Imagine the scene. Me, with my expensive uniform and dashing hair, behind the counter as always. I, Decim, am working at my extremely classy bar. It’s downtime, no customers around. My assistant makes me a delicious burger for lunch, but I am interrupted before I can eat. The ominous rumble of the elevator and the heralding ring of the bell announces that patrons have arrived. The deceased.
Anime shows, two of them, are in my bar, and I’m tasked with Judging them. I have been shouldered with the grave responsibility to decide where they belong…
Such a preposterous event took place on that fateful day.
And then it happened again.
In total, it happened three times that week.
[ShadowZael: Decim, are we rating shows arbitrarily now? Not only is that incredibly reductive, but it undermines the entire point of Death Parade, remember it was all about not making binary judgements, instead seeking to fully understand… all that good stuff. Also, wasn’t it actually deciding between Reincarnation or the Void?]
Case 1 — OreGairu Zoku and Nisekoi:
So, here we have sequels to two popularly established “RomCom” franchises. However, these two shows bear few similarities whatsoever, on what axis could I possibly Judge them?
OreGairu Zoku was bold in its adaptation choices, series composition writer Suga Shoutarou chose to very noticeably excise more lighthearted scenes from the Light Novel source material and solely allocate time to the more serious ones. This resulted in a show that possessed a very clear focus and a very different tone in comparison to its prequel. The first way that’s made abundantly apparent is with the total visual upgrade the new studio, Feel, has given it. From character designs to backgrounds to animation, direction and lighting, the story of OreGairu felt right at home with this more mature look. It fit the darker turn the tale of its characters were taking, as the show zeroed in almost exclusively on the existing incisive social and psychological commentary and mindset of our main character, Hachiman.
With this shift came a much more streamlined, cascading format, where instead of each episode having a new case being taken, approached and solved with comedic and not-so-comedic mishaps along the way, we instead get freely-flowing dramatic arcs. The tension between our Service Club members was pulled taut starting from the moment of Hikki’s false confession in episode 2, which both caused Yui a great deal of pain, and opened a vast fjord between the two of them and Yukino.
As Hachiman writhed and struggled with the now-becoming-ever-apparent consequences of his prior actions, he was not helped by the presence of the ill-natured Iroha, oblivious Orimoto (Preach it!) and harassing Haruno. The series became more and more tense, more and more painful to watch, as we witnessed the cast making bad decision after bad decision. Only from our knowledge of the characters from an outside perspective, and via analysis of their underlying motivations were we able to grasp the full extent of their emotional crises. OreGairu Zoku is notable for managing to be as compelling as ever, while also expecting its audience to infer a lot. This confidence in challenging its viewers was also mirrored by the way the show challenged Hachiman himself.
As the oppressive, tangibly heavy atmosphere came to a breaking point, our “hero” Hachiman broke down himself, coming to his self-reflective conclusion that he does value human connection, that he doesn’t think himself above social interactions, that he wants to strive for something genuine. With the thematic weight of a season-and-a-half’s worth of minutely detailed characterisation and gently encouraging narrative-push forming the fuel to back up this moment, OreGairu finally delivered its phenomenally resounding and resonant message. A compassionate, uplifting message, and with that emotional release came a relief in tension to match.
We suddenly returned to a more familiar feeling show from episode 9 onwards. As we saw our characters working together, having fun and acting in concert once more, we got not only the sense of how much they have changed since we first saw them, but also of how much more room they still have to grow. The penultimate episode was clever to place the cast in a similar position to how we initially discovered them back in season one– making Valentine’s day chocolates, with this situation it became more than noticeable that friction was slowly building up again. Yui’s been bottling up her feelings towards Hachiman for a while now, and no-one wants to make any moves to acknowledge any of their romantic feelings. Haruno sees right through these band-aids, ones hastily plastered over the cracks in the relationship of this trio, cunningly pointing out to them, that they aren’t quite “fixed” yet.
While episode 8 might be considered the thematic climax of this series, the final, last, episode 13 is very explicit in working as a thematic conclusion, of sorts. It shows that there is no finality, through literally placing the characters on a Ferris wheel, we learn that change doesn’t come so quickly and easily: growth (and regression) are an ongoing process that we will continue on the path of throughout all of our lives, as we go around and around in circles, even well into our later years.
However, in spite of that, or perhaps because of that, the life these characters have is worth living, worth suffering through for those all-important moments of intimacy and togetherness they share. As Yukino makes her request to her two dearest friends, a request in response to the ever-present background atmosphere of threat her family has had on her since the beginning, we close the curtains. We don’t need to know the nature of this request, we are not expected to assume this is a final request, by any means. What we do know is that Yukino, Hachiman and Yui will continue to fight, continue to support each other, continue to live, even though their story, their youth romantic comedy, is wrong as expected.
The second season of Nisekoi, is on the other hand, a totally different story, I mean that by the fact that it doesn’t even have one! Nisekoi Colon, also known as Nisekoi: or Nisecolon is an example of a sequel which I think fails to live up to its predecessor in every way.
Nisekoi may not be a series that is especially known for its “plot”, but the first season did feature a lot of nice one-off character stories and multi-episode arcs. Despite “nothing happening” in the more tangible forward-progression sense, Nisekoi made that nothing happening into a regularly entertaining and comedy-filled experience, with some extremely endearing moments and notable character development scattered throughout. This was aided by the lovely, colourful and ever-changing visuals each new episode rewarded viewers with, keeping the series feeling fresh and exciting even through the most banal of RomCom clichés it dipped into.
The second season however, does not have that benefit. The show is marred by production issues throughout: we got lots of barely-animated episodes with extremely flat direction and consistently off-model characters, all depicted with lacklustre, lethargic visual timing, resulting in poor, lazy comedy, and well, just failure to engage me at all. It’s true there were some gorgeous episodes mixed in, the first and last ones especially, but that was the exception rather than the rule, the inverse of what was the case in season one.
The lack of visual cohesion is matched by the lack of narrative cohesion too. A lot of the episodes in Nisekoi: took the form of two halves, each adapting a manga chapter, often two separate stories with no connection to each other. The general pattern of all these stories took a rote, repetitive structure of misunderstanding followed by “comedy” followed by cheap, foregone resolution. Fair enough to be read as a snappy manga chapter, but excruciating to actually sit through. A wiser adaptation would have cut these chapters entirely, and reached ahead to adapt the more interesting arcs and chapters of the later material. As it is, this was a season that didn’t really do anything, progress anything or move any variables around.
If OreGairu Zoku shows us how a sharp focus can channel the existing strengths of the original into an even better sequel, Nisekoi: is an apt counterexample for doing the exact opposite. It’s an awkward, aimless collection of bad episodes with occasionally acceptable ones, a roulette of poor-chances. Thus forming an overall impression that can only result in my inevitable verdict:
- OreGairu Zoku — Heaven
- Nisekoi: — Hell