I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t really “get” straight up romance anime. I like a couple, but by and large, I have a hard time being invested in sappy teen relationship drama. So I was shocked, but maybe not surprised, to get so into Kaguya-sama: Love Is War when the anime started airing last year. The show brilliantly satirizes tired romantic anime tropes, mixing psychological mind games with goofy, relatable humor. It’s somehow both the smartest and the dumbest rom-com I’ve ever seen, and I love every second of it!
The story is… well, it’s mostly a bunch of absurdist comedic sketches about two rich tsundere idiots who keep trying to get the other person to confess to them because they’re too proud (read: chicken) to do it themselves. Student Council President Miyuki and Vice President Kaguya come up with these ridiculous over-the-top schemes for virtually no payoff, like in Season 1 when Kaguya removes the tires on her own family car just to get Miyuki to share his umbrella with her!
Though the characters are among the most elite students in Japan, they’re all clueless when it comes to romance. For all their convoluted head games, they miss the most obvious and essential part. If either of them just cut the bullshit and told the other person how they felt, they’d both realize how crazy they are about each other and things would be much better for everyone involved. (But then there would be no show, so…)
What makes Kaguya-sama work is that, despite being haughty one-percenters, Kaguya and Miyuki are relatable in how much they suck at love. Who hasn’t misread someone’s romantic advances as something benign, or came up with some crazy plan to woo someone that backfired miserably? There’s some subtle class commentary since Kaguya is wealthier than Miyuki, and there is social stigma against either of them dating outside their “station”. But mostly, it pokes fun at these silly and nonsensical cultural norms, as well as hilariously subverting some of the most overused clichés in romance anime.
If it were just about the main couple, this kind of show could easily be tedious and frustrating. Fortunately, Kaguya-sama has a stellar supporting cast to throw a big ol’wrench into our lead’s plans. Of course, I’m talking about Best Girl Chika Fujiwara! She’s a total baka-dere, showing up at the most inopportune moments and baffling the student council with her hilarious antics. My fan theory is that Chika knows more than she lets on (she’s a polyglot and musical savant, so she can’t be that dumb!) and keeps accidentally-on-purpose butting in at the worst time because she’s secretly in love with Kaguya.
And hell, all the other characters are great too. I was iffy on Ishigami at first, but his mini-arc in Season 2 was surprisingly poignant and won me over. Kaguya’s maid (?) Hayasaka also came into her own this season, hilariously flirting with Miyuki just to best Kaguya at her own game. And the new member Miko makes an adorable “straight man” character who has some hilarious quirks of her own. Romantic comedies live and die by their characters, and mangaka Aka Akasaka did a great job writing a flawed yet hilariously relatable ensemble cast.
Kaguya-sama is a mess of contradictions. It’s a rom-com with no actual romance, a blend of Death Note-level mind games and screwball comedy, a show that explores deep truths about the human condition through meme-able reaction faces. By all rights, it shouldn’t work – but it does, thanks to clever writing and stellar direction. I never thought this stupid, raucous comedy would be my favorite romance anime, but here we are. It’s 2020, and the only thing that makes sense to me now is that Kaguya-sama is awesome.
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