Is it possible to like something that is completely unoriginal? According to Nisekoi, yes, it is.
When Nisekoi was slated for an anime production by studio Shaft, the fans of the manga were torn between elation that it was actually being adapted and complete terror that Shaft would be doing it. If you’re not aware with the common stereotypes of anime studios, a frank description of Shaft would be, “They do whatever they want.” Shaft has never been shy of putting their own... unique spin on their adaptions. And, hey, whatta ya know, it actually works.
The Shaft visuals are capable of turning a few heads, but they’re never overpowering as they are in many of their other shows, and the story and setting have an inexplicable charm to them despite the fact that literally every character and literally every situation has been done before.
The story of Nisekoi is not one of its strong points. I don't think anybody but the most diehard fans would even bother offering any sort of rebuttal here. It plays on almost every cliché in the book, from the childhood promise, to the fated encounter, to the downright absurd misunderstandings, even to the freaking beach episode, that I can’t help but think that this is all some elaborate parody of the harem genre. If it is, then the author did a damn good job because it certainly feels like one.
If you're looking for something believable, you won't find anything of the sort here. I realize that this is fiction, but there is a line up to where I'm willing to suspend my disbelief and Nisekoi clearly crosses it. I understand that we don't remember that much from our childhood, but do you really expect me to believe that a person would completely forget nearly every friend he had—not just their faces and names, but their actual existence? Is this where the “main character gets amnesia from an injury” cliché comes in?
I know every harem can get a little ridiculous, and I'm going to criticize it every time.
Art & Animation: 9/10
Typically there's not a whole lot of action going on in high school romantic comedies and harems, so the “Art & Animation” category is really just an “Art & Waifus” rating. Are the girls waifu material? (Alternatively, are the boys husbando material?) If so, 10/10, anime of the year, etc. Jokes aside, it's true that there really isn't much to say other than the art is pleasant. Everything is just solid and complement the scenes well.
However, I think this section deserves more discussion however simply due to the fact that Shaft is at work. As I've stated, many fans of the manga were worried that Shaft would take their style too far and that it would detract heavily from the source material, which many believe to be too inherently “normal” to be deflowered by Shaft's hands, but fortunately that was not the case here. Sure, you've got Shinbo's signature camera angles and a few strangely elaborate backgrounds (and some intentionally simple ones), but these don't define the show as they might have in Bakemonogatari or Madoka Magica.
Nisekoi is a Shaft show, sure, but it is not definitively so, which comes as a great relief to many, I'd imagine.
The voices are perfect. That's all that needs to be said. There was not a single voice that didn't fit a character to the tee.
The soundtrack is neither great nor distracting. To be honest, I can't really pick out more than one song that I'd actually remember being played, and I usually am a huge fan of background music and pay a lot of attention to it. It all sort of blended in, and I'm frankly not sure whether that's a good or bad thing.
My only genuine complaint is that the opening and ending songs are just so generic. Though, now that I think about it, maybe that was the whole point. Regardless, I didn't really find myself liking any of them. ClariS didn't really try to make their tracks stand out from any of their others, and some harsher critics might say that none of theirs are ever original-sounding. As for the character songs: it's always nice to hear the characters sing, but the songs just weren't that great.
If the story is cliché and generic, could it be possible that the characters rise to the occasion and present themselves as deep, fleshed out vessels complete with compelling motivations and relatable desires and realistic decisions?
The tsundere main girl? Check. The “good girl” (a.k.a. the Yamato nadeshiko)? Check. The perverted best friend that gets his ass handed to him every episode? Check. There is literally no character that isn't a practically a carbon copy of a past character or at the very least a blending of two. On top of that, the main characters are dense as dense can be, which makes it so easy for the ridiculous misunderstandings to manifest.
So why would I give this an acceptable score of 7/10? See the next section.
All of my complaining might actually convince someone that I dislike this anime because of how generic it is. On the contrary; I find all of the enjoyment in reveling in just how cliché nearly every moment is. If you've seen even 2 or 3 harems (and I've probably seen dozens), you can call out just about everything that is going to happen in each episode and in each scene. It's that predictable. Yet, there is an inexplicable charm which pervades the series. Yes, I was literally facepalming at nearly every scene in the show, but underneath that palm was a gigantic smile that I just couldn't hold back.
Nisekoi is not a groundbreaking anime by any means, but if it has proven one thing, it’s that originality is extremely overrated. All you need is a little charm, solid execution, and, of course, waifus. There's a reason that this story and these characters have been done before, and that's because they're enjoyable. Perhaps some of us are just in denial.
Here's for the inevitable season 2.