This is review number four hundred and forty eight. This anime part of the Winter 2019 lineup, and it’s called Kaguya-sama: Love is War. It’s a twelve episode anime about a couple that lacks people skill so badly that they can’t confess to each other. It’s stupid. Let’s read on.
The anime follows the romantic one-upmanship of Shuchiin Academy’s president, Miyuki Shirogane, and vice president, Kaguya Shinomiya, as they try to make the other person confess their love to them. Yes, they both like each other but they believe that they are above confessing. Instead, they’ll force the other to say it. Convoluted? Yes. Utterly hilarious? Absolutely.
Taking the Pants Off
No promises, but I will do my best to get this site running again. It starts with doing reviews, so I picked one at random, as I always do, and I ended up with Kaguya Love is War. I have a lot of notes, and I honestly regret picking this anime first after my long hiatus. It’s a romance anime but the characters are idiots. Except it’s not really romance, because there is another element at play. It has a lot…notes. Yeah, I forgot how to do reviews. I would usually have a good introduction for the first paragraph. The first one is always the hardest to write. Damn it, I’ve regressed. Yeah, a year of not writing will do that to you. This anime is pretty good though, but I honestly expected more. The premise of two people trying to make the other fall in love is such a good concept. They basically made a simple concept of saying they like each other into a complicated battle of wits between two prideful people. I wanted more of that concept, but the show kinda took a weird turn and I soon only saw the potential it missed. In my mind, something went wrong here and I bet this is a case of a wild adaptation gone loose. A wild adaptation? What the fudge am I even talking about? Damn it, I am rusty. Let’s just unpack this show and see what’s up.
A Deadly Sin
This anime opens with this ridiculous notion that love is war. The first to confess will be the submissive one, so the two characters have convinced themselves that the other person should make the first move. Even though they both stupidly like each other, they are too prideful to do something about it. Instead, they want to poke the other with a stick and hope they get the hint. I believe the first scene of the show established the main gist of the anime. It opens with the two characters, a brief intro of their motivations, and six months passing by. Yeah, there was a time skip that doesn’t really feel relevant. Or is it?! Anyways, it is followed by their first game of mental chess. The secretary of the student council has movie tickets, she wants to give them away, and the two scrambles to make the other ask them first. Chaos theory throws the entire mental chess game awry, and both of them ends up losing. This is basically the flow of the anime. The two would try so hard to one up each other, but nothing is resolved at the end because the status quo is maintained.
I do love the exchanges, because the two characters are extremely likeable. The student council president and his vice president thinks highly of themselves, so they are afraid to let their guard down. Instead of just cutting through the bullsh*t, the two would make elaborate ploys to try and manipulate the other. I honestly can relate, because I am prideful too. I lost two teaching jobs because of my pride. All I had to do was give in and accept I was wrong, except I didn’t. I stood my ground and I refused to bend over. In my mind, appearing weak is death and I’d rather die on my own terms. The main characters are basically the same. They don’t want to appear weak, so they stubbornly stick to what they know best. It’s all played for laugh in the anime, but the plot is ridiculously layered. I would laugh at Kaguya making a convoluted plan to manipulate the secretary to give away the tickets, but I also can’t help but sigh. That’s f*cking me. I was threatened with termination if I don’t give into their will and I just closed my eyes waiting for them to stop talking. I wanted them to be thrown off by my actions, thus manipulating them. It worked, by the way. They realized I wasn’t bending to their will and they felt the pressure. The very next day, they handed in my termination papers. Why the f*ck is it so hard to understand that your job is more precious than your fragile ego? I do understand. I also understand that they can go f*ck themselves. So making convoluted plans to make the other person to confess might seem utterly dumb, but you know what, you can go f*ck yourself too. I told you I have notes. This anime triggered something unhealthy in me. I honestly wanted more of this mental chess game, but I soon realized this anime had another agenda.
