Nisekoi Season 2 Review

Raku Ichijo, only son of the leader of the Shue-Gumi yakuza gang, and golden-haired Chitoge, only heir to the rival gang, have been made – unwillingly – to enter into an ‘engagement’ to bring an end to the rivalry between the two clans. But is Chitoge beginning to develop feelings for Raku? The sudden appearance of Hana, Chitoge’s formidable businesswoman mother, unexpectedly leads to Ichijo attempting to prove himself as her secretary. Can he make Chitoge’s wish to spend Christmas with her mother come true? And if he can, will this change the way the couple feel about each other? He still has not found the key to unlock his pendant – or the girl with whom he made that childhood promise ten years ago. And he still has feelings for sweet-natured Kosaki, the ‘girl next door’, not to mention orange-haired Marika (truth be told, she has feelings for him) and earnest bodyguard Seishirō… and now Kosaki’s younger sister Haru has just started high school and she won’t let Raku anyway near her beloved big sis…

And so we are treated to Marika’s parrot, the arrival of Seishirō’s rival Paula McCoy, the usual Valentine’s Day chocolate shenanigans, a swimsuit episode in which the friends clean the school outdoor pool, and an unexpectedly touching section where Raku’s infuriatingly upbeat friend Maiko reveals hidden feelings for someone at their school.

Raku makes an unusually likable protagonist for a harem series; he does his best, in spite of the many tribulations the adoring girls put him through. Their adulation (or love-hate) is expressed in so many increasingly ridiculous ways that it’s surprising he doesn’t snap and tell them where to get off. He is, after all, the son of a yakuza boss. But this is comedy la-la land and, in spite of the high school trappings of tests, uniforms, sempai and kouhai, Nisekoi is not striving for realism.

But what felt fresh and amusing in Season 1, begins to feel rather tired and repetitive in the second season. Nisekoi relies on the well-worn shtick of ‘which girl will he choose?’ with the all-important locket holding the clue. But as yet more girls are added into the mix, without any substantial progress in the main relationship, the series feels as if it’s spinning its wheels. It still looks a treat, with its bright colours and attractive character designs, and if you love the main girls (and their VAs) there’s a treat for you, as they all have their own Ending songs with kawaii animations to match. There’s even a spoof Magical Girl episode (#8) in which Kosaki becomes Magical Patissiere Girl.

Nisekoi benefits from a talented cast of experienced Japanese VAs (there is no US dub) with Kouki Uchiyama (Yuri Plisetsky in YOI) convincing and appealing as unfortunate hero Raku and a strong performance as Hana, Chitoge’s absent mother, from Megumi Toyoguchi (Winry Rockbell in Fullmetal Alchemist).

This review is about the DVDs (it’s also available on Blu-ray) and there are a couple of little issues that may bother some viewers. Four DVDs, with only three episodes per disc (and textless songs as the only extras). Subtitles in French or English (it’s from Kaze) – and they’re in white which makes them difficult to read against light backgrounds. Nice clear picture quality and sound but there were moments when I struggled to read the subtitles and keep up with the dialogue. Navigation is also a little clunky as you have to choose between French and English before you can proceed to the (always the same!) trailers which lead – eventually – to the main menu.

Tomoki Kikuya (Squid Girl, Hidamari Sketch) again provides the music which is appropriately lively. And I am indebted to the ANN database for the details of the many songs included in these twelve episodes! The main new upbeat OP, “Rally Go Round” by LiSA, accompanies a madcap bicycle-based sequence which soon escalates into flights of comic mayhem, setting an appropriate tone for this second series. The second, “Magical Styling”  by Kana Hanazawa (the VA for Kosaki Onodera) appears in Episode 8.

The cute Ending Themes, using the vocal talents of actresses playing the main female characters, are:

#1: “Aimai Hurts” by Nao Tōyama, Kana Hanazawa, Mikako Komatsu, & Kana Asumi (Episodes 1,3,6,9,12)

#2: “TrIGgER” by Mikako Komatsu/Seishiro (Episode 2)

#3: “Sleep zzz…” by Nao Tōyama / Chitoge (Episode 4)

#4: “Matadō Love” by Kana Asumi/Marika  (Episode 5)

#5: “marchen ticktack” by Ayane Sakura/ Haru Onodera (Episode 7)

#6: “Tōriame Drop ( Shower Drop) by Yumi Uchiyama/Ruri (Episode 10)

#7: “Crayon Cover” by Kana Hanasawa (Kosaki Onodera) (Episode 11)

Nisekoi relies heavily on the ‘will-they, won’t-they?’ variation on the harem scenario, teasing the audience (and the much put-upon hero) with many potential pairings as well as the main false ‘engagement’. By Season 2, patience with the ongoing audience-teasing is beginning to wear a little thin. All the little set-pieces are fine, but do they deliver any significant character development or advance the relationships at all? In summer 2016 it was announced by Weekly Shonen Jump that the manga (by Naoshi Komi) was building to a climax (shorthand for end) but the TV series is nowhere near anything so conclusive, leaving the viewer (well, this reviewer) longing for some proper plot resolution, not just hinting.

