If you’re looking for an electric romantic comedy that’s equal parts romantic and comedic, and also shares some classic literature roots à la 10 Things I Hate About You or She’s the Man, Kaguya-sama: Love Is War is the perfect show.
Love Is War is basically about two tsunderes with big crushes on each other having battles of the mind. But if you’re not an anime fan and the word tsundere is puzzling you — don’t worry. It’s still a fantastic show and one of the best romantic comedies out there right now. Kaguya-sama captures the best of the genre, with its stellar balance of humor and heart and its well-rounded and captivating cast. You don’t need to be tapped into anime to enjoy a great rom-com.
After learning that everyone on campus thinks they’d make a cute couple, class president Miyuki Shirogane and vice president Kaguya Shinomiya independently decide to get the other to confess their love. Each of them thinks that they will most definitely not fall for the other — and that ends up spectacularly backfiring, as they both end up with massive crushes on one another. But of course, they can’t lose their self-imposed game, so it turns into the sort of battle where every win is also a bit of a loss.
This is all heightened even more by the nameless narrator, who keeps a tally of who “wins” or “loses” a certain interaction. The narrator offers commentary to the character’s inner thoughts, kind of like a sports announcer keeping a running tab on who comes ahead in a game. The narration itself is often very serious, and when that’s juxtaposed with silly shenanigans or more mundane conversations happening on screen — like trying on cat ears, or discussing a possible group vacation — it turns into something absolutely hysterical.
Shirogane and Shinomiya are compelling characters who seem similar on the surface. Both are incredibly prideful, calculating, and intelligent — and rarely show their true feelings. In actuality, they’re quite different, and as the show unfolds, more of their unique personalities are revealed. It’s compelling enough to learn more about them, but the supporting cast is just as spectacularly vibrant.
Class secretary Chika Fujiwara is a bit of a ditz — except she’s an amazing piano player, an enthusiastic member of the board games club, and a ramen connoisseur. She also has more social awareness than the entire student council put together, so she’s able to push them along and get them all to hang out. Meanwhile, treasurer Yu Ishigami is the sort of guy who’d rather play video games than study, and is so pathetic that Shinomiya can’t help but feel a bit bad for him. Those are just the other student council members — there’s also Shirogane’s annoyed little sister, Shinomiya’s dutiful bodyguard-slash-handmaid, and Shirogane’s eventual political rival, Miko Iino, a freshman with some very strong ideas about justice. They all bounce off each other superbly, and what could be basic situations, like studying for final exams or shopping, turns into the most comedic progression of events possible.
The eclectic characters are all very different, but the reason the show works so well is what they have in common. At the end of the day, every one of them is an overly emotional and hormonal high school student — and the show lets them be completely cringey and over-the-top. They do stupid things in order to get their crushes to notice them. They overanalyze every single social interaction. They stress about read receipts. They rap (badly). It’s all painfully embarrassing, in the best way possible.
…but also deeply vulnerable
Because every moment is augmented, things like a simple tug of the sleeve or an excursion to see some fireworks with friends become heightened. And in the context of the show, it is easy to get swept up in that same big emotion. Yes, opening your crush’s text messages and staring longingly at them is just as big a deal as it feels like. Yes, just missing your crush as they leave school for the day, despite your best efforts at trying to organize a walk home, is excruciating. These moments are treated as funny, but also just as serious as the characters feel them to be.
All the characters ruminate deeply on their own interpersonal relationships — romantic and platonic — and their self-perceived character flaws. The relationships they end up building help bring out the best parts of one another. It’s fun to see their hijinks, but it’s just as fulfilling to see their relationships blossom. Of course, since this is a romantic comedy, it does come back to the main couple — and they have the most touching arc of them all.
The best part of the love story is that beneath their confident exteriors, both Shirogane and Shinomiya struggle with different insecurities, which turn into anxieties about what a possible relationship between them could even look like. Despite both attending the same fancy private school, Shirogane and Shinomiya come from totally different walks of life. Shinomiya hails from an incredibly wealthy family, with parents that are both very distant and very overprotective. She’s been sheltered and lonely her entire life and struggles to relate to her peers. Shirogane, meanwhile, is the only son of a single, out-of-work father and busted his ass to get a good scholarship and now juggles his student president responsibilities along with school and a part-time job. He feels incredibly out of place among the elite students at Shuchiin Academy — and especially with Shinomiya.
And so their rivals-to-lovers relationship has more nuance and depth. They could be trapped in sitcom purgatory, with hilarious miscommunication after hilarious miscommunication landing them in the same place as before, with the viewer not really caring about progress, because the antics themselves are just so delightful (like how Tom will never catch Jerry and how the Trix is always just out of reach of the rabbit). The “get the other person to confess their love” bit is fun, but by the end of the first season, their feelings are so tangible, their impact on each other so palpable, that you might be screaming JUST KISS ALREADY at the television screen. It’s not that simple, but it is a beautifully done buildup, with just enough tug-and-pull to keep you invested and the perfect blend of humor and heart. Kaguya-sama: Love Is War is everything a romantic comedy should aspire to be.
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.