How Love and Lies Remains a Shallow Romance Despite its Premise

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Love and Lies is an anime that I was relatively interested in when it first came out at the beginning of last season. The first episode caught my attention with its backstory based on a very real problem facing Japan today: the declining birthrate and subsequent aging population. Its an issue I’ll go into in more depth later on, but suffice to say it’s an issue that can make or break a Japanese Prime Minister depending on how they handle it. This anime took this highly relevant and contentious issue and decided to use it as the backbone of their story — and they failed. What was set up in the first episode as a romantic drama surrounding a governmental mystery became a poor excuse for a romantic and harem anime. It brought up issues that could have made the story more interesting, but failed to capitalize on them. Honestly, its one saving grace is that Liden Films did a great job on the animation.

In this alternate Japan, every person receives a notice at the age of 16 that tells them who their assigned wife or husband is. The story specifically follows Yukari Nejima who has been in love with his classmate Misaki Takasaki from a young age. On his 16th birthday, Yukari decides to confess his love to her minutes before his notice is supposed to arrive. And minutes before that notice, Misaki returns his confession. Strangely enough, when Yukari gets the notification on his phone about his future wife, she is listed as Misaki. However, when agents show up with his hard-copy notice, his assigned wife is listed as another person — Ririna Sanada. When he meets her, though, Ririna is so taken with his love story they she allows him and Misaki to grow their relationship under her watchful eye.

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The story is originally based off a manga by Musawo Tsumugi currently being published by Kodansha. It was picked up for animation by Liden Films and simulcast in the US by Amazon’s Anime Strike. Liden Films is a fairly new studio, but has been responsible for some pretty great animation over the last few seasons — from Poco’s Udon World to Akashic Records of a Bastard Magic Instructor (regardless of whether the anime itself was good in the latter case). I have nothing to complain about when it comes to the animation quality of Love and Lies. There are moments where the direction and color design are really good. The character designs are on point and the opening has a fairly catchy song by Frederic titled “Kanashii Ureshii.” As much as I don’t like the show, I found myself humming the opening song days later. It’s catchy and I give props to Liden Films and Frederic for their work on it.

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My main problems stem from the story itself as I mentioned above. One of Japan’s major problems the last couple decades is its declining birth rate. It is so important, that just after securing his place as Prime Minister for another term, Shinzo Abe announced that his two main priorities would be North Korea and Japan’s aging and shrinking population. Reasons behind this decline vary from the accusation that young people just aren’t having enough sex, to women who put their careers ahead of families, to the absence of regular work that offers stable benefits (you can find one source here). The end result is the same however: Japan will lose 20 million people by 2050. They’re in a precarious place that could have detrimental effects on their economy and future in the long run. So you can see why I was interested in seeing where Love and Lies might take its premise, but in the end, it was only used as a jumping off point for a fairly typical romantic drama.

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The first episode is one of the most important parts of the anime simply because this is where its premise is explored the most. We get to see a society that’s underlying structure is fundamentally different from ours and young students who position themselves to stand against it. Yukari, Misaki, and some of the other students in his class all form a pact to never marry the person they’re assigned to, and Yukari basically rebels against his government in confessing his love for Misaki. These points can be seen as the perfect foundation for a show that could turn into something different, willing to go deeper than your average romance. However, what we get is a basic star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet story that let’s its background premise slip further and further away. After a few episodes, we see Yukari come to actually like being with his assigned partner, falling into the typical societal expectations of him. We also see the other members of the anti-marriage pact get pulled into stable relationships.

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What we also don’t see is any kind of punishment for Yukari and Misaki for their side relationship even though it’s made clear that the government officials assigned to their case know full-well what’s going on. There is some question over whether Yukari will get a black mark against him in terms of getting into the school of his dreams, but as we come to the end of the story, that seems less likely by the minute. This lack of punishment means lack of drama or investment. If there is no risk to Yukari and Misaki’s relationship or no risk to Ririna for helping them, how does the story intend to keep up the drama and keep people watching? Well, it does what any romance of its kind does — it employs overused tropes to lengthen storylines and keep the romantic payoff further away.

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One of these tropes is the addition of multiple romantic interests, one of which coming from a person of the same sex. It’s here where I think Love and Lies truly fails. What could have been an interesting look at how different sexualties are affected by government regulations around sex and marriage, turns into poor excuse for drama in order to “spice things up.” To set up a premise in which certain people are going to be excluded no matter what and not look deeper into it it just a huge waste. We get a sense of what he could be feeling in those moments where he is faced with his sexuality and love for Yukari, but never anything to the point where you feel like he might be truly suffering or excluded. Additionally, it would have added more interest to the story if we could see both sides of the coin on many of these marriages. Where are the ones that fail? Where are the couples who are forced to go to therapy or actually do reject their marriages? Through the whole story, all we see is happy couples, like marrying and having kids should be Yukari and rest of their goals.

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In one final rant, can we talk about that ending? I really don’t know if I’ve seen such an unsatisfying final episode — well I probably have, but bear with me. The story of Love and Lies centers around Yukari’s indecision when faced with two women he finds himself in love with. Suffice it to say, the episode ends with Yukari running into the arms of both Misaki and Ririna (who are coincidentally dressed in wedding gowns). For a premise built off of fighting arranged marriages to be with the person you love, it came as a real cop-out to see this anime not want to make that commitment. We all know that this decision is just going to create more problems for all of them in the future: from trying to explain this to the government to any jealousy that may pop up with them in the future to Misaki finally getting her notice. It just doesn’t work.

Overall, I’m sure you can tell I wasn’t at all pleased with how this anime turned out. I could talk about some more things — like its semi-positive discussion of sex, the government official who almost forces Yukari to rape Ririna, and the way more than coincidental appearance of said government official right when he’s needed — but this review has gone on long enough. If you need a pick-me-up after this rather negative review, I recommend checking out my post from yesterday about Made in Abyss. Also feel free to leave your comments below letting me know what you thought about Love and Lies.

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