Kaguya-Sama: Love is War – a madcap minefield of passion

Aka Akasaka’s “Kaguya-Sama: Love is War,” is an award-winning romantic comedy comic that has sold over 15 million copies. Garnering praise for its art, humor, and surprisingly rich characters, the series soon found itself adapted for television.

Directed by Shinichi Omata, who is also responsible for the superb “Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju,” the animated adaptation of “Kaguya-Sama” is almost a perfect show. Everything that is right with the original comic is right with it, and everything unique to its production – acting, music, and visuals, is right on the money.

The story centers around two teenage prodigies at a highly exclusive private school – Kaguya Shinomiya (Aoi Koga), an heiress to an absurdly rich conglomerate, and Miyuki Shirogane (Makoto Furukawa), whose working class background hasn’t held him back from becoming the student council president.

These two highly intelligent individuals are not just among the most popular students at the academy, they’re also convinced that the other is infatuated with them, and are slowly realizing the faintest hints of affection they themselves hold.

There’s only one problem – they’re both under the impression that admitting to any degree of non-platonic affection is a sign of weakness. So they proceed to do the only logical thing – participate in a battle of wits to force a confession out of one another.

That might be a hard concept to wrap your head around at first. How many ways can there be to trick someone into admitting their love for someone else?

To demonstrate, this necessitates an explanation of an average “Kaguya-Sama” battle.

Miyuki buys a smartphone and notices that Kaguya isn’t asking for his contact information. He assumes that this is because she wants him to ask first, which would make him the loser in their battle of love.

Naturally, he’s entirely correct about this – it was even Kaguya’s plan to indirectly pressure him into buying a cell phone. What ensues is a back and forth of passive-aggressive prodding, needlessly overcomplicated strategizing, and inevitable embarrassment when it ends up not actually meaning that much in the grand scheme of things.

Stuck in the middle of these escapades are Chika Fujiwara (Konomi Kohara) – the student council’s upbeat secretary who often inadvertently ruins both her friends’ plans, and Yu Ishigami (Ryota Suzuki) – the introverted treasurer who is convinced that Kaguya is trying to murder him. Funnily enough, he might not actually be wrong.

Rinse and repeat a few times, with a few different scenario templates thrown into the mix for good measure. A great recurring bit is the two main characters giving relationship advice to other students despite their utter lack of experience in the matter.

All in all, the comedy is excellent, bolstered by stellar vocal performances from Koga and Furukawa. And the overly dramatic delivery of the narrator – played by Yutaka Aoyama, highlights the absurdity of the proceedings perfectly.

Furthermore, “Kaguya-Sama” looks bizarrely good for a show that’s really just about two stupid teenagers who can’t work up the guts to just flirt. Bombastic visual metaphors and sudden spikes in animation quality are not in short supply.

And despite the series’ main joke being that the “war” between the two leads is pointless and they would be better served just being honest with each other, their relationship ends up making progress over time such that their chemistry shines through even more than it did when they were at each other’s throats.

And to top it off, it has some of the most unskippable intro sequences in television history.

“Kaguya-Sama,” manages to keep things light hearted enough to make the romance between its two leads both believable and heartwarming, while also injecting the trappings and tenseness of a psychological thriller into the cracks for added flavor. 

I’d struggle to think of another romantic comedy whose leads walk the line between being confrontational and intimate as expertly as they do here.

A+, a lovely victory