Yeah, it’s a club anime. Technically, there is no club but the characters are mostly confined in their student council room. As the show progress, it was more about the character dynamic than the smart mental chess game between the main characters. Club anime works by having the characters poke fun of each other, and they eventually bond wherein you realize plot is no longer an issue. The bastards can eat cake and you won’t really be bothered by it. Because friendship. Except, I don’t really want a club anime. I wanted a romance anime between two fundamentally broken people. I wanted more of that, except the anime would often focus on the main characters and their interaction with the secretary. They even have this exhausting running gag about giving love advice, and I really got impatient. I soon thought, I bet this concept would work more as a light novel. Two overthinking characters make for the perfect protagonist in a medium that loves wasting time on trivial things, but light novels do wonders when it comes to executing soft moments that’ll make you like the characters more. I still remember how the Amagi Brilliant Park staff looked on as they save their park from closure, but only because of a baseball game in their vacant stadium instead of the efforts they poured onto the park itself. It’s even sadder knowing the baseball game only happened after the main character resorted to arson. Yeah, I read that light novel a long time ago and it still stuck with me. Can you imagine the soft gut punching moments of a light novel involving two prideful people? It would be awesome for sure.
Except this is a manga, and the medium chose to harness the power of the club anime format. Don’t get me wrong, I love the club anime format. As I always say, anything can happen in the four corners of the room despite the limited cast. In the span of twelve episodes, the characters played cards, studied, tried to scare each other to death, gave love advice and even fought over cake. It’s honestly not that bad, but I truly wanted more given how smart the setup is. I checked the manga, and I will admit the anime skipped over a few of the mental chess game in it. I don’t really understand why, since the stuff they adapted are faithful carried over. Yet the skipped a few panels. The series composer somehow wanted to focus more on the club anime appeal than the one-upmanship of the main characters. Hey, if you love club anime then you’ll love this one. I am complaining about the false promise the story sold me though. The prideful aspect of the characters would eventually fade to give into the goofy dynamic that happens in the student council room. I am not a fan.
But, yknow, as I read the manga, I soon realized one crucial aspect that makes this anime so damn interesting.
Six Months Passed
Some anime benefit from multiple rewatch, and this is an element of this show. There are details sewn into the story that you will never pick up unless you are paying attention to it. The fact that six months passed is the first big signal. Think about it. Why do a time skip? What did we miss? Will the show ever do a flashback about the six months? Given the pace of the manga, if it ever does dive into those skipped dates, I doubt the anime will cover it. Look back and wonder though, what could be in those six months? If you structure the plot, the anime follows the student council president being appointed and meeting his vice president. Six months then passed. From the initial meeting to the two characters trying to make each other confess, one crucial step was skipped.
The moment they fell in love.
You will never catch that detail unless you rewatch this sh*t, or review over four hundred anime. I’m not in your level, so just accept that. But why though? Why skip that big moment in their story? Isn’t it so smart of the author to just yank that part away? The main motivation of the main characters are seemingly left void, and we just see them go at each other. Except, did the author really skipped it though, or are you just not paying attention. As I said before, subtext. The anime is loaded to the brim with it. It tells a story beneath all the chaos, and I am super impressed with this tactical approach of the author. If you actually go to the manga, you’ll be met with this:
It’s a playful panel about a blank page most manga has. It is inconsequential to the story, and yet the author introduces himself with this panel. Without actually spelling it out, he just told us how much of an over thinker he is and how much he pays attention to detail. Who gives a sh*t about the first blank page of a binded manga series? Well, this author does. You better shape up and think like him now, or else you’ll miss a sh*t ton of what he is actually trying to say. As he said himself, who cares about this small detail in the manga? What does it matter if most mangaka don’t put anything in it? It’s not like you’ll care that he intentionally skipped the character motivation that drives our heroes to force the other to confess. It’s not a big deal. Oh, but I bet you also missed the fact that he DID tell us their reasons. You just weren’t paying attention.
