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Love and Lies Review

In Love and Lies, to combat the falling birth rate and ageing population, the Japanese government introduces the Yukari Law which partners people up based on a large series of calculations and observations that are conducted from birth: intelligence, personality, likes and dislikes, shopping habits, and so on. When both eligible partners are 16 or over they receive a notice from the government informing them of their arranged marriage.

For Yukari Nejima, being assigned a wife is something that he really does not want to happen as he is already in love with one of his fellow classmates, Misaki Takasaki. With his sixteenth birthday looming, he resolves to confess to Misaki, calling her out to a park near their old elementary school on the eve of his birthday. Despite Misaki returning his feelings, their happiness does not last long – the name on his hand-delivered marriage notice reads Ririna Sarada, not Misaki Takasaki. The series follows the lives of the trio, along with Yukari’s best friend Yuusuke Nisaka, as they try to figure out their relationships with each other and fool the government so nobody receives the rumoured penalty and social stigma for being in a failed Yukari Law partnership.

This plot oozes potential for a social commentary on modern Japan as there is a lot of ongoing debate about how to solve the problem of the ageing population in real life, and it could certainly present an arranged marriage system as a potential solution, but it never really pulls it off with any conviction; whether that’s showing the value of true love or indeed even reflecting on how LGBT+ people are affected by the law. Instead it squanders the entire concept with some bizarre decisions in certain plot points and a focus on a haremesque romance.

This all begins with the execution of the delivery of Yukari’s notice, which is so unbelievable that it makes the show incredibly hard to get into.  Initially, Yukari receives an email that states that Misaki is his chosen partner, but in order to show that something is wrong here, it acts like Yukari’s phone has been hacked and then abruptly shuts it off. It’s clear that things are a bit dodgy, but it’s played as over the top and even if there had been a virus attached to that email, it’s just not how things work in the real world. There’s no suspension of disbelief here that can back up what it’s trying to show, and what’s even more weird is that two government officials turn up immediately afterwards, seemingly knowing exactly where Yukari was, to hand-deliver his notice at exactly midnight. It all feels contrived and deliberately set up and is just frankly preposterous. I do get what it is trying to do in establishing  that there’s something amiss and trying to drive tension by asking the question: “Who is Yukari’s real partner?” but it’s too unrealistic for me to believe in it.

Despite the rocky start things do get better from the second episode onward (apart from one blip in the middle) as it goes through three or four separate story arcs over the course of the series. Each set of three or so episodes kind-of tells its own self-contained story, but they continuously build up on top of each other as the character relationships develop. There’s nothing too surprising here,  though, as it takes a standard slice-of-life, romantic comedy approach of showing things like a camping trip, a school play and a hot spring retreat. Oddly enough, these are actually the best parts of the series (particularly the events from around Episodes 8-11) as they are the best at developing the characters through the actual event happening at the time and the writing just naturally lets them have fun and act like the teenagers they are.

It’s when the series focuses on the detail of the arranged marriage that it gets bogged down and seems overly weird. For example, one of the episodes in the middle of the series sends Yukari and Ririna and a couple of the side characters off on a government-sponsored sex education course. While you’d question why they aren’t getting taught this at school anyway, particularly when the Yukari Law is so ingrained in society, it gets particularly skeevy when the couples are forced to stay the night and are basically pressured into having sex by the government officials. While it is shown in a negative light and Yukari and Ririna are clearly uncomfortable with the situation, it once again breaks that suspension of disbelief with its lack of realism and pulls you out of the show.

Thankfully that is the worst of it and after that sequence it becomes a better series as a romantic drama, although it does tend towards harem territory in the way that the protagonist is fawned over by two pretty girls and no choice is made as to which he wants to be with – and it feels like if he could have both of them, he would.

It also doesn’t help when Yukari as a protagonist isn’t very compelling and feels like one of those characters that has been designed so you can fit yourself into the story. He’s weak, boring, kind to a fault, a bit of a wet blanket, and the only attribute worth speaking of is that he is obsessed with ancient burial mounds. Oddly the show is self-aware of this, with many characters commenting on how bland he is: “He has no composure but he’s nice” is one phrase that is used and just fits him to a tee. There’s no real development of his character over the course of the series, and he spends most of it in a strange limbo, constantly worrying whether the affections he’s feeling for one girl is hurting the other. That is, of course, true and, with no aim to tackle the issue, it sets up a stalemate amongst the three for the entire series where they are terrified of making a decision for fear of stepping on each other’s toes.