In Summary

Nisekoi still looks and sounds good and is a lively and colourful watch. But however fun spending time with Raku and the girls may be, this second season is little more than an entertaining diversion that doesn’t really deliver any answers to the underlying question. I guess we’ll just have to read the manga…

Title: Nisekoi Season 2
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Harem
Studio: Shaft
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2015
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles
Age rating: 12
Running time: 290 minutes

Score: 7/10

Review of Brothers Conflict

World-famous adventurer Hinata Rintaro is newly engaged to successful fashion designer Miwa Asahina, so to give them some privacy, Rintaro’s daughter, Ema Hinata, decides to move in with her soon-to-be-step-brothers, all thirteen of them. Inside the huge mansion full of people, Ema finally feels like she has the family she can turn to; however for the boys all they see is the one person they have been looking for to spend the rest of their lives with…

From the looks of the cover art and screenshots, with the boys all having crazy anime hair plus the description of the series above, it would be easy to write off all thirteen brothers as one-dimensional trope-ridden characters who only serve as cheap love interests for the heroine and the audience to latch onto. However, whilst calling them all ‘one-dimensional’ wouldn’t be entirely incorrect, arguably it’s the brothers themselves that are the strongest element of the series.

First of all, you can’t deny that there isn’t a lack of variety in eye candy and due to the diversity of personalities, it’ll be easy to find at least one male that an audience can get behind or perhaps represent a type they like. Want a hard-working calm man who happens to be an excellent cook? Ukyo is the man of your dreams. Fancy some brothers that are very close, similar to the twins Hikaru & Kaoru from Ouran High School Club? Feast your eyes on Tsubaki and Azusa. Do you like Christian Grey from the Fifty Shades series but wish he was a young teen pop idol instead? Look no further than Futo.

Secondly; the brothers do act like they’re a close-knit family by taking fun jabs at each other, encouraging one another at their jobs and, of course, all having the romantic capacity of an old-school Disney princess – they don’t just like Ema, they fall head over heels in LOVE and want to spend the rest of their lives with her!

Thirdly; it also helps that not all thirteen brothers are the same age; it would have been easy (also lazy) to have them High School age but they actually range from 31 to 10 (the youngest one is kept out of romantic race… for the majority of the time) and they all have different jobs, from the down-to-earth doctor to the dream-job game designer. This creates opportunities to not only stay away from the typical school environment, but also for the heroine to spend time with each brother individually (as they all have different schedules), learn about their specific passions and give each male time to shine on their own. Due to the nature of the genre and shortness of the series however, some brothers get more screen-time than others and a few fail to get any quality time with the heroine. For example, it seems weird that Yusuke, a boy who has apparently known Ema for several years before the start of the series, never gets the opportunity to truly confess his feelings. This counts double for the tenth brother Iori, who is easily forgotten about due to having the same silver hair as his brother Tsubaki and being shoved into the background from the start. Lastly, there’s no denying that the story is very rudimentary and predictable, and comes with a truly terrible script. But thankfully, at the best of times, the script crosses the line into hilariously awful territory, so we get golden scenes of cross-dressing Hikaru practically trolling his helpless brothers which always provide a laugh, random dream scenes where the brothers have laugh-out-loud proclamations of love for Ema, and some frankly poor but hysterical lines, my personal favourite being: “I’ll protect you from the ultra-violet rays…with my lips!” (That’s from the English dub, but the original Japanese line is not far off from that either).

The object of their affections is, of course, the heroine Ema who plays as audience surrogate. Normally in these reverse-harem situations the main girl is the self-insert and therefore lacks personality, which works fine in video games where dialogue and actions are decided by the player, but they never cross over well into other fiction where the choice is gone. Ema is not as bland as, say, the heroine from Amnesia (whom you could replace with a googly-eyed sock puppet and not notice the difference); Ema does have SOME urgency and character of her own, however small. She works hard at her exams to get into the college she’s passionate about, loves video games and expresses interest in helping around the house.

However, when it comes to the interactions with the boys, and their individual confessions of love, any semblance of personality goes completely out of the window. It doesn’t seem like it at first; in Episode 1 she accuses perverted monk brother Kaname of ‘being a tease’ when he puts the moves on her, but from then on she merely acts as the ‘nice girl’ card-carrying character to the brothers and does nothing outside of blushing and remaining silent when the boys proclaim their love. If they kiss her she just lets them, and despite the swooping music and cheesy-as-hell dialogue from the boys, in the very next scene or in some cases next episode (if the confession was at the end of one) Ema and the other brothers continue as if nothing has happened; the status quo hasn’t changed and Ema stays oblivious to the boys’ painfully obvious affections. This kills any sort of romantic tension or drama that the series could have carried because Ema just acts so stilted and ignorant throughout it all.

