You watch one cute anime girl compilation and YouTube’s video recommendation algorithm will never let you forget it. On the upside though, the relentless barrage of anime clips brought Kaguya-sama: Love Is War to my attention. And never before have I fallen for a show so hard so quickly. Despite the fact that the show seems to stray from its own premise almost right away.
Thanks to it’s silly starting premise and a very catching opening, I ended up watching the whole series so far in an evening and it quickly charmed me on a level I was not expecting. The overly dramatic nature of characters and their constant game of one-upsmanship against one another is offset by unexpectedly sweet it can be at times.
Love is War takes place within a prestigious school in Japan, where only the children of the rich or the best and brightest attend, and our main cast are seemingly the best of the best. We mostly follow the members of the student council, namely, the titular character Kaguya Shinomiya; daughter of a prestigious family and vice president of the student council. As the show’s title suggests each episode details a number of vignettes in which Kaguya and the president, Miyuki Shirogane constantly do battle in a series of mind games and traps based on social norms of their station.
Despite the perceived high stakes oftentimes associated with Japanese high school in anime, the underlying reason behind these two butting heads is simply because they’re crushing on one another hard, and are both too pig-headed, prideful and completely clueless to the point where they can’t just come out and admit it.
The show totally charmed me almost right away. Despite stereotypes dictating that both of these characters should be horrible people, they’re really not. They’re just two kids with a lot of expectations dumped onto them given their position within society. And while they certainly put on the airs of being elitist snobs, in reality, they’re sweet people who struggle to express themselves honestly.
A show based around this entire character dynamic would usually frustrate the hell out of me, the never ending trope of “Will they or Won’t they” is a constant source of annoyance in most shows, but especially anime. It’s one of my biggest criticisms of what’s happened to Uraraka’s character in the most previous series of My Hero Academia. However, it works for me here, thanks in no small part to the agent of pure chaos that is Chika Fujiwara.
A boundless source of cheer and optimism, whose combination of cluelessness and evil genius consistently throws a wrench into the overly complex plans of Kaguya, often saving a Shirogane from what was previous a perfectly constructed trap of social stigma and genuine sabotage. However, while the show started out as a series of elaborate mind games in which either Kaguya or Shirogane would have their plans blow up in their faces, the focus on this has lessened as it went on. Instead, becoming more about the two of them just trying keep up appearances, and not losing face in front of the other in the process.
Slowly, the cast has grown around the main three, and increasingly the focus of each of the three stories that make up a single episode become more about the characters dealing with the pressures of their station in life. Shirogane’s need to work harder than everyone else and excel at everything to make up for to his poor family and Kaguya’s sheltered upbringing alienating her from other kids her age and a normal growing up experience, making her seem distant.
The episodes that focus on the two main characters actively trying to make the other express their true feelings have become increasingly rare as the series goes on. Which isn’t the worst thing, as those first few episodes in which they were going at one another helped establish their excessively dramatic personalities, which make the more mundane character stories work all the better as the show goes on.
It’s got to the point where I simply like the characters. Kaguya’s ability switch murderous intent for cute and bubbly on a dime, and Shirogane’s quiet desperation at fulfilling his role a president combined with his explosive relief as keeping up the facade by the skin of his teeth. Even the supporting cast is strong, Chika is a joy no matter what she’s doing, and Kaguya’s maid being even more manipulative than she is. Although it’s not perfect…
The introduction of Yū Ishigami in episode 6 threw a bit of the spanner in the works, adding an element to the show I didn’t totally gel with. Maybe it’s because he reminds me of myself at that age, in a way that dig up feelings I’d rather not think about. But his gloomy nature combined with his constant wallowing in self pity and lackadaisical nature doesn’t add to the cast dynamic in a positive way for me. Sure his depressed nature is just as “extra” as everyone else on the cast, but scenes that focus on him are not of a tone that works for me, akin to kicking a dog when its down.
Still though, it’s a really cute show, full of characters that have have me positively charmed. I just can’t help but think that the premise surrounding these two drama queen characters was a ploy to get me interested before peeling off and becoming a more generic high school comedy show. I mean, if that was the case, it certainly worked on me. Even the narrator has an energy which makes even the most basic social interaction seem like a duel to the death.
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War is a show that could very well have a limited lifespan, as its jokes might eventually begin to ware thin, giving way to my frustrations surrounding the two main character’s inability to express an honest feeling for one another. But as of right now, Chika’s bright, smiling nature, Kaguya’s Tsun face and Shirogane’s waxy, panicked, sweaty complexion are keeping me watching.
At the end of the day these two idiot kids are so damn cute that I can’t help but be swayed, even if its nature as a series of vignettes can make episodes hit and miss. If you’re completely invested in two characters battling wits and trying to outsmart one another, be aware that that isn’t what this show actually is, despite the title and opening credits saying the opposite. There is a lot to like here, even if it is misleading.