Nisekoi-volume-1-coverRaku Ichijou, despite being the only child of the head of the Yakuza, just wants an ordinary life. When he was young a girl have him a pendant, and she kept hold of the key, but that was so long ago that he can no longer remember her name or face. Now in high school, Raku’s life becomes terribly complicated when Chitoge Kirisaki, daughter of the underworld crime boss of the Beehive Gang, transfers into his class. Though she is beautiful, Raku finds her incredibly annoying – and she him. However, the two find themselves forced to become fake lovers in order to stop their respective gangs from fighting. Though Raku has a big crush on his pretty, kind-hearted classmate Kosaki Onodera, Raku must continue to pretend to be Chitoge’s boyfriend to stop the Yakuza going to war with the Beehive Gang.

Nisekoi is a romance/harem title that centres around Raku and a group of girls – one of which potentially holds the key to his locked pendant, being the girl from his past who he once loved: Kosaki Onodera is Raku’s classmate and current crush; Chitoge Kirisaki is his fake girlfriend; Marika Tachibana is the police chief’s daughter, and Tsugumi Seishiro is Chitoge’s personal bodyguard. Every girl is carrying a key and distantly recall meeting Raku when they were younger.

As soon as I started to read this manga, it became clear to me that it had taken inspiration from Ken Akamatsu’s Love Hina: a somewhat hopeless male protagonist, a tsundere female lead who has a volatile relationship with him, a colourful cast of respective tropes and the slow, inevitable progression of them all finding their reasons to fall in love with him.

Love Hina was at the high of its popularity in the very late 90s, so I’m not surprised that many readers of Nisekoi don’t remember it, but the two titles are popular for the very same reasons. At its very core, a successful harem title is a very entertaining, light-hearted read. The reader laughs at the hapless protagonist and picks their favourite girl from the ‘harem’ and roots for them to be partnered with him (camps are divided in Nisekoi mainly between Team Chitoge and Team Kosaki, much in the way Love Hina fans were polarised between Naru and Mutsumi). There’s always plenty of hijinks and laughs to be had along the way as the protagonist interacts with each harem member, deepening their relationship.

For me, things are a little bit too samey with Love Hina for me to fully appreciate everything. In particular, Raku and Chitoge are so similar to Keitaro and Naru that I can easily predict how the characters will react. Though the antics are still amusing and the situations are different, I know that Raku will innocently do something to incur Chitoge’s wrath, resulting in her comically kicking him into the sky, or something similarly slapstick with the other harem members. This reaction wasn’t new to me, or unique.

Though I know that this isn’t one of the main focuses of a harem manga, I can’t help put find fault with the logic of the narrative. As things have progressed so far, Raku is aware that all the main girls in his harem have keys that could potentially open his locket pendant. At this stage, you would have thought that the girls would have tried their keys in the lock and finally discovered which of them made the promise to Raku all those years ago. But instead, this obvious conclusion is continually disrupted in order to prolong the story – Raku loses the pendant, or it gets jammed up or some other inconvenient obstacle which results in the girls agreeing to allow the status quo to remain in effect. As a result the manga can continue indefinitely and shift to a ‘slice of life’ setting.

Surprisingly though, having said that, I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed some of the more recent chapters the most. Kosaki’s quiet friend Ruri is one of my particular favourites, especially when she enlists Raku to pretend to be her boyfriend and accompany her on a trip to visit her perverted great grandfather – it was very funny, and yet oddly touching at the same time. Having Marika challenge Chitoge to a bento-making competition, though this grazes the age-old “the girl can’t cook” trope, had some wildly unexpected elements that were actually quite refreshing. This is where Nisekoi really comes into its own and shows that it can stand against other harem giants. It’s such a shame that its main plot and story structure is firmly in the shadows of one of the biggest harem giants of all time.

Nisekoi is not a bad manga – not by a long shot. In fact, it’s one of the most promising harem titles I’ve read since, well… Love Hina. If I hadn’t been reading manga for the past fifteen years, this would no doubt be one of my favourite titles. There are a lot of enjoyable things to be found here. It has some great comic and touching moments, cute characters, and humorous elements… but it needed to be more unique for me, and actually tell a story rather than continually find ways to bring more harem elements into it just for the sake of it.