Now that college is over for now, I can start doing a few more reviews. To celebrate the end of 2016, today, we’re talking about one of the hottest anime of 2016: Re:Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu （から始める異世界生活）or Re: Zero Starting Life in Another World.
The Story: The 異世界 (isekai or different world) genre refers to a story that goes something like this: a random teenage boy, usually a shut-in, hardcore otaku, or NEET, finds himself in a fantasy world, like something out of an RPG. Konosuba is probably the best recent example of this genre, though Sword Art Online and Danmachi (Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon) could also be considered examples. Re: Zero is no different. Shut-in Subaru Natsuki, for no explainable reason, finds himself in the magical kingdom of Luguncia, where he is able to start a new life “from zero.” Or so he thinks, for on his first day in the kingdom, he manages to get himself killed. But when he opens his eyes again, he finds himself back on the streets where he was hours before.
Subaru has the unique ability to “respawn,” which he calls “return by death.” Should he die, he will start over at a predetermined checkpoint. The rest of the show follows Subaru and his comrades as he confronts the various evils hidden in the shadows of Luguncia.
In anime, especially in the Isekai genre there is usually an objective, usually the equivalent to an RPG’s “beat the final boss” objective. Re: Zero doesn’t appear to have that, at least as far as the anime is concerned. It instead opts to take its time and have fun with each of the various scenarios. Since so much time is devoted to each story arc and its local setting, much of Luguncia’s lore is poorly defined. It also doesn’t help that Subaru keeps dying, forcing replays of the same days. However, this isn’t that much different than other Isekai anime I’ve seen, and it actually works to the show’s advantage. Focusing on the local settings allows Subaru to establish relationships with other characters, which I will talk about in the next section, for that is Re: Zero’s strongest characteristic.
Re: Zero’s world is nothing special. In fact, it’s rather standard. Although it’s not a show with an amazing premise, it doesn’t need a unique setting a plot to be amazing. Re: Zero instead decides to take a standard world and fill it with some characters who are anything but.
The Characters: I’ve found that there are two types of stories, at least in anime. The first is where the premise helps to develop the characters (think Aldnoah Zero or Erased). The second has great characters, whose relationships help to deepen and enrich the plot. Naruto, Clannad, Maid-sama, and now, Re: Zero are good examples. Re: Zero doesn’t have many strong characters, but it’s about quality, not quantity. And Subaru Natsuki is an outstanding character.
Subaru Natsuki: What can I say about Subaru that hasn’t already been said? Love him or hate him, this guy is such an interesting character; I’ve seen character analyses about this man. Many Isekai protagonists are similar to RPG protagonists. Their main goal is to link the viewer with the world the protagonist inhabits. In other words, these characters are designed for self-insertion, allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in this new world. Konosuba’s Kazuma Satou and SAO’s Kirito are good examples of this type of character. They can channel a lot of what the audience is thinking into their own thoughts and actions. They are our outlets for our frustration, disbelief, and overall enjoyment of the RPG world.
Subaru flies in the face of this stereotype. Unlike other Isekai protagonists and despite his initial appearance, Subaru is not designed for self-insertion. He is his own man, with his own set of goals, fears, and flaws. In a sense, he is no different from any one of us. His biggest strength, however, is that he’s a nobody, but thinks he is. There is nothing outstanding about him. He’s not strong, not too bright, heck, he dies multiple times in each arc, but according to the rules of his genre, he is the main hero of the story and of the new world. That’s what he thinks, and he’s proven wrong time and time again. Any other character, simply by being the main, could be justified. But not Subaru.
But to really understand what I’m talking about, I have to talk about the third arc of the show. Without giving too much away, Subaru makes a fool of himself in public, embarrasses his crush and, for lack of a better term, guardian, Emilia, damaging their relationship, and spends the next few episodes crawling around Lugunica trying to repair his broken ego. In this arc, he is arrogant and entitled, thinking that everyone in the world should give him what he wants simply because he wants it. This culminates in episode 18, when the stress of the world becomes too great that he spews this passionate rant, venting all his self-hatred and pent-up frustration. This kind of treatment is something you don’t normally see in Isekai anime. Re: Zero does not make any excuses for its main character. If he makes a mistake, no one’s going to cover for him, or even find something respectable in him. He is the hero of the story, but not the hero of Luguncia.
