Anime NYC 2022
Kaguya-sama: Love is War -The First Kiss That Never Ends Panel
Kaguya-sama: Love is War was undoubtedly one of the most popular romantic comedy series of the past couple of years, and not without good reason. While I admittedly wasn't on board the hype train right away, the show grew on me over time as I gradually found it to be a well-crafted comedy-drama that portrays relatable teenage anxieties in intricate and creative ways that I've never seen done in other slice-of-life series. Even if you don't appreciate its sense of humor, it is still a show bursting with charm and creativity in every facet of its production, whether it's the opening song, the animation, or the voice acting. This panel is both a celebration of Kaguya-sama: Love is War as a franchise and a preview of what's to come, as the franchise's first feature film is set to release just around the corner.
After getting a special video message from Aka Akasaka, the original creator of the Kaguya-sama: Love is War manga, thanking everybody for loving his series, we met our guests: A-1 Pictures producer Yūichirō Kikuchi, Aniplex producer Tatsuya Ishikawa, and Kaguya's Japanese voice actress Aoi Koga. All of them were wearing either red or green. A cute little Kaguya plushy was also on the stage wearing a Christmas hat. The guests confirmed that the movie will be taking place during Christmas and that it will be adapting the “First Kiss” arc. The audience was the first people in the world to preview this movie.
Everyone on stage was very excited to be in New York, with Ishikawa even saying that he hadn't been back here in three years. Most of the questions during the Q&A session were directed toward Koga; I would say that she was the center of the entire panel. When Koga met the character of Kaguya for the first time, she was very impressed but knew that switching between her comedic and serious sides would be difficult. She was initially confused about how to play Kaguya during season one when she was told to act cold and condescending. Things changed in season two, which, according to Koga, is when the series really blew up. Season one laid the foundation, while season two showed that there is much more to these characters than we initially thought.
Despite her initial difficulties with the role, one of Koga's favorite psychological battles in the show was the first one because she thought it was the clearest example of the dynamic that Kaguya and Shirogane have throughout the entire franchise. It's also during that scene that we get introduced to the show's wild card Chika, the true heroine of the show. We were then greeted with a special message from Konomi Kohara, Chika's voice actress. She apologized for not being able to be there in New York and thanked the fans for loving her character so much. She explained how she loves playing such a carefree character and tended to dote on Koga to ensure she's taking care of herself, saying that she is basically Koga's mother. After the video message, Koga explained that Kohara always looks after her whenever they meet, so it's an inside joke amongst the staff that they are like mother and daughter.
Many people will remember that one of the most defining aspects of season one is Chika's iconic dance in the student council room during the ending theme. According to Kikuchi, the staff wanted the entire ending sequence to be done in one cut to make it different and surprising. He also wanted the ending to function as a promotional video on its own (and given how much that ending blew up, I'd say it was a massive success). When it was finished, Kikuchi remembers everyone looking at each other and asking, “what did we just make?” That philosophy of being different and surprising permeated throughout the entire production; Kikuchi explained that the storyboard artists did their best to constantly surprise everybody, including each other when it came to portraying everyone's mindsets in the show.
This also carried over into the iconic anime openings by Masayuki Suzuki, who was brought on to contribute to that surprise factor. It helps that the animation staff also found Suzuki's song super catchy, which contributed to the synergy between animation and music. When asked what her favorite bit of visual humor was, Koga explained that she loved the skits towards the latter half of season two, where everything is drawn in this detailed, flowery shojo style. It's so different from how the rest of the show usually looks, and she found it funny because you would have characters like Shirogane and Ishigami say things they would never usually say.
Speaking of Ishigami, we were greeted with another surprise video message from Ryōta Suzuki and Miyu Tomita, the voice actors of Ishigami and Ino, respectively. They both gushed about how much they love their characters and noted their similarities. They also appreciate that season two showed each character's hidden depths, particularly Ishigami during the sports festival. I will say it was adorable when both of them also started teasing Koga in the video message about whether or not Koga was doing her best to speak in English since she was in America; for a split second, it genuinely felt like the voice actors were all talking to each other despite being separated by space and time.
