In the continuing love-torn fumbles of Raku Ichijo, he trudges through boyfriend duties with his fake-love Chitoge Kirisaki, keeping the peace between their rival gang families, while falling ever more deeply for his crush Kosaki Onodera. Solving the mystery of the locket and promise to his unknown first love is just as crucial to Raku, even as his common sense says he should just let it go and get with Onodera. But, like the school years we all struggled through, it only looks set to get more perplexing before there’s any kind of clarity.
The beauty of Nisekoi, besides the overexposed dreaminess of Shaft’s distinctive production, is in reminiscing on the back-and-forth dramas, gossip and awkwardness that come with being a teenager. Looking in from the outside you can see your own memories reflected, whether recent or from decades passed, and find comfort in laughing off how critical it all seemed. But also present are the heartbreaks and joys that came in waves and made us vulnerable. Still puzzling over how we ever managed to get through it, we can understand the suffering, elation and confusion felt by all the characters, bringing us close to them through shared experience.
This is all for the better, as Raku being rather self-absorbed in untangling his feelings from his memories, stringing Onodera along all the while, would be infuriating otherwise. All his searching only seems to add to his troubles, as he finds out there is a third potential girl who holds the locket’s key. Marika Tachibana, convinced that he made her a promise of marriage, transfers to his school and professes her unfading love for him since they met when they were five. But her theatrical pursuits only serve to overbalance the tender drama that unfolds between Raku, Onodera and the tsundere Chitoge. As his false girlfriend develops surprising feelings about their relationship, putting strain on her friendships with both Raku and Onodera, Marika is left to muscle in wherever she can, giving a disjointed feel to the tension between the central trio.
But scattered around this pushy development, there’s still enough charm and humour to carry you through to the end. The subtle symbology even begs a rewatch, as the uncanny significance behind a photograph, and the curious suggestiveness of the girls holding the keys while Raku bears the locket, peek out from the art. And as the series comes to its climax with the day of the culture festival, a performance of Romeo and Juliet proves more satisfying than expected. A last-minute cast change, ad-libbed narration and the play’s universal link with our school years grant the final episode thrilling drama, plenty of laughs and a beautiful, nostalgia-conjuring ending.