Kaguya-sama: Love is War

Season One

First things first, let me be clear about something—almost all of what I’ve heard regarding Love is War has been positive, but there are exceptions. I touched briefly during my review of Slime 300 on disingenuous reviewers, specifically pointing out those who make a point of trashing something exceptionally popular no matter how good it is simply so that they can stand out. While criticism of any show—no matter how amazing—is always warranted, blindly attacking something and calling it “overhyped” just because it’s popular is not. That couldn’t be further from the truth; Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen is a show that succeeded because it deserved to, has genuine substance and I absolutely loved every moment of it from start to finish. Now, that’s not to say that the show is perfect or that you’re not allowed to have a negative opinion on it—nothing is for everyone and everything in existence has flaws which can often be subjective in-and-of themselves. I have a tendency when reviewing anything to pick out the specific things that bother me and attack those as opposed to picking the material completely apart and being pedantic, so I totally understand being really annoyed by issues that might seem small to others. Specifically regarding this show’s explosive success, you might argue that the second and third seasons were only made because the first did well, and while that’s true, it’s still only a bad thing if those later seasons were lazily conceived which—from what I’ve heard having only watched season 1 thus far—doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Everything seems to point towards things staying consistently great, so I don’t personally have an issue with the studio making a shit ton of money. Animation studios and the extremely talented people they employ deserve to be paid well for extremely high-quality work—I understand the growing sentiment against giving corporations money at all considering we live in a time where things like Diablo Immortal exist, but that sort-of thing should be judged on a case-by-case basis, not used as an excuse for blind hatred. At the end of the day, talking shit about something everybody universally loves just to try and be unique without any rational argument is just shameful and should be condemned. Now that we’ve got all that straight, I should probably explain what Love is War even is just in case you aren’t familiar with it. Kaguya-sama: Love is War follows the romantic escapades of male protagonist Miyuki Shirogane and female protagonist Kaguya Shinomiya, president and vice-president of the student council for the prestigious Shuchiin Academy. Kaguya is a prodigious genius from the extremely wealthy and powerful Shinomiya Group, and Shirogane is an extremely intelligent workaholic with a reputation as the top student in the nation. Both of them are secretly in love with eachother, but they’re also extremely prideful; neither is willing to show their weakness by expressing their feelings of love, so instead they plot and scheme to force their love interest into confessing. Basically, it’s a romcom. Some might even consider it as being a romcom parody, but I wouldn’t go that far—rather, it does a really good job of expertly poking fun at other shows in its genre alongside general romantic stereotypes, but I don’t think it ever devolves into full-blown parody. Still, Love is War noticeably sets itself apart from most other romcoms by twisting the romance between its two main protagonists into less of an awkward melodrama and more of an elaborate psychodrama! The way in which all of its romantic and comedic scenarios are taken and expertly gamified by the writers is absolutely fantastic—romance in-and-of itself is broken down into its rawest components, resulting in a battle between characters almost startlingly self-aware regarding the actions they are taking in order to perpetuate the conflict between them, totally unwilling to accept defeat even as they acknowledge that they’re equally as bashful as they are prideful. It’s like if No Game No Life got turned into a romance anime, it’s fucking awesome and I absolutely loved it. In addition to being extremely clever and interesting, it’s also incredibly funny; I was laughing out loud almost every episode. The overall direction is fantastic—particularly for the deep psychological stuff—and the punchlines are done so well many of them had me absolutely laughing my ass off! The show’s excellent animation is a driving force for the comedy, and the original soundtrack is pretty solid, thematically appropriate and used brilliantly in every scene with some standout tracks (not to mention the opening song kicks ass). The show’s general structure is similar to that of a skit-based show like Joshiraku—in fact, that comparison is especially apt when you consider that most of what happens in Love is War takes place almost exclusively in the Student Council room, much like how in Joshiraku nearly every scene takes place in the dressing room. Despite this though, it actually has a really good sense of narrative cohesion and actually manages to tell a pretty engaging and interesting story, expertly building up the characters of both Kaguya and Shirogane and making you genuinely care about not only them (whom the story is primarily centered around) but everybody in the cast. Everyone is likeable, and I especially appreciated how even side-characters like Ishigami are treated with a certain level of respect and not turned into complete punching bags. The writers absolutely nail organic storytelling—we see how the characters act and understand who they are, what they stand for and how they got there, and it feels totally natural (even if the characters have obviously been designed to be intentionally over-the-top). I actually feel kind-of dirty even making these comparisons, but there is such a night-and-day difference here between the character of Kaguya and shitty characters of the same general archetype/background like Mei from Citrus and Yukino from Oregairu that it’s staggering. I actually really liked and was sympathetic toward the character of Kaguya, despite being admittedly a little biased against her rich upbringing and background—it does a great job of displaying how a great writer can take almost any idea and make it work well, whereas a poor one can take the best idea in the world and utterly waste it. In general, the show often plays into the flaws of each character, highlighting them intentionally and using comedic skits or bouts of psychological warfare in order to turn those same flaws into points of endearment or even intrigue, it’s expertly done and incredibly entertaining. I’ve seen some absolute madmen try to claim that the characters in this are “tropey” with which I categorically disagree—everybody in this show with any sort-of reasonable presence within the narrative is so much more than their surface-level personality traits, something we’re shown at pretty much every available opportunity the writers were given. Considering how prim and proper the entire atmosphere of Shuchiin Academy is in the first place (especially considering Kaguya’s extremely high-class upbringing), this is one of the show’s particularly good points—it makes a concerted effort to highlight the humanity of its cast despite how out-of-reach they seem on initial inspection. The actual romance part of this particular romcom is mostly great—I thought Kaguya and Shirogane were a great pair of well written characters, I really like their dynamic, and in general Love is War does a great job of writing an over-the-top love story/rivalry while keeping things relatively realistic and grounded in reality. There are genuinely great romantic moments—the show knows when to shut out the white noise, slow down and take itself a little bit more seriously, understanding that there’s a time for comedic mind games and there are times when the characters need to be real with eachother. And sure, I’m a stickler for romantic scenarios who gets prickly about the philosophical ideologies surrounding love (something I’ve discussed at length when reviewing other romance shows like Bloom Into You for instance), but I didn’t feel that was really an issue here at all in anything but extremely minor ways which can be reasonably excused when considering that we’re looking in on a teenage romance between two extremely bashful tsunderes, especially when that very same bashfulness is used as a vehicle for their extremely engaging rivalry. On top of that, I really appreciated how despite the show’s romantic focus, there are moments during which characters appreciate their relationships with their friends as well—too many romances have main characters forget about the people who actually know and care about them, devolving into unhealthy obsession and the destruction of relationships the writers see as being “irrelevant” to the plot, so it’s great that this show actively avoids falling into that same trap! All-in-all, Love is War is an absolutely brilliant romantic comedy/psychodrama with a great sense of humor and it absolutely deserves all of the praise it’s garnered. There’s a clear passion behind it, you can really tell just from the extremely high quality animation alone that the people working on it put serious blood, sweat and tears into making it as great of an adaptation as they could and they’ve absolutely earned the satisfaction of success. I would highly recommend you give this one a watch even if you’re not normally partial to shows in its genre.

