Love isn’t all warm fuzzies and unabashed bliss. Love can be a battlefield of carefully calculated choices and strength of will for new couples, old couples, and couples yet to come. Sometimes a well timed retreat can be much greater than an open victory, especially when it comes to carefully laid plans for the future. Kaguya-sama: Love is War takes this very real war and brings it to the forefront, James Bond opening and all, in an all-out showdown of whit and cunning. Spoilers ahead.
The philosophy of this anime is simple: the one who confesses first loses the war of love; it’s a sign of weakness and submission, a pattern that will surely follow and haunt you for the rest of your days. In order to win, you have to carefully play your hand and force a confession out of the other by whatever means necessary. Failure is not an option.
Shirogane, Miyuki and Shinomiya, Kaguya are currently locked into this very battle. As school body president and vice president (respectively), they are the apex predators in a school that reveres societal and academic status above all. To everyone looking on, they’re an obvious pairing, but for Shirogane and Shinomiya, it isn’t that simple. They have their pride and position to maintain. If a confession is a sign of weakness, neither one can afford to show it.
One of the series biggest strengths is also the biggest weakness: the “battles.” Like a lot of anime, Love is War is sourced out of a manga by the same name. The manga chapters are short battles that are easy to read quickly and then move on until you’re ready to read about the next battle. The vast majority of these battles take place in the student council room and showcase one or two fun tactics by each of them.
Unfortunately for 20+ minute episodes of anime, this becomes both obvious and stale. There are multiple battles per episode and the scenery rarely changes; I’d argue that the anime actually becomes a lot more interesting when the battles move outside of the student council room and that only serves to highlight the glaring issue.
When it comes to the actual meat and potatoes of the battles, the series shines more often than not. There’s an interesting mixture of the cleverness you would expect out of these students and the innocence born out of their young minds. Not only are they fighting against each other, they’re also fighting against their personal desire to drop tact and surrender to their feelings.
The monotony of the setting is also broken up with a fun (but small) cast of characters with big personalities, one of them being the runaway
nuclear bomb comedian that is class secretary Fujiwara, Chika. Chika often naively takes a jackhammer to the previously airtight plans of Shinomiya and Shirogane, more often than not leaving them both speechless and unable to continue fighting.
It is important for a character driven anime (especially one with very few set changes) to polish everything about their characters. For Love is War, they were able to accomplish this. The art is solid and the animation is fluid. But most importantly, every voice actor from the Narrator to the Maid gave an outstanding performance. Not once was I pulled out of the episode by flat delivery or odd enthusiasm. They took their characters and really made them come alive for such an outlandish premise.
For a single episode they even took the animation up a notch for the credits, spending what had to be an entire seasons worth of animation budget for this 90 second sequence, but it was worth it. I remember reading rumors that it was a former KyoAni animator that headed this, and I completely believe it.
It’s this kind of creativity combined with a unique premise that saves this anime in the end. Having read some of the manga, I have to say, it feels like they were able to take this very simple concept and turn it into a memorable anime. I’m not sure if what we were given is enough to warrant a second season, but this still remains a solid recommendation for me, especially for someone looