Raku Ichijo is the son of a gangster boss, and his father cooks up an idea to set up his son in a fake relationship with the daughter of a rival gang leader, to avoid a full-on war between the two gangs. Unfortunately for Raku, the girl in question happens to be Chitoge Kirisaki, a girl who just transferred into his school and ended up kneeing him in the face on the first day. How can he possibly pretend to be in love with a girl with such a violent temperament? Complicating matters, he is already in love with a girl he has known since childhood, Kosaki Onodera. He also made a promise to a girl ten years ago, and wears a locket around his neck, but who owns the key that will open it?
Nisekoi is subtitled “False Love” for the English release, which is a translation of the title. “Fake Love” might have been a more natural translation, and it gets right to the heart of the premise of this series, because Raku and Chitoge have to fake their relationship. They don’t really have a choice, either, because although this is a comedy series the serious side of their predicament is that their ruse has to work, or their families and friends will all be at war, and there will be blood on their hands if they fail. Later in the series matters are complicated even more with the arrival of Marika Tachibana, who introduces herself as Raku’s fiancee, due a promise made by their parents years ago. She also needs to be kept happy to some extent, because her father is the chief of police, so he has the power to make life very difficult indeed for Raku’s father.
The big question hanging over the series is who owns the key to Raku’s locket. He has memories of spending a happy summer with a girl who fell in love with him, but he can’t remember who it was. Of course, he desperately wants it to be Kosaki, and she does have a key, but so do two other girls. If you think this is going to be resolved quickly, then you will be frustrated, because the writer is ingenious at finding ways to stop that from happening, and is very clever at making us assume one thing, only to make us believe something completely different the next episode. In the meantime, this is actually quite a clever examination of the nature of love, or at least the beginnings of looking at that theme.
The obvious meaning of the “fake love” is Raku and Chitoge’s pretend relationship, but it runs deeper than that. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has watched these kinds of rom-com anime series that Chitoge starts to develop feelings for Raku over the course of the series, but the other relationships in his life could also be described as “fake”. Does he genuinely love Kosaki, somebody he has idolised for years but interacted with very little (and when they do get to spend time together during the course of the series it’s awkward and they struggle to express their feelings at all)? Or is she just a fantasy of what he wants from life? How can he really love her if he starts to develop a fondness for Chitoge? Is his idea of a perfect girl actually deeply flawed? Then we have his mystery girlfriend from his childhood, with the opening of the locket built up in his mind over the years as the moment when he might meet his true love destiny. Is that a fake love? And that’s mirrored by Marika, who remembers Raku’s kindness from her childhood when she was very unwell, and has since built him up in her mind as a perfect prince of a guy. We see enough of Raku to realise he’s no prince, so that’s a fake love as well, but this not one of those series where all the girls fall for a characterless teenage boy for no apparent reason. He is kind, he was certainly very kind when he was making female friends ten years ago, and he behaves with integrity all the time. A case in point is when he spots a photo from a school trip that accidentally shows Kosaki in her underwear in the background, and he is quick to get rid of it to protect her, even if it harms his own chances with Kosaki because she gets the wrong idea about him for a while. He is somebody who always does the right thing, or at least tries to, so maybe he’s not so far removed from the perfect love match that Marika and Kosaki think he is. But he’s certainly no longer the boy he was ten years ago.
This is a 20 episode season, with 3 relatively disposable OVA episodes to follow, one of which is an all-too predictable excuse to get all the girls naked in a hot spring with conveniently placed steam. The first season culminates in an excellent storyline with Raku’s class putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet, but who will get to play Juliet to Raku’s Romeo? There is a second, shorter season to conclude the story, which I will discuss in a future article. Having become emotionally invested in these characters, I just hope that there will be some resolution to the love triangle, and one of the false loves will become a true love instead… RP
Read next in the Junkyard… Nisekoi: Season Two