Childhood memories, a gorilla girl, and Shaft. What do you get when you mix all three together? Nisekoi, or rather False Love by what’s known based on the manga of the same name written by Naoshi Komi. For what’s worth, the title is exactly as it implies – a love based on illusions. But in a way, it’s not exactly what you think. The main male protagonist Raku isn’t after Chitoge, the girl that accidentally kneed him in the morning during his walk to school. Rather, they are bound together in a seemingly contract-esque direction. With the two rival gangs making a truce in the exchange that their children would be a couple, Nisekoi is a show that crafts love with everything that is fake.
The concept of a fake relationship is nothing new in the anime world. Taking a closer look, their relationship has little chemistry in it, at first anyways. Raku and Chitoge aren’t compatible and neither can they stand each other. But nonetheless, they are forced to become a couple or otherwise risk all hell break loose between the two blood thirsty families. Yet, the show does complicate their relationship by introducing all type of challenges. On the innocent side, we have Raku who has a puppy love crush on his classmate, Onodera. Yet unknown to him, we can easily tell that she also shares similar feelings. But what she doesn’t know is where Raku’s true origins lie, and that is with Yuzuka ancestry for the majority of the show. Coming together as a whole, Nisekoi engineers its plot points with multiple angles. There’s a silly outlook on Raku and Chitoge’s relationship as they are constantly trying to avoid their secret being found out. They even avoid each other at times. At the same time, there’s a curious degree coming out of their interactions. The story develops both characters through their interactions with a seemingly genuine commitment. While both partners seems to dislike each other at first, they show their warmer sides on occasions. Furthermore, complicated situations are solved by both of them in elaborate ways. It may be cliché but has a stylish way to the whole trope.
One other flagship of the story involves a mysterious locket that Raku wears. Or maybe I should correct that and say..used to wear. That’s because he loses it when Chitoge accidentally knees him in the face during one faithful morning. Despite being executed as cliché with the whole ‘running in the morning with a bread in the mouth’ concept, it does set up a driving factor for Raku. He is motivated to find the locket not just because it’s something he treasures but also for a promise involving a girl in his past. The show continuously focuses on this point with its various flashbacks dealing with Raku and his present self. What the show does right here is through its various focal points with a number of candidates who can be the true potential key bearer. This brings about a mystery that fans may be anticipating themselves for when the true bearer is finally revealed. But what it doesn’t illustrate correctly is the purpose, as to why Raku made that promise. It will feel like an arduous trip at times with all the misunderstandings and parts when the mystery becomes so close being solved, yet then seemingly goes back to square one. The show also neglects to reveal its secret with its 2 cour run. In fact, some of the episodes feels fillerish that seemingly focuses another daily life of Raku, as the son from an yakuza.
Character directional wise, the show offers a diversity with its cast. And of course, it’s a harem show so expect most of the main characters to be the opposite sex of Raku with a keen interest in him. Love triangles are imminent with characters such as Onodera, Tsugumi, and Marika. They do have different personalities but doesn’t escape the usual gags as seen in harem series. It’s a formulaic throwback with the way the characters progression for most of them. But even as feelings deepen, we don’t see much change in Raku. The only eyes he seemingly have for throughout the series is Onodera and the two often find themselves in awkward situations thanks to a girl named Ruri. It doesn’t help by the fact that his classmate Shu plays almost a partner in crime with the schemes. Other characters often play roles with the misunderstandings and slight progress between our fake couple. But most times, Raku is dense as a rock and his characterization is frozen stone cold.
There’s also a staggering predictability for fans that might have been thought up in the beginning. That would be the realization of perhaps a ‘false’ love becoming perhaps, real. In fact, the developing aspects of Raku and Chitoge is a prominent feature. Despite disliking each other for their circumstances, Raku shows Chitoge genuine kindness and offers her help when she needs it the most. This in return causes Chitoge to question her own feelings. Tossing the cliché aside, there is actual development between the duo and furthermore ties together the plot involving the locket. Unfortunately, there is no escape of the jealousy, tsundere reactions, and blander misunderstandings you’ll see in typical harem shows. For what’s worth, Nisekoi demonstrates this in a more violent way with the way the premise is set up. The ‘transfer student’ gag is still there but has a more edgy taste to it. It’s presented as intentionally silly with nickname calling such as Chitoge being labeled as the “gorilla woman”.
A noticeable census coming with Nisekoi is the way director Akiyuki Shinobo pinpoints the various scenes of this show. The romantic comedy side is obviously presented but he shapes it in a way that is unorthodox. It’s the way the character shifts their heads, the star shape coloring during weird scenes, and recreational subsidies of parodies in the backgrounds during more climatically crafted scenes. Having previously worked on shows such as Bakemonogatari, Arakawa Under the Bridge, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, it’s easy to tell his innovative ideas here. This can come as a mixed bag as not all fans appreciate this stylish coordination. Given the fact that the show is a romantic comedy also might stir up some mixed reactions. But nonetheless, it can be distracting yet feels creative.
As a romantic comedy, the other half comes with the fun and laughter. Given the direction of Nisekoi, the show tries its comedy in a variety of ways. With Shaft being the brainchild, expect colorful gags, avant-garde, and a bit of hyperactivity with each episode. Then, there’s the misunderstandings that will draw out both laughs and frustrations with its repetitiveness. The mastermind is usually Ruri that becomes involved since Raku is too shy to make his own move on most occasions. The dialogues can also feel cheesy with the trollish moments the various characters tries to induce.
Artwork should be labeled as unique, not different but a specialty. Shaft handles the production and it’s fairly easy to spot its artistic gags. The head tilts, background cinematic, and even character designs have an innovative way for this rom-com. But for what’s worth, there’s nothing really that stands out with the way Raku looks. As the main male protagonist, he looks just like the average high school student. But for Chitoge, she comes off as a beauty with foreign blood pumping in her veins along with that scarlet ribbon. Then, there’s also Onodera with her cute innocence that serves more as the antithesis of Chitoge. Other characters’ designs also defines their personalities from the surface with their words and actions. In particular, Marika and Onodera are designed with innocent beauty and elegance. Some of the trollish expressions and scenes are also decorated with silliness. But as usual for most harem series, you should expect bits of fan service with the classic onsen and beach episodes. Bring out the fun in the sun, right?
The soundtrack is noticeable but also feels silly. By silly, it’s exaggerated sometimes with its amateurish tone along with its goofy coordination. But despite this, it mixes with well with comical scenes, which most of the time is as result of a domino effect. Sound director Toshiki Kameyama, known for directing numerous shows of different genres performs the overall OST with balance. Similarly, the OP and ED songs are made well with strengths in its tones. On the other hand, character voices can come off sometimes as irritating in particular with Raku and his stubbornness. The bitter chatter between him and Chitoge will feel repetitive as if they are a married couple already. On the other hand, Onodera’s voice can be sweet thanks to Kana Hanazawa and her performance with more innocent characters. It counterbalances the Yakuza theme with the gangs and trifling violence going on. Marika’s kansai accent can also raise a few eyebrows during climatic scenes.
Nisekoi is a show that is hard to fully appreciate. This is probably because of the premise and what fans may expect. And you’re not wrong either because it has the harem gags, fan service bits, and non-sensational dialogues that are easily forgettable. Yet, it does have a plot, one that invites questions and theories. With its small cast of characters, they also become actors and actresses in the story with each of their role holding some meaning. At the same time, the colorful Shaft style will be something that will be memorable. Put yourself into Raku’s shoes and the image will come more clearly. It’s not easy living a life with a yakuza background you know.