Opinion

The Subtle Darkness of Kaguya-sama: Love is War

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MadaraX

By

Published on July 14, 2020

Love, romance, relationships does thinking about them make your heart flutter? Makes your blood rise to your cheeks? For sure it does after all love is this indescribable pure feeling and…and…YOU ARE A FOOL IF YOU THINK SO. Love is a game of manipulation where one bets their pride to make the other person fall for them, that’s it… Love isn’t a ride in an amusement park. Love is War.

That basically sums up the narrator’s cynical words that start the show:
Kaguya-sama Love is War.

“Kaguya-sama: Love is War” is a rom-com anime like no other before it. Despite having what they would call a cliché premise of high school and student council affairs combined with tsundere leads. The series is a brilliantly written masterpiece. With top tier comedy, visuals and music all combined by a creative and talented staff to give the viewers a very special treat, an experience that very few other shows can rival.

Adapted from the work of the original author Akasaka Aka, who publishes his manga every week in Weekly Young Jump magazine, Kaguya-sama : Love is War (Manga title being “Kaguya-sama Wants To Be Confessed To“) centers mostly around the hijinks of:

Miyuki Shirogane, the president of Shuuchiin Highschool Student Council who got into an elite school only because he’s the top student of the country and

Vice President Kaguya Shinomiya, the genius eldest daughter of one of Japan’s most powerful family.

Kaguya-sama
Kaguya Shinomiya on Left / Miyuki Shirogane on Right

They are both prideful people who are attracted to each other but don’t like to show it as both think of a confession as “admitting defeat”, hence the title “Love is War”. The show comprises of their numerous tactics and ploys to make the other person confess their feelings.

The third most prominent character being Chika Fujiwara, daughter of a high class family of politicians and diplomats and the secretary who acts as a foil for both of them as she remains oblivious to the warzone she is in.

Kaguya-sama anime impression

Other characters include the loner nerd character of Ishigami Yuu, Iino Miko who joins the council later on and many other secondary characters who are all unique and have a part to play.

The series, despite being rooted in the genre of romantic comedy, manages to incorporate aspects that you wouldn’t normally expect, which is why it’s being referred to by many fans as the “Death Note of romance”. With all the complex planning and 4D chess going on all the time, such a title is hardly undeserved. They say genius characters are very difficult to write for authors as their ingenuity is not always believable.

This might not seem an issue for a comedy series like this but Aka sensei still manages to pull off believable and convincing genius ploys by his characters, down to the subtlest levels. This, in my opinion, is possible  because the author himself is a genius as evidenced by his incorporation of so many concepts not explored in usual romcoms. From psychology to chemistry to astronomy.

whatever Aka-sensei includes in the plot, almost as if he’s showing off, doesn’t seem out of place or pretentious in the slightest.

This manages to give it a different aura than other comedy shows. You just cannot take it lightly. Emotionally heavy episodes like season 1 finale episode and season 2 episode with Ishigami’s backstory made it very clear that Kaguya-sama is not just a charming comedy, it is not afraid to shift its tone and delve into the darkness that is possible within the premise it has established.

It might be because Akasaki Aka (the mangaka who created the series) originally intended what is today, Kaguya-sama, to be an actual battle manga with a very serious tone as he stated in an interview, which is why the series is full of some pretty dark and depressing undertones that build our characters into who they are.

Kaguya-sama anime

However, while the aforementioned episode were outwardly expressed examples, the series has many subtle moments of darkness sandwiched between gags and punchlines, with themes like class warfare, chemical based non-abstract reality of human emotions and psychological effects of parenting.

So let’s explore some of them with our two beloved main characters.

Kaguya Shinomiya: Aristocrat with a troubled childhood

Kaguya Shinomiya - Kaguya-sama love is war

Kaguya is the daughter of Gan’an Shinomiya, the leader of one of Japan’s top 4 conglomerate, Shinomiya group. He is known to be very distant and neglectful of what his daughter’s happiness and wishes are. Also since the Shinomiya family’s ideals are focused on being distant, manipulative and prideful, Shinomiya has inherited them all too well. Just like the Moon Princess of the folk tale she’s based on, who gave her suitors impossible hellish missions to overcome, she is unreasonably demanding and will not hesitate to manipulate anyone.

She embodies the upper class mentality of owning the lower class people with her casual remarks of how someone who wishes to be her potential lover needs to offer her mountains and beg for it. She rarely fears rejection as her mindset is that she is too elite for anyone to not fall for her, which she uses against Miyuki many times. While this mentality does change as she undergoes her character growth, Kaguya’s journey of romance doesn’t even start out with the slightest of romantic feelings. It starts with seeing Miyuki as someone worthy because he has beaten her(and also everyone else in the country) in academics.

We do later discover how his kindness also helped her grow fond of him, it is evident that had he been even one rank below her, she would never see him as worth her time or effort. Her pride would have never let her see past his class and discover the traits that make him the man she currently has come to admire and grow feelings for.

Miyuki Shirogane: Working class problems, Obsession and Pride

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Miyuki’s darkness roots itself in his past of being abandoned by his mother who is said to have fallen out of love in the relationship. It is implied in the anime that it happened because Miyuki’s father is an incompetent man. It is even said by himself in the flashback we got in season 2 final episode.

Miyuki is described by everyone as a very confident and intelligent man who excels at everything except Chika who knows his weaknesses. However a lot of that is a mix of very good pretending and being able to hide his emotions. He does things “as a man should” because of his father’s words and it’s implied he is obsessed with being perfect or pretending to be perfect because of his childhood trauma of being abandoned by his mother due to his father being incompetent. Which is the reason he thinks every little show of weakness will make Kaguya reject him coldly. He doesn’t think that anything except perfection will guarantee love, which is very sad when seen without the comedic lens filter.

Kaguya sama love is war

While it does feel like a betrayal to know that the circumstances behind the romance of our favorite couple is rooted in terrible upbringing and prideful mindsets, it is also necessary to note that the series does indicate that love is what makes them see beyond their darkness. Miyuki has contemplated about throwing his pride away for Kaguya and Kaguya slowly begins to see Miyuki’s qualities beyond his academics and the superior-than-you persona that he has created.

Silver Lining:

The series even makes fun of the notion of true love that stories in romance genre usually put on a pedestal and strive to achieve, it instead shows us the true nature of love and human attraction. But that’s not all it does, the show doesn’t stop at cynicism of romance. Despite the reality being somewhat depressing and not so rainbows and sunshine like in our fairytale concept, the series shows that love is still what connects people beyond class, pride and lust.

The series is mainly focused on Kaguya’s growth for it is her who hasn’t completely fallen yet unlike Miyuki. Even the manga is titled “Kaguya-sama wants to be confessed to” indicating it’s still a matter of pride for her. But it also shows how through Miyuki she begins to see a world beyond the darkness she was raised in. A world where genuine kindness exists, as said by Kaguya herself.

kaguya sama anime

Love is indeed war but it is so because of the many flaws that hold back our character’s true feelings. But it is also a clash of emotions which lets our beloved characters, and hey maybe even us real people in the real world, to overcome those hindrances and find those in life who will help make people a better version of themselves.

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