Japanese Title: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen
Related: Kaguya-sama: Love is War season 2
Similar: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
Watched in: Japanese
Length: 12 episodes
- All characters are great fun
- Visual creativity makes paying attention worthwhile
- Defies genre norms
- Top tier opening song and sequence
- Lacks a strong finish, even for a season
Kaguya-sama Love is War is the perfect antidote anime to watch after Naruto’s Great Ninja War. What an uplifting show. Contrary to the violent title, Love is War fills one with joy at the comedic antics of these lovers in denial. It follows two students so competitive in nature that neither is willing to make the first move in their relationship, a relationship they aren’t even aware of.
He, Miyuki, is of a poor background and notoriously stingy, but is also the top student in school and holds the position of council president. She, Kaguya, is of a family so wealthy that it rains money on their estate and she’s an excellent student, though still second to him. They are the perfect couple. Everyone knows it except for them.
What starts as a heated rivalry, where both parties do everything in their power to force the other side to make the first move in any minor dispute, soon turns into a stubborn romance. These two lock horns more than competing bighorn rams. Remember that thing you used to do as a kid where you and another kid are holding something, and you refuse to let go because it means you lose. Lose what exactly? Nothing. Letting go first means you lose, and losing is unacceptable. These two are like that about everything. And I love them for it.
I had low expectations going into Love is War. A high school rom-com about a couple that refuses to communicate? Conflict created by a lack of communication in romance is one of the worst tropes. However, taking that trope to a comical extreme morphs the conflict from eye gouging stupidity to sidesplitting hilarity.
One episode has them arguing over where the council should go for an excursion: beach or mountains. He insists on the camping in the mountains – much more romantic (the astronomic wordplay in his fantasy of how she will finally break and confess is priceless). She insists on the beach – he will see her in a swimsuit and confess immediately! Back and forth, back and forth they go, refusing to budge. Then he’s reminded of bugs, something he can’t stand, and is about to change sides when Fujiwara, student council secretary, airily mentions that if they are to go to the beach, she will need a new swimsuit since she has grown in the last year. This reminds Kaguya of her own flat chest – of course Miyuki will fall for those bouncing fun bags! Change of plan: Kaguya is now pro-mountain! They swap sides and the stalemate continues.
It’s just great. Every episode had me laughing. Furthermore, the structure of having three scenarios per episode keeps the pace moving at a clip where no joke drags. If this had been adapted a decade ago, they would have stretched a scene per episode and killed the humour. This is the ideal format.
Speaking of Fujiwara earlier, she is another defiance of the genre. Well before a dear reader requested Love is War for review, I had seen memes about this character as well as her ending dance. Didn’t know which anime she came from. My impression was of that overly cutesy but actually annoying side character from every high school anime. Turns out the fan content didn’t do her justice. To my surprise, she is a fun lovable character within that archetype. She’s the version done correctly. The side story where a ramen snob takes her for some ramen normie because of her ditzy countenance is perfect. Never has eating ramen been such serious business. I loved her within one episode.
I can say as much about any of the main trio. On paper, they are the clichés you have seen many times before, yet they are almost the opposite of one’s expectations in practice.
A key ingredient in making this simple premise work so well is the relatability of the characters’ personal conflicts. He has many jokes related to being poor; she has plenty related to a rich and sheltered upbringing. For instance, she had such a sanitised childhood that children’s slang for penis, like “wiener”, has her rolling on the floor as the most vulgar thing she’s ever heard. I used to be like that (I wasn’t rich – just raised in a different society), though one wouldn’t know it looking at me now. As outlandish as these scenes are, there is a relatable core to each of them. You can witness their turmoil and say, “That’s like me!” or “I have a friend like that.” These characters have genuine weaknesses that work to the theme and fun conflict of the narrative.
Love is War is an anime type of anime but doesn’t simply throw whatever random nonsense at you in the hopes that something sticks, relying on you going, “It’s random, but that’s just crazy Japan, I guess, so it must be genius.”
If I have to give you a flaw in this series, it would be the ending. It near falls into that trap seen in 90% of anime romantic comedies. The serious final episode. You know what I’m talking about. The series so far has been comedy every minute of the way untroubled by serious drama, but then as if to inject depth (which it never needs), the comedy loses all humour in favour of drama that tries to make you feel something. Most anime comedies that avoid this do so by having no ending at all. Not ideal either. Love is War, thankfully, doesn’t go full drama. Episode 12 is still funny. But it breaks structure for a dramatic narrative that doesn’t even pay off. It offers no progression, as it needs to keep the battle going. A bloody fake out. We end on the weakest episode.
There is another season on the way in 2020, which, if it is the end, hopefully delivers a better conclusion. There is every chance that this next season could bump Kaguya-sama Love is War to my highest rating tier. I find plenty to love here. The characters, including the supporting cast, the humour, the romance, the conflict, and the visual flair are all so much fun!
Art – High
On premise, this sort of anime would sport bland visuals, as seen in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. Having no fantastical elements often results in a series with nothing worth looking at. Love is War is the opposite. It employs creative visual compositions and techniques to keep your eyes on the screen.
Sound – Very High
Fantastic script. Fantastic acting. The main three in particular play so well off each other. Love the narrator too. They even managed to hire someone who can speak good French to play a French character. Miracle! And as if that wasn’t enough, Love is War has quite likely my favourite opening song of 2019.
Story – High
Two students that like each other refuse to be the first to admit their feelings. A fun ride throughout that only lacks a strong finish, which the next season may fix.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. Kaguya-sama: Love is War is so much fun that I would hate for you to miss out.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)