Misaki’s problem is that her personality is often locked away behind a steely, emotionless persona and she doesn’t have much of a link or anything in common with Yukari other than when he shared his eraser with her in elementary school which made them realise their feelings toward each other in the first place. She becomes a bit of an enigma, often hiding something, not wanting to fully commit for one reason or the other and appears good at hiding her weaknesses. She opens up more later on in the series and actually begins to show those weaknesses, but we still don’t know a lot about her as the show takes more time to develop Ririna instead.

What we see in Ririna is clear development as she slowly falls in love with Yukari (although I can’t fathom why) over the course of the series and how her relationships with the rest of the cast allow her to gain self-confidence and break out of her shell. She’s shy but has a strength that Yukari doesn’t have in that she faces her problems head on. She definitely earns her place as my favourite character in the series and I like how she’s a lot more open with her emotions; making her easy to read makes her easy to empathise with, particularly as she faces that stalemate of a dilemma where she wants Yukari herself but doesn’t want to drive Yukari and Misaki apart or harm the friendship she has with both of them. While the other two characters try to worm their way around it, Ririna is the only character to actually voice this concern and earns my respect for it.

Yuusuke meanwhile spends a lot of the series feeling like a third wheel, just tagging along because he’s friends with Yukari, but there is a nice twist to his character that cements him as part of the story, even if it’s just shown once on the off-hand. Yes, he’s actually in love with Yukari as well. While I said previously it had the opportunity to explore how the Yukari Law affects LGBT+ people, it doesn’t make any more of this other than a glancing kiss on a sleeping Yukari and goes nowhere with it. At least we know, but the series tries to frame Yuusuke as a potential partner for Misaki due to how well they get on, much to Yukari’s chagrin (he is annoyingly suspicious that there’s something going on between them, when there isn’t). He does however get a nice arc of his own as the show challenges his inner angst and fleshes him out to more than just someone standing in the background watching everything going on.

Animated by Liden Films and directed by Seiki Takuno, Love and Lies does at least look pretty on the screen. It has a pretty unique art style that really emphasises the character’s big, round doe eyes which really works for the female and more effeminate characters. This does mean a compromise with the male ones with Yukari often looking dopey, particularly coming off worse in the show’s opening where he dashes forward from his desk. A couple of the more passionate kissing scenes can look slightly awkward, like they weren’t sure exactly how to animate so much tongue, but otherwise I have no real complaints about the quality of the animation itself. What I will give them praise for is the costume design, and even if it comes more from the original material, I really appreciate the varied clothing and in particular Ririna’s Lolita-style fashion sense. It unfortunately tails off towards the end as the show starts to exhibit the tendency to put the characters in their school uniforms more often, but at least it does try to show that characters have decent wardrobes.

In terms of sound, the series is good in reflecting the mood and pace of its scenes through its soundtrack, keeping things light during the cheery slice-of-life scenes, then bringing in sweeping strings when there’s a particularly intimate moment. The opening theme, Kanashii Ureshii by rock band Frederic, is slightly annoying and repetitive but catchy at the same time; while the ending theme, Can’t You Say by Roys, is a pretty relaxing pop song. The Japanese voice cast is full of big names with Kana Hanazawa voicing Misaki, Yui Makino voicing Ririna, Shinnosuke Tachibana voicing Yuusuke and Ryota Ohsaka voicing Yukari; and overall it is a good dub and each character’s voice reflects them well.

MVM’s release of the series is available as a 2-disc Blu-ray and comes with Japanese stereo audio and non-togglable subtitles. While the normal speaking subtitles are easy enough to read using the common yellow colour, there is some additional subtitling used for on-screen text for showing emails and texts on phone screens that is in a strange curly font, coloured in blue, that is often overlaid over the original Japanese text and is very hard to read. There are also some Americanisms present like the use of ‘911’ (which isn’t the Japanese emergency number) instead of “call the police”. It contextually still makes sense but it would be better to use language that is more universal. There are no major extras to speak of, just the standard clean opening and endings and trailers for other titles licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

While its core concept could have provided an interesting social commentary, Love and Lies presents us with a haremesque romantic drama with strange execution that pulls its best punches when it’s not actually focusing on the romance. If you can pull through the strangeness of the initial scenario and its more questionable episodes there is something to enjoy here, but I question whether it is worth it for so little pay-off when all is said and done, and I feel it misses the point, if any, it was trying to make.

UanimK

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