Anzu Hoshino has three true loves in her life: her cat Momohiki, chocolate, and video games. She’s very much the type of girl who leaves school promptly to get home and defeat the latest boss in her new game. However, ‘Romantic Thriller‘ her new video game, traps her in a nefarious scheme; a little yellow wizard named Riri appears and tells Anzu that she has been specially selected. Her games, chocolate and her beloved cat are to be confiscated until she focuses on her love life and helps the declining birth-rate in Japan. Anzu is, understandably, angry and devastated, and refuses to play into Riri’s evil scheme, but with every new boy that comes across her path, turning her days into a real-life dating sim, can she resist the call of love? Or find a way to get her beloved items back without the blackmail?
Back in the early 2010s, you may remember a series called The World God Only Knows which lasted three seasons plus some OVAs. I reviewed the first two seasons for this site (sadly we never got the rest of the series in the UK) and the reason I mention it here, is because the trailer for Romantic Killer, in a small way, reminded me of The World God Only Knows. Both have video-game centric protagonists, who have no interest in having a love life, until otherworldly elements intervene to force them into romantic situations. That’s the reason I started watching Romantic Killer; I went into it completely blind and expected to just have twelve episodes of silly fluff; instead, I walked away from the series completely surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
Romantic series fall apart if the romantic interest in question is not interesting; Romantic Killer has three main love interests, as shown on the poster, with a few more that pop up later. I won’t spoil the extra guys but luckily the three main male love interests all bring something different to the table. There’s Tsukasa, the first love interest to bump into Anzu and the one developed the most as his story arc ends up serving as the season finale’s conclusion. He comes off as the cold, reserved, almost bad boy type of the school, but slowly warms to Anzu over the course of the twelve episodes. Next, we have the childhood friend, Junta. His character is very sweet but also one of the weakest aspects of the series; however his eventual backstory reveal over the course of the series is interesting to watch as we learn what the wizard’s powers can accomplish. Then we meet Hijiri who’s very wealthy, the type who tries to throw money at the people he’s dating. He comes in rather late into the series and has less to do in the final episodes, but the final act of the season shows a growth that feels natural and in-character for him.
As to Tsukasa and the final story arc, I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it’s very rare for a storyline of THAT type to be associated with a MALE character AND be taken seriously. Yes, the final few episodes tackle a dark subject matter that is normally reserved for female characters, but here not only is it effectively foreshadowed and gives Tsukasa’s reserved nature new context, but it’s treated as seriously as it should be, and that’s why it works. If his trauma had been treated comically or any other way the whole series would have fallen on its face, but here it ends up being one of the best parts of the show because they weren’t afraid to go there AND have the characters tackle it head on.
Romantic Killer is a comedy that turns a lot of the dating sim, otome game and romantic tropes on their heads. It’s quite messed up that the wizard Riri uses their powers to not only throw random boys into Anzu’s path but also messes up their lives to keep them on the path, giving Anzu no way to avoid them. For example, Riri causes a flood in Tsukasa’s apartment and has all the other apartments taken off the market so that he has no choice but to move in with Anzu. Riri then seemingly plucks one boy from out of nowhere to be Anzu’s childhood friend, so he knows everything about Anzu but she knows nothing about him! But what makes it all fun to watch unfold is seeing Anzu work on the fly; she’s not your typical dating-sim heroine who has little to no personality, she’s very headstrong and self-confident. When Tsukasa (the one with no apartment) hits rock bottom, Anzu is there for him as a friend, whilst refusing to be swayed by any of the typical ‘dating-sim’ scenarios Riri sets up like suddenly tripping into his arms or falling on top of him.
Even though the series reminded me of The World God Only Knows, they’re not really the same series with gender inversion. The World God Only Knows is about a boy who’s obsessed with 2D girls in dating sims, has no interest in real-world human beings, and is forced to use his gaming skills to help capture escaped souls from Hell. So, it was more of a hero’s journey for him; he had a problem to overcome – the call to adventure – and grew as the series went on. Romantic Killer (based on the manga by Wataru Momose) however, has a protagonist who’s a bit more well-rounded and less smug when it comes to other people. Anzu loves her video games, but she has interests outside of them (cats mostly), a loving family and friends she would defend with her life if they were ever in trouble. I did worry at the beginning, when Riri first took away the video games Anzu loves, that the anime would tumble into having a message that to find love you need to give up your nerdy interests (similar to the trap that Real Girl barely avoided) but luckily Romantic Killer doesn’t do that all; in fact one boy fell in love with Anzu through their mutual love of games and another tries to buy Anzu’s love with games, so it’s great that Anzu’s nerdiness is seen as a part of her character, not something to ‘fix’.
Are there any drawbacks for this series? For me there’s two, one is that Riri’s powers are quite inconsistent. At one point they say that they can’t change human emotions for Anzu’s journey to find love, however I find it hard to believe that Anzu’s parents suddenly decided to move to another country and leave Anzu to completely fend for herself without SOME emotional manipulation. Also, there’s the ambiguous ending; the show wraps up a few plot points but leaves a few things open, hoping for a Season 2, however at the time of writing, the manga has ended at four volumes, so there’s no more material to cover.
Animation is provided by a very small company called DOMERICA, so small that they only have a handful of credits to their name, including the The World Ends With You animation series. Overall, it’s very brightly coloured (like the manga which is published in full colour throughout) the character designs stand out and the comedic elements all hit too – there’s many times when Anzu pulls a random face to get her point across and they nail each expression every time. They also do a good job of the different styles as well; they use 3D models to demonstrate the video games/typical dating sim scenarios and lush 2D for the characters, both doing their jobs right.
English dub-wise, relative newcomer Deneen Melody does a very good job with Anzu, keeping up her with fluctuating, high-energy voice across the series, and also Jason Griffin as Tsukasa; he’s very well known as the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog from 2005 to 2010 and has done some anime, but mostly around boy-centric series such as Yu-Gi-Oh! and Beyblade so it’s nice to hear his voice in a romantic comedy and hitting it out of the park. [A word of praise for the excellent Japanese voice cast too, especially the versatile Mikako Komatsu as Riri and Rie Takahashi as Anzu. Ed.]
Romantic Killer ended up surprising me a lot; I went in just expecting some rom-com filler on Netflix but ending up not only really invested in the characters but also really hoping for Season 2. Is the series worth a Netflix subscription by itself? Probably not, but if you already have Netflix and this series hasn’t come up on your recommendation feed yet, then definitely give this series a try if you love rom-coms with a twist.
Romantic Killer is now streaming on Netflix; it’s available in Japanese, English, Polish, French and many more audio and subtitle options, depending on your region.