Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Nisekoi: False Love
eBook 1 & 2
Raku Ichijo is the son of a local yakuza family, and he's not all that pleased about it. But at least he has his memories of the girl he once met. He can't remember her face or name, but she gave him a locket and said that when they met again, she'd have the key and they'd live happily ever after. Between this and his crush on Kosaki Onodera, he's holding up. Then one day Chitoge Kirisaki transfers to his school. She's loud, brash, and embodies practically everything that annoys him in a person, and the two develop a mutual hatred. This makes things all the worse when it turns out that she's from a rival gang and in order to foment peace, their fathers have decided that they need to pretend to date each other. Is there any way that this could possibly end well?
The romance genre, be it shounen or shoujo, isn't exactly rife with innovative plots. In some cases that can drag a book down, but in others things work out relatively well because of mangaka strengths or just an overall sense of fun. Naoshi Komi's Nisekoi is one of these. The premise was old when Ken Akamatsu's Love Hina rocketed it to popularity, Chitoge is as tsundere as you can get without coming out the other side, and Raku's best friend even fills the “slightly perverted guy with glasses” mold sometimes relegated to the hero. But despite all of this, Nisekoi is a lighthearted, fun romp in its first two volumes, and those looking for some lighter fare devoid of power-ups and screamed battle attacks need look no further.
The hero of this tale is Raku Ichijo, the son of a local yakuza band. Despite his origins, all he really wants to do is study hard, go to college, and become a productive member of society. He also dreams of reuniting with a mysterious girl he met ten years ago. Though he cannot remember her name or face, Raku holds fast to the locket she gave him and her promise that one day they would meet again and True Love would save the day. This romantic fantasy isn't deterring Raku from thinking about pursuing his charming classmate Kosaki Onodera, however, and now that they're in high school, he's really thinking about saying something. This is, of course, the moment when everything goes wrong – a mysterious blond girl crashes into him and causes him to loose his locket. Then she turns out to be a transfer student into his class and the teacher makes him her guide around the school. It's hate at first sight, but it gets even worse: when Raku gets home, his dad informs him that he's just acquired a girlfriend. Another yakuza gang has been challenging the Ichijos', so to put a stop to the violence, the leaders decided that their children should pretend to be in love. And who else could the girl in question be but Chitoge Kirisaki, the hellion from school?
Clearly we are not dealing with an original premise, and seasoned readers of shounen romance will recognize elements from at least three other series in there. But it is really only upon reflection that this becomes obvious, because Komi is just having so much fun with his characters that as readers we get caught up in the game. Raku is a nice guy, but he's also one with a personality and both Chitoge and Kosaki also go beyond being “blond girl” and “quiet brunette.” By volume two's end it becomes more difficult to decide which girl to root for, something that, despite the cliches present in the rest of the story, seemed pretty clear cut at the beginning. Komi's art goes a long way towards this, with a clean, attractive style that shows emotions clearly while still being pleasantly cartoony. Chibis are an especial strength, particularly in terms of facial expressions, which can be very funny. Panels flow very easily without any question of where one ought to be looking next and there is a nice balance between gray, white, and black spaces.
The lack of originality is probably Nisekoi's largest stumbling block, however, and once you realize it's there, it is hard not to notice it. Nearly every plot point can be traced back to another shounen series (primarily Sumomomo, Momomo in terms of Raku's home life), and while there are some nice changes, such as the girl having the key and the boy the lock, which certainly plays with gendered objects, well, the plot really is less than fresh. If you can overlook it, however, there's a lot of fun to be had here, and fans of the shounen romance genre should find themselves assured of a healthy dose of what they like.
All in all, Nisekoi is nothing new, but it has an awfully good time retreading some old ground. With a sense of fun that comes out in the art and text, some nice twists (no one cares that Raku's a good cook even though he's a boy), and a crazy blond ninja guy named Claude, Nisekoi's first two books (of five, currently ongoing) are a nice pick-me-up or light bit of distraction. The delight it takes in itself is contagious, and in this case, that works out very well indeed.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B+
+ Fun story that clearly enjoys itself, nice art, easy page flow.
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