I loved the first season of Love is War so much. Just putting that out there so we all know where we stand. It was one of the shows that really got be back into anime, and definitely the one that got me into reading manga. The second season of this high concept romantic comedy does something I see shows that have made it do and start to move away from the concept that got it picked up in the first place.
This isn’t always necessarily a bad thing.
I don’t know if there is an actual term for this phenomena, but I’m making my own one up: Premise Amnesia. There are a ton of romantic comedy anime and manga out there, so obviously a ton of them need to pitch some unique, high concept premise to get themselves picked up.
In Kaguya-Sama’s case, it’s a series about two incredibly wealthy and/or talented high school students, being groomed at the finest academy in Japan to become the next ruling class of the country. And the pair of Shinogane and Shinomiya are the best of the best; the student council present and vice-president respectively.
They’re also hopelessly in love with one another and far too tsundere to admit it to anyone. Thus this visage of perceived snobbery, classism and elitism comes crashing down when you realise these characters are all just a bunch of dumb teenagers with the same dumb teenager problems that everyone had at that age. Although they treat it all in an extreme way.
The format of the first series generally followed either Shinegane or Shinomiya plotting some overwrought scheme to force the other into a position where their feeling would be thrust out into the open. Framed as a series of competitions, not by them, but by the boisterous narrator who’d give helpful context to the reasoning behind the schemes, and often how unnecessary they were.
Almost every time, these plans would come crashing down around them due to their own hubris’s or the involvement of the agent of chaos that is Chika Fujiwara.
While most of the series is played for laughs, there is a genuine romance bubbling up between Shinomiya and Shinogane, one that becomes less veiled in pretence as the pair do become closer. And one that ends on a fantastic high in the final episode of season 1 in my opinion.
Thus I eventually find my way back to talking about my initial statement for this review: Premise Amnesia. As a series like this becomes popular and grows, there is only so much the mangaka can do to keep the same gag that got the series going fresh, at which point the story starts to create off-shoot plotlines and focuses more on the supporting cast.
At a certain point in this series, the romantic war games between the primary two characters just melted into the background, and the stories of the supporting cast started to take the limelight. At which point, the very high concept that grabbed the audience’s attention in the first place becomes a secondary element for entire story arcs, seemingly forgotten. Hence; premise amnesia.
The thing is though, this isn’t always a bad thing. If the series has done a good enough job ingratiating us to it’s characters and their stories it hardly ends up mattering. At that point, we’re strapped in for the ride, willing to take on board anything that happens involving these dumb kids we’ve come to love.
The vast majority of this series actually follows the introduction of Miko Ino in the story arc following Shinogane’s re-election campaign as the student council president, and then the revelation of Ishigame’s past and why he’s such an outcast. Followed by his personal growth by getting past and enjoying life rather than being a gloomy shut-in.
After the conclusion of which, I think I understand the “Ishigame: Best Girl” memes now, because he is best girl. The moment where he meets Shinogane for the first time, who bring hims out of his funk he’d been in for his final years of middle school is the most romantically charged moment of the entire series, complete with the dramatic guitar lick that kicks in whenever anyone makes a baller love interest move.
It’s both a great character growth moment and perfectly silly at the same time. As a side note, I love how Shinogane’s facade of being the perfect president is always on the edge of crumbling, as shown by when he makes his dramatic “Go to hell, Dumbass!” “apology” note for Ishigame, the marker bleeds through the paper and leaves a stain on the desk afterwards. Fantastic little touch.
And so, this second season of the series is much less about the romance between the two leads, because at this point, they’re more trying to hold themselves back from one another than actually trying to trick the other into confessing, instead it’s about this group of friends go through their high school lives and their high school problems. Albeit a much more overblown and over dramatic iteration of these problems.
Thanks to it’s high concept getting people on board, the story has shifted and the Love being warred over now isn’t just the one between all of the characters and their relationship with one another. Ishigame and his feelings of self worth, Ino and her personal isolation, Hayasaka and her love/hate relationship with her master.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m up to date on the manga and the romance comes back in a big way, but it also takes its time to really focus and grow the other characters are an equal clip with the main pair. While every episode is still framed in the same way, with the excitable narrator and announcement of whoever “won”, the battle of the confessions that got the series going is more an underlying plot element than the focus.
And that doesn’t matter, because in the end, the premise is just there to grab your attention, everything else is the the filling, which is the best bit. I’m on board for this series with whatever it throws at me in the future. It’s super silly, weirdly relatable and for a show as outlandish as this is; feels pretty true to life in a lot of ways.