Note: This was originally written on January 29, 2014, before my WordPress page was created. It was later reposted here, unedited.
Nisekoi has done what a childhood of 90s anime ultra-violence, Elfen Lied, and an Evangelion addiction could not. Only two episodes in, this show’s broken me. It made me lose control of my muscles and shudder. But what’s worse is how it did it; I was defeated not by the beauty of a gut-wrenching torture scene or massacre, or the splendor of a heartless monster ruining lives, but by the sickening and retched cuteness of a tsundere. Were I the person I was one hour ago, I would have the pride to commit sempuku right now. But now, broken down into this pathetic creature, I just can’t do it. So I guess I’ll just write a first reaction to Nisekoi.
Our main character is Raku Ichijo (Ichijo festival anyone?), the son of a Yakuza boss. He’s well respected by his Yakuza family despite not being anything like them. He doesn’t want to join the family, but instead plans on going to university and become a civil servant. Also he’s been holding onto a locket his childhood crush gave him a long time ago, even though he hasn’t seen her for years… supposedly. He’s very much a lover not a fighter.
On the other side of the romance, we have Chitoge Kirisaki, the half-American transfer student, daughter of a rival gang boss, and tsundere who broke me. Actually, what’s interesting in this romance is both characters are a little tsundere. Chitoge certainly more so, but by the end of the second episode Raku’s definitely giving off some “it’s not like I like you or anything, baka” vibes.
The two of them are forced into faking a relationship by their fathers, as a way to keep the rival gang members from killing each other on the street. Now, you might ask “why don’t they just tell their members not to fight?” and you wouldn’t get an answer. Anime is like a Rube Goldberg machine; convoluted plots for something that could have been achieved by much simpler means are the whole point. Why do you think Evangelion used giant robots and monsters to get to Shinji saying “Golly gee, maybe I could just learn to like myself!”
I’ve digressed, what was the rest of the story again? Oh yeah, also they don’t like each other much. Okay, onto animation.
Shaft is the kind of studio that’s hard to ignore, especially in the past few years since they’ve produced Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the Monogatari series. It’s so obvious what they did right that it’s surprising and sad that they stood out for it; they animated things to look interesting. Shaft is the expert on experimental animation. And Nisekoi is the product of expertise.
It’s not just that everything looks appealing and unique, but it looks engaging. As if you could step inside the show. Every movement is done right; character movements are very smooth and organic, their clothing hair or bag carries proper momentum, their environment reacts as it should which gives them a feeling of weight. The pallet is easy on the eyes while still vibrant, and the moments where unusual techniques are used work to convey the mood or timing of the scene. All this is done with original camera angles that create crisp lines in a scene, and give objects proper spacing. And, in a nearly unprecedented for Shaft, there’s no blatant fanservice to break emersion. It certainly looks like a Shaft show, but it’s also the tamest thing I’ve seen by them, which is actually a good thing.
Nisekoi isn’t something I expected to be good, but have been pleasantly surprised by. Its cute charm and comedic timing work because they’re not all the show has to offer, so I’m able to enjoy a little sweetness instead of just being cynical about it. Its animation is fun, detailed, and clever, and is the best I’ve seen of its kind. But a highschool romance is a highschool romance; polish it all you want, but the hard part is still ahead. The story’s already a little quirky, but there are a lot of episodes to go, and the premise will get old if not tended to properly. Also, the characters need to be original, which I usually wouldn’t bother holding out hope for, but this is Shaft, so I think they might pull it off.
Congratulations Shaft, you’ve got me hooked on something no other studio would do right. Now do it right.