ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 30th April 2016, by Andrew Osmond

Love, Election and Chocolate

A surprising number of anime series start with formulaic, seen-it-all-before early episodes, before getting much more interesting later on. It’s a quirky reminder of commercial realities. While NEO magazine tries to guide readers to shows we think are better, more adventurous than the average anime, many of those same average anime are well targeted at viewers who want the familiar. Thank you for the fries and I’ll see you again.

Love, Election & Chocolate is not a great series. As school rom-coms go, it’s not as good as the similarly-named (but not related) Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions. But it’s surprisingly decent. Let’s not hide its origins; it’s adapted from an adult (i.e. sexual) visual novel game. You won’t be surprised, then, to learn the main character is a teenage schoolboy, surrounded harem-style by a great many girls.

Yuki Ojima goes to a massive private school (described by one character as a “monster of a school”), where the students have a great deal of power to elect and govern themselves. Yuki, though, has no interest in that, preferring to hang out at the school’s “Shokken” or Food Research club, whose members… Well, they eat and appreciate sweets. (Don’t laugh – you could fill a whole book just exploring Japan’s ice-cream flavours.) The club’s also a drinking hole for a dipsomaniac woman teacher, who becomes important later.

There’s going to be a new student election, and the lead candidate announces she’ll get rid of the most ‘wasteful’ school clubs. Worried that Shokken is at risk, Yuki’s friends decide one of the club must stand for election to defend it – and no prizes for guessing who they pick! But the bewildered Yuki finds himself with some unexpected support from the retiring student president, and even from one of the rival election candidates – the beautiful girl who wants to shut the club…

Like Yuki’s election campaign, Love, Election’s strange strategies work better than they should. The election plot ties the series together, giving it a direction, even though it’s terribly clumsy at times. The early episodes involve lots of boring maths as Yuki’s team try to work out a budget, and there’s one laughable ‘climax’ when the show tries to make voting numbers exciting – the kind of scene that’s not really anime’s forte! But later, the election gets interesting. Yuki starts getting real ambitions to improve the school (which has a nasty problem with bullying), but is told he’ll be unelectable if he tries to be a Boy Scout, or what people now call a social justice warrior.

We haven’t experienced real Japanese high-school politics, but Love, Election plays like a familiar type of fantasy, that of youngsters “trying out” grown-up life. It’s the basis of much anime, including many magic girl series. (Love Election has magic girl references – there’s a Puella Magi Madoka Magica cosplay gag, and a reference to Bewitched, an old US sitcom that influenced the genre.) The anime’s big cop-out is that we don’t hear the actual student debates, and the election plot ends up as a silly mash-up of thriller, melodrama and a schmaltzy final speech.

Yet it still helps to give the show a shape, and lends it some momentum at its most run-of-the-mill. The visuals are almost entirely average for this kind of school anime; the cute chocolate-themed episode breaks are the most interesting thing about them. The early episodes muddle along with mild hijinks and harem comedy (at one point Yuki actually says, “It’s funny how I keep running into cute girls today!”). Fanservice is restrained, despite the girls’ boob-fixated school uniforms and a panty gag in the opening moments (which gets a good plot payoff later). By far the filthiest jokes are yaoi-based, courtesy of an androgynous boy called Oboro voiced by actress Megumi Ogata, Shinji from Evangelion.

Then in the middle episodes, it all picks up. In the hot spring episode (and you knew it was coming!), it’s a girl who slips into the water on Yuki’s side. She’s Yuki’s childhood friend Chisato; in a refreshingly delicate scene that feels almost real, she observes that they’ve bathed innocently together for years, so why should they stop now? A later episode is centred on two more characters, who share a backstory that’s startlingly bitter and believable. It involves siblings, but not in that way; you could imagine it being used in an award-winning family drama.

The last episodes are a truly mixed bag. As the election disappears into fantasy, another subplot gets an outrageous magic solution (a harmonica is involved), which feels like the most ‘gamefied’ part of the series. There are many similarly contrived game elements in the Yuki / Chisato story. And yet when we finally understand their emotionally-tangled situation, again it feels powerful and well-played. The end satisfies despite the schmaltz; an extra OAV episode is just harem-style fluff. But all in all, Love, Election is not half bad, and has glimpses of something much better than that.

A series that’s hard to dislike. At worst it’s good-natured fluff; at best it has patches of darned good storytelling.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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