How Nisekoi Is Actually Kind Of A Touching Romance

ORLY

ORLY

There’s just something about Nisekoi which bugs me. In an odd way, I find it almost touching. Or perhaps, to put it more accurately, I think the premise has the potential to be more touching than what you’d assume at first glance.

This post is partly inspired by Flawfinder’s Suggestions On Making Nisekoi More Noteworthy. What he basically wanted was for the series to have more original jokes that didn’t just revolve around “GIRL #2874 LIKES RAKU! ZOMG!” I thought it was a pretty fun post, made especially ironic since a lot of the suggestions actually play out in some way or another in the manga.

For what it’s worth, I think Nisekoi is already fine as a comedy, though. The manga in particular has an impeccable sense of comedic timing that makes it a pleasant, if not very challenging, read. But when you look past the lulz and the cute character designs, Nisekoi ultimately feels very hollow. It’s so derivative that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything the story is really trying to say for itself. And while it copies so many romcom cliches because they work, it’s no standout in its genre.

Then there’s the romance itself. Nisekoi revels so much in the cheapness of the harem genre that I don’t think it’s very serious in trying to get the viewer to buy into the love between Raku and Chitoge. It’s designed to ignite “Best Girl” debates, not “Who has the best relationship?” Emotional realism is obviously not what you watch Nisekoi for.

Ruri is Best Girl, btw. I ship her with Glassesbro.

Ruri is Best Girl, btw. I ship her with Glassesbro.

I actually think this is the most interesting thing about Nisekoi (and harem anime in general, I might add). On the “meta” level, it’s basically saying that it’s not a story about true love, even though it’s a given that Raku and Chitoge will end up together.

It’s easy to write that contradiction off as bad writing, an inevitable result of depicting a male wish fulfillment fantasy. I think it’s symptomatic of a larger trend in romantic fiction to become more cynical and self-aware about the kind of fantasies they’re projecting. It plays on the audience’s insecurities and yearnings for love, albeit in a roundabout way. “If you like this, it doesn’t mean you’re desperate to find love!” it’s trying to say. “It’s romantic but not actually romantic!”

Hell, it’s in the title: Nisekoi – ‘False Love’. On the basic surface level, Nisekoi is a story that’s about a fake relationship, so I’m not just pulling this reading out of my ass.

So if Nisekoi is written to not be very touching, why do I think that it’s touching in spite of because of that?

Well, if the meaning of “true love” is lost in the context of the show, isn’t that kind of sad in a way? Watching Nisekoi makes me feel hollow, as if the whole story is holding up a tsundere front and refuses to acknowledge itself.

nisekoi-3661567

The setup of the main love triangle is also somewhat tragic when you think about it. Raku and Onodera begin the story in love but unable to say it, and by the end of the story they will have squandered all their chances to be together. Theirs is a story of “true” love that becomes gradually more inauthentic as time passes. Onodera isn’t just the “unlucky childhood friend” character; they both are, in this case.

The setup with the keys and Raku’s lock frankly depresses me. It’s used as a metaphor to highlight what true love is in the context of the show. The girl whose key opens Raku’s lock is the girl with whom he made the marriage promise with, therefore that girl is his true love. And even if there is a subversion at the end and the owner of the key turns out not to be Chitoge, it will still be the event that makes Raku choose her as his true love. In other words, everything about their courtship is artificially constructed. They are denied even the pleasure of finding love in each other because of who they are, not because of outside circumstances.

vlcsnap-2014-03-08-15h32m01s220

As an aside, this show would have some hilariously sexual connotations if Raku had the key and all the girls had locks.

Interference from outside is one of the more common romantic cliches, but because of Nisekoi’s trope-obsessed nature, the relationships don’t even give off the illusion of being organic (which I would argue is the appeal of fiction in general).

If the course of true love in this show can be so easily manipulated by outside powers, what is that (implicitly) saying about how relationships work in this show? If Raku and Chitoge fall in love just because and Raku and Onodera fall out of love just because, well… I don’t know about you guys, but it only points to one message for me:

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TRUE LOVE.

Damn it, Nisekoi. You’re breaking my heart.

Posted on March 8, 2014, in Anime Analysis and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.