This plays out in part with the ‘dates’ the characters go on; Ema is taken to a video games arcade, a fun fair and other colourful places, but the most we see of it is the beginning of the trip, and then fast forward to the end where the boys proclaim what a good time they’ve had… shame the audience never actually gets to see it or any possible development of chemistry. Then there’s the time scale over the course of the series; easily a year flies by throughout Brothers Conflict (e.g. Episode 10 takes place in the summer, whereas Episode 11 is at the end of January) but it doesn’t feel like it because the scenes feel so small, and the aforementioned lack of tension isn’t carried over, so nothing feels consequential or meaningful in any capacity. So, for instance, you have a weird situation where a boy confesses to Ema that he loves her in January, then the next episode takes place in the Spring, and only then does she finally do something to address it. I can’t imagine many people happily waiting at least 4 months+ for the object of their affections to finally get their act together and tell them yes or no.

Ema isn’t the worst thing about the series however; that honour goes to her pet squirrel Juli. He’s Ema’s constant companion and she just so happens to have the ability to communicate with him, so the audience hears Juli ranting over the boys fighting over her, as well as supporting Ema. However, his dialogue ranges from annoying to unfunny to sometimes offensive in places. Thankfully, the anime gently phases him out towards the halfway point, but every now and then he pops back just as the audience has forgotten him to remind us he’s still around, or worse, the anime gives him a human form (no, really).

Extras are plentiful and spread evenly across the discs; the given clean openings/closings and trailers are there but also commentaries for Episodes 9 and 12 plus 2 OVAs (Christmas and Valentine’s specials) plus an extra episode where the boys get a hold of a magic lamp. So if you do invest in the series you’ll be please to know that you’ll get everything that’s been animated and commercially available in one complete set, which is more than can be said for other, bigger franchises.

It’s important to note my review is based upon the DVD version of the series, which was cancelled not long before the eventual Blu-ray release of the series was confirmed, so my feedback on the animation quality may not truly reflect what the Blu-ray edition has to offer, however I cannot imagine it being any less lazily animated. Brains Base has done great work in the past (Penguindrum and Innocent Venus to name just two) but they really phoned it in for Brothers Conflict. From still backgrounds with lips barely moving filling up whole dialogue scenes, characters having backs turned to camera to save on animating more than one set of lips (in the Valentine OVA one character barely has a shoulder in the frame, so the brothers are practically talking to someone OFF camera), both opening animations take place on a plain white background and the first closing song animation is made up mostly of clips from the show. It wouldn’t be surprising if the previously mentioned abrupt dates were cut to save on animating anything stressful. The character designs are nice and mostly easy on the eyes, especially the heroine who does look quite pretty in several scenes, but they all barely move; this is not a great representation of Brains Base’s work.

The music score is provided by Takeshi Nakatsuka who compliments the rom-com vibe of the series with a soundtrack that varies from heart-pulling strings to comical jazz. “BELOVEDxSURVIVAL” is a serviceable pop/rock opener by Gero, with the OVA opening song “MY SWEET HEAVEN” by the same artist being near-identical to the first opening. But if you want to cringe in your seats or just burst out laughing, watch the ending themes “14 to 1” for the series or OVA ending song “I Love You ga Kikoenai”, both by Asahina Bros + Juli. Yes, it’s the Japanese cast of the brothers and the squirrel singing terribly cheesy pop about loving the main girl. It’s as terrible as it sounds.

Despite being a silly harem story the English dub does have a lot of high calibre male talent from the likes of J. Michael Tatum, Kyle Hebert and Vic Mignogna lending their voices to bring the rom-com scenes to life. Even Colleen Clinkenbeard tries her best to make the female lead as interesting as possible despite the script not always reflecting it.

Brothers Conflict is tricky to recommend because it swings back and forth between ‘so bad it’s good’ to ‘just bad’, sometimes within the same scene. If you want a safe purchase, a definitive ‘good’ example of a male harem then the likes of Fruits Basket and the already mentioned Ouran High School Club are better examples to put money towards. However, if you have a good sense of humour, thrive in potentially hilari-awful series and are happy to take the cons/pitfalls of the genre, then Brothers Conflict has a lot of laughs to offer.

Title: Brothers Conflict
Publisher: Funimation (via Anime Limited)
Genre: Harem, Romantic Comedy,
Studio: Brains Base
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2013
Format: Blu-Ray and DVD (DVD version reviewed)
Language options: Japanese audio with English subtitles and English dub audio
Age rating: 15
Running time: 300 minutes

Score: 5/10