distilled into a single moment. It shows Nikasa and Misaki performing the climactic moment of Romeo and Juliet, and while both of the teens certainly look the part (there was never any doubt that Nisaka would make a gorgeous Juliet), the production itself comes across as a fundamentally misguided interpretation of Shakespeare's famous tragedy. The way the montage of this performance is edited gives the impression that Romeo and Juliet confront one another and lament their sorrows before glamorously taking their own lives at the same time, with Juliet dying in Romeo's arms, both of them smiling peacefully as they drift off into the afterlife together. Of course, this is utter rubbish to anyone who's ever seen or read the play. It might seem like nitpicking on my part, but this one scene points to the underlying issues bringing Love and Lies down so hard.
Love and Lies' depiction of Romeo and Juliet falls in line with just about every misconception I've ever had to address about the play, most especially the idea that this story revolves around the two leads' doomed romance, or that the cruelty of society forces them to partake in an act of defiant suicide that's more beautiful because it is driven by love. In fairness, it could be that Japan has a fundamentally different take on this sort of material, but Romeo and Juliet was explicitly about the very opposite of everything people tend to associate with it. The story doesn't glamorize Romeo and Juliet's death; it spends five acts desperately trying to highlight how stubborn and misguided the two children are. They don't die in each other's arms while basking in the romantic glow of evening; they die painful and ugly deaths because their understanding of how to deal with their emotions is absolute trash. While the families do resolve to stop their feud as a result of this tragedy, it's not out of respect for their love, but out of their governing prince's realization at how high tensions have needlessly risen.
In much the same way as its characters have misunderstood this play, so too has Love and Lies itself failed to understand the basic appeal of romantic stories. In setting up the world's most convoluted and unnecessary emotional dystopia, this show seems to think that a good romantic drama will result by reveling in its protagonists' indecision and angst. Instead of building up compelling relationships and watching them grow in the face of organic conflict, Love and Lies has given us a leading man whose entire existence seems to revolve around panicking over which pretty girl he wants to make out with most. Admittedly, even the best love triangles usually revel in a moment or two of their central figure waffling on their feelings, but Love and Lies has made that single moment of personal crisis its only emotional beat. Progress cannot be made by anyone, because any dramatic forward momentum would tear down the very foundation of Love and Lies' story. If Yukari is able to actually form a relationship, then the entire series loses its reason for existence. This makes for very redundant and uninteresting storytelling.
For instance, if we were to break this episode down into the most basic description of its plot, all we would be left with is a series of reminders about narrative beats we're already well aware of. Yukari's conversation with Ririna reminds us of their falling-out. Yukari's time with Nisaki reminds us of how their relationship somehow brings out the best in Nisaka, even though his character remains mostly pointless. There are multiple scenes that exist solely to show Yukari being awkward and somewhat useless, which the audience has certainly figured out on their own by now. There are even two scenes dedicated to the Mystery of the Disappearing Marriage Notice, and the show's insistence on revisiting that particular enigma only proves how little it understands its own story. Love and Lies seems to assume that Yukari and Misaki's romance can be vindicated by the approval of its government's bureaucracy, ignoring the fact that they would make an incredibly boring pair regardless of what Japan's love math might tell them.
Of course, I continue to be aware that all these faults might be on some level intentional, that Yukari and Misaki will awaken to the artificiality of their own attraction to one another, but the show is not communicating that well even if that is where it's going. Every episode so far has been presented as matter-of-fact storytelling with little room for deconstruction. Yukari and Misaki's paper-thin personalities and gratingly shallow understanding of love doesn't come across as intentional commentary, it just feels like the series' main attraction.
For all of my griping though, this episode is an improvement over last week's entry. The art, while still unspectacular, is at least consistent. Yukari's interactions with Ririna and Nisaka are also the most charming conversations we've seen in weeks, even if they're just rehashes of the same scenes we've been seeing all season. Love and Lies is broken on a lot of levels, but it can still be capable of turning out watchable entertainment. For the first time in a couple of weeks, I was able to get through an episode without wanting to jump into my computer screen and yell at all the characters. That might be damning Love and Lies with faint praise, but I suspect that might be as good as gets for this show.
Love and Lies is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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