  1. Well, in order for your message of Nisekoi to be delivered by Nisekoi, Nisekoi has to end. Or continue for 110+ chapters. Oh wait…

    But, but, if you think about it, all the characters knew Raku ten years ago, and so they are all technically osananajimis. We all know that the osananajimi never wins, therefore… Oh wait…

  2. I always wonder about the psychology behind the creators of stuff like Nisekoi. On the one hand, it’s easy to think of them as extremely cynical people, because the structure works like Nisekoi take IS extremely cynical – it plays established tropes to a T, encourages the audience to invest in things that will never come to fruition, and basically dances around anything resembling emotional truth. As you demonstrate here, the fact that it’s using stuff like “belief in true love” in such a mechanical way means it doesn’t actually believe in anything. But on the other hand, it seems hard to believe these writers are truly cynical about what they do – perhaps this is naive of me, but I can’t imagine the writer is actively just charting out all the ways he can manipulate his audience, and churning out chapters like an emotionally dead salaryman. I think he cares about what he does.

    So is it just that the structure is cynical, but the execution is an honest pleasure for the writer? That’s my guess. I’m not sure how I feel about that, though – you mention how it seems designed to give the audience what they want, but personally, I kind of take issue with art that gives the audience what they want instead of what they NEED. I can’t fault people for seeking escapism (as I’ve said, everyone wants something different from art), but for some reason, I feel less charitable about extending that faultlessness to the creators who MAKE escapism, and not art intended to inform or inspire. Maybe this is also related to how it seems like Nisekoi is designed for an audience that really COULD use positive romantic role models, as opposed to emotionally secure audiences that just happen to be in the mood for escapist fiction? But that’s obviously a very reductive assumption to make.

    I dunno. I’m just trying to articulate a gut feeling here, so it’s hard to point to any one culprit. This also kinda ties into a “responsibility of the artist” post idea I’ve been kicking around for a while now.

    Great post, by the way!

    • I think you’re right in that I just can’t imagine the author not enjoying his work, because there’s a sense of fun and charm to Nisekoi that transcends its emotionally dead narrative. Nisekoi succeeds best as a comedy. In fact, I personally find it funnier than Beelzebub and Sket Dance, which are both written as straight comedies without romantic overtones. Traditionally, romantic stories don’t seem to do very well in WSJ, though, which is why I do think the “anti-romance” overtones in Nisekoi was a deliberate move to some degree. It’s actually a really clever way to get past the audience’s negative bias towards cheesy love stories while still exploring romantic themes. I can speak from experience here, since I am an unabashed fan of the harem genre for all its problematic elements!

      As for what you say about the “responsibility of the artist”, I’ll wait until you’ve written your own post about it before I respond to that, but it’s a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately, because it’s a very complicated issue.

      Great comment, by the way!

  3. I hope Ruri-chan end ups with Shuu too Froggy TnT

  4. YES Ruri X GlassesBro forever OTP

    And yeah, there’s no such thing as true love (in the red string of fate sense of the term) but I think everyone already knows this, we just like the fantasy of this idea that we’re all waiting for the right person to simply fall from the sky into our lap (am in the middle of watching Laputa as I write this where this just happened).

  5. I actually agree in that I feel like the way the story is structured, it misses out on a lot of the romance that begins to be implied between Chitoge and Raku. It’s hollow but kind of compelling because of it, if that makes any sense; I feel like I’ve been reduced to waiting out the small steps forward in their relationship, few and far in between though they are.

    • That’s an interesting way of looking at it through a shipping perspective! Probably what makes the relationship between Raku and Chitoge appealing is that those genuinely romantic moments feel more satisfying after so much mucking around. There are moments between them that approach emotional honesty, but unfortunately, the story has never connected with me on that level.

  6. I began watching this anime and loved Raku and Chitoge. First few episodes really attracted me (enough for me to put Raku as one of my favorite characters and give the anime a 10/10) but than it started to go downhill. At first I felt the same as you. I thought the anime was making a harem but was going to use the best elements of harem and liked the relationships and what they showed. what happened in the end was a bunch of harem cliche’s (not tropes but cliche’s) that constantly irritated me. The harem lines and cliche’s all just reminded me of Infinite stratos (and we all know how bad that anime is). Know I have taken Raku of my favorite list and my score for Nisekoi is currently a 7 (bordering onto a 6).
    The only thing that really keeps me watching Nisekoi (and not giving it as bad as a score as Infinite stratos) is the fun and interesting moments. They do use tropes well and the anime is somewhat entertaining. I would like to get some deeper meaning from the anime like you have Froggy but the silliness, fanservice and cliche harem scenes are too frustrating and annoying for me to take this anime seriously.

    • Interesting! I’m curious what made you such a big fan of Raku (in the beginning of the anime at least).

      Funnily enough, you say that you enjoy Nisekoi less than I do, but I would personally rate the anime a 5/10, which is lower than your score. What I enjoy about the series are pretty much the same things you enjoy – the clever use of tropes and the humour. I don’t think Nisekoi is intended to be “deep” at all, so a lot of its values are unconsciously embedded into story. For me, unpacking those values doesn’t mean I take the actual story its trying to tell seriously. The silliness is part of the charm.

      • The reason you would rate it lower is because you have more experience with anime and you are an adult therefore you have a more stable understanding of your opinion’s while I am still do not have a strong enough opinion on what I like to rate things too lowly.

        • Heeey, cut yourself some slack! Age has nothing to do with it. Pretty much everyone on MAL uses a 6-10 scale. I think my ‘5’ would be equivalent to your ‘7’, lol.

          I don’t know what you mean by not having a “strong enough opinion” but if it means that you think you can enjoy even the lesser anime in some way that’s a great thing and in no way means you have worse tastes or that you lack intelligence.

  7. The Kenosha Kid

    Y’know, at the beginning of the season, I saw a few different people remark that Nisekoi just might be the SHAFTiest anime yet, since it shows what happens when you paste their style on a totally unremarkable story. I’m beginning to disagree in part thanks to this little post of yours—this show, like so many of SHAFT’s other works, seems to me to largely be about artifice. (This is pretty obvious in SHAFT’s style, of course, and as “substance” goes, I’d say making a case for Bakemonogatari(!), SZS, and what little I’ve seen of Arakawa seems pretty easy, with Sasami-san, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, and Madoka being a bit more of a stretch, and I don’t even know how I’d fit Hidamari Sketch into this.)

    The funny thing about Nisekoi‘s reversed Romeo-and-Juliet setup is that it exposes some odd things about the way social pressure works: to everybody around them, it looks like a typical case of star-crossed lovers, who are supposed to be in love despite social pressure to be enemies. This, oddly enough, creates a social pressure on our (non-?)couple to be together through breaking through the apparent social pressure to remain apart. (Everyone wants them to be Romeo and Juliet.) It’s a shitty double-bind in a ton of ways, but the funniest part is that either a choice on their part to remain apart or a choice to stay together could be interpreted by a number of people as caving in. Whatever they do, it’s gonna be fake to somebody.

    This is also sorta how the show works on a genre level: the tropes it’s playing with are so well-established that even for the show to self-consciously break them is a sort of cliche. Yer fucked if you do, and yer fucked if you don’t.

    If the show were to get a bit more metafictional, I think the way in which these aspects mirror each other would be more obvious: various cliches and storytelling conventions give us an idea of what we’re supposed to do—or supposed not to do, or supposed to think silly because it’s obviously a fiction, dummy!—but our collective self-awareness is such that even breaking the rules is following a rule of some sort and there doesn’t seem to be any way to step outside the rules. So yeah: not even is there no such thing as true love, but arguably no such thing as truly saying that “there’s no such thing as true love” considering how many other people have said it and in so many contexts and so on. (I think I’ve overplayed my hand a bit here, but I think you follow me?)

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this way-too-long comment (sorry), so I’ll just finish on the totally unrelated note that the fact that Raku has a lock and the girls have keys would probably look really significant if I gave a damn about Freud.

    • Ahahaha! In my first draft of this post, I made a glib reference to postmodernism but decided not to open that can of worms. Looks like you picked up on everything I was implying about Nisekoi as a narrative.

      At first, I got irritated with the Shaft aesthetics in Nisekoi because I perceived the anime as “form without content”. I’ve since changed my mind and I’ve decided that the art style really essentialises the anime form, which I think is the “point” of Shaft. It’s easily transferable to pretty much any kind of anime. Actually, I think this artistic imprint which “seems to represent something but actually gives no indication of what it’s about” basically defines what anime is in general. We don’t see anything uniquely “Japanese” about the anime art style, but it’s something so easily construed because of its lack of cultural odor. What makes anime anime? Ultimately, I admire shows like Nisekoi which attempt to give an answer to a question that can never be answered.

      • The Kenosha Kid

        Sorry for replying to this so late, but something about this post has been nagging at me—I feel like you hit the nail on the head, but I’m at a total loss when it comes to which nail. So this is sorta me asking for clarification, here. Sorry about the length.

        At first, I got irritated with the Shaft aesthetics in Nisekoi because I perceived the anime as “form without content”. I’ve since changed my mind and I’ve decided that the art style really essentialises the anime form, which I think is the “point” of Shaft. It’s easily transferable to pretty much any kind of anime.

