What’s it about? Lies are forbidden. Love is even more forbidden. The time is in the not-so-distant future. In Japan, your marriage partner is selected by the government when you turn 16. Yukari Nejima is a 15-year-old boy who lives in a corner of Japan and has never made much of himself. In grades as well as sports, he ranks below the middle of the pack. However, he conceals a passionate love in his heart.
Source: Anime News Network
In an alternate-history version of Japan, the effort to combat declining birth rates (a very real concern there, as you may know) leads to a government-enforced system of marriage where people are paired up based on various factors (grades, family, etc.) for the primary purpose of procreation. It’s the kind of nightmarish, dystopian premise that’s overflowing with possible avenues for pointed social commentary, and Love and Lies… uses it to tell a milquetoast high school romance?
It’s difficult for me not to simply write off L&L as squandered potential and leave it at that. There are so many fascinating stories they could have told with this world—stories about forced heterosexuality and gender roles, about queer relationships, about asexual individuals, about marginalized communities or people who can’t or simply don’t want to have children and how they fit into a society that’s functionally built on eugenics. Instead, we get Yet Another Romeo & Juliet.
It’s by far the least ambitious direction they could have taken the story, so it’s hard to feel anything but disappointment right from the get-go. And that’s to say nothing of the unique, cringe-inducing tone-deafness of a work of fiction built on “isn’t it so sad that these straight people can’t marry the ones they love?” taking place in a country where real-life queer couples can’t get legally married in the vast majority of provinces.
Nevertheless, I’m here and so is the show, so I did my best to accept the premise for what it is and see if there was anything of value in it. Unfortunately, the story itself doesn’t have much of a hook, either. Yukari and Misaki’s Passionate, Unwavering Love is built on that one time in elementary school when he loaned her half his eraser and she thanked him for it. Truly, a romance for the ages. (And never mind the eternal question of why they’d bother to have mixed-gender schools in this world in the first place.)
The characters aren’t much better on their own, either. Yukari is a fairly typical “shy boy with a crush,” defined solely by years of pining. Misaki does have glimmers of being genuinely interesting and perhaps a quiet rebel, as she still hasn’t been paired up with a fiancee despite turning 16 a few months ago, pretends like she doesn’t remember Yukari when they’re at school, and takes the lead in initiating a physical relationship with him. But, again, the romance tends to subsume all her other characteristics.
The series does seem refreshingly honest about how horny all these teenagers are, at least. Many of the other boys at Yukari’s school claim they want to marry for “love” but are called out for really wanting sex, and Misaki pretty much immediately starts snogging Yukari once they’ve confessed their feelings for each other. The soft piano music assures me this is supposed to be romantic, but it’s ruined by anime’s weird obsession with gross make-out spit trails, so instead of feeling moved I mostly just wanted to get them both a Kleenex to wipe that shit up.
Bizarre touches like that icky spit trail and the superficial nature of our main couple’s Deep And Undying Love often leads to L&L feeling more like a parody of passionate star-crossed romances than a proper drama. I don’t think this is its intention, mind you, but it almost works as such. There are also hints of a more intrigue-based story line (Yukari gets a glitching email that pairs him with Misaki right before some random government officials stalk him to a park in the middle of the night and give him the name of his actual fiancee), which may turn this into some kind of Rebellion Against The Man-type story at some point.
Simply put, there are several versions of L&L that exist along various alternate timelines that could be really fascinating, or at the very least hilarious, and if the series decided to pursue those threads in future episodes there could be something of interest here. As of this premiere, though, it’s a thoroughly humdrum “love” story and the very definition of wasted potential. I likely won’t be coming back.