Reviewby Theron Martin,
Nisekoi: False Love
As a little kid, Raku Ichijo made a promise with a little girl about marrying in the future, one sealed by a locket (which he kept) which could only be opened by a special key (which she kept). He forgot the girl's name and face but still thinks about her ten years later, as a teenager. He's also sweet on classmate Kosaki Onadera, who is also sweet on him (though neither knows about the other's feelings, naturally), but a big complication soon arrives to get in the way: the half-Japanese transfer student Chitoge Kirisaki, who gets off on a bad foot (rather literally) with Raku due to an unintentionally violent initial encounter. Their combative relationship takes a weird turn when Raku's yakuza boss father and Chitoge's mob boss father, who are old friends, decide to have the two get engaged to fend off potential conflicts between the underlings on both sides Thus Raku and Chitoge grudgingly have to pretend to be lovey-dovey to prevent an underworld war, and one of Chitoge's most loyal followers is dead-set intent on making sure it's for real. Meanwhile Kosaki's best friend, who would like to set her up with Raku, starts to get suspicions that the “loving couple” is really just an act, though she can't figure out why they would do that when Raku seems to her to clearly be interested in Kosaki instead.
Nisekoi translates rather literally as “Fake Love,” and it is a fitting title for the series – at least for now, anyway. After all, the “couple who starts combative but eventually falls in love” and the “must fake being in love for some contrived reason but then actually fall in love for real” gimmicks have been staples of romantic comedies for several decades now, both in anime and out, and nothing which transpires in the first five episodes gives any indication that viewers are not in for a similar set-up here. (Disclaimer: At the time I write this I have not watched this series beyond the content of this volume, so this is entirely supposition and not foreknowledge.) But at least it looks like the series is going to be fun along the way.
And that's precisely why the first volume gets a thumbs-up. Although these first five episodes do occasionally offer snippets of serious content, they also never forget that the series is supposed to at least partly be a comedy. As a result, it lays on the humor thickly, including occasional really random visual side gags that have nothing whatsoever to do with the main action of a given scene. (Case in point: a shark warning posted by the school pool in episode 5, followed by a scene of shark fins actually swimming in the pool prior to a meet while the dialogue is going on in the background.) Some of these jokes just die or, perhaps even worse, leave viewers scratching their heads while trying to figure out what was supposed to be funny in the first place (see the aforementioned shark joke), and others are merely tired retreads of jokes any veteran anime viewer has seen dozens of times before, but enough of them work to generate plenty of humor for every episode.
The story and personalities playing out here are pretty standard for this kind of thing. Raku and Chitoge butt heads and exchange nasty words, but every once in a while one of them notices something good about the other one, albeit something which typically gets quickly swamped under annoyances and/or misinterpretations. They only remember to act lovey-dovey when pressed about whether or not they are really in a relationship, and some on the periphery have their definite suspicions about the verity of their relationship. Meanwhile Kosaki shyly pines for Raku and wonders if he is the boy she can't remember whom she made a promise to ten years earlier, while her best friend tries to contrive ways to find out if Raku has the feelings she thinks he does for Raku. The only real twist is the organized crime angle, but after the first couple of episodes that aspect is downplayed. Along the way Chitoge and Kosaki are clearly set up to present a typical dramatic contrast: Chitoge is the brash, brassy foreigner, complete with curvaceous figure and (naturally!) blond hair, while Kosaki's demure nature and more petite figure represent the more traditional Japanese beauty. The only innovation here is Raku's friend Shu, who is shown to be more perceptive and devious than a male lead's male friends normally are and is not even above messing with Kosaki's friend Ruri, whom he occasionally comes onto in a “hey, we both wear glasses, so we're made for each other” kind of way. However, as ordinary as most of this is, it still plays out smoothly and a fast clip and thus has yet to feel tired by the end of episode 5.
Far less ordinary is the look of the series, but this is an Akiyuki Simbo-directed project so that is to be expected. He uses a visual style and scene composition approach somewhat similar to what he did in his ****monogatari series, which creates a weird but still interesting effect in a straight, unphilosophical romantic comedy. It can show up in unusual ways, too, such as the distinctive architecture and decorations of the school and Raku's home, assorted smaller odd gimmicks (spit-takes on poles like they are being held up for a puppet, for instance), overdramatized expressions, and so forth. Shots shift around frenetically, which does a good job of disguising the fact that the animation is quite limited, and the camera more tastefully ogles its female leads than in most series in an apparent effort to simulate how a young man might look at a pretty girl. Chitoge's design is respectfully sexy, whereas Kosaki has more of a cute look, but neither is seriously exploited; the only real fan service in these episodes are a couple of locker room scenes of the girls in undergarments, and those are not played up salaciously. Artistic quality, especially on the characters, varies a lot, though a more subdued color scheme remains constant throughout.
The soundtrack is a more consistently strong effort. It use a versatile approach which quickly transitions between different styles and almost invariably hits exactly the right note for a given scene. In fact, the only thing weighting it down is a rather bland opener. Two different closers – one keyed to Chitoge and the other keyed to Kosaki – are alternated between and are a little better, with pleasant but forgettable songs of significantly different styles and more interesting visuals.
Aniplex does not commonly dub their releases, and this one is no exception. The disk case features bonus interior art and comes in a slipcase which includes a bonus mini-poster of Chitoge and several “end card” illustrations of Chitoge and Kosaki done by assorted artists. On-disk Extras include only a clean opener and clean versions of both closers. The Blu-Ray transfer seems clean and sharp on both artistry and sound, with Japanese linear PCM stereo being used in the latter case. It is, of course, grossly overpriced compared to any similar amount of content offered by any other American distributor (even back in the heyday of 4-5 episode volumes), but enough people are apparently willing to pay that price that complaining about it anymore is a waste of time. Hence this is the last comment that I will make comment about that issue concerning this series.
Overall, Nisekoi gets off to a fun and enjoyable start. Very little about the content may be fresh, but Simbo and his staff are doing everything in their power to spruce it up and keep it entertaining, and so far it is working.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Can be very funny, interesting visual styles.
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