Just about every trope has been done in the romantic comedy world. From star-crossed lovers and bad first dates to series surrounding on waiting for someone to confess their love to their crush, it's all been visited in nearly every form of entertainment imaginable. So what's left for there to be done? Well if you're manga artist Aka Akasaka, you add some dynamic tension that you'd normally only find in the most well-written thrillers into the mix. With that aspect added in, Kaguya-sama: Love is War breathes new life in the rom-com world.
Brought to anime life this past season thanks to A-1 Pictures (Interviews with Monster Girls, Black Butler), Kaguya-sama: Love is War places its focus on student council president Miyuki Shirogane (Makoto Furukawa) and the vice-president Kaguya Shinomiya (Aoi Koga). They're both in love with one another, but a problem arises: they were raised to believe that those who confess their love to someone is a weakling. As such, the two play mind games with one another to see who can get the other to admit their feelings.
These mind games can go from the eyebrow-raising bizarre to true what-the-f*ck moments of jaw-dropping grandeur. From asking another to a movie or their contact info to befriending a young sibling and fighting over the final piece of cake, Kaguya and Miyuki face off battles of wits and held-back urges to see who will break first. Things can get a little complicated when secretary Chika Fujiwara (Konomi Kohara) and treasurer Yū Ishigami (Ryōta Suzuki) get thrown into the mix, with the two inadvertently thwarting the two's plans. Even when someone thinks they're "helping", they're more than likely just delaying the inevitable.
I will be honest when I say that Kaguya-sama: Love is War got things going on a very slow start. While the characters seemed well-written, what they were tasked to do just didn't seem to reach truly innovating levels for comedy. Granted, there were a couple of chuckle-inducing moments in the first couple of episodes, but nothing that could be considered must-see television. However once the third episode aired, the real golden funny bone was presented to its viewers.
What occurs from then on is hard to explain without ruining the jokes this series presents. From awkward romantic advice with fellow students and some of the rudest French people since the taunter from Monty Python & the Holy Grail to volleyball training and Chika making Kaguya laugh with the mere mention of a certain euphemism, every vocal and visual joke that's presented in the series goes full throttle to get a huge laugh. Adding on the faux tension the story throws in here and there amplifies the comedy to newer heights, bringing forth some of the biggest laughs from this past Winter season. And when they hit their mark just right, it helps to make this anime all the more memorable.
Despite their constant fight for a love confession, Kaguya and Miyuki make a point to let each other know that their participation in each other's lives truly means something to them. Even though they stop right at when one of them should say those three magical words to start a true relationship, the way they show how much they care for one another is both thoughtful and sweet. There are even moments where Miyuki fears that he may have gone towards some more embarrassing levels of caring, with Kaguya unable to look at him because she's been smitten by his actions. Despite these sorts of moments being the type that would make any viewer scream "JUST F*CKING KISS ALREADY!!!," how it's all framed and presented is done in such a way that makes waiting for that precise moment all the more worthwhile.
A big reason for its framing is how A-1 Pictures has brought Akasaka's series to the animated realm. There's a huge focus on dark undertones that are usually reserved for shows like Death Note or Psycho-Pass, but the way they're used for comedic effect is on the lines of sheer brilliance. The worlds are drawn with such beauty and care, with a great focus on shading to add to whenever the tone of the series needs to be changed at the snap of one's fingers. As for the character models, their adorable and handsome elements clash well with the aura that Kaguya-sama: Love is War showcases. It brings to mind Higurashi: When They Cry, only instead of cute characters murdering one another, they're instead facing off in intense mental games for the sake of the heart.
One other huge reason for this anime's success is its cast. Koga and Furukawa compliment one another perfectly as Kaguya and Miyuki, switching back-and-forth between their outer intense selves and internal heart-aching flows of passion. The comedic timing that Sukuzi has as Yū is mesmerizing, with his "going home" punchlines hitting the mark between being hilariously dark and darkly hilarious. Of course, the true voice acting hero(ine) of the series is Kohara, who brings a level of pure unadulterated joy as Chika.
Composer Kei Haneoka (Pani Poni Dash, REC) adds to the hilarious tension with their great score, complimenting well with the show's silly tension and cutesy undertones. Opening theme "Love Dramatic" by Masayuki Suzuki and Rikka Ihara is one of the most funkadelic tracks to hit anime probably since BRADIO's Death Parade contribution. Series closer "Sentimental Crisis" by halca is a sweet song that plays well with the characters' hearts, with visual aid paying homage to a certain Miyazaki-directed music video. However, it's the third episode closer "Chikatto Chika Chikaa♡" by Kohara that has proven to be the true cure for depression, cancer, the common cold, and every other ailment that's in existence.
It's hard to truly talk about Kaguya-sama: Love is War without spoiling a lot of its good parts. Although it takes a couple of episodes to truly get things going, what is delivered in the (hopefully not) final twelve-episode package is some of the best anime rom-com moments in recent memory. Funny as hell and as sweet as candy, Kaguya-sama: Love is War one anime series that no one should dare miss. Watch it, or we'll sic Love Detective Chika on your ignorant behind!
Final Grade (not an average):
Kaguya-sama: Love is War can be viewed on Crunchyroll, FunimationNOW, VRV, and Hulu. It has been licensed by Aniplex of America. Episodes 1-12 were observed for this review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll.