Great production but this one just wasn’t for me.
It has been fairly well established at this point that I’m not a big fan of comedy. Largely this is because a lot of what people tell me is supposed to be funny I just find either gross or mean-spirited and don’t find much amusing about it. Then again, what I find to be funny a lot of people also find gross or just disturbing so to each their own.
What that does mean though is that while I recommended this series, the conditional part of the recommendation is that I really didn’t like it. I can see exactly why lots of people do like it, and I do think it is worth trying if you are looking for a well produced anime, particularly if you like comedy, but for me this one was one big swing and a miss.
A lot of the problem is with the central premise which I’m told is supposed to be ironic or amusing but I find just sad. The idea that confessing puts you under the power of the other person in a relationship, or that relationships inherently have one person being more powerful than the other, really rubs me the wrong way and feels like something from several decades ago that we really should have just left there. That the main characters are both portrayed as being quite intelligent and yet at no point draw the conclusion that perhaps they could be equal partners really just makes the premise of this one hurt to even think about.
I am told that I should just take this as a joke and not think about it so seriously, however that’s kind of the problem with comedy for me. Just because they are joking doesn’t mean I find reinforcing notions that someone should be in control of a relationship and someone should be submissive particularly amusing. Nor do I find Shinomiya’s general lack of sex education particularly funny. It is kind of a social tragedy that she is so ill-informed.
Actually, the fact that they keep telling me time and again how smart these characters are and yet very little of what they do seems even vaguely smart kind of reminded me of my problem watching Devil and Realist where William was supposed to be super intelligent but just struck me as being kind of an idiot. Shinomiya learning to use Twitter in one episode kind of highlights the overall problem with the set up where they insist this girl is some kind of super-genius manipulator and yet instead of looking up instructions, reading the information, trying things out and noting what happens, she runs into her maid’s bath multiple times and drags her out to explain fairly simple concepts. I get the trope of the genius who lacks common-sense but in this case a lot of what Shinomiya does just makes me want to face-palm so badly.
However, before you think I’m just out to bash this story for all its worth, there are some great moments for Shinomiya (and indeed most of the cast). The problem is, these moments come seemingly when the premise of the story gets set aside. When we remove Shinomiya from the endless battles against Shirogane and the contrived competitions they establish, and just let her be Shinomiya, a sheltered girl finding small ways to explore the world (such as the episode where she walks to school), we actually have quite a charming character and one worth spending time with. Unfortunately, the anime isn’t really interested in letting the characters just be themselves and continues to force artificial conflict upon them and us over and over again in a tiresome manner.
Fujiwara, the secretary of the student council, is a shining light in this series. Her character is excellent regardless of context and she literally brightens scenes just by being in them. She’s also the one character who is consistently entertaining and amusing partially because she isn’t working to show off how smart she is and partially because she’s just a well constructed character who manages to consistently hit the right notes. If you won’t watch for any other reason, Fujiwara is probably a fairly solid reason to try Kaguya-Sama: Love is War.
But we should discuss the actual contests the characters get into. Each episode (or most of them) are split into three sections with each being a simple vignette where a topic or theme is introduced, we mentally see how Shinomiya and Shirogane have interpreted the situation to determine how to ‘win’ and then the contest plays out before a winner is decided, or until Fujiwara unintentionally removes any ability for either character to win. A narrator sets up each section and at times may seem intrusive and the narrator also finishes each section by summarising who won or lost and why.
Some of these contests are really straight forward such as when Shinomiya challenges Shirogane to twenty questions. The problem being that for someone really smart the answer seems pretty obvious given an exchange in the set-up to the competition and so the punch line falls a little flat. Other contests are more abstract such as when they are trying to decide where to go for Summer vacation.
The end result though is fairly formulaic and while some of the later episodes move away from this format, over the course of the season, the majority of episodes will offer more or less the same scenario over and over again with slightly different dressing on top and perhaps a slightly different outcome. It is noteworthy that even supporting characters point out to Shinomiya that her schemes do not work. If the goal is to get Shirogane to confess, not once has she been successful and yet instead of taking a more direct approach she persists again and again in her schemes. The same could be said for Shirogane but far less time is spent with him outside of the student council so he isn’t quite as filled in as Shinomiya as a character.
If you happen to like this formula or find the skits amusing, then this one will be golden from start to finish. For those who find a lack of forward progress in a plot a bit of a sticking point (that would be me), what it will end up being is fairly frustrating as a series even as some of these skits will amuse.
What really does elevate Kaguya-Sama: Love is War from just being another sketch comedy that I didn’t really enjoy, is the production. Visually this one has a distinct look and is actually fairly impressive with the creative way it depicts the battles and character emotions. While there isn’t a lot of movement and certainly no hand to hand combat or anything of the like, the animation is pretty spot on and far and away of higher quality than you would usually expect for the subject matter.
The music is also spot on with an opening and ending that both support the story and are highly entertaining (worth watching the ending each time as well), and background music and sounds that really help to spice up what might otherwise become fairly flat content.
A lot of love has gone in to the production of Kaguya-Sama and realistically as an anime there’s little to complain about. While it personally doesn’t do a lot for me, there are plenty of people who will adore this story and these characters and the presentation makes it all very palatable. The characters themselves will be a bit hit and miss as will the premise but by and large this is an anime that will work for the majority so if you are curious and haven’t tried it be sure to give it a go.
Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
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- Episode 1: A Comedy About A Broken Philosophy on Love and Romance
- Episode 2: The Tools of War – Phones, Vacations and Love Advice
- Episode 3: Solid Visuals, Great Music, Average Most Everything Else
- Episode 4: All’s Fair In Love, War, And Welcoming Parties
- Episode 5: The Battleground of Love Advice, Volleyball and Umbrellas
- Episode 6: It Isn’t Paranoia When She’s Really Threatening To Kill You
- Episode 7 and 8: The Love War Flat-Lined
- Episode 9: Is It Terrible If I Call This Episode ‘The Cold War’?
- Episode 10: Passing the Olive Branch
- Episode 11: No Love, No War, No Real Interest
- Episode 12: Heartfelt Moment Undermined by ‘Humorous’ Conclusion
- Series Review
- Images from: Kaguya Sama: Love Is War. Dir. S Omata. A-1 Pictures. 2019.