There wasn't as much talk about season three besides the fact that everyone was a bit nervous going into it since it arguably is the season that has some of the most important scenes and dramatic payoffs in the entire series. A lot of focus was on the end of season three and how everything came together for that big climactic kiss between the two leads. Kikuchi wanted to ensure that the ending song was played during that scene but was surprised to find out that everybody was already on the same page.
Shirogane's voice actor Makoto Furukawa said hello to everybody from the big screen and talked a little bit about season three on his own. He loves the character of Shirogane for how much of a hard worker he is, both during serious and comedic moments. He particularly loved the ending because of all the planning and setup his character had to do for that pivotal moment. He also asked Koga if she checked out the Statue of Liberty since that seems to be what you're supposed to do when you visit America. Joking aside, he hoped that she was having fun and that she would return safely, to which the audience did respond with a loud “aww.” According to Koga, Furukawa doesn't seem too far off from the character he portrays because he's seen by many as the leader amongst the other voice actors for the show. Koga joked that he sort of acts like the dad that makes sure everyone is taken care of and that things run smoothly. She's incredibly thankful for all he has done for her and respects him immensely. Knowing all of this, it's no wonder these two have great chemistry in the show.
That chemistry is on full display in the 15-minute preview of the movie we were shown, which takes place immediately after the final scene of season three. I didn't even feel like I was watching a movie, but rather just the first half of the first episode of season four. The usual rapid-fire comedic quips and visual humor were all there. Still, this movie intro stood out compared to the rest of the franchise because it blatantly foregrounded the sexual tension between the characters. The scene opens with Ishigama randomly calling Shirogane about how magazines can get away with showing dirty stuff through loopholes. There's a conversation about how soon adults will have sex after a kiss. There's even a scene where the characters say the word sex repeatedly, which is funny considering how much everyone danced around that word in the main series. It makes sense in context, and watching all of these dorky teenagers have no idea what to do with the awkward situation they put themselves in was funny. Maybe part of the reason why this arc is adapted as a movie was because of the slightly more mature direction that the series is going to be taking, but I don't know enough about Japanese broadcast laws to make an adequate judgment on that.
Honestly, my favorite part of the preview was the introduction of mini Kaguya, and it's precisely what it sounds like. It turns out Kaguya agonized over specific events so much that she mentally regressed to that of a child. The movie depicted this by visually drawing her as a chibi while making it clear that it was a stylistic representation. Interestingly, it was one of my favorite scenes, considering how the preview ends. We know that Kaguya has had this inner struggle throughout the show where it almost seemed like she was fighting with different versions of herself. Now that she's being exposed to so many situations that she's not used to and doesn't know how to deal with, one of her more dormant personalities is taking center stage, with Kaguya waking up as the cold, emotionless ice queen that she was before the show even started. This will be an interesting psychological conflict for both Kaguya and Shirogane, especially since they are at this tipping point in their relationship that they can't walk back from.
Hosting the screening was a bit of a hassle since they wanted to ensure everything was finished in advance so they could show us up to a certain point in the movie. It was a little hectic, and there seemed to be some unspecified issues, but they were happy to have everything worked out. I'm glad everything was able to come together in time, but there were so many lovely moments in this panel outside of that special exclusive preview. The panel ended with the host giving Koga a special gift on stage, and when she opened it, it was revealed to be a sweater with the word STANFORD on it (a reference to the fact that Kaguya wants to go to Stanford with Shirogane so they could be together). She put it on just in time for one big group selfie and video with the packed showroom. Honestly, this panel was probably one of the highlights of my entire weekend, and I'm very happy that I could get on board with the Kaguya-sama franchise when I did. I cannot wait until this movie comes stateside because you know I am buying tickets for it on day one in February!
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