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AKA: 恋愛フロップス
Genre: Eroge-inspired harem sex comedy/science fiction drama
Length: Television series, 12 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently licensed by Sentai Filmworks.
Content Rating: 17+ (heavy sexual content and innuendo, sexual assault, nudity, fantasy violence, adult themes)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Maybe just play an actual visual novel.
Notes: An original Japanese anime television series produced by Kadokawa Corporation, animated by Passione, and directed by Nobuyoshi Nagayama.

Love Flops


In the near future where mankind has been endowed with such blessings as banana toasters and fortune-telling V-Tubers on the morning news, ordinary high school student Asahi Kashiwagi transfers to a new school and on his first day finds himself tripping face-first into a series of embarrassing interactions with four young women and one young man of various nationalities who he soon discovers are not only in his homeroom class—one being his teacher—but that all five are in love with him and have been selected by his father as potential candidates to be his future bride (or husband), from which he must choose one.

Or so it seems.


Just put the meme here: “Dead Dove: Do Not Eat.” That’s it. Send tweet. It’s Joever. I don’t care how dated this introduction winds up being because this godforsaken show will almost certainly age more ignominiously than any bit of hackneyed snark I could put here to eat up space so that I don’t have to talk about it in detail. But I do want to talk about this one in detail. For some reason. Maybe because there’s something intrinsically fascinating about a show which is funny on a meta level and occasionally very funny by accident but rarely if ever anything resembling funny on purpose, all despite its desperate attempts to be both that and sexy (and poignant, and maybe even thought-provoking), which… dear lord, are there even words?

Don’t answer that. You and I both know that there are many, many words. If this were to be posted in the long-fallow Adults Only section of this site, I could say several more words which I think would be thoroughly appropriate here, but sadly, even in the uncensored versions of these episodes, no actual sex occurs, so the furious and profuse swearing will, sadly, be kept to backchannels, personal social media, and ranting at random passersby. But I digress. I will digress often. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

I do not subscribe to the school of thought which sees “ironic” enjoyment as any different from sincere appreciation save for the element of social sanction and the use of that scare-quoted qualification as a deflection. I sincerely and unabashedly enjoy Garzey’s Wing precisely because its catastrophic failure of artistic intent results in a work which is, however unintentionally so, entrancingly nonsensical and absolutely hilarious. The factor of what one might call pleasure orthogonal to intent is not exclusive to technically “bad” or “failed” works of art, for that matter: Consider queer readings of works with ambiguous or questionable textual representation of the subject at hand—a topic relevant to this show in ways which we will get to (oh boy, will we)—or the phenomenon of shipping culture as a whole even as it surrounds works which by most metrics ought not lend themselves well to such things. What I’m arguing here, going full Barthes and Sontag for you all in a review of a truly dreadful ecchi-goes-sci-fi series, is that the audience brings as much creatively to the work as the authors in certain respects. Knowing precisely what I brought to Love Flops would require a degree of introspection in which I am not prepared to engage within the confines of a traditional anime series review, but what I took away from it based on the synthesis of this cocktail of predispositions and the show which I beheld was a mix of grim mirth, irritation, numbness and vague disappointment.

Most of the aforementioned mirth and overt irritation in this series comes in its first half, the other shoe dropping in the back half of the seventh episode, a shot I called while watching the opening episode with two close friends for which one of them still owes me a soda. And what an opening episode it is. A blow-by-blow would seem like a deranged parody of the introductory “accidental pervert” scene mandatory in a certain type of ecchi series, compounding mishap and misunderstanding one atop the other over the course of twenty-four minutes with reckless abandon, from the brash American girl finding herself deprived of her undergarments by a garbage disposal robot which has mistaken her for trash (a rare joke which at least partly lands as intended) to our hero witnessing the token bishounen in the cast being sexually assaulted by a large dog only to later attract the wretched beast away from his harried femboy quarry and, it is implied, suffer yet worse indignities himself. Yes, really. What’s more, all of this ends with our boy being accidentally flashed during a dramatic love confession following a school-wide apology tour.

I am mildly disappointed that I was, somehow, not intoxicated for any of this. I am not intoxicated now. This is simply What I’m Like, at least when I talk about this show.

