A Couple of Cuckoos

3 out of 5

Directed by: Hiroaki Akagi (chief ADR), Yoshiyuki Shirahata

covers season 1

At the end of the season, I had to check to see if that was the end, because… nothing had been resolved. And throughout A Couple of Cuckoos 24 episodes, after about the midway point, I kept thinking I was done with the show, after accepting that it was a lot of things that aren’t my scene in anime: tons of ogling fanservice; sister-love fantasies; harem fantasies. 

…And then the show would display a surprising swerve of self awareness regarding those tropes, something that it did a good job at early on, hence earning my viewership up to that point; this is alongside some quaint mysteries bubbling beneath its surface – is something other than what we realize going on? – before a character will make some trolling comment suggesting we’re taking things too seriously, which is also rather an endearing quality… until it goes right back to ogling and sister-loving. 

A Couple of Cuckoos title refers to the apparent habit of cuckoo birds to raise an egg that’s not their own; for Nagi and Erika (voiced by Kaito Ishikawa and Akari Kitō, respectively), a seeming chance meeting one day corresponds with news they’ve separately received from their parents that they’re both to be married off to some chosen suitor. Of course, they soon discover that that’s to each other, and it’s classic romcom odd couple stuff: he’s studious and thrifty; she’s rich and shallow. The title takes relevance in that they were switched at birth, but their respective parents, having realized thay, decided to stick with the swap, eventually marrying the two off 17 years later so that the whole family can stay together, and if you think that doesn’t make much sense… yes. 

This is what the show intriguingly plays around with, while also dodging out of a standard romcom arc where the odd couple comes to love one another, instead going in for something more complex: the two are committed to their separate paths (she’s an instagram star; he wants to earn the affections of the smartest girl at school), and they start to actually support one another in those regards, while acknowledging the unevenness of not really wanting to get married, but enjoying the attention of the other. It’s a weird, somewhat unindulgent contemplation on… just being friends. 

But again, it then dives deep on panty and boob shots, and harems, and sisters. Amidst that, the show still weaves in that odd awareness: Nagi’s sister, realizing that she’s not actually related to him, starts to reassess their bond. And while that drifts into aforementioned tropes – which, to me, are not enjoyable – there are also some compelling thoughts and questions that drift through, that the show doesn’t just automatically take as license to be 100% tropes and boobs at all times (just, like, half the time). 

As we get to that first season conclusion, which isn’t a conclusion at all, it underlines the off-kilter trolly nature of the whole series up to this point, which has been funny, and interesting, and gross (again, given my anime preferences) in equal amounts, but that’s rather an accomplishment: i was never hate-watching A Couple of Cuckoos; I was always curious where the heck it was going, and what it was trying to say. The answers are likely nowhere and nothing, and here are some boobs, but the uncertainty it allows regardring that – the self-awareness it occasionally shows – is enough to bring me back.