Reviewby Theron Martin,
Val x Love
16-year-old Takuma Akutsu has always had such an intimidating face, aura, and size that he is commonly regarded as an akuma (demon) and terrifies most of those around him. However, at heart he's wracked with social anxieties and thus uneasy around others. That is a problem because of the very important duty that has fallen upon him: protecting classmate Natsuki caused the god Odin to choose him as the Einheijer, the lover of nine Valkyrie sisters sent to Earth to protect it from rampaging true akuma. Natsuki (also known as Siegrune), Student Council President Itsuyo (aka Schwertleite), and the school's idol Mutsumi (Helmwige) are three of them. Much to Takuma's dismay, the nine sisters have taken over his home, and to help empower them he must act as a lover would towards them, for “love is the source of a maiden's power.” Further complicating things is that some of the Valkyries are less than enthusiastic about this arrangement themselves. But the malevolent gods scheme for control of aether for their battle against Odin and his allies, and they see the Einheijer and the Valkyries as a serious impediment to their goals on Earth.
NOTE: The spelling “Einheijer” used in this review for Einherjar was chosen to be consistent with Sentai's subtitles.
This Fall 2019 manga adaptation is what I call a “forced harem” series, as it forces the harem situation through obligation and duty rather than allowing it to develop through circumstance or any natural romantic progression. That doesn't, of course, prevent some true romantic feelings from developing, nor does it distinguish the series much; even the gimmick of having expressions of love and/or sexual stimulation tied to power releases has been done a few times before (most recently in SUPER HXEROS). However, Val x Love has a few factors which distinguish it slightly from its peers: the story is as much a journey of character growth for the male lead as it is for some of the girls, it isn't quite as trashy as its premise makes it out to be, it has a consistent mythological theme, and it has a little more heart to it than might be expected.
The “not as trashy” statement does not preclude the series from having its fair share of fanservice. The living arrangement is first introduced by having Takuma walk in on the three aforementioned girls changing, a scene which is repeated in the final episode as a sort of closure. Various other situations throughout the series require the girls to be partially or completely stripped down while in contact with Takuma and/or for Takuma to feel them up and/or kiss them, and one episode primarily involves a game of tag that turns into a game of panty theft perpetrated by one of the oldest sisters. This never results in fully-exposed, defined nudity, but the visuals get quite close on numerous occasions. However, the fanservice is ultimately not as pervasive as either the concept or first episode would suggest, with some episodes passing with basically none; compared to fare like High School DxD, this series is on the tame side. That the male lead often seems as uncomfortable with what's going on as the girls do also makes a difference here, as does the series (somewhat surprisingly) avoiding potential lolicon scenarios.
The empowerment mechanics used here are a mix of a dating sim and one of those isekai series where the world operates in game mechanics. A voice similar to Great Sage from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime announces the initiation and successful or failed completion of various dating scenarios, which could be as mundane as “hold hands while going shopping” or as ribald as “massage chest” or “embrace without a stitch of clothing on and kiss for five minutes” – and yes, that some of these scenarios are blatantly silly is part of the joke. Successful completion of scenarios gives the girls experience points which level up their Valkyrie abilities, while kissing Takuma can allow them to activate their full Valkyrie powers, which vary from manifesting chains, swords, or cannons to creating barriers, manifesting wings, or enhancing the power of allies. Takuma also eventually shows his own powers beyond just leveling the Valkyries up. The reason for this set-up all comes down to the oft-repeated phrase “love is the source of a maiden's power” being taken literally, so don't expect any more logic behind it than that.
The one other factor which gives the series some slight distinction is the pervasive presence of Norse and Germanic mythology references. All of the Valkyrie's names are lifted from Die Walküre, the second installment in Richard Wagner's epic The Ring of the Nibelung, and each one's powers are in some way associated with either the meaning of her name or her characterization in that opera. Other characters from Norse mythology like Garm and Skuld also pop up, and the names of some of the akuma dig much more deeply into Norse lore; one named Svadilfari, for instance, has the sire of Odin's horse Sleipner as its namesake. Power names used by both sides also sometimes reference elements of Norse mythology and/or culture. This is hardly the only series to use Norse themes, but it plumbs them deeper than most.
The thin storyline here mostly involves Takuma trying to connect with various Valkyries while various akuma show up to be combated; not quite a “monster of the week” scenario but not far removed, either. Boss-type malevolent entities show up to complicate matters, and behind-the-scenes plotting is suggested but not fully-developed or resolved by the end of the series. Takuma also struggles to deal with people and become the kind of lover that he needs to be in order to support the Valkyries; this is carried through well enough that him finally collecting himself and accomplishing his goals towards the end of the series is heartening. Valkyrie personalities run the gamut of harem standards, with the tsundere Natsuki being the most prominently-featured and the one who gets the most development; perhaps not coincidentally, she is also the one shown from the first episode as recognizing that Takuma has positive qualities beneath his faults. She and Takuma bring out the best in each other and make the best potential couple of the lot.
The visual effort by studio Hoods Entertainment is middle-of-the-road in quality. Animation in fight scenes is frustratingly limited, though the series partly makes up for that through the dramatic framing and design of individual shots. With his pointed teeth and almost demonic-looking face, Takuma has easily the most distinctive character design, which isn't a plus in a series where the girls should be featured. The Valkyries include a wide range of common builds and body types, and while the designs are pretty and cute enough, battle outfits can be somewhat drab. Akuma designs are suitably bizarre and monstrous but do not especially stand out except possibly Garm in his most monstrous form.
The weakest aspect of the production may instead be its audio components. Consisting mostly of a set of lackluster synthesized numbers, the musical score achieves some tension at times but only truly works in light-hearted moments. Opener “for…” by Rikako Aida (who also voices Shino, the helmeted Valkyrie) is a pleasant enough anisong, while the cutesy sound of closer “UPDATE x PLEASE!!!” rotates between different trios of Valkyrie seiyuu. The Japanese dub takes an interesting but also off-putting approach by having Yūya Hirose (Yuta in SSSS.Gridman) bottom out his pitch to give Takuma a husky sound more commonly associated with overweight otaku perverts. Whatever the goal was with that, it doesn't work.
Sentai's release of the title spreads its twelve episodes over a pair of Blu-Ray discs. They did not dub the series, which is surprising since they have not shied from dubbing this kind of content before. Extras include only clean opener and closer.
Overall, the main problem with Val x Love is that it lets Takuma wallow in his pathetic state for much too long and allows him little room for incremental improvement. As a result, when he finally does get his act together towards the end, the transition feels too sudden. Despite that, the state that Takuma has advanced to at the end is quite satisfying, which helps make up for some overall plot setbacks near the end. This is by no means a standout as battle-oriented harem series go, but it was not a total waste of time.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Some respectable character development, consistent mythological theme
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