Following the second episode’s establishment of the plot as such, there is a surreal escalation across the subsequent focus episodes on each girl in our hapless everyman protagonist’s prospective harem, each something of a sendup of established genre tropes given a risqué and blindingly stupid twist, each more outrageous than the last. I would like to focus on two, one because it is exasperating in a way which hit a nerve in a rather peculiar way, and the other because, while it also fumbles its landing rather irksomely, it reaches such heights of delirium as to teeter on the fine edge of meriting a strong recommendation to those of you who delight in the absurdly wretched.

The first is the episode on Ilya, the silver-haired Bulgarian token boy candidate. Or rather, it is about Irina. You see, folks, Irina’s father very much wanted a son, and as his dying wish demanded that she become the one he’d always wanted, and she’s lived as a boy, under the name Ilya, ever since. We do find this out over the course of the episode—the framing device for which is simply a slightly wackier-than-average variation on the standard harem hot springs aside—but the way in which the opening flashback scene is framed, and indeed how Irina’s secret is treated when Asahi ultimately discovers it, the manner in which he reassures her, feels… different from the textual presentation. Indeed, even the abundance of gags surrounding Irina’s increasingly absurd attempts to pass as male when put in various compromising situations have an odd ring to them, as if being held back from veering into slightly more transgressive territory than their already censor-baiting content. Put more bluntly, although this is obviously rank speculation, it very much felt watching it as if at some point early in the writing process the intention was that Irina would be explicitly transgender, but that for whatever reason, an executive decision was made to cut this fact while preserving the overall structure and comedy (such as it is) of the intended plot. Maybe were I not trans myself none of this would have occurred to me, or at least would have bothered me less; furthermore, it would perhaps be a lateral move on the part of the writers to have gone with this hypothetical alternate take on the character given that the tone of the episode is already what a friend of mine described as, well, chaser-y—if you know, you know, and I’m sorry. But the sense that something a little too “edgy” was so pointedly swerved away from in a show which from the first episode has been so utterly shameless leaves a peculiar, bitter taste in one’s mouth.

There’s also a tengu I guess. Put a pin in that.

The second is the last of the proper focus episodes, centring on Karin, a German exchange student and model. Karin’s secret—as indeed all girls in this sort of eroge and therefore this sort of harem anime must have a secret; it’s de rigueur—is that she’s a magical girl given powers by a race of sex-positive alien familiars sporting condoms for ears and anal beads from their behinds in order to protect humanity from the impositions of prudish invaders from their own realm, the Contraceptimension, who on their arrival target the male population of the city with giant pink chastity belts which steal the genitals of those clamped and are bound to explode according to a massive ticking time bomb hovering overhead. In order to charge up these powers to save the city and ultimately all of humanity from the scourge of the Ball Takers (in English, no less), Karin and Asahi abscond to a magical van where they are expected to get it on post-haste.

This should require no further comment. Disappointingly, however, this truly wildly trashy premise delves into some really uncomfortable territory here and there in how Karin’s behaviour is framed, both in where it does not draw lines where it ought and in where it moralises where it really ought not. It’s a bit of a buzzkill, frankly. But that’s where the problem comes in with Love Flops as a total package: For as depraved as it gets, it often feels like it’s failing to fully commit to the bit, and that only becomes more of an issue after the big reveal.

And really, a big reveal was inevitable, right? The degree of escalation with each focus episode, culminating in that truly hallucinatory sixth episode, and yet everything is largely accepted almost as if it were all simply business as usual? The put-on was obvious from the jump and only grew more so. The first half of the seventh episode is perhaps the most rancid example of Love Flops in full sex comedy mode despite relatively little of note happening on paper, yet it is also subtly disconcerting and strange, ramping up the absurdity and grotesquery until it suddenly pulls back and…

It’s the end of a long day at the beach on summer break. Asahi is walking a little ahead of the girls, all present except for the first he met, Aoi, the most reserved and “normal,” who has yet to arrive at the beach house. They are talking about how they would like things to be like this forever. Asahi smiles. He looks back.

No-one is there.

Aoi is at the beach house now. She claims to have no idea what he means about there being other guests. The direction of the ensuing scenes is immaculately tense, with little music and careful scene composition. The show has up to this point been technically quite solid, visually appealing if unremarkable, yet only now with this shift in content and context does it feel as if the staff can really express their full potential in creating what is, for half an episode, an incredibly effective horror anime, and to whit one that would perhaps not have been so effective without the increasingly tasteless and ridiculous buildup.