I just realized I dedicated some paragraphs to some stupid detail of the manga. I haven’t actually reviewed the anime itself. What the f*ck do you want me to say? It’s a good anime. Go watch it. Now let me go back to ranting about the subtext, because this author has a weird relationship with his readers. Let’s explore some more details that the story never really points out. It just lingers as subtext for the show. Let’s start with the student council president. I should learn names. One of them is Kaguya. I think that’s the girl, but for this guy, you ever notice his eye bags? It’s such a prominent design for him. He always have tired eyes, and it was always explained that he does part time work after school. In one episode, we see his home is actually just a small apartment and he shares it with his sister. There was never a big “oh, he’s poor” moment in the show. It just exists, and the characters already know about it. Given the six month gap, the discovery could’ve happened here. As you soon fit these details in the big picture though, you soon realize the student council president, an over achiever at best, does part time work to stay in this prestigious school that educates rich kids that’ll “eventually run the country”. It’s a fun detail, and you soon realize why the dudes thinks the way he does.
The main reason he doesn’t want to confess to Kaguya is because the girl is this rich chick that might look down on him and pity him. This was established from the first episode in a fast paced narration, but then you soon realize that a poor boy rising from the ranks through hard work must’ve met a lot of people that look down on him. His prideful stance isn’t born out of stubbornness, but it’s a way of surviving. Whenever Kaguya looks at him, his first instinct is that she is belittling him. “How cute”, is where he ends up on. Can you really blame him though when he must’ve faced adversity like that in his life? But again, this was never established by the show. It’s pure subtext. You’ll only notice it when you actively search it. Rewatch the damn show.
I have two paragraphs for Kaguya’s own subtext filled character motivation, but f*ck you. Go watch the show. All I can say is “fireworks”. It’s a simple word uttered many times in the show, and it soon takes on a three dimensional form as you reach the end of the anime. If the student council president has this wonderful backstory to him, you can bet the rich girl has one of her own. Also, one detail you should notice is a glimpse of the flashback the story did tease, the one about Kaguya declaring she doesn’t want to be intimate with the student council president. It teased the six month gap and that’s all I want to say. My pride is refusing to say anything more.
Omata, Nakanishi and A-1 Pictures
There’s honestly a lot more to talk about in this anime, like the fourth member and the comedy but I’ll leave it as a surprise to anyone that wants to see the show. They’re really not that integral in the anime if you think about it. I’m going to conclude my review now. I still ponder about the skipped chapters, and I don’t know why the series composer did that. Yasuhiro Nakanishi is a fairly new script writer in the industry and this show seems to be the big one of note in his list of works. I have experienced A-1 Pictures shuffling an adaptation, since they did the same for Eromanga-sensei. They turned it into an appreciation post by the author by letting him series compose the adaptation. For this anime though, I dunno, something seems off. Given the inconsistent animation, I can guess this wasn’t really given much focus by the studio and the staff did what they had to do. This is just me speculating though. I think in Nakanishi’s mind, his sole focus is streamlining the dialogue and highlight the fun stuff. This happens to be the club anime appeal of the show. He sacrificed the spirit of the story, but I don’t think anything was botched. I think this is mainly because the director has a specific vision for the show. Shinichi Omata is known for directing Showa Genroku Rakugo, which is extremely good for a directorial debut. Beyond that, the dude worked under Akiyuki Shinbo in some of the Shinbo’s influential works. Omata had a part in directing and storyboarding parts of Puella Magi Madoka, Arakawa Under the Bridge and Denpateki no Kanojo. I bet some people would kill to have a chance to apprentice under Shinbo, and this guy had that chance. The frantic style of the mangaka is given life by Omata’s tight directing. The shift from narration to monologue to dialogue is done to perfection. It harks back to how a rakugo performance can draw you in and you won’t even notice the BL appeal of the anime. A-1 Pictures better not let this director go. I sense great things in him and I won’t be surprised if he hits us with a Madoka anime of his own. I’m calling it now. This dude will hand me a perfect anime in the near future. I hope I haven’t filled my 1000 review by then.