        Yesss. So if I understand what you’re saying (and I’m not sure I do), you’re saying that Shaft takes the various conventions and stylistic stuff that’s peculiar to anime and strips away just about anything else—anything, for instance, that would be there mainly out of concern for realism, or that would mainly be a carryover from the conventions of live-action film, etc. That stripping away of realism is key, I think: if we’d say that most of the conventions and techniques of narrative art come from a need to remind the audience of something they recognize as real (from a need to provide a sort of shorthand for reality), then Shaft’s stripping away of most of the stuff that isn’t in some way an anime convention (or more commonly a twist on something anime-ish) would draw attention to the anime-ness of those conventions, as opposed to the realness that they’d normally aspire to.

        Argh, sorry for my verbosity here; I’ve been trying to untangle this part:

        Actually, I think this artistic imprint which “seems to represent something but actually gives no indication of what it’s about” basically defines what anime is in general. We don’t see anything uniquely “Japanese” about the anime art style, but it’s something so easily construed because of its lack of cultural odor.

        Because it’s really easy to get carried away talking about the “Japaneseness” of anime, but a lot of the stuff that makes anime anime doesn’t seem (to me, at least) to come directly from the fact that it’s a product of Japanese culture in the other ways in which we’d recognize that culture. Does this sound right?

        And the bit where you really lost me was:

        What makes anime anime? Ultimately, I admire shows like Nisekoi which attempt to give an answer to a question that can never be answered.

        Were these two sentences related? Are you saying that Nisekoi is trying to answer the question of what makes something anime? Or are you saying that it’s trying to answer some questions about love, in which case I’m still at a bit of a loss to see how the animeness of the show enhances that, which would kinda slip Shaft back into the “form without content” camp…?

        • Actually, you got pretty much everything I was getting at! Sorry I wrote such an incoherent comment. I was really rambling at myself there.

          Were these two sentences related? Are you saying that Nisekoi is trying to answer the question of what makes something anime?

          I do indeed think that Nisekoi is trying to be as “anime” as it can. But I also think that the form of a medium isn’t the same thing as genre. I think Nisekoi tries to say that form and genre are the same thing, though, that anime is the zany tropes. It identifies itself as a very specific denial of reality and it builds its visual form out of those tropes.

          But as anyone knows, that’s not really true, per se. There’s much more diversity to anime than that. By defining what makes anime “anime” into some kind of pigeonholed framework, I think we actually get further away from what the essence of “anime” is. So that brings us back to square one: What makes anime feel like “anime”?

          You could spend ages talking and arguing about it, but I don’t think you could come up with any neat answer!

          • A bit late to the party here, but wanted to chime in!

            The postmodern ideology that runs through the conversation here (the self-destructive tsundere cynicism) and that might be characteristic of Nisekoi is an interesting one precisely because it is so natural: postmodernism only deconstructs, and figuring out how to preserve authenticity in some way in the face of that deconstruction (which usually involves pulling back to the deconstruction itself, which is what you guys seem to be getting at) is the most common problem I’ve seen associated with the postmodern “condition”. I’m actually working on a long post myself to systematize postmodernism much more thoroughly than I did secondhand from Azuma (although he actually gets really close to a reading of postmodernism I like), so tune in sometime in the future to hear me ramble much more on the topic.

            A small sidenote: I feel the discussion of Shaft’s aesthetics in general is spot-on, but I haven’t seen (maybe I missed it) a comment on the color scheme. The overly bright, starry, clean colors used all throughout the anime seem to me to emphasize the unreality (or should I say “rose-colored” view) of the whole enterprise, much in the same way it is used in the recent Great Gatsby adaptation. There, it’s meant to showcase how memory tends to idealize things, making the colors brighter, the events more “over the top”, the feelings stronger, etc., much the same way the running theme in the book concerns the idealization of the past. I think Nisekoi is trying to do much of the same, and thus once again heighten the “unreality” (or maybe over-idealization?) of the whole enterprise.

            Anyways: GOOD STUFF GUYS :D

            • The Kenosha Kid

              Oy, the p-word! I was trying to avoid it. I mean, despite my interest in a good number of things that would probably be best termed “postmodern”, I feel like I don’t have a good idea of what postmodernism is; I just practice it (or something like it). Of course, that’s what your article’s for, right? Waiting warmly.

