Love Tyrant
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Love Tyrant ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Love Tyrant ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Love Tyrant ?

The harem comedy is a genre almost as old as anime itself. As a staple of the industry, harem shows have been played straight, parodied, satirized, reinvented, and run the gamut of genders, fetishes, and fanservice levels. They keep going not because there's necessarily any original material still to be mined from them, but because there will always be an audience for their reliable brand of entertainment.

Love Tyrant swings decidedly toward the 'parody' end of the harem comedy spectrum, coming out swinging as an irreverent, rapid-fire joke machine that riffs every trick in the harem playbook for all they're worth. It operates absolutely on the strength of high-speed comedy; don't worry if that last joke didn't work for you, because there are ten more coming up right after it. There's no gradual establishment of our setting or characters or even a formal introduction to the premise; the show drops us immediately into an interaction between straight-man lead Seiji and outlandish god of love Guri, and it doesn't look back after it hits the ground running. Even as they get to the explanation of how the Kiss Note works, the characters are more interested in cracking jokes and overreacting to the obvious Death Note parody than making sure the system they're in makes any story sense.

From that immediate start. the show wastes no time introducing more girls to the harem, bringing in Seiji's momentary love-interest Akane, swiftly revealing her yandere tendencies, and eventually binding her, Seiji, and Guri being into a threesome with the Kiss Note. The second segment of the episode brings in Yuzu, who's revealed to be Akane's sister and to be in love with her, in one of the more impressive shocking comedic revelation pile-ups that I've seen in a while. (Although the show apparently has no interest in explaining her mysterious barrier ability.)

After the premiere's setup, the second episode moves ahead with a firehose of escapades for our moresome of accidental cupids, as the group bickers over how they should go about coupling other people. Yuzu and Guri band together to set up a clinic that will pair anyone up, leading to friction with Seiji (while Akane just seems to be along for the ride for now). They end up focusing on opposite sides of a seemingly unrequited teacher/student romance, although just like with Yuzu at the end of the first episode, the exact details behind this dynamic are left for a 'surprising' reveal at the end.

The third episode is split into two main stories. The first focuses on formally introducing us to Seiji's younger sister Akua (after her cameo at the beginning of episode 2), who unfortunately seems to be following Yuzu in having romantic feelings for her older sibling. Rather than dive too hard into the sibling-romance jokes that were already milked with Yuzu, this segment instead focuses on Seiji densely trying to understand his sister's jealousy at his odd new dating situation, before jumping into a bizarre action-comedy bit about the characters being attacked by a demon penguin, then trailing off without resolving (or even fully acknowledging) Akua's feelings.

The second, longer segment to follow sends Seiji and Guri off on a genuine date with each other, where they end up accidentally destroying the Kiss Note, forcing all the characters to contemplate the possibility that their odd little status quo might have already come to an end. Don't worry though, as one new character introduction and many jokes later, their situation is restored in the most shamelessly anti-climactic way possible, along with the implication that at least one more girl will be joining this bizarre harem in the next episode.

As a comedy, when Love Tyrant works, it really works. The jokes come fast and furiously, and despite the dubious concept of 'forcing' people to be in love, it's played as enough of a spoof that the patently ridiculous nature of each occurrence overrides any inherent ick factor. (Everyone in the main foursome actually having a reason for wanting to be in it to some degree certainly helps.) The characters get boiled down to their basic tropes for the sake of a joke quite often. Akane's yandere shtick seems to be all she has at this point, giving her surprisingly little to do after the first part of the first episode. (The third episode momentarily mines some drama from her sudden personality change, but that just turns out to be cheap set-up that gets tossed aside by the end.) However, many of the jokes are genuinely funny, so the shallowness is not necessarily a bad thing. Guri is probably the brightest spot of the series so far, having more facets than just 'sister complex' or 'straight man', her dopey but endearing personality is enough to carry multiple kinds of jokes. Despite Seiji's ostensible main character status, she's clearly the one driving the plot most of the time.

As good as the comedy in Love Tyrant can be, its reliance on that rapid-fire style becomes a liability when there are no jokes to make. Just a few times in these episodes, the show slows down to deliver some situational exposition or try and wring some sentimental characterization out of its cast, but the series suddenly stops working when this happens. Not only have we heard Guri's ruminations on wanting to understand human love a million times already in better anime, but it's impossible to take her worries seriously when we were just laughing at her getting stabbed by Akane a few minutes before. Similarly, any drama from the temporary disbanding of the moresome in the third episode falls completely flat, since Seiji never seemed terribly enthusiastic about those antics previously. The show would do well to lean fully into its comedy elements; a spoof just isn't the place for any attempt at seriousness.

There are other imperfections as well. Many of the jokes land, but the ones that don't end up sticking out. This is exacerbated by the show's tendency to over-explain its own jokes. During the opening scene with Guri and Seiji, the characters can't stop calling attention to the fact that the Kiss Note is a parody of Death Note. Guri just playing menacing music on a boom box in the background of Akane's yandere freak-out is a great gag on its own, but it loses some of its luster when Akane immediately points out what she's doing. Admittedly, this approach to humor is a staple of Japanese comedy, definitely in the manzai-esque spirit of the show's interactions, but Love Tyrant still seems to be going overboard with this style a lot of the time. The show's comedy proves itself well on most occasions; it should have the confidence to let these jokes play out without worrying if we're getting them or not.

Lastly, it's not too big a deal for a quick comedy series like this, but the show's production values could definitely stand to be better so far. Character models have a cheap, loose feel to them most of the time, and they shift into manga-esque superdeformed versions of themselves slightly too often. (Guri's head drawn as a featureless orb with a hair poking out of it might work in incidental comic panels, but it just looks jarring here.) There also isn't a lot of complicated animation.

At the very least, the character designs are nicely distinctive, utilizing a surprising variety of bright unique hair colors, characteristic facial expressions, and even decently varied body types. (Tiara, the gyaru cupid introduced in the third episode, is particularly unconventional in her design.) There actually isn't much fanservice to worry about being rendered decently or not, though it is interesting to note that the few times we're treated to the ridiculous motion of Akane's swaying bosoms, it feels more like a joke about over-the-top breast bouncing in anime than any sort of treat for the audience; the boob animation is just too ridiculous.

One last aspect of Love Tyrant's design worth commenting on is how bizarre it's willing to get at times. The terrifying man-cat visage of Guri's superior is shocking when it's first thrown at the audience. His design seems to soften into being less uncanny when he reappears in the third episode, but it's still pretty freaky. Meanwhile, the demonic penguin who serves as an antagonist in the third episode is actually made funnier by the absurdity of his existence, even more so with the implication that the characters have apparently dealt with him before. He does fall prey to the series' habit of over-explaining its own jokes (the way it repeatedly hammers that he communicates through his eyes), and the revelation of his desire to mate with Akua is a little over the line even by this show's standards, but the pure outlandishness of him otherwise is a highlight of these first three episodes. A spoof like this is best when it gets as ridiculous as possible.

Overall, Love Tyrant is an above-average genre parody so far. It delivers its jokes extremely well, and while it has issues everywhere else in terms of writing, pacing, and design, none of that is enough to distract from enjoying those punchlines. The most you can ask of a comedy is that it's funny, so if you're looking for laughs in your life this season, Love Tyrant will be worth keeping up on.

Rating: B

Love Tyrant is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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