If you have ever typed “anime dance” into YouTube, for the last couple of years the first result you will have found is a beautifully animated end title sequence from Kaguya-sama: Love is War, featuring the fluid motions of Chika Fujiwara, which has been viewed many millions of times. It’s remarkable to think that this sequence, which must have taken an enormous amount of highly-skilled work, only features at the end of one of the first season episodes, and Chika herself is a supporting character in the series.
The main characters are instead Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogane, the top two students at the exclusive Shuchiin Academy, and president and vice-president of the student council. Miyuki is the highest achiever academically in the school and also the president of the council, while Kaguya is from an incredibly rich family and has her own maid to keep an eye on her. Kaguya and Miyuki are in love with each other, but neither of them have any experience of dating. They both have a view of romance that is either warped or accurate, depending on your own viewpoint, believing that love is a battle and the first defeat will be the confession of their love to the other. They both want to be confessed to, but neither want to be the one to do the confessing, because that would make him or her the junior member in the relationship from the outset. The series is built around the idea that each of them try to manipulate the other into confessing their love, or at least showing some desire to be with one another that would amount to an indication of love. Their schemes are often thwarted accidentally by the other two council members: Chika, who is blissfully unaware of what is going on, and Yu Ishigami, their depressed, emo treasurer.
The consensus of opinion in the anime social media group I frequent was that this series is only worth watching for Chika. I can see why she is popular, a bubbly, cute, amusingly oblivious girl, fiercely loyal to her friend Kaguya and with many hidden talents. In the funniest sequence of the whole series, she visits a ramen restaurant, and amazes one of the four “ramen king” connoisseurs of the dish with her culinary skills. I know I’m not selling it well, but it’s absolutely hilarious. But I also loved Kaguya and Miyuki. The premise for the series is both frustrating and brilliant. Ideally I would have liked some resolution by the end of the first season, and for the second season to move on to a different stage of their relationship, but it looks like the maximum mileage is going to be achieved with the original concept. What I can say is that Japanese humour often doesn’t translate well for me, but this series had me laughing more than any I’ve ever watched. Not one single episode went by without a moment or two when I literally laughed out loud. The unseen narrator is a big contributor to the humour, often undermining the main characters with commentary like, “he’s lying!” He’s a perfect example of the value of an omniscient narrator in a comedy series.
There is more to Kaguya-sama than comedy, though. Kaguya is often desperately lonely, highlighting the plight of a child of rich parents who give her everything apart from their love. Towards the end of the series the focus is on the utterly miserable summer holidays for Kaguya, who cannot bring herself to send messages to Miyuki, and is also not allowed to visit the local festival and see the fireworks because her emotionally distant parents are overly protective. Cleverly, when things get really miserable for Kaguya the narrator goes silent for a long time, allowing the drama to play out without comment. In the end, though, this is principally a feel-good series with lots of laughs.
There is a second season, which I will take a look at later this year, and a third season is on the way. That’s great news, because this funny show with its likeable main characters deserves to run and run. RP
Further reading… Kaguya-Sama: Love is War (A Review by Daz) – a very different opinion on this series!