Nisekoi 2 – 02

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Unlike the kind yet shy Onodera and the confident, aggressive Marika, Tsugumi and Chitoge are actually pretty similar characters, with strong tsundere tendencies. But while Chitoge seems to be coming to terms with the fact she has real feelings for Raku, Tsugumi is still in denial like a past version of Chitoge, but with the added wrinkle of guarding the girl who is with the guy she likes.

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Tsugumi is a professional, so she can live with Chitoge and Raku as a false couple, especially since she’s unaware of Chitoge’s own feelings for him, leaving us with a love triangle in which Chitoge has the distinct advantage. But it’s also because of Tsugumi’s profession, and her past in America, that Raku ends up in the middle of a different triangle: one of score-setting and acknowledgement. Tsugumi’s challenger: her fellow hitman and former partner, Paula McCoy.

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Paula has been watching Tsugumi for a while now, and believes she’s gone soft, and has come to finally beat the girl who always beat her in jobs, pay, efficiency, and everything else one keeps score of in the hitman business. She also rightly suspects Tsugumi likes Raku, though considering Tsugumi’s reactions, Paula would have to be pretty dumb not to suspect that!

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But Paula sees Raku, and guys in general, as Tsugumi’s kryptonite, and gets her to accept a challenge before she knows what it is: whoever steals a kiss from Raku wins, and if Paula wins, Tsugumi goes back to the U.S. Cue suspension of disbelief, because we all know Tsugumi isn’t going anywhere in the second episode.

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I kinda also suspected neither Paula nor Tsugumi would actually lock lips with Raku, who aside from delivering some solid compliments to Tsugumi early in the ep, has very little to do other than not get shot by the resulting spray of bullets. Sure enough, Tsugumi gets Raku into position but can’t pull the trigger on the  only weapons that matter in this challenge: her lips.

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Paula gets away and ties Raku up in an abandoned warehouse (why is no one renting that place?!) where Raku tells Paula flat out he doesn’t want his treasured first kiss to happen under such circumstances, and even though Paula claims to not care when, where and with whom her first kiss is with, Raku protests for both their sakes.

The debate gives Tsugumi time to stew in the suffocating dread of knowing somewhere out there Paula might be kissing Raku, the guy she likes even if she won’t admit it to herself or anyone else, until she finally blows, instantly  pinpoints Paula’s hideout, and scared the bejesus out of her by fully unleashing the “Black Tiger”.

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With Paula thoroughly subdued, all that stands in the way of Tsugumi’s victory is that kiss, and she creates a workaround by touching Raku’s lips than her own, thus “stealing a kiss from his lips” without her lips ever touching them. Paula is in no position to protest, scared as she is Tsugumi might do to her what she did to a giant concrete pillar (don’t mess up that cool warehouse!)

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Tsugumi may be aethetically the most masculine of Raku’s girls, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have an adorable feminine side, nicely demonstrated on her good-winner lap, as she embraces, comforts, and praises Paula, giving her the acknowledgment she wanted all along.

Before returning to the U.S., Paula asks Tsugumi if she’s really okay with Raku dating the young mistress, and Tsugumi is responds with a very professional, warm domestic bodyguard smile, claiming not to know what Paula’s talking about. It’s kind of sad, but what else can Tsugumi do right now?

Paula discovered a lot more sides to the Black Tiger she thought she knew, and also learned that her skills haven’t dulled; on the contrary, she’s tougher than ever. And part of that toughness is having to perform all her official duties while bearing the pain of not being in Raku’s crosshairs. I’m sure Paula will root for her, and this week at least, I was in her court, too.

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Nisekoi 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

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To be honest, I didn’t NEED a second season of Nisekoi, but this first episode gradually sucked me in and now I’ve totally bought in anew, emerging late as the best striaght-up romantic comedy I’ve seen this Spring. I accomplished this by delivering more of what we loved about the first season, but also by subverting expectations along with Chitoge’s.

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The premiere also struck a good balance between re-introducing the series premise, and later focusing on one girl exclusively. I say “good” because the first third of the episode was a high 7, tops. The locket is back in play as a plot device, but it inexplicably still can’t be opened, which seemed a bit of a cheat. In any case, the significance of its contents have grown far less important compared to the development between the various characters.

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I preferred if the show moved on from the damn locket, and to its credit, it does at least move on in this episode. CHITOGEISTHEBESTGIRL is a popular refrain on the interwebs, and after a Chitoge showcase like the final two-thirds of this episode, it’s pretty damn hard to argue with that group of smushed together words.

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We’re given unfettered access to every thought and insecurity in Chitoge’s strawberry blond head, from her newly-acquired self-honesty with the fact that yes, she is in love with Raku, to the anxiety and suffering she endures trying to get Raku to notice changes she makes to her appearance in order to engender compliments.

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She’s well aware, as we are, how dense Raku can be about such things, and she was hoping against hope that he’d surprise her, but it’s nothing doing. The episode also does a great job accentuating her changes, be it her lip gloss, shampoo, nails, or ribbon (she thankfully stops short of wearing special panties…this ain’t Punchline!). This makes Raku look all the denser and more idiotic for failing to notice any of it…not to mention make us angry at him for frustrating Chitoge so.

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We wouldn’t be so pissed at him if we didn’t know exactly how hard Chitoge is trying and how futile it all is, which is underscored by Nisekoi’s trademark tremendous close-ups, showing Chitoge’s face in increasing levels of contortion and torture at the sheer cluenessness of this boy. When she asks “why did it have to be him”, I can’t help but agree with her, at least after all this. Chitoge may be being petty and superficial, but that’s her goddamn right, as far as I’m concerned. Call me old-fashioned if you must!

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Was Nisekoi simply going to torture Chitoge for the final two acts and keep the wall up between Chitoge and Raku? No, and that’s what really made this episode for me: the subversion of all of her expectations. It’s all well and good to paint a picture of Raku as a villainously clueless twerp when we’re constantly in Chitoge’s head.

But not only did Raku really notice the gloss and the shampoo and the nails, but he also noticed a lot more, like when she was hungry, or when she changed her lunch choice from beef to ham (he is a chef, after all). If anything, he’s acting more like a dutiful husband, a domestic partner; something even deeper than a casual boyfriend, since he’s so comfortable with her he assumed he was beyond dishing out embarrassing compliments.

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Perhaps he’s learned that even someone he can be himself with wants a little bit of superficial praise now and again, just for the heck of it…because, well…just look at that face! And maybe he’ll keep his eyes open in the future for things such as the new ribbon he failed to notice. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Neither was this episode, but it was pretty great nonetheless.

Now, let’s see if the show makes us shift our allegiance to another girl next week, as it tended to do its first season!

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