Ultimately, the best way I can describe Subaru is human. There are a lot of layers to him, enough so that any attempt to characterize him one way completely ignores other aspects of his character. I could talk about his actions in the capital in the third arc, but then that overlooks the genuine compassion he shows in the prior arcs and the fact that he cannot talk about his ability to respawn. However, that ignores the sense of entitlement he has during those very same arcs, and so on. He’s a character that, at times, you will loathe with every fiber of your being. But that just speaks to how well he develops and how complex he is. It’s nice to see a main character of an anime normally used for self-insertion get such meaningful development.
Emilia: Emilia looks like the standard main-character-love-interest. As such, she’s the main motivation for much of Subaru’s actions. She helps him to develop simply by standing still and being herself. Of course, that sacrifices her own development. The show hints at some, but it doesn’t come to fruition. Alone, I don’t see many traits that make her unique or outstanding. The only main distinction I can see is that she actually doesn’t like Subaru back. In fact, she gets one scene where she tells him that she’s not who he thinks she is, and that he’s not her hero. Despite her status as a stock character, she provides some sanity and at least something recognizable in this show. She’s not a horrible character; I personally enjoyed her a lot, but she doesn’t have many traits that make her different (which is why I can’t write paragraphs about her).
Rem: I cannot review this show without talking about the girl half the internet has proclaimed as their waifu or otherwise “best girl” of 2016. Alone, Rem is not much more than a badass piece of eye candy. That said, she and Subaru have an interesting relationship. She looks at him the same way he looks at Emilia, yet she and Emilia are very different people. The story treats them as polar opposites. Whereas Emilia does not consider Subaru her “hero,” Rem does. When Emilia shows Subaru compassion, Rem does not (in the second arc). For much of the second half, Rem is the main heroine; Emilia’s off doing some other stuff. But when Emilia comes back, Rem isn’t present. How that factors into the overall message of the story is a job for a literary analyst, but it’s something to consider, how their relationships to Subaru often oppose one another.
Rem is a character who does not have much to offer by herself. However, she becomes much more interesting when you combine her with Subaru. She acts as another avenue for his development, much like Emilia, but at least Rem helps him develop in such a way that helps develop herself as well.
Final Verdict: Re: Zero is refreshing. I don’t know much about Isekai anime, but I know a bit. Even if the story is nothing extraordinary, the characters, Subaru in particular, are enough to make this series worth watching. I can’t say you’ll like every moment, but I think that’s part of what makes this show so endearing.
Final Grade: A-
I think I should get at least one more review out before I go back to school. I’ve been stuck on other reviews, so I might as well get the most recent one out of the way. Today, we’re taking a look at Aldnoah Zero.
The Story: In 1969, humanity gained the ability to colonize Mars using the power of a lunar hypergate. Those that went received the bounty of Mars including powerful technology from an ancient civilization: a seemingly limitless energy source known as Aldnoah. Using this new power, which was far superior to that of Earth’s, the Vers Empire was founded, relying upon Aldnoah to advance its civilization. Over time, the colonists and Earthlings (known as Terrans) began to drift apart, eventually forming different identities, and, due to the power of Aldnoah, political tensions between the two planets. 30 years later, the Vers Empire, straining under Mars’s lack of resources, declared war on Earth, and sent the imperial army, led by the 37 Orbital Knights (think feudal lords) to claim Earth’s bountiful resources for its own. Things were going well for the Martians, until a battle on the moon destroyed the lunar gate, as well as most of the moon. Isolated from Mars, the imperial army was forced to reside in orbiting “castles” in the newly formed asteroid belt and agree to a ceasefire. That was the way it stayed for another 15 years.
In 2014, a goodwill visit from the Princess of the Vers Empire turns into a deadly terrorist attack and her death. News of the assassination galvanize the Knights and the war begins once more.
Aldnoah Zero follows the story of two boys caught up in the outbreak of the war and forced to fight for each side. At first, I thought it would be similar to Fire Emblem Fates, where you have two sympathetic sides, and you don’t know which to back, but still have to watch them fight each other. Although that is not the case, the Vers Empire is not as evil as you might think. There are sympathetic characters within the Empire as well as scumbags. And the Terrans had problems of their own, though they were almost never portrayed as evil. However, what this does is create some moral ambiguity. The Martians aren’t all bad, and the Terrans aren’t all good; if anything, they’re actually kinda similar to each other, which makes for a much more interesting story up until the end. Or so I want to say.
The biggest flaw in Aldnoah Zero was its lack of depth. Because of its premise, it had the opportunity to address some really interesting questions. And you can see some themes come up throughout the story. The show touches on topics such as hatred, forgiveness, trauma, and guilt. Early on, the writers did a really good job incorporating aspects of these themes into the story. You’d see characters say things like, “all Martians are the enemy” or “you’re the reason my brother is dead.” Bottom line, everyone has some sort of character flaw; they’re usually wrestling with something. By the second half, most of that is thrown out the window in favor of the whole war story. The Martians are portrayed in a more antagonistic light, and the show loses its moral ambiguity.
Ultimately, Aldnoah Zero suffers the same fate as Sword Art Online. It had potential to explore some very deep topics and ask difficult questions. However, it was never able to fully address said topics and ended up rather shallow. It could only settle for decent, not amazing.
The Characters: I want to say something good about the characters. I really do. Unfortunately, I got my hopes up too high. The secondary characters were not very complicated, but that’s almost to be expected. However, they were overlooked in favor of the main characters, who could have been better. A lot better.
Inaho Kaizuka: Inaho is my main problem with this show.He is a type of character known in fanfiction as a Mary Sue (or Gary Stue, if it’s a guy). He’s supposed to be perfect at just about everything. He’s the one who solves the problems, kills the bad guys, and saves the day. Now, that isn’t a problem in and of itself. After all, Kirito in Sword Art Online has also been described as a Mary Sue, and I liked the guy. Inaho’s problem is not just that he’s a Mary Sue. It’s the fact that he’s a boring Mary Sue. Kirito had a personality. Inaho doesn’t. He’s bland, unemotional, and otherwise just a boring character. Combined with his overall perfection, it’s just hard to cheer for him. Main characters, I think, should be relatable, and Inaho fails to make that connection. Especially in a show where most of the other characters have some sort of flaw, Inaho stands out even more, making it hard for me to like the guy.
Slaine Troyard: To contrast Inaho, we have Slaine. He has a personality, which is good, but it’s not constructed well. Unlike the stoic Inaho, Slaine is moody and very linear in his character. It makes him predictable and overall, very shallow. However, his story is the most interesting part of the show. Slaine is actually a Terran, whose father traveled to Mars to study Aldnoah. When his father died, Slaine was stuck on Mars, adopted by one of the Orbital Knights, and treated horribly. So at the start of the show, I was pulling for this guy. He’s initially a very sympathetic character, just trying to do the right thing. However, as the show progresses, you see him turn into a warmonger, who ultimately leads the charge against Earth. Slaine’s fall is the best subplot in the show, and it makes the second half more interesting than the first, which is good, because otherwise the second half would’ve been a really long grind.
Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia: The princess of Mars, Asseylum, is one of the more complicated characters (spoilers, she’s not dead). She’s a voice of reason on the Martian side. She’s more sympathetic to the Terrans, so you do support her, even though she’s “the enemy.”Her overall objective, peace, doesn’t change throughout the show. At first, I thought her steadfast dedication to reconciliation would be annoying and make her dull, almost like a Princess Peach-like character, where she does nothing and everyone fights over her, but that isn’t really the case. The war changes her, and she participates in her fair share of battles, even if she kills no one. The fun is watching her “grow up,” and experience the war whose end she naively calls for. She is corrupted, yes, but not to the level Slaine was; she retains the parts of her character I liked so much. In other words, I think she had the best character development in the show.
Rayet Areash: I want to put this girl down as an example of Aldnoah Zero’s lost potential. Rayet starts off as one of the dislikable Terrans. She harbors this deep hatred for Martians, and comes close to actually killing the princess. So, although she is a little annoying, her status as a vengeful Terran was useful, because she contributed to that moral ambiguity; I thought maybe she’d redeem herself by the end, but that isn’t the case, because the writers completely forget about her hatred in the second half. Or, if anything, they actually justify it when they make the Martians look more evil.
Final Verdict: Aldnoah Zero had a good run. While it wasn’t a bad show, there was much to be improved upon. It’s got giant fighting robots, a little bit of romance, war, explosions, and a lot of good things. Ultimately, however, it failed to be different or do anything new and falls flat. It could be worth a watch, but do not get your hopes.
Final Grade: B-
While I’m still trying to get over some writer’s block (if you really want to call me a writer) with some other shows, I might as well release this one. When I was younger, I loved books (Until I found the internet and look where all my free time went), and some of my favorites were mysteries. Chet Gecko, Nate the Great, Jigsaw Jones (man I am so old) were among my favorites. Today, our first mystery anime. Today is Boku dake ga inai Machi, The Town Where Only I Don’t Exist, or, as we Westerners know it, Erased
The Story: Satoru Fujinuma seems like an ordinary 29-year-old man just trying to make a living in this world. He works a modest job as a pizza delivery boy to maintain his humble lifestyle. He even grew up humble, to a single mother in Hokkaido, in an otherwise normal home and went to an ordinary school, with an ordinary teacher and ordinary friends.
However, he also boasts a strange ability, which he calls “Revival.” It rewinds time to before a dangerous catastrophe, which Satoru can then intervene in and hopefully save a life. Everything was going pretty well for Satoru. Until his mother is murdered. Amid the chaos, Revival activates and gives Satoru one more chance to save his mother. To keep her safe, Satoru must do more than just catch the culprit. He’ll have to confront darker secrets, ones kept hidden for deades, and ones only he can solve. For Revival did not send Satoru back minutes before…..
I think, for any story to be successful, the most important component is investment. The writer(s) have to make you care about what’s going on. If you can’t care about the events, you can’t like the story. Erased, however, inherently does not have this problem. It’s able to make you care, because it’s a murder mystery show, which is a great way to connect with the audience. By leaving the story open-ended, Erased forces you to engage with the story, think, analyze, and predict. This, I think, is one of the show’s strongest points. Satoru has to find out who the killer is, why he targets who he targets (there are 3 victims, not counting his mother), and then save said targets. There’s a lot happening, and the audience naturally wants to solve the mystery too. All the drama, mystery, and plot twists help establish a link between the audience and the show. Erased gets that link and performs beautifully.
One of the problems Erased did have, however, was pacing. The first victim’s arc was brilliant. It was paced well, explored the characters, and ended strong. The other two victims were glossed over, which was a shame because there was a lot of potential for expansion. Maybe budget constraints played a role, but that was an opportunity the show missed out on. Furthermore, because it’s only 12 episodes, the ending felt very weak. There’s a major plot twist that the writers just gloss over and don’t really bother to explain. The climax itself felt lacking, like it wasn’t much of a climax at all. Although many of the flaws with this show are not so much flaws as they are missed opportunities, Erased failed to finish strong after such a great buildup.
The Characters: There are anime where the characters make the story and anime where the story makes the characters. Naruto is a good example of the former. Each character is very intricate and their development and growth explored in depth. You relate because maybe you empathize with one or see a bit of yourself in a character, and it’s the exploration of their growth that makes the story so interesting. Erased is one of the latter types. While the characters are not interesting in and of themselves, it’s how they fit into the story that makes them relatable and fun to watch. Rather than being intricate, standalone characters, they all interact and create relationships and that’s what you attach to. One of the benefits of these types of characters is that they tend to remain lovable characters even if they themselves are lacking.
Satoru Fujinuma: There’s not much to say about Satoru. As he is in the show, he’s average, a solid main character, not amazing, yet not horrendous. But he was fun to watch because he’s the detective. You want to see what happens next, and he’s the one who will experience all the developments and twists in the plot. He’s not interesting, but all the interesting stuff happens to him.
Airi Katagiri: Out of all the characters in Erased, Airi felt the weakest. She feels important only in the first few episodes only to be cut out until the very end. That wouldn’t be a problem except the show hypes her to be very important to the story mainly because she’s featured so much early on. You expect her to play a big role and that really isn’t the case. Either Erased neglected an important character or hyped one up for no reason. Fortunately, she’s the only character like this, but, her treatment was one of the show’s flaws. She is also a representative of the treatment of many of the secondary characters in the show in that their amount of screen time and plot relevance can feel a little inconsistent.
Final Verdict: Erased was one of the more hyped animes of the year. Its strongest feature is an amazing plotline. However, that’s really all it needs. Despite its flaws, some of which really do hurt its performance, fundamentally, Erased has all the makings of a great story. If you like mysteries, watch it. And even if you don’t like them, I would still encourage you to watch the show. It has a great narrative to tell
Final Grade: B
We’re going to go a little bit out of order this time around. There was a show that I had finished before I saw this one, but because it’ll take a while to assess fully, I’ll put this one out first. Today, we’re diving into classical music and Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso: Your Lie in April.
