Take a mediocre WSJ manga, add potentially the most annoying director in anime and what do you get? It’s become the mantra for this nightmare of an anime season, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Nisekoi isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but it beats having surgery without anaesthesia. And really, isn’t that the first hurdle any anime needs to clear? And this season, that makes it a Hall-of-Famer.
I think the reason this sort of works is compatibility. The notion of any WSJ series and Shaft/Shinbou Akiyuki (though Tatsuya Naoyuki is technically listed as Director here, but of course that could be a fabrication and this show is all Shinbou either way) seems an odd marriage, and indeed it is. But here’s the thing – take Nisio Isin’s spectacularly pompous, vapid and self-aware tripe and combine it with Shinbou’s hyperactive, twitchy auteurism and you get a kind of perfect storm of awfulness. Nisekoi is, in itself, so generic that it actually benefits from Shinbou’s egotistical direction. It has very little identity or presence of its own, so any personality Shinbou brings to the table makes it better.
Nisekoi itself is at least inoffensive, but it’s so utterly cliched and recycled that in reading it I was almost convinced it was a satire (if it is, I never got far enough to find out). Even if you never read the manga I can’t imagine anyone didn’t have deja vu watching the premiere here, or had any difficulty in figuring out what was really going on in M.C. Ichijou Raku’s (Uchiyama Kouki) flashbacks (or what the “surprise” at the end of the episode would be). We’ve certainly seen Hanazawa Kana’s Onodera Kousaki countless times before, the demure and caring gal pal who shares an undeclared crush with the lead (she reminds me of a less alluring Sairenji Haruna more than anything), and Kaji Yuuji as BF Maiko Shuu could have come out of a McDonald’s carton. As for the uber-tsundere catalyst Kirisaki Chitoge (Touyama Nao), she may be the least original creation of the bunch.
The thing is, though, that none of that really matters. Nisekoi is the recessive gene in this pairing – it has so little that’s distinctive about it that it acts basically as a carrier for Shinbou’s restless exploration of how many times he can use the same tricks to make cheaply-made anime visually interesting. This series is like a cake, and the source material is the flour – you can’t make the cake without it, but no one is going to taste it and say “I like this cake – the flour is excellent!”. What we’re left with is a kind of free-associative Shinbou take on an incredibly formulaic WSJ premise, and that has a certain level of curiosity-based interest in and of itself.
So, in the end, Nisekoi is moderately entertaining. The cast is fine – Kaji and Hanazawa make no attempts to diverge from their boilerplate persona, and Touyama does the best she can injecting some humanity into playing someone who at this point in the story is an unrepentant bitch. Uchiyama’s performance is the most interesting, because he sounds eerily like Kamiya Hiroshi. Is that an intentional affectation on his part, or is he slowly turning into the Kamiya of his generation and I just didn’t notice until now?