Content Warning: accidental groping, blackmail with false sexual assault claims, incest
What’s it about? 16-year-old Umino Nagi and Amano Erika were switched at birth. When they finally meet, their parents inform them that in order to let both sets of parents be in both kids’ lives, they’ve decided the best solution is for Nagi and Erika to get married. But Nagi already has a crush on his academic rival, who couldn’t be more different from Erika.
Here is a tip: if you want to endear me to your trash gremlin heroine—something which should not be hard, given my record—then probably the last thing you should use is a one-two punch of “filming a fake suicide attempt” and “threatening the hero with fake sexual harassment claims.” Because I’ll tell you, I’m just not gonna come back from that even before you start dangling incest in front of my face.
Cuckoos comes to us from the series composer behind AniFem faves Kaguya-sama and Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, which I suppose goes to show that even a talented writer can only do so much when they’re adapting an existing property. And in fairness, moments of this premiere do function as a rom-com. When Erika and Nagi end up on a date as she schemes to undo her arranged marriage with a yet-unknown fiancé, the characters settle down into something like recognizable human behavior and I could see the vague outline of a decent character drama.
There’s even comedic mileage in the whole “arranged marriage” thing if it were played as an absurd play on the mountain of series that attempt to mine shock value from allegedly controversial stepsibling romances where the characters haven’t met until they’re teenagers anyway though nothing will ever go as hard or as weird on that front as Marmalade Boy).
But those handful of effective moments get drowned out by the enforced wackiness of hiLARious accidental boob honkage and shouty comedy that lands with an ear-popping thud because the show as a whole isn’t high-octane enough to support it. The jankier moments feel all the more incongruent because there’s such a heavy gloss on the visuals, like someone cracked a fart in the middle of a costume drama. It doesn’t help that the camera indulges in that kind of “I’m not touching you” not-quite fanservice that involves lots of lovingly rendered pans but technically no panty shots that I can ignore in a well-written production but becomes an inescapable eye-sore when the story isn’t up to snuff.
It would, I think, be salvageable if this were a straightforward romance title that intended to really commit to letting us get to know our two leads’ hidden depths. But Cuckoos got bored of that before it had even finished setting up its own premise, and so committed instead to being a wacky love quadrangle spinning around the male lead instead. I cannot bring myself to feel even a shred of curiosity about Nagi’s academic rival Hiro, who apparently wants to be Red Sonja’d on the field of intellectual battle. But the real kicker is the episode’s closing minutes on Nagi’s sister—his real one, the one he was raised with—reading a “not technically related!” romance manga and thinking about her brother. Strike me down where I stand if I’m gonna spend twenty-four episodes putting up with that shit. I’ll get my fill of “bossy rich redhead and awkward tall guy” from Toradora, thanks.