The Story: Kousei Arima was nothing short of a child prodigy. No one had ever seen anyone with such a mastery over the piano as he did at a young age. His knowledge and mastery of the score was unparalleled, and he won competition after competition. However, such fame was sure to bring gossip and jealousy. “The human metronome,” some called him. Others, “a puppet”, controlled by his abusive mother, herself an accomplished pianist. Even his friends grew slightly alienated from him as the piano began to consume Kousei’s life, preventing him from going out with friends or participate in any activities, lest he hurt his hands. Everything was going well for Kousei, more or less, until his mother died, he lost the ability to hear his own playing, and had to stop.
Many years later, Kousei, now a middle-schooler, is living a simple life and has put his piano playing days behind him. But that all changes when he’s asked to help his friend ask someone out a date. That was the day his whole world changes.
Your Life in April is a drama. Its aim is to get you attached to the characters, emotionally invested in the story it tells, and, with luck, make you cry by the end. Many of the characters wrestle with some internal struggle, which can play out in multiple ways, some of which work, some don’t, mainly because they are just too subtle to pick up. By the time you recognize the drama, it’s often too late. However, for struggles you do see, they play out beautifully. While the main focus is Kousei’s relationship with music and this new person, Kaori, there are other subplots and backstories running as well. Music isn’t the key focus; it’s instead a plot device, a means of exploring Kousei’s friends and their lives as well as his relationship with his mother. How the show deals with these themes is incredibly well done. It was able to present the theme in a easily understandable, yet creative, way. GRArkada described the show as “a work of art,” and it deals with some of its darker motifs in the same way you might expect a picture to.
However, that’s as far as the praise goes. While the story is solid and fulfilling, Your Lie in April struggled with pacing issues. Halfway through, Kousei resolves the conflict that plagued him from the beginning. From there, the show is unsure of where to go. It tries to fall back on another plot that it set up, but even that was poorly executed. The second half honestly reminded me a bit of filler episodes; there’s nothing left for the anime to expand upon. What it did expand on felt lacking and could’ve been delivered more smoothly had more development happened in the first half.Furthermore, while the overall tone of the show was consistent, the writers would try and throw in a random scene for comic relief that only served to kill the mood. It would make me wonder, “what was the point of that scene?”
Ultimately, Your Lie in April suffers from a tendency to tell, not show. During concert scenes, internal monologues and musings dominate. It gets intoxicating, and prevents the viewer from really bonding and immersing themselves into the story. Since so much of the drama and themes are handed to you, it’s hard to connect with the characters and create your own interpretations and attachments.
The Characters: Your Lie in April‘s characters have their moments. Unfortunately, while most of the cast has some sort of personality, it was hard for me to get attached to any particular character.
Kousei Arima: Kousei would’ve been a really good character if he didn’t talk to himself so much. He’s not a bad character; he’s kinda relatable and sympathetic, but he has so many internal monologues, which are supposed to sound poetic and meaningful. A few at the beginning were ok, but by the halfway point, they start to get annoying. Rather than show his development, he tells it, which is a lot less meaningful. The writers tried to gave him a personality and it works, but he still feels lacking.
Kaori Miyazono: Kaori’s this strange enigma among the cast. She’s probably one of the more developed characters in the show, although that is relative. In many ways, she’s Kousei’s foil, cheerful while Kousei is brooding, outgoing when he’s reserved. Sometimes, her personality can interfere with the mood, as she’s usually the one who breaks the tension with a “funny” line. However, that alone isn’t enough to explain her flaws. As a character, she’s missing something. Like Kousei, she felt lacking in some area that limited her character development.
Final Verdict: Your Lie in April tried. It tried so hard to be dramatic and artsy. And while it partially succeeded, it was lacking in some areas that it needed for it to be a great show. I can’t say don’t watch it, but it is not as great a show as some would have you believe. There are better dramas
Final Grade: B-
I’ve been kinda out of it for a while, what with college and my lack of good study habits. My anime watching has slowed, but I’ll still try to put out posts every now and then. I actually have a review in progress, but am struggling to really assess it, so I’ll put this out first. Today, we look at Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-Kun: Monthly Girls Nozaki.
