Saturday, March 13, 2021

REVIEW: Kaguya-sama: Love is War, Season 1 (anime TV series)

Kaguya-sama: Love is War is a romantic comedy series. I watched it on Funimation's streaming service.


Kaguya is Vice President of the Shuchi'in Academy Student Council. She's a brilliant and wealthy young lady who has been raised since birth to think of all her social interactions and relationships, including love, as power struggles. She's initially amused when she learns that much of her school thinks that she and Shirogane, the Student Council President, are a couple. They're not a couple, but she decides that she wouldn't mind dating him, as long as he asks her first. After all, in romantic relationships, the first person to admit their feelings aloud is at a disadvantage.

Shirogane, the President of the Shuchi'in Academy Student Council, comes from an ordinary family and isn't naturally brilliant, so he maintains his reputation and status at the school by studying every chance he gets. He's pretty sure Kaguya sees him as beneath her but decides that he'd be okay with dating her...if she asked him first. 

Although neither one of them is willing to admit it to themselves, they're both in love with each other. Will they be too stubborn to ever admit it?

I've read and enjoyed a little of the manga. I've wanted to see the anime for some time, but it's an Aniplex of America title and therefore almost $100 for 12 episodes. I couldn't justify the expense. When I saw that the series was in Funimation's streaming catalog, I bumped it up to the top of my To Be Watched list.

Although it has some rough spots, I think I enjoyed the anime more than what I've read of the manga. For some reason the jokes made me laugh more and harder. Possibly the Japanese voice actors had something to do with it? Also, I know that the anime didn't adapt everything - some of the stuff it skipped (like Kaguya and Shirogane's battles over word games and puzzles) were things that didn't translate well and had to be explained with translator's notes in the manga.

For the most part, the series leaned heavily on the comedy part of "romantic comedy" - Kaguya and Shirogane weren't always the sort of couple you'd root for and were actually kind of frustrating in their inability to talk to each other like normal people. I loved the way Fujiwara acted as a chaotic element in their relationship, messing up their plans. Overall, though, Fujiwara was the "normal" person in the bunch - if she wanted to text someone, she just did it and couldn't understand why Kaguya and Shirogane were making such a big deal out of it. One of my favorite parts was when she agreed to help Shirogane improve his volleyball skills - her voice acting and visuals were hilarious in those scenes.

As the season progressed, viewers got to see more of Kaguya's vulnerable side. She was expected to behave like a perfect lady, doing as she was told whenever she was told, even if that meant missing out on things she really wanted to do. For a brief period, Kaguya and Shirogane became a more stereotypical shoujo series couple, kept apart as much by the difference in their social classes as by their own stubbornness. Then they switched back to their usual awkward and stubborn selves by the end of the series, which I'm guessing sets the stage for Season 2 to follow a similar pattern: heavier on the comedy throughout the first two thirds or so, and then more drama and romance near the end.

My least favorite moment was the "Kaguya is sick" episode, in which Kaguya's personal servant made it clear to Shirogane that he had three undisturbed hours in which to do whatever he wanted to Kaguya (who was so sick that she was acting like an adorable child). Kaguya understandably freaked out about it after her fever broke, and although Shirogane hadn't done anything, it briefly drove a wedge in their relationship. I understand that Ai was probably frustrated with the lack of progress in Kaguya and Shirogane's relationship and hoped to speed things up a bit, but it was a gross move.

Then there was Ishigami, a character I simultaneously loved and hated. I got a kick out of the way he noticed stuff about Kaguya that none of the other characters had, like the way she'd sometimes get jealous and decide she hated Fujiwara. However, there were times when he leaned a little too hard on the gross gamer boy stereotype, and I was right there with Kaguya and Fujiwara, wishing he'd shut up.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It's similar, in a lot of ways, to other series I've enjoyed - His and Her Circumstances (romantic comedy/drama in which the main characters play "perfect student" roles in public but are different in private) and Special A (romance between two rivals, with some social class difference issues), to name a few. If it ever gets a more affordable physical release, I may add it to my collection. I certainly plan to watch Season 2.

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