In the game of love, the person who admits their infatuation first allows the other to assert their dominance. That's the theory behind Kaguya-sama: Love is War, the story of two teenagers who are madly in love with each other and refuse to admit their love to the other in fear they will be forced into the weak position in the relationship.
The over-the-top romance centers on Kaguya Shinomiya, daughter of a billionaire businessman, and Miyuki Shirogane, a poor boy whose commitment to school has made him one of the best students in all of Japan. They are part of the student council of an elite high school, two teenaged politicians investing all their time into their school while circumventing admitting their emotions. They instead engage in Machiavellian mind-games and shenanigans to try and get the admission they so desperately seek — which of course, never works.
Generally these two character types, the elite student and the rich ice princess would be uninteresting tsundere's, forced into the secondary character position and loved or reviled by the fandom based on whether that archetype is their thing or not. But Kaguya-sama does not subscribe to archetypes. Both Kaguya and Miyuki are built into well-rounded and multi-faceted characters who put on the cool, uncaring face but deep down yearn for the other and to break free of their situations. As you work through the series you grow to appreciate how gosh-darn cute they are together and not entirely mind that they should just admit their love. I mean, there wouldn't be a series if they did.
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But it's not just these two that make the show what it is. Chika Fujiwara, the best character in the series, is also a member of the student council and the kind of scatterbrained, happy-go-lucky counterpoint to Kaguya and Miyuki that works perfectly. Her dynamic with the two is hilarious, always getting in the middle of their romantic machinations. Kaguya hates her but loves her at the same time and anytime she's on screen it's sure to bring a smile or laugh.
As the anime progresses we meet other students and members of the student council and it goes from being little skits focused on whatever hare-brained scheme or situation Kaguya and Miyuki get into and begins to focus much more on bigger events. Season one is more episodic while season two has a school council election and a sports festival, as well as some deeply touching character moments with one of the members of the council perceived as a weird shut-in.
This is what makes Kaguya-sama such a joy to watch and so much more interesting than the majority of rom-com anime out there. There's an attention to character that so many anime neglect for the plug-and-play genericism of established character tropes. Anime fans have all seen tsunderes, shut-ins, and moe-blobs ad infinitum. Being able to take those tropes and build them into a three-dimensional, memorable cast where every character feels like an integral part of the whole and adds something more to the comedy and drama is masterful.
This also extends to the story and pacing. While the show manages a skit about the particular personality of those who wear boxer-briefs it also can pivot into a serious dramatic episode without missing a beat. Again, this goes to show just how well-written the series is.
If that's not enough pure perfection — the animation is downright gorgeous with memorable character design and an irreverent sense of direction that has so many great sight gags.
And the music...oh man the music. The opening themes are so good, with season two having one of my favorite in recent memory. In fact, watch that opening to get an entire sense for the show. It's got a perfect song, it tells a little story that offers up a slice of what you're in for and describes each character, and does everything a good opening should do. No falling through the sky or running or standing in the falling cherry blossoms. Just a minute-and-a-half idea of what the series is all about.
I watched the dub because I am a disgusting monster who will watch a middling dub rather than an amazing subbed version because I grew up on the worst 90's dubs and have no qualms with them. Thankfully, Kaguya-sama's dub is among the better I have ever heard. The voice actors are really into their roles, which goes double for the narrator who deserves some kind of award for how perfectly he executes every single line of dialogue.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War is winding down a third season right now and it's worth watching no matter who you are. Whether for the romance, the comedy, the serious drama, or just because you like the characters, Kaguya offers so much in such a tight, well-written, and hilarious package. I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best comedy anime of the past decade. It's hard not to miss the characters once you've caught up, and hard not to migrate to the manga section of your local bookstore just to see the further adventures of Kaguya and Miyuki.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War is available on Crunchyroll.
Sean Newgent is a producer for KGUN 9. Sean graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. While at ISU, Sean wrote movie reviews for the paper, anchored and produced student newscasts, and was nominated for a student Emmy for broadcast film reviews. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Twitter.