The Story: At Chiyo Sakura’s school, almost all of her friends know the name Sakiko Yumeno. She’s a popular manga artist known for her monthly story “Let’s Fall in Love.” Critics praise her artwork and her perfect depiction of a young girl in love. Chiyo herself loves the manga and keeps a collection of it in her room. She also happens to be crushing hard on a boy in her class who barely knows she exists. His name is Umetarou Nozaki, and he has a job, though there, he goes by a different name: Sakiko Yumeno. Nozaki follows the story of Sakura, Nozaki (the character will not be italicized, but the name of the show will), and a host of other characters as they help him write his manga.
This is a show built in a similar way to No Game No Life. Its purpose is not to tell a story. Rather, it’s about having fun. Nozaki is just a series of little skits and vignettes that rarely, if ever, connect to each other. The show rarely takes itself seriously and the audience isn’t supposed to either. This is a show that you can just watch, laugh, and have a good time with.
Of course, that means that Nozaki better do a good job entertaining you, and it does. To an extent. The biggest problem I had with Nozaki was that its humor got repetitive. It was funny the first few times, but then it got predictable. Every now and then, there would be something different, but it kept relying on the same comedic devices over and over again. It’s a cute story, but that only gets you so far. Nozaki’s goal is to entertain its audience and only partially succeeds.
The Characters: The characters of Nozaki are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Many of them have these these strange mixes of personality quirks and traits that I’ve not seen in any other anime characters. However, innovation for innovation’s sake does not always produce great characters and you’ll see that in this show
Chiyo Sakura: Sakura’s probably the sanest person in the show. While she’s not crazy or something new, she provides a bit of consistency and sanity to a show where the characters are anything but. She might not be the most interesting character, but she’s grounding and prevents Nozaki from getting too out of control. While a driving force behind her character is her feelings for Nozaki, the two’s relationship isn’t addressed much until the second half, which means the two are deprived of some needed development.
Umetarou Nozaki: Nozaki is one of those strange characters. He’s the dense protagonist taken to ridiculous extremes. While many dense protagonists will be oblivious to someone’s feelings, Nozaki is oblivious to many social situations in general. Between him and Sakura, Nozaki’s a more interesting character, but, like his personality, he can get a little dull. Like Mikoshiba (see below), it takes some time before he gets to be a better character as the show starts to explore his relationships with Sakura more. He needed those relationships explored for him to grow more as a character.
Mikoto “Mikorin” Mikoshiba: It’s difficult to talk about Mikoshiba because out of all the characters, he’s the least consistent. He is potentially the most and least enjoyable character in the entire show. When he’s on point, he’s on point, but if he’s not being funny, he’s extremely annoying. Unfortunately, it’s really not until late in the series that he becomes really good; there was a time when I considered stopping the show because I couldn’t handle Mikoshiba, but he did redeem himself.
Final Verdict: Monthly Girls Nozaki is in a weird spot for me. It tried really hard. It had its moments and partially achieved its goal of entertaining its audience. However, it didn’t do the best job. Its comedic devices became overused and its unorthodox characters, while commendable, fall flat and can also become annoying. At the same time, I had fun with the show. I can’t say I recommend it, but I think it might be worth looking at. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re not going to get a great comedy show, but sometimes, it’s worth sticking with the anime despite its flaws.
Final Grade: B-/C+
It’s been a while since I did a review. I just started college and I’ve been quite busy. However, now that I am on break, I can now release a few more reviews I’ve been working on. Today, we’re looking at Nisekoi: False Love.
When he was a boy, Raku Ichijou, heir to the Shuei-gumi yakuza clan, made a promise that would change his life. He promised a girl he would marry her when they were older. As proof of their covenant, the girl gave Raku a pendant to which she held the key. Unfortunately, he and the girl were separated, never to see each other again.
10 years later, 16-year-old Raku still carries that pendant from 10 years ago, looking for the promised girl. Although his memories of that day are hazy, he never forgot it for a second. Alongside his search, he’s trying to live a normal life as a high school student, managing his homework and his position as yakuza heir (which isn’t as shady as you think) while crushing on his classmate, Kosaki Onodera and butting heads with a new transfer student, Chitoge Kirisaki. Unfortunately, that’s not all he has to worry about. The Shuei-gumi clan is having some problems with a new rival gang. To prevent a massive gang war from breaking out, the two heads devise a plan: they will present their children as a couple to stop the gangs. Unfortunately for Raku, he has no choice, but to act the part of Chitoge’s boyfriend.
However, that’s not the end of the plot. 10 years ago, both Onodera and Chitoge made a promise with someone that they would get married when they were older. As proof, they hold keys to a locket they gave the boy. Sound familiar?
Nisekoi is a harem anime, but it’s a strange one. Unlike other harems, where the main character has no love interest (think Blade Dance or, to some extent, Date a Live), Nisekoi’s protagonist already likes someone, and there are multiple ships that have reasonable evidence to be called canon. Raku and Onodera or Raku and Chitoge are some examples. The humor in this show stems from the writers constantly thwarting pairings that are so close to being considered canon, almost like “anime cock-blocking.” I lost count of how many times the characters were so close to confessing only be interrupted in the most hilarious way. At some point, however, it should get repetitive and lose its meaning, and it does. However, because there are a few pairings that seem to be plausible and because the romance aspect is so open with new developments added every so often, Nisekoi‘s “cock-blocking” also manages to keep you hoping that maybe the next time will be different.
With regards to storytelling, Nisekoi does a very good job keeping all of the original premises consistent and relevant. The whole “faking a relationship” plot device fades as the show progresses, but I think that was intentional, as the writers could tease more pairings. It also wasn’t a bad choice, because the more pairings the writer teases, the more intricate the story becomes and the more you want to know what happens. The details of what happened 10 years ago are vague and so much is left to speculation. There are many possible outcomes that all appear to be equally possible
However, intricacy is not always a positive quality. Because so much is unknown, it gives the writers freedom to create plot twists and seemingly irreconcilable inconsistencies. It also means there’s a lot to explain by the end. If the writers cannot create a simple, yet understandable solution, then the whole show falls apart. I’m not so much faulting Nisekoi as I am pointing out a potential problem. If the writers can resolve the unanswered questions, then the story remains solid. That said, most of it could be considered filler, with very little relevance to the plot as a whole.
My biggest complaint with Nisekoi are its stories. Some are brilliant, others and enjoyable, and then there ones that feel extremely out of place.
Beware of large doses of fanservice.
The Characters: Nisekoi offers a variety of different characters, as harems do, but how they’re treated plays out differently. Certain characters are used more for development and some are used more for comic relief instead. As a result, you can have some really good characters, and some mediocre ones. These are the three main characters.
Raku Ichijou: I found Raku to be a slightly different harem protagonist than normal. Most other harem protagonists are not special, but always nice people; they serve more as a way to develop the girls around them. Raku develops characters, specifically Chitoge, through conflict just as much as he does through generosity. He’s not above getting legitimately angry with her, which is something I haven’t seen in other harem protagonists. However, Any attempts at his personal development are more used as setups for comic relief or romantic tension. Despite his different behavior towards Chitoge, Raku is still a standard harem protagonist; however, it’s important to remember that he’s really not the focus.
Chitoge Kirisaki: I’ve found that the main focus of harem shows is not the love interest, but rather the harem members themselves. No one wants fanservice of Raku, but they love the girls. As characters, however, the girls are often defined in the context of their relationship with their love interest, in this case, with Raku. Chitoge, however, is one of the very few I’ve seen (so far) who defies this rule. Her character development sometimes involves events that hardly involve Raku at all and instead focus on her as an individual. Out of all the different members of Raku’s harem (there are many more that I am not mentioning), I find Chitoge to be easily the best girl, and arguably best character in the show. She’s the most developed and most interesting because she’s arguably more independent of Raku than any other harem member.
Kosaki Onodera: Onodera’s a much more traditional harem girl. Almost everything about her character is defined in the context of Raku. However, I found her to be the more enjoyable character, even though Chitoge is much better as a character. In other words, while Chitoge is a better character than Onodera, Onodera’s stories are more fun to watch. I think the only reason that is is because it’s canonically established that Raku likes Onodera as well, but they’re just too shy to say anything. As a result, each of Onodera’s stories has high amounts of romantic tension, or “will-they-won’t-they” scenarios (Chitoge’s stories tend to be more serious). Onodera, sadly, is a dull character in and of herself and is much more boring than Chitoge.
Final Verdict: Nisekoi is one of the more multi-faceted shows I’ve seen.It can be very lighthearted and goofy, but it can also be serious when it needs to. It has a lot of topics to explore and it doesn’t do them all well, but the ones it does well are very solid; it has something for many different interests. Nisekoi is a show that, if you are a fan of harem, is definitely worth your time, and if you’re not a fan, you might be better off avoiding. That said, this is an enjoyable anime and I think it is worth a try. Maybe it will have something for you.
Final Grade: B+