Season Two/Three+OVA

So I just finally finished watching the 3rd season of this show. Now that I’m completely finished with it, we’re back with a little update! In all honesty, there isn’t much more for me to say beyond what I’ve already expressed—no bamboozle this time. Both the 2nd and 3rd seasons stay consistently great (in addition to the OVA which I’d recommend watching after you finish the 2nd season and before starting the 3rd), and I really enjoyed not only the humor but the really intriguing plot, the strong characterization and the really natural progression of Shirogane and Kaguya’s romance all ultimately culminating into a stellar ending that left me feeling satisfied as a viewer and genuinely impressed with the animation studio responsible for this particular adaptation—it has genuine emotional weight and it’s animated spectacularly with serious visual flair, it somehow manages to be an over-the-top storybook ending while still remaining deeply affecting and giving you a sense of legitimate closure even with the few remaining plot threads here or there which are not totally tied up. Speaking of the show’s various different plot threads over the course of its run time, I really enjoyed how much time and energy the show spends on its side characters and their plotlines, even while the primary romance between male and female protagonist is kicking into high gear towards the end. When everybody is likeable and you become invested in the various romances and friendships between all of them, it’s doubly satisfying when everybody gets their time in the spotlight. All in all, the entire series is fantastic throughout every episode of every season and you’d be doing yourself a major disservice by not watching it—I think it’s especially telling when despite the whole thing eventually building up to a semi-confession and kiss between the male and female protagonists in relatively tropey fashion, it still manages to end on such an undeniably strong and satisfying note!

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