Sight and Sound
Character design is really impressive. Aka Akasaka has this surreal visual style for the manga. He tells his story with a lot of facial expressions, so the panels are loaded with close up shots of the characters many emotions. Since the storytelling is also done through a narrator, a monologue and dialogue, the panels constantly shift from slow to manic to normal in an outrageous pace. The way he designed the characters is pretty cool though. Kaguya’s design is typical at first glance, but it can become intense and soft depending on the narrative. The same goes for the student council president who often has a serious face but can goof it up easily. The biggest character design change is the secretary who has a bigger head in the manga. Actually, the characters have bigger heads in the original source but the secretary’s design seemed to be completely overhauled. I like both versions, to be honest. The uniform design is simple as well, but Akasaka’s design was always meant to be simple. It’s in how he bends and add noise to the design that makes them compelling.
Animation is inconsistent. There are awesome moments, like the ED of episode three where the secretary just goes all out moe, but there are also dull moments where the details of the characters look low quality. A-1 Pictures has a habit of giving its full effort in a show they truly believe in, and those shows often have low quality episodes. The fact that this anime has lackluster visuals is an indictment on how the studio valued its overall appeal. I think another A-1 Picture anime aired in this season. Who the hell knows? All I know is that some episodes lacked movement, some details are inconsistent and some scenes could’ve looked better. It’s a good thing the director knows his stuff. As I always say, a good adaptation captures the intention of the original source and this anime did that in spades. It managed to capture the frantic pacing of the story, and it knows when to value the facial expressions that makes the manga so fun to read. I do believe some of the panels were lazily animated with limited movements as well, but this was never a turn off for the show.
The voice acting is something I am personally not impressed with. Its good casting, don’t get me wrong, but I hate the narrator’s voice. I often wondered if the anime even needed a narrator, but I realized he is an integral cast since a lot of exposition is thrown at you in succession. I just don’t like the narrator’s approach to it. I guess the same thing can be said for the student council president. I kinda wish he had a more expressive voice, since the character exudes superiority in the manga. This was never captured by the anime because they chose this default main character bull sh*t approach to the voice acting. He demands your attention in the manga, and the anime never did that to me. I have no complaints with Aoi Koga’s Kaguya though. She nailed the character. Props to Konomi Kohara too channeling her KanaHana to bring Chika’s quirky personality to life. I also think Ryouta Suzuki’s Ishigami is sexy. Close your eyes and hear him speak. It triggers something in you.
The anime’s OP song is “Love Dramatic feat. Rikka Ihara by Masayuki Suzuki and it is certainly a unique way to open the anime. I don’t know the genre of the music, and I am too lazy to research it. It’s like a 80s Japanese ballad style harking back to old school anime like City Hunter. I don’t know why they had this kind of song for the intro, but it is catchy. It’s also just about love and wanting the other person to notice you. The OP sequence is as trippy as the song. It reminds me of a James Bond intro with all the guns and the dancing. It’s really hard to explain so just go watch it on youtube.
The anime’s ED is Sentimental Crisis by halca. This is the typical song I expect in my anime. It’s all idoled out and it sounds saccharine. I like halca’s voice, but these kinds of song all sounds the same to me. I think the lyrics are also about love and being with the person you’re meant to be with. It’s cute, I guess. The ED sequence is pretty cool though. It’s like it’s taken from another anime, but the subtext play is also here. The animation A-1 Pictures is also known for is fully on display here. It’s one of my favorite ED sequence given how much effort is put into it. The same goes for the other ED sequence which is honestly one of the reasons why I love anime. Chika dancing might’ve pulled me back into watching anime, and it’s funny how much I miss stupid sh*t like that.
7/10 “It under delivered on its promise of a war for love, but it still did a good job at executing its comedy and romance.”
I assure you, the anime thrives on multiple rewatch so go do that. It is too smart for its own good, and the lack of mental chess to make the other person confess might be the biggest deal breaker. As it is though, the show did a solid job of giving us a club anime. Character interaction is great and they grow on you. This anime is not hard to like, but it does leave you wanting more. For the subtext alone though, I do recommend it.