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Nisekoi: False Love [Season 1] (2014)

High-schooler Raku still dreams of being reunited with the childhood sweet-heart he made a promise to, 10 years ago. Today he nurses a major league crush on Onodera, a classmate with whom he shares a strong connection... can you see where this is going? Then things get complicated when beautiful new transfer-student Chitoge literally crashes in to his life, and they take an instant dislike to each other. So it's not exactly welcome news when Raku discovers that he has to pretend to be an item with this newcomer. Can you see where this is going?

If you've got any experience with the High-school romantic comedy genre of anime then Nisekoi: False Love will feel rather familiar. Taking the 'child-hood sweet-heart' trope and combining it with what is essentially a modern spin on the 'arranged marriage' trope, it takes two of the most well-worn storylines in the genre and smooshes them together.  In fact at times it seems that Nisekoi is working through a check-list from The Big Book Of Anime Clichés. From the steady stream of transfer students, to episodes revolving around festivals, hot-springs and school plays there's an awful lot here you'll likely have seen before.  Heck, Chitoge's first appearance even features her rushing late to school with toast in her mouth- which was already an established cliché when it was parodied back in 1986's Project A-ko.

Does all that mean that Nisekoi is a bad show? Not even close. Originality may not be its strong suit, but the truth is that this is actually one of the best examples of the genre we've seen in some time.

To be fair it's not that Nisekoi doesn't bring anything new to the table at all. Combining the two ideas actually makes things a little more unpredictable as it seems to have two equally feasible potential outcomes. Things get muddied as -of course- every few episodes another complication is thrown into the mix, be it another love rival or a previously unmentioned fiancée.

The reason Raku and Chitoge are forced to pretend to be a couple is in itself pretty unique. Raku's father is a Yakuza boss and Chitoge's a rival gangster, so their pretence is to try and keep the peace. The idea that a gang-land war could be prevented by a couple of love-struck teenagers is a little far-fetched, but it does give unusually high-stakes for such a sit-com situation.

Really, it's the execution that makes Nisekoi as an enjoyable a watch as it is. High-school romance is something that anime generally does really well and this is an supremely confident example of the genre. The characters are endearing without being twee and the various relationships (romantic or otherwise) are very well done. This is an incredibly sweet and charming show- a world where holding hands or a peck on the cheek is a big deal.

It captures teen romance beautifully, in a way that will likely resonate for viewers who are still teenagers themselves, and will bring back nostalgic thoughts for older viewers too. There's beautifully observed moments here that will feel familiar to anyone who's ever been a teenager with a crush. In one memorable sequence, the camera fixates on Onodera playing with her hair in the manner a smitten teen may obsess on the little details of his or her crush.

It all helps give the impression that this is being made by people who actual care. People who love those clichés of the genre and it never feels like it's coming from a cynical place. It's also relatively restrained in the fan-service department, lacking the panty-shots and constant boob-grabbing that some other similar shows traffic in. There are hot springs trips and beach episodes, but in modern anime terms this is refreshingly tasteful.

It helps that the show is also beautifully made  The animation from SHAFT is frequently gorgeous and remains consistently strong throughout. Some unusual choices of textures and visual flourishes mean that it's never dull to look at, and the character designs are appropriately cute.

The lack of an English dub seems a shame for such a crowd-pleasing mainstream show. It feels like it could prevent it's reaching it's widest potential audience, but it's a pretty minor complaint, in what is a highly enjoyable viewing experience.  Maybe it doesn't try and reinvent the wheel but what it does, it does extremely well. If you've got a soft spot for this type of show, then this about is as good as it gets. When it comes to High-school rom-coms, Nisekoi's freshman year is top of the class.