              Anyway, as far as the lack of a “constructive” element in Nisekoi, I actually feel (on an instinctive level) that there is something paradoxically authentic about it, even beyond the more-anime-than-anime-itself stylistics. I’m still trying to puzzle out exactly what that might be, though, which’ll probably take a while. That bit where I asked Frog-kun if Nisekoi was trying to answer questions about love probably has something to do with it, in retrospect. Perhaps, to borrow your spot-on comment about the color scheme (holy hell, I have seen the light! I tend to focus more on the overdone geometrical formalism, the staginess, etc.), I’d say that Nisekoi’s saying that not just anime, but love is that unreal idealization, those zany tropes…. But perhaps I’m overly fond of looking for strong parallels between style and content where they don’t really exist. I’d have to look at the characters’ actions in a decent amount of detail to really be able to support this.

              Still, as a little experiment, let me modify what Frog-kun said a bit to see how well it works:

              There’s much more diversity to anime love than that. By defining what makes lovelove” into some kind of pigeonholed framework, I think we actually get further away from what the essence of “love” is. So that brings us back to square one: What makes love feel like “love”?

              (Sorry, Frog-kun!)

            • Oh, oh. Wow. Now I’m seeing the light too!

            • Gotta love the p-word yo.

              The paradoxic authenticity is what I think the whole rambling paragraph above was trying to capture, since I find the same type of thing in a number of more modern works. Let me see if I can briefly outline my (rough) logic.

              1. We’re just too damn cynical now that we deconstruct everything. Everything is taken apart, seen as references to something else, etc., because we’re just too damn “clever” and so done with the entire concept of supremely original thought (at least in culture).
              2. Such an undertaking destroys authenticity in most media: we can see how everything is constructed, what the messages are, the references, the intended meanings, etc. We dissect everything and relate everything to everything else, and so something that comes across as truly authentic essentially dies.
              3. However, that doesn’t mean that things can’t be seen as trying to come across as authentic, and if they do a good job, we see their attempt at authenticity as equal to the real thing itself (since that’s now unattainable).
              4. But how do you do this, when every attempt to construct something “authentic” is bound to fail because you deconstruct the whole thing? The only way is to pull back and use the deconstruction itself as the grab at authenticity. By doing so, you’re intimating that whatever is being deconstructed is something that ultimately exists in some form.
              5. By doing this, you then are able to make passes at something “authentic” by deconstructing the foundation that gave it its supposed authenticity in the first place. Does that make sense?

              Or, to put it another way…
              A while back, you mentioned over on my blog a great Umberto Eco quote about love:

              I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her “I love you madly”, because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still there is a solution. He can say “As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly”. At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly it is no longer possible to talk innocently, he will nevertheless say what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her in an age of lost innocence.

              If we look at this pessimistically, it seems to be saying the concept of authentic love is dead, and you can only make do now by referring to someone else in an attempt to convey meaning. But looking at this using the idea that deconstruction as authentication (which we used to preserve some idea of authenticity-as-attempt in an inauthentic world), we find that true love is then built up in its very deconstruction!

              Which segues almost perfectly into what I originally intended to say: that this is exactly what I think Nisekoi is doing! And why we all seem to love it so much :)

  8. Excellent read. And I don’t even watch the show.

  9. You can tell the author has fun with Nisekoi. The manga basically makes fun of all romcom cliches

    and Marika is best girl, just throwing that out there

    • Whaaaat no! Marika is the Worst Girl! Not that any of the girls in Nisekoi are waifu material exactly, but Marika rubs me the completely wrong way. Blaaaaaah XD

      • …how…how dare you…you simply can’t see the brilliance of the best.

        • Just caught up with the latest chapters of the manga! Didn’t expect to say this, but Marika is a really good girl… That mini-arc where she had to pretend to be Raku’s lover really elevated her to another level and she’s been really cute ever since.

          Current rankings: Ruri > Marika > Chitoge > Onodera > Paula > Tsugumi > Haru

  10. Thank you for noticing Ruri is best girl.

  11. Agree with the post, generally; it expressed more explicitly the things the manga makes me feel.
    I do feel conflicted with the seeming inevitability of Raku-Chitoge: on the one hand, I have carry-over support for it from the one-shot (which I found perfect as a more “rational” reverse-Romeo-and-Juliet story and because cute squee-worthy romance etc.), on the other hand it really sucks to be Onodera and all the rest of the expanding harem.

    • That’s the problem with harems, isn’t it? If the MC picks a girl, it sucks for everyone else, but if he keeps stringing them all along, that’s not a happy ending for anyone.

      I agree that the Nisekoi oneshot was super cute :)

  12. For me , After I read and watch it I feel happy and refreshed .That’s all I get from it . Kind of an escape from reality kind of happiness.

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