Kaguya-sama: Love is War
Episodes 1-2

by Amy McNulty,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Kaguya-sama: Love is War ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Kaguya-sama: Love is War ?

As a deliciously dark romantic comedy with an excellent hook, Kaguya-sama: Love is War is a great weekend watch for anyone who appreciates the rougher edges of teenage love. The series follows the mind-game-laden misadventures of the titular Kaguya Shinomiya and the object of her mutual affection/loathing, Miyuki Shirogane. Multitalented and proficient in a number of disciplines, Kaguya is the daughter of a cartoonishly wealthy family and serves as student council vice president at the prestigious Shuchiin Academy. Miyuki, who hails from a decidedly humbler background, is whip-smart and incredibly perceptive, and he serves alongside Kaguya as student council president. Although both leads harbor romantic feelings for one another, they'd sooner die than be the first to admit it. For the purpose of becoming the dominant party in their seemingly inevitable relationship, Kaguya and Miyuki regularly go to comically calculated lengths to force confessions out of each other as good-natured student council secretary Chika Fujiwara inadvertently(?) adds elements of chaos to their respective schemes.

Within the first two episodes, Kaguya and Miyuki engage in mental jousts over such subjects as asking one another to the movies, receiving love letters from other prospective suitors, sharing their lunches with one another, deciding where to take a student council trip, and exchanging social media handles. On the surface, these all seem like everyday exchanges between teenagers, but Kaguya and Miyuki are able to turn each one into an intricate mind game in short order. While the stakes in this series are technically as low as they come, the intensity with which the leads approach each of their interactions makes it hard for the viewer not to become every bit as invested in their bizarre power dynamics as they are. The high-stakes, energizing visual effects add to this intensity.

Of course, this isn't to say that the show won't tweak its formula as needed. The second episode features a segment in which a fellow student reaches out to Miyuki for love advice. Rather than fess up to his inexperience in matters of romance, Miyuki makes grand proclamations and seemingly misreads the boy's situation entirely. When he suddenly catches sight of Kaguya eavesdropping, Miyuki does damage control by turning his complaints about her foibles into glowing compliments. Hilariously, his gamble pays off, as Kaguya is much nicer to him in the aftermath, and the terrible advice he game his fellow student actually earns the young man the love of his crush, a girl who may have been bullying him.

When it comes to comedies that revolve around a central gimmick, the staying power of a particular series is largely dependent upon the staying power of its gimmick. While it's certainly possible that Kaguya-sama's formula will start to wear thin by season's end, the impeccable execution, sharp comic timing, and vibrant pacing of its first two episodes hopefully signal that that won't be the case. The basic formula—Kaguya and Miyuki attempting to manipulate one another into admitting their feelings—is rife with comic potential, and the show's decision to adapt multiple stories per episode helps prevent any one story from wearing out its welcome. Had certain segments been drawn out across an entire episode, it's easy to see them getting stale. While the main characters are certainly interesting in their own right, this is ultimately a concept-driven show, and seeing this concept utilized in a handful of different ways within the course of each episode keeps things feeling fresh.

While a good deal of the humor comes across as over-the-top and mean-spirited, many of the thoughts and feelings expressed by Kaguya and Miyuki are perfectly in line with those of lovesick adolescents. For example, when Kaguya thoroughly disowns Chika in response to the latter sharing a bento with Miyuki, her reaction comes across as both overkill and genuinely sympathetic. In a moment of passion or intense anger, this is easily a thought one can picture a frustrated teenager having. (Of course, Kaguya doesn't make good on this vow.) Similarly, when Miyuki threatens to tattle to a teacher in response to Kaguya considering a date with another boy, his reaction is definitely petty, but it's hard not to sense his desperation.

In Kaguya-sama: Love is War, the party holding the upper hand varies from segment to segment, and the viewer's loyalties are liable to change just as often. When Kaguya or Miyuki is down, it's easy to feel their pain, but when one of them is holding all the cards, it's just as easy to hope for his or her swift comeuppance. In this respect, they're fun characters to follow, as neither is definitively good or bad, and their arrogance knows no bounds. And since the viewer is privy to their innermost thoughts, their various insecurities are constantly on full display, making them all the more three-dimensional. This may not be the healthiest romance, but it's definitely a battle between equals that demonstrates that when you approach love like a battlefield, you might be missing the point. Regardless of how things play out, one thing is for certain: Kaguya and Miyuki deserve each other.

Rating: A-

Kaguya-sama: Love is War is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.

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