Review: Kaguya-sama Love Is War (Seasons 1 & 2)

This review is not spoiler free. If you want to have a very quick spoiler-free summary and rating out of 10, then skip to the paragraph in bold at the very end.

Hello, this is Gray again.

I’m going to try condensing this review a bit compared to my past reviews because I feel like maybe they’ve been a bit too wordy. I’m not actually very good at holding myself back in that regard so we will see. This review is going to be about Kaguya-sama Love is War Seasons 1 and 2!

This series is a romantic comedy centered around the student council at Shuchiin Academy, a prestigious high school for the rich and intelligent. The President of the student council, Shirogane Miyuki, is a hard worker from a poor family who got into the academy via scholarship. He ensures that he scores the top grades in the class through crazy amounts of studying, and is always seen with bags under his eyes as a result. The Vice-President, Kaguya Shinomiya, is from a very rich family and has a cold, business-like and often scary demeanor towards others. The romance between two is the key point of the show, although neither one of them wants to show or admit affection towards the other, because to do so would, to them, brand them as the weak one in the relationship. This would be an intolerable loss, and so Kaguya and Shirogane spend their daily lives devising intricate strategies to make the other confess their love. Fellow student council members Ishigami Yu and Fujiwara Chika are the treasurer and secretary of the student council respectively and participate, usually unwittingly, in Kaguya and Shirogane’s mind games.

The first thing that I have to highlight is that the core formula of this show is such an excellent recipe for hilarity. Each everyday activity that a regular person would not think twice about is turned into a fierce game of chess, and the narrator explains the events and strategy in Kaguya and Shirogane’s minds in an exciting and blatantly frank manner that causes you to burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all. This absurdity is compounded by the accompanying visuals, which dramatize the situation as if the consequences were life or death. Both Kaguya and Shirogane are extremely intelligent, so these mental duels become essentially like the duels in Death Notes between Light and L, and the intense conflict is just so out of place and entertaining that you almost can’t get enough of it.

Chika plays so well into this already great dynamic by throwing the element of chaos into the president and VP’s plans. She has an array of odd talents and interests that work in combination with her outgoing attitude and high creativity. She is motivated primarily by her desire to have fun and by her own self-interest, meaning that she has the potential to throw a random element into their love-centered plans at any time and to devise her own path to victory outside the box of purely analytical thinking. Chika is so hilarious, bubbly, creative, and weird that she honestly just becomes the star of the show. Aside from all these things, she is also a kind person and good friend. She is my favorite character in the series, and I would she’s most viewers’ favorite as well.

Ishigami also fits into their dynamic well by introducing a pessimistic, reclusive, and depressed perspective into the mix. Although his role is not as key to the series as Chika’s, the way his presence grates on other characters is funny and his personality is relatable to a lot of people, including me.

There are also some important side characters that really increase the entertainment value of the series. Hayasaka is Kaguya’s personal assistant and does her bidding whenever Kaguya needs help or advice, all day every day. Kaguya is often caught up in silly mind games with Shirogane, and Hayasaka does not hesitate to point out how stupid it is that they won’t simply admit that they love eachother. She seems a lot wiser than the other characters in the show, and while she is frustrated with Kaguya often, she really cares about her and wants things to work out for her. I think she is a hidden gem in the series and I really would like to see more episodes focused on her in the future.

Miko Iino also joins the plot as a good side character. She is in the class below Kaguya and Shirogane and attempts to take Shirogane’s position as student council president in the second season. Although initially she seems annoying as overly focused on doing the right and correct thing, we learn to appreciate how hard she works at trying to make people’s lives better. Her earnest demeanor is an entertaining foil to the ridiculous antics of the four main characters, and she constantly runs away in fear when she enters the student council room in the wrong place at the wrong time, seeing something too lewd, too scary, or too unbecoming of a student council member.

If the show were just hilarious, that would be acceptable, but the show more than that. The show explores a touching plotline involving Kaguya’s controlling family and her desire to see fireworks with Shirogane. There is an election arc where the characters fight to keep their spots on the student council, which is important to them because it gives them a spot to hang out together. Ishigami has a really moving couple of episodes focused on him at the end of season two which shows us his inner turmoil at being ostracized by his entire class after a misunderstanding where it looked like he was stalking a girl. These conflicts elevated this anime to heights beyond the level of a regular comedy and made me appreciate the characters and care about them a lot more.

What are the downsides to this show? There aren’t many. I would say that it didn’t blow me out of the water… but the truth is that there were multiple instances where I felt like this anime was very, very good – I even cried at least once (thanks Ishigami).

That being said, the format of this show is based on a series of skits. There are roughly three or four skits per episode, each essentially constituting a mini-episode within the larger plot (if there was one going on at the time). Some of the skits at the start of the series were not as good as the other amazing skits. Although the core formula of turning every day situations into a dramatic romantic mind game was excellent, there were times at the beginning of the first season where it seemed like the series was just going to keep doing a very similar thing forever, and I was worried that I would get tired of it. However, those fears subsided when they started doing deeper stuff with the show, dealing with plot lines that spanned multiple episodes, and introducing more characters in the latter half of the first season.

With this many skits, it is almost inevitable that a few of them would fall flat, at least in my eyes. I think they should have probably introduced more of Ishigami earlier, used the same formula less often in some of the mind games, and maybe featured a bit less of that side character couple that asked Shirogane and Kaguya for advice. That couple never really developed into valuable side characters, so I thought of it as a bit of a waste. Some of the skits were just less interesting to me, such as the skits about: Kaguya escorting a child to class, the side character couple, Kaguya uncontrollably laughing at the word “weiner”, Iino trying to figure out how she misunderstood the student council’s actions, and the couple alternative-universe animes. There were a few other weaker ones as well. They weren’t terrible, and this is obviously very subjective so maybe you disagree, but I thought they weren’t as high quality as the other skits.

Anyway, the series was great. I feel much less able to give an anime an extremely high score like a 10 when it hasn’t yet ended, and shows usually get stronger and stronger over time as the viewer becomes attached to the characters and the plot builds off of itself. Often shows need some time to set up. This show could eventually become a 10 depending on future seasons, and I personally am of the view that when a show really takes off, it can make up for any weaknesses earlier on or in other arcs.

Overall, Love is War found an amazingly hilarious core formula. The two romantic leads play an elaborate Death Note-like mind game in everyday situations that almost never gets old. The main characters of this show and a couple of key side characters are truly so enjoyable, and they make you feel like they’re your friends. Occasionally, a skit will be less interesting, or the show uses the key formula a bit too repetitively. However, Love is War more than makes up for this with slam dunk skits that will have you laughing dozens of times per episode and with touching moments that you really didn’t expect from a romantic comedy like this. I look forward to seeing this show get further seasons, and it very well could become one of my favorites depending on how it goes.

Final Score: 9/10

-Gray