Reviewby Nicholas Dupree,
Nisekoi - False Love Complete Box-set
Raku Ichijo has two goals as a newly minted high-schooler: keeping a low profile despite being the son of a local yakuza boss, and maybe one day working up the courage to chat up his long-time crush, Kosaki Onodera. Both those goals get crushed to pieces when transfer student/mafia heiress Chitoge Kirisaki literally crashes into his life, bringing with her the threat of an all-out underworld war spilling into the city streets. The solution, posed to the pair by their fathers, is as simple as it is ludicrous: have Raku and Chitoge pretend to date for the next three years to keep the peace between their warring crime families. Thoroughly unhappy about it, but determined to stop any fighting, the two begin their false love story, but this tale of two lovers so unalike in dignity may just be the key to unlocking a much older story of true love.
Is it odd to feel nostalgic for something that's only 5 years old? Because that's the prevailing emotion I felt watching the opening episode of Nisekoi for the first time since at least 2015. Part of it is that the original manga was the first series I ever read week-to-week from its very beginning, way back in the waning days of 2011, but in many ways this series feels like it's from a different era. There are obviously still harem comedies in manga and anime, and by all accounts they'll persist until the heat death of the universe, but there's just something about Naoshi Komi's sense for both comedy and romance that you can't find too often in the current landscape.
That's not to say Nisekoi is particularly unique or idiosyncratic, though. The bedrock of the series is chock-a-block with familiar ideas and character archetypes: Raku is the selfless harem lead who's as dense as a neutron star to the multiple ladies vying for his affection, Chitoge is your classic tsundere complete with slapstick violence at others' expense, and the “Fake Dating” trope has been thoroughly run into the ground in otaku media. But something in the mixture of Komi's expressive and elastic character art and the way the cast all bounce off each other manages to take these tired ideas and, if not revitalize them, at least keep them largely inoffensive as the comedy hijinks and awkward romance of the story plays out. The result is something that feels very familiar, but in the way your favorite comfort food is: reliable and reassuring, even if it's far from the most enriching choice you could make.
That's largely what revisiting the show felt like through the first season, and it was a pleasant reminder of why I enjoyed both the manga and anime when they were releasing. Raku may be a doofus who wouldn't recognize a love confession if it stood up and punched him in the nose, but he's an earnest kid who leaps to anyone's aid without hesitation, and genuinely cares about all the weirdos he ends up surrounded by. Chitoge's a tsundere with a hair trigger, but it's clear that's the result of being an awkward, lonely kid who's stumbling through making close friends for the first time, and as she learns to be honest with her feelings instead of pushing people away, she becomes easily the most well-rounded member of the cast. Onodera's an anxious mess of a doormat, but also earnestly wants to improve herself and conquer her own anxieties. Tsugumi is a ridiculous, overpowered super spy, but also a naive duckling stumbling into love for the first time. Marika is...well she's Marika, and it certainly seems to work for her. The whole cast, along with non-harem commentators like Ruri and Shu, have a likable rapport that transitions perfectly into silly skits and unbelievable sitcom plots without missing a beat. Plus I can't help but laugh every time Raku and Chitoge pull their overly sappy lovers shtick – it never fails to put a smile on my face no matter how many times I see it.
As for the story, well, Nisekoi is still a harem comedy, and one that ran for nearly 5 years in Shonen Jump at that, so the “plot” very much takes a back seat to episodic stories and gags. Anyone expecting anything to be resolved had best leave before they enter, because no, Raku's locket is not getting unlocked any time soon. Still, season 1 of the anime does a remarkable job dancing around that locked and loaded Chekov's gun by continually mixing up the status quo. Oh, the other characters found out about the fake relationship? Time to introduce a new character who doesn't and has to be kept in the dark. Chitoge and Raku are getting kinda cozy in their fake dates? Here's Marika to throw the whole thing upside down. And through all of this there is the factor of seeing our main couple's antagonism slowly simmer down into a comfortable kind of bickering. They still needle each other plenty, but by the time you have Chitoge (internally) confessing she's in love with Raku in the middle of a staging of Romeo & Juliet, you can believe how it all happened, and it makes for a very solid cap to the first season.
Things get messier from there, though. Season 2, confusingly titled Nisekoi: with a very awkward colon, coincides with both a change in direction for the source material and a pretty noticeable drop in production quality. While Studio Shaft's idiosyncratic house style wasn't always a perfect fit for Nisekoi's story, there were certainly upsides to it, especially in terms of visual comedy as it committed wholeheartedly to the cartoony slapstick and silliness of the manga. While there are iffy looking episodes in season 1, generally the direction and especially the playful musical scoring was enough to make up for any off-model drawings or stiff movement. The same can't be said for season 2 which, while still delivering some decent looking episodes, is a lot more liable to start melting on-screen whenever something unimportant is happening.
And that's often, since this season largely adapts the weakest segments of the manga's run – turning into a collection of half-episode gags that can be entertaining in a vacuum but also accomplish little, all while being arbitrarily grouped by which of the four harem members the material is focused on. There are still some entertaining or charming episodes in this run, but outside of the mini-arc starring Chitoge's mother and a surprisingly sincere episode about Shu's doomed crush, the only significant change from where this season started is the introduction of Onodera's younger sister, Haru. Haru manages to occasionally be a funny character, but her shtick of assuming all the sketchy rumors about Raku as a yakuza heir are true and inserting herself between them to “protect” her sister gets old quick. That her episodes take up roughly a quarter of the season's reduced episode count just makes her stick out all the more, which is more egregious when you could basically get everything you need about her character from the season's opening theme.
Speaking of, this box set's extras include creditless versions of all the series' openings and endings, which is typically so standard it's not worth mentioning, but a worthy highlight in Nisekoi's case. Between the 32 episodes (and 4 OVAs) there's fourteen distinct EDs for the series, performed by the cast and generally dedicated to a particular girl, with some duets and full-cast numbers included for good measure, so having all of them available in one collection is pretty handy. I'm also fond of the second season's opener, “Rally go Round” by LiSA, as an effective mini-skit highlighting the whole cast with some great physical comedy. The franchise's four OVAs are also included on their own disc, and while not essential to the show, they're largely worth checking out if you find yourself hankering for more of these characters and comedy. The first two are essentially just unaired episodes of the main series, detailing some wacky adventures with the cast and some surprisingly creative animation in places – the new years episode in particular has some great highlights.
The latter 2 are less engaging, mostly excuses for fanservice that the series proper – already not a stranger to the concept – had already indulged in plenty. They also feel extraneous since Nisekoi was never a full-on ecchi series and there's nothing more explicit than purposefully censored nudity. Hell they pull a bath-house/hot springs setup twice! There's also “Magical Pâtissière Kosaki-Chan!!”, a magical girl parody starring the main girls of the cast that should be more amusing than it is. Unfortunately its one and only hook is fanservice, and if the idea of magical girls being embarrassed to get naked during their transformation sequences isn't hilarious to you, it makes for a rough sit. There's some added appeal as the episode playfully references Studio Shaft's previous magical girl series, but cheeky Madoka references aren't enough to save it.
Outside of those inclusions, the other notable extra is a 40-page booklet collecting the series' character art and the covers for all of the Japanese blu-ray and CD singles. It's also not an essential inclusion, but does feature some nice and attractive character art for each of the girls, along with some left-field inclusions like the art used for Chitoge's cardboard standees at Anime Japan. Really though the biggest sell for this box set is just having the entire series together, rather than the staggered single volumes the first season was spread across. It's a good way for fans to save shelf space and even get some cute new art for the box and disc covers, and that's not nothing. Still would have been cool to get an English dub though. Maybe someday.
Sadly, it being the complete series doesn't mean it has anything approaching a conclusion. Unfortunately the only way to get the actual ending of Nisekoi is to read the manga (and speaking candidly, I quite enjoyed it) which is always a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. What we get here is routinely funny and charming in its own right, but it does have to include the caveat that if you want any closure you'll need to pick up the manga's later volumes. But some folks may not, content with the warm and comforting pudding of the anime's run, and honestly that's a valid approach too. With romantic comedies like this, it's the journey rather than the destination that matters, and Nisekoi is about as pleasant a road trip as they come.
Overall : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : A
+ Likable characters, excellent physical comedy and music, Very easy to marathon
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