Anime Review: Nisekoi – False Love

Nisekoi – False Love
Original creator: Naoshi Komi
Directed by: Akiyuku Shinbo, Naoyuki Tatsuwa
Character Design by: Nobuhiro Sugiyama
Produced by: Aniplex, Mainichi Broadcasting System, SHAFT
Voice cast: Kana Hanazawa, Kouki Ouchiyama, Nao Toyama, Kana Asumi, Mikako Komatsu, Takehito Koyasu, Yumi Uchiyama, Yuuki Kaji.
Air dates: Season 1 currently streaming on Crunchyroll
2nd season scheduled to start in Japan in April

How old were you when you were first in love? What promises did you make to the one you loved, and what value are they now? What is the nature of true love? Is it something wholly spontaneous, or can it be born of long association and bonds of mutual friendship and respect, even among seemingly implacable foes, or over long spans of time and space? When is love true, and when is it false? If more than one person can lay claim to it, which one holds the real key to your heart?

These are questions that poets, writers, and artists of every stripe have wrestled with ever since humans could first communicate, and often, our delving reveals more questions than answers. In the series Nisekoi – False Love, based on the manga by original creator Naoshi Komi, those questions get a new lease on life.

This series brings a number of plot elements we’ve seen many times before, some of which are, indeed, as timeless as love itself. Warring families, incompatible couples, star-crossed lovers, the soaring triumphs and crushing defeats, all the archetypes are there. And it all starts, innocently enough, with a childhood promise.

High school student Raku Ichijo is the heir to a yakuza faction known as the Shuei-Gumi. Raku isn’t really interested in his family business, however. He longs to go to college and pursue a normal career. He is also blessed with an extraordinary ability to cook, a natural talent he puts to use every evening cooking for all the members of the Shuei-Gumi. Ten years earlier, he made a promise to a young girl, whose face he doesn’t remember, to meet again and be married one day. He carries the legacy of that promise with him at all times in the form of a locket to which the aforementioned young lady holds the key. However, after ten years, the promise remains unfulfilled, and the locket closed. However, that promise is about to come back and hit him fully in the face, in the form of a schoolgirl’s knee.

That knee belongs to Chitoge Kirisaki, the daughter of a rival crime family known as the Beehive gang. Needless to say, there’s no love lost between these families, and the same is true of Chitoge and Raku. She unexpectedly hops a wall on her way to her first day at Raku’s school, kneeing Raku right in the face. In the mayhem, Raku loses his locket, and after formally meeting Chitoge in class, he forces her to help him look for it, since she apparently helped him lose it. They quickly learn they do not like each other at all. Meanwhile, Raku’s been madly crushing on another classmate of his, Kosaki Onodera, since junior high, and he secretly wishes she was the girl he made the promise to so many years before.

Returning home, Raku learns to his horror that the rival families have decided to seal the breach between them by pairing their respective heirs. Yes, you guessed it. Chitoge and Raku have to pretend to be lovers. The fate of the city is in their hands, and there are those who would rather not see them together, such as Chitoge’s longtime and overprotective bodyguard, Claude, and his protégé’, a young hit man – actually make that hit woman – named Seishiro, who, over time, starts to have feelings herself for Raku. Now, the implacable foes have to pretend to be red-hot lovers to everyone in school, an act that is closely followed not only by Kosaki, but also by Claude, whose half-hearted attempts at stealth surveillance drive Raku to the point of madness.

Add to this scenario another young lady, Mariko Tachibana, who shows up claiming to be Raku’s fiancée. To complicate things further, there are apparently multiple keys to Raku’s locket, and it appears that the main players in this comedy of errors have all met before – ten years prior, to be exact, and all in the same place. The vicissitudes of teenage life are awkward enough to deal with without all of this.

There are parallels in this series that this writer has seen many times before. Ranma ½ comes to mind, not to mention Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew. I like the way the show’s producers have reversed the dynamic of the warring families’ heirs from being star-crossed lovers to completely at-odds with each other, at least at first glance.

Currently streaming on Crunchyroll, Nisekoi-False Love is twenty episodes long, and while harem anime isn’t to everybody’s taste, this one offers a little more than what appears on the surface, if you’re willing to delve a little and read between the lines.

The second season is slated to start in Japan on April 10, and Crunchyroll has already announced that it will be a part of their springtime simulcast lineup. If you haven’t seen this series yet, I recommend you start now and catch up on the story arc before jumping into season 2, as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it that much more knowing the background story and everyone involved.

Nisekoi – False Love is a series with its share of surprises – or maybe not, depending on how jaded an anime viewer you are. But the biggest surprise, at least to this writer, is the way its creators have tackled those age-old questions that always swirl around affairs of the heart, in the guise of yet another teenage harem anime. I recommend it, but only if you’re willing to open the key to your own heart first.

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