Nisekoi Key Art - 20140123Nisekoi is a romantic comedy series that focuses on the life of high school student Raku Ichijou. Like most people his age, Raku has his priorities set for college, then to a career as a civil servant. For most students, this would be common, mundane even. For Raku, though, it’s anything but. He’s the son of a yakuza boss, and heir-apparent to the family business. He lives his days among the very scoundrels and ruffians that strike fear into the common man, and they dote on Raku as he were their own flesh and blood. Raku’s love life is a sea of nothingness, as his time is devoted to his studies. His one fleeting memory of romance came from his childhood, when he and a mysterious girl made a pact to marry after finding each other, with Raku holding a strange pendant and the mystery girl the key that unlocks it.

Raku’s life is forever changed one day, when a blonde bombshell literally drops into his life… while planting her knee square in his face. With a hurried half-apology, the girl dashes off to places unknown, leaving the bloodied Raku to limp to class. Raku’s crummy day gets worse when he finds out that (shock!) the mystery girl, who introduced herself as Chitoge Kirisaki, transferred into his class. Even worse, Raku’s previous encounter with the lass caused him to lose the pendant he so dearly treasured. So, as one could expect, it’s hate at first sight, as Raku and the girl starts fighting like an old married couple. Raku manages to guilt Chitoge into aiding him in the search for the pendant, albeit with the condition that the two never speak again after the damn thing is found.

Guess where this is going! I dare you!

Anyway, upon returning home from school one day, Raku is told that he is to date the daughter of the boss of a rival gang, in order to preserve peace in the neighborhood. Unfortunately for Raku, the girl in question is blonde, ill-tempered, and has an incredibly mean right knee. Sound familiar? It should. Chitoge, in a totally unpredictable plot twist, is the daughter of the rival gang leader. To preserve peace between the two groups, the two youths must pretend to not only tolerate each other, but to be a love-dovey couple for the next three years. Will the two be able to pull it off, or will their unyielding hatred prove to be their undoing?

Nisekoi‘s first couple of episodes primarily serve to outline the core plot points and the cast for the audience. At the same time, character dynamics, from the awkward chemistry between Raku and classmate Kosaki Onodera, to the passionate loathing between Chitoge and Raku, are established. Since this is a rom-com, though, this also means that the viewer can pretty much infer how the series will end, and the mystery of the “locket girl” is essentially spoiled from the beginning, as her identity is made blindingly obvious.

Despite this, the show is loads of fun to watch. The show’s tone, at this point, seems to draw heavily from Ranma 1/2, with Raku and Chitoge being placed in the roles of Ranma and Akane respectively. The jokes are similar in tone, and the interactions between the two leads seem to use that same combination of slapstick and emotion that made Takahashi’s series famous. The visual comedy is generally well-executed, with satisfying payoffs that take every opportunity to let the cast’s personalities just bleed to the forefront.

Similarly, the show’s more serious moments at this point are rarely bogged down by the sheer drama of the moment. Instead, they seem to proceed with a knowing wink and nudge to the camera, be it in over-exaggerated expressions from the subjects, or from generally silly goings-on in the background.

The show’s characters, while generally over-the-top, tend to be likeable and built up well. The major cast members, from Raku and Chitoge to the various gang members are charming and simply oozing with personality. Whether it’s Chitoge’s bodyguard Claude, whose calculating demeanor is known to crack into humorously sappy crying fits, to Raku’s second-in-command that’s known to act like an absolute goofball, the various players will find ways to worm their way into viewer’s hearts.

While it’s still early, Nisekoi shows great potential. The show’s combination of strong characters and a playful sense of humor will win many fans as the show really begins to kick into gear. Hopefully, the show can continue on its current trajectory and really develop what works, while refining and fixing what doesn’t.