Feb 19

By Jack McDonough, 2021 prospective JET

Love is war: if you confess, you lose! Art by Grace McDonough. You can find Grace’s art here!

Rom-coms: the classic “will they or won’t they” story that has been done to death. Think Ross and Rachel from Friends or Harry and Sally from When Harry Met Sally and you’ve got perfect examples of this trope. You’ll binge an entire show on Netflix just to see whether your two favorite characters finally get together, and once it’s over, you’ll probably forget about the chase and only remember the finale. I bet you didn’t even laugh along the way. Kaguya-sama: Love is War is the remedy to the classic rom-com letdown:  it’s a show that’s actually funny and makes the pursuit the thing worth watching.

Kaguya-sama is an anime based on the manga Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai – Tensai-tachi no Ren’ai Zunōsen: “Kaguya Wants to Make Them Confess: The Geniuses’ War of Hearts and Minds.” The show features an epic, romantic “game of chess” wagered by Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogane. Kaguya is the heir to the Shinomiya Group, a business conglomerate that holds enormous power over Japan: she flips between being a naive, love-sick girl and an imperturbable master of deception. Miyuki is the broke genius who earned a scholarship to join Kaguya as a student at the prestigious Shuchiin Academy. While they serve as the heads of the student council, they rarely concentrate on school matters:  all of their time is spent trying to get the other to confess their love. Neither can back down; the stakes are too high.

To Miyuki and Kaguya, confessing is tantamount to losing and becoming subservient to the object of your affection: Miyuki won’t confess as he believes he would appear like a poor peasant, while the Shinomiya idea of “winning no matter what” keeps Kaguya silent. Since neither can confess, a hilarious war of schemes and ploys ensues as these teenage geniuses try to catch the other slipping; their daily battles are bolstered by a narrator who informs the audience of exactly what Kaguya and Miyuki are thinking when their machinations blow up in their faces. The proverbial “wrench” in their plans is their classmate Chika Fujiwara, the happy-go-lucky secretary of the student council who is always down for mischief. They are also joined by Yu Ishigami, a dower boy who would rather stay home and play video games; he is often the only character to see Kaguya’s “ice-queen” nature and promptly runs from her sight when he can. There’s a great chemistry in this group of four that keeps the antics from getting stale and provides Kaguya and Miyuki outlets for their frustration.

The genius (get it?) of the show is its premise: people are geniuses in life and dumb in love. Equal parts are devoted to the romance and to the comedy that creates a real romantic-comedy. The story develops as Kaguya and Miyuki try their best to trick the other; all the while missing out on a great relationship because of their inhibitions. In fact, Miyuki only became the president of the student council and the number one student at Schuchiin just to be worthy of Kaguya’s affection.  Both of these characters are so worried about social appearances and losing face that they’d rather spend all their time trying to checkmate the other than just say “I love you.” In a way, it’s actually pretty sad: Kaguya and Miyuki only have a limited time together as they’ll eventually graduate from high school. The juxtaposition between the side-bursting shenanigans and the saddening thought that they might actually never confess leaves the viewer with a mix of elation and despair. What’s even better, is that Kaguya, Miyuki, Chika, and Ishigami quickly go from one-note characters to having deep emotions and fulfilling motivations for their actions and fears. While their circumstances are certainly unrealistic, their emotions are relatable and you’ll find yourself compelled to keep watching for both the laughs and the attachments you make with the cast.

I first watched Kaguya-sama by accident when searching Hulu for a new show to watch; I was hooked by the show before I even realized my mistake. Kaguya-sama does have a lesson buried beneath the escapades: go for it. Do the thing that’s embarrassing; you might lose face or be laughed at, but it’s better to go for it and miss than to never take a chance at all. Kaguya and Miyuki might run out of time before they realize that it’s better to take the leap of faith: don’t be like Kaguya and Miyuki. You’ll find yourself outsmarting these geniuses by just listening to your heart.

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