Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Kaguya-sama: Love is War
GN 1 & 2
Kaguya and Miyuki are the heads of the student council at their elite private high school. Both of them have bigger fish to fry than love…until rumors that they'd make the perfect couple start circulating the school, at which point they begin to notice each other. Before long they find themselves crushing hard, but neither of these elites is willing to make the first move. In fact, both have decided that he who makes the first move loses, and so they're going to ensure that the other party confesses first. All's fair in love and war, right? But also, isn't war supposed to be hell…?
Kaguya-sama: Love is War is definitely one of the more unique rom-com premises out there, although bizarrely enough it shares a theme with Mai Nishikata's josei manga Game – Suit no Sukima, which is being serialized as an e-book in French, and even odder, both series began in the same year, 2015. Coincidences aside, the idea that whoever falls in love first loses makes for an interesting shake-up of the usual storyline, if only because each character individually knows that they're in love, but thinks that they have to convince the other. It's a bit of a comedy of errors, and while it can get repetitive, it is still entertaining.
The two in question here are Kaguya, the scion of an old noble family, and Miyuki, the smartest boy in school. Neither of them at first seems to have much interest in romance, but since they're always together, they spark a lot of speculation among the student body. Before long rumors are circulating about their relationship, and, interest piqued, the two fall for each other. However, neither of them are willing to admit it – somewhere along the way, both Kaguya and Miyuki formed the opinion that love is weakness, and to admit to love is doubly so. Therefore neither of them wants to be the first to confess, operating under the assumption that the one who does so will be considered the weaker party for the duration of the relationship, if not their entire lives.
Needless to say, this is not the world's healthiest view of romance, and if this were a less comedic story, we perhaps would have to worry about these kids. Fortunately for us, what results instead is an increasingly ridiculous series of events based on their one-upmanship. From attempting to trick Miyuki into an indirect kiss via lipstick stain to worrying over how to get someone's Line information without explicitly asking for it, each plot that Miyuki or Kaguya comes up with is ludicrous…but still somehow exactly like what a teenager with limited (or no) romance experience would think is a good way to snag the person of your dreams. That neither of them realize how over the top their plans are is part of the fun of these two books; in their minds, they are taking reasonable steps to ensure that they come out as the stronger party in the eventual couple.
Of the two books, volume two is the stronger. Whether this has anything to do with the fact that the series was switched from the lesser-known Miracle Jump to Weekly Young Jump isn't certain (although that does account for chapter one of both volumes feeling nearly identical), but book two has a firmer grasp of the humor and the sort of situations that work best for the context of the story. While volume one certainly does still have some good moments, with Miyuki attempting to give another student love advice being a major highlight, it just doesn't quite have the tempo and polish of its follow up. That may be a very good sign for the series overall, because this is the kind of gag-based plot that risks getting old if the mangaka can't reliably come up with new jokes and heights (or depths) for the characters' plans. Thus far Akasaka is not only managing to use new gags, but also to play older ones forward, such as the follow up to Miyuki's love advice chapter in volume two, where the girlfriend of the boy he helped comes to Kaguya for advice. Given that this volume also features a chapter where Miyuki reveals that she knows absolutely nothing about sex (the text for her parents teaching her reads “Get married, let the man take care of the rest, the end.”), you can see how things might not work out were someone to rely on her romantic advice.
Part of the reason that the story works is because of the third (visible) member of the student council, secretary Chika. Chika is apparently oblivious to what's going on between Kaguya and Miyuki, making her a good foil to them both, as well as an unwitting pawn at times. She's much more typical of a high school girl, at least by manga standards, and both lightens up the mood and tries to act as a good friend and breath of sanity for both of them. Again, she's better used in volume two, but in general she helps to off-set both of the main characters while never appearing to be a rival for Miyuki's affections. As a character, she strikes a nice balance and performs the same function as a plot device.
Akasaka's art is an interesting mix of polish and a more casual style. It's largely the faces that look more like the efforts of either a beginning artist or one who is trying for a deliberately looser look, with Miyuki's face standing out the most as the least put together aspect. At times this can be distracting, because bodies are generally well-formed and backgrounds can be quite detailed. That's if there are backgrounds, of course – more frequently Akasaka opts to use screentone instead of drawing a background, which does work. Since the story is based in the two leads' emotions, this doesn't feel like a method of cutting corners, but rather a good way to emphasize what someone is feeling.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War's first two volumes improve as they go on, so that, with the exception of the first chapter of volume two, you can feel the creator's confidence and skill growing. The format of the chapters is all largely the same, with either Kaguya or Miyuki coming up with a plan that somehow goes awry, and at times it does feel repetitive. There's enough fun had with the concept, however, that it still works, and if you're looking for a different take on the shounen romantic comedy, this is a very good place to start.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Some genuinely funny chapters, story grows in confidence as it goes on. Nicely different take on the rom-com.
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