Which is not new. One truly bizarre parallel between Love Flops and the last show I covered, this year’s stylish but ultimately unsatisfying samurai action-thriller Revenger, is that while each is an original anime project with no ties to existing properties or franchises, each feels on some fundamental level as if it were a mediocre adaptation, specifically a mediocre adaptation of a visual novel with a certain degree of dating sim DNA in its system. In Revenger, the prospective routes are sexy rogues with dark pasts trying to make their way in a world which seems to be losing touch with its spirit; in Love Flops, the name of the game seems to be a particular kind of genre subversion or satire, popularised in the West by the likes of Doki Doki Literature Club but common in Japan for far longer and associated with the loose artistic movement known as denpa-kei (worthy of its own much longer discussion elsewhere), where the initial goal of romancing cute girls with variably implausible or fantastical problems and backstories is gradually undermined by some element of strangeness or dread which ultimately blooms into a metafictional conflict which recontextualises the prior events of the narrative while pushing the story in an entirely different direction. This is exactly what Love Flops does in its latter episodes. Unfortunately, it does not do this particularly well.

At this point, if I should become excessively vague due to exhaustion with this subject and some tiny concern for the experience of those brave, deranged souls who choose this one for their next bad anime night, well, I’m sorry. Maybe it’s better this way. It’ll keep things that least bit shorter, however much of a joke that is. But while a lot happens on paper, it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot to say.

The episodes after the series pivots abruptly to being a story about virtual reality, the development of artificial intelligence, the nature of grief and the timeless power of love are, by and large, not tasteless or ridiculous. There is something of a return to the absurdity and grotesquery of those earlier episodes near the conclusion of the series as it becomes more action-oriented and blatantly melodramatic, with a few truly hilarious moments of unhinged bathos which had me in absolute hysterics, but before we get there, things become curiously plain, significantly less actively “bad” than what came before but far more quietly tedious and, frankly, a whole lot less compelling. There is, initially, something refreshing about this abrupt change of pace, but by the end of the eighth episode things are a sleepy grey haze, and by the end of the series proper, with all of its sound and fury signifying nothing, I simply felt… numb to it all. In between the moments of unintentional comedy and attempted returns to the relentlessly trashy status quo established by the series’ slow opening act, there are a few moments of genuine, stirring pathos rooted in the characters and their relationships. I am a massive sap. In a better series than this, maybe one of these would have made me cry. In the context of the final episodes of Love Flops, I was merely annoyed that they weren’t in that hypothetical better show. Irritation, numbness, vague disappointment. What mirth is to be had is grim indeed.

God, what a sad place to find yourself ending a rant like this.

While writing something like this every now and then is good clean fun and perhaps serves a purpose in properly contextualising what one actually finds enriching or valuable in what one loves—that was Schopenhauer’s argument in favour of experiencing bad art, for whatever it’s worth—I honestly try desperately to avoid this sort of rabid ranting even about things which I loathe. And perhaps curiously, I do not, in fact, loathe Love Flops as such. Thinking of something as bad is very different from hating it, and I find Love Flops almost too interesting a case study in misplaced writing priorities to truly hate it. It’s also worth noting that, in principle, I do not actually dislike harem series or anime sex comedies: I thought Cat Planet Cuties was thoroughly charming when I watched it some years ago, and on a purely technical level that show is far more flawed than this one and certainly infinitely less ambitious. But you know what? Cat Planet Cuties has heart and absolutely zero pretensions about what it is. It’s here for a good time and it’s happy to be here without a whiff of insecurity. If we are to continue with this anthropomorphism, Love Flops, to the contrary, feels like it wants to impress you, to make a scene, to get you to look it in the eye and tell it how clever it is.

Well, you had my attention, all right. But my respect is an entirely different matter. As one who is also too clever by half and prone to bad jokes, there is always time to stop.

And somehow in all of this I managed to almost entirely skirt around the banana motif. What even was this show?

For the morbidly curious and, preferably, thoroughly inebriated.Julian Malerman

Recommended Audience: I mentioned that at one point the main character is molested by a dog, right? And the sex shop-themed magical girl parody? You get where we’re at. What is presented here, while stopping short of actual sex, is fairly relentless, to the point that while this is generally the reverse of my stance on the matter, the occasional action scenes, heavier emotional beats and single notable onscreen character death in the latter part of the series feel absolutely trivial by comparison.

Version(s) Viewed: Digital source.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Love Flops © 2022 Passione, Ren'ai Flops Production Committee.
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