ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 21st August 2015, by David West

Nisekoi: False Love Season 1: Box 1

Raku Ichijo is a romantic at heart, which is a little bit at odds with the fact that he’s the son and heir to a powerful yakuza boss. Ten years ago, when Ichijo was just a wee lad, he made a promise to a little girl that if they ever met again, they would get married. As a token of said promise, Ichijo wears a pendant with a lock. The girl has the key. Now that he’s in his teens Ichijo still remembers that promise, even if he can’t remember the girl’s name. Or face. Maybe he’s not that romantic after all. Anyway, he has a huge, all-consuming crush on his classmate Kosaki Onodera, but has never revealed his infatuation. And matters become extremely complicated when his father announces that in order to prevent a gang war with a rival syndicate, Ichijo has to pretend to be madly in love with the daughter of the head of the Bee Hive clan. She’s the new transfer student at his school, the brash and explosively ill-tempered Chitoge Kirisaki. The two rival factions are like the Montagues and Capulets, but if Romeo and Juliet hated each other’s guts. How can Ichijo ever get close to Onodera now?

Nisekoi: False Love is full to the brim with familiar anime characters and ideas. Ichijo is the nice guy hero who wants nothing to do with his father’s yakuza clan and dreams instead of becoming a respectable civil servant. Onodera is the sweet, kind-hearted love interest and Kirisaki is the tsundere mean girl with a secret soft side. What makes the series work is not that it offers anything very new or different, but that it delivers these familiar character types with humour, charm and energy.

Chief director Akiyuki Simbo has worked extensively on the Monogatari series and there are moments here that echo that visual aesthetic, with backgrounds filled with strong straight lines, geometric shapes and vivid colours. Equally, while the Monogatari series often features cutaway shots of the stray cowlick in protagonist Araragi’s hair, Nisekoi often cuts to a shot of the ribbon in Kirisaki’s hair. Like Monogatari, Nisekoi is a beautiful series to look at. The school where much of the action takes place is rendered with depth and detail, while the camera often frames characters dramatically against the sky. Admittedly, more effort seems to have been devoted to the designs of Kirisaki and Onodera than Ichijo – the camera lingers on them with an enthusiasm it never displays for the hero of the hour – but he’s a far cry from the bland boys who populate too many harem shows. There’s a running gag than Kirisaki refers to Ichijo dismissively as Bean Sprout (he’s skinny, dull and wimpy), but he has a strong personality rather than just being a cypher for male viewers to impose themselves upon. He gives as good as he gets with Kirisaki, calling her Gorilla Girl (she’s strong, agile and prone to lashing out), but the comedy works best when they have to pretend to be smitten and head over heels, gushing ‘Darling’ and ‘Honey’ at each other through gritted teeth.

Kirisaki’s backstory is that she is half-Japanese and her family has just returned to Japan after living in the States for several years. To a western viewer this might not seem like a big deal, but in Japanese society this instantly makes Kirisaki the very essence of fabulous exoticness. Either one of those attributes would make her fascinating to her classmates, but mixed ethnicity AND lived outside Japan? Too thrilling! However, while she may be the subject of interest, those qualities simultaneously threaten to make Kirisaki an outsider in the rigid uniformity of Japan’s education system. So lucky for her Ichijo is on hand to help her navigate the school’s social whirls and eddies without sinking. Yes, he’s the harem hero with a heart of gold. But that still doesn’t stop Kirisaki clobbering him at regular intervals. Ahh, young love. Or something.

The entirely more sensible Onodera isn’t required to participate in the vigorous slapstick of Ichijo and Kirisaki, and while she is the meekest of the three leads, there is still a sense of a brain and heart behind her blushing innocent exterior. In the early going, the script establishes Onodera as the true object of Ichijo’s affections, but as the story develops more girls are added to the mix to further complicate his already cluttered love life. While there is the slow cooling of his fiery relationship with Kirisaki, who is quick to flatten him when he puts his foot in his mouth, this instalment introduces the third member of the harem in the form of Tsugumi. She was raised by Claude, one of the top members of the Bee Hive clan, to be a lethal assassin, but of course she soon becomes attracted to Ichijo thanks to his kindness and good nature. There’s a great visual gag when the ingredients in Claude’s bento lunchbox are carefully arranged to look like his beloved Kirisaki, instantly conveying the all-consuming nature of his fixation with the girl he has sworn to protect with his very life. Claude provides a constant thorn in the side for Ichijo and Kirisaki, as he is constantly looking for any hints that either Ichijo isn’t good enough for the heiress of the Bee Hive clan, or that their relationship is not on the level. Whenever Claude’s around, the unhappy teens have to make like lovebirds and coo.

Nisekoi: False Love may be light on original ideas, but it’s loaded with gags and screwball situations. Credit to chief director Akiyuki Shinbo for bringing Naoshi Komi’s manga to life on the screen with more than a dash of style and visual panache. Who can resist the touching tale of the true love between Gorilla Girl and Bean Sprout?
SCORE: 4/5
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