From The Director Of Madoka Magica Comes The Breakout Anime of 2014! Raku Ichijo is an average high school student. He also happens to be the sole heir to the head of a Yakuza Family called the Shuei-gumi. 10 years ago, Raku made a promise... a secret promise with a girl he met. They promised one another that they will 'get married when they reunite'. Since then, Raku never let go of the pendant the girl gave him.
Raku Ichijo loves Kosaki Onodera but Kosaki thinks of him as a friend. Ichijo is the son of a Yakuza boss and life for the most part is pretty good with the occasional headache from his family. One day, to prevent a bloodbath between his father's gang and an American gang who've moved into town, Raku's father agrees for the American gang leader's daughter, Chitoge Kirisaki, to pretend to go out with Raku for the next three or so years. Chitoge is none to happy with this since she's already gotten off on the wrong foot with Raku by literally landing on his face. In the middle of all this is a locket that Raku wears in honour of a promise he made to a girl when he was five. The girl in question has a key that will unlock the locket and identify her to Raku. Guess which girls in class have a key of some sort? So Raku likes Kosaki but has to go out with Chitoge.
The show by SHAFT animation and directed by Naoyuki Tatsuwa & Akiyuki Shinbo is based on the manga for the same name by Naoshi Komi and shares the same kind of manic fun and visual gags that are a staple of the genre. While you'll not learn anything new about romance, friendship or the pitfalls therein (Toradora did it so much better than anyone else), Nisekoi keeps your interest by being honest and earnest in its approach to our lead characters.
The fun at the centre of the show is how Raku goes out of his way to help people, even Chitoge after his initial dislike for her abates, and how he frequently falls into a pit with his friends and girlfriend. While a bit clueless about people's feelings, he tries his best and frequently wins people over with his concern for their welfare. This doesn't stop Chitoge from really getting frustrated with his antics. He really gets slapped, pinched, thrown and punched by her while trying to avoid being killed by Chitoge's chief retainer and by her bodyguard, Seishiro Tsugumi. Chitoge knows he's in love with Kosaki since he shared the fact with her but she often gets jealous of he and she spending time together. This however manifests as Raku getting hit rather than Kosaki feeling the heat. Chitoge is a half-Japanese girl who spent a lot of time in America so her written Japanese is weak and she sometimes struggles with the spoken word. It's really sweet watching her struggle with her written assignments and thankfully, after we beg someone to help her, Raku steps in.
The little quiet moments of these ten episodes is where I felt the most happiest. The part where Raku realises that Chitoge is terrified of the dark or the part when she whispers an apology in English hoping he won't understand so she doesn't have to drop her fierce attitude are the good moments. They're made better by the fact that Raku is a good enough character to not know what was said or felt but that he understands enough to not hurt her by prying further. The same goes with his dealings with Tsugumi or Kosaki and they with him. I like shows that respect their cast enough to have mishaps but not make a joke or a plot point out of what is clearly something that is upsetting for the characters.
His willingness to help her despite constantly being at loggerheads is not a new trope in anime. In fact, most of the rom-com's in the canon thrive on this concept. Where it works better in Nisekoi is that Raku's internal compass won't let him abandon Chitoge while his heart belongs to Kosaki. Slowly over the course of the episodes does Raku learn how to appreciate Chitoge while following an unsteady course with Kosaki. Kosaki herself starts the show clueless to how Raku feels but over time develops her own feelings for him which she is even more nervous to express. Along the way she and Raku get help and problems from their own friends with Shu being Raku's friend and a total pervert who thinks he's helping Raku every time he sets up events that result in our hero getting a belt. Kosaki has Ruri Miyamoto who is one part detective and one part leg breaker for Kosaki. She wears glasses and is quiet. Anime cliché demands she be the Machiavellian schemer of the group and thus she is. Before she gets stale, the story introduces Seishiro Tsugumi into the mix who is by far and away the best side character in the cast. A girl who dresses as a boy who is totally in love with Chitoge, Tsugumi is determined to get rid of this interloper for Chitoge's affections. It helps that the chief retainer of the Beehive gang, Claude, sends her to see if Chitoge and Raku are really in love or not since Tsugumi won't have anyone get between her and her childhood pal. Of course, I'm really not spoiling anything by saying that Tsugumi ends up getting a little crush on Raku despite her best efforts (ye gads, how is this boy still single?...oh, yeah, locket and key girl thing). So the show at its halfway point has a decent cast and healthy respect for the audience to keep us our toes while we watch Raku fly from crisis to crisis and trying not to get killed or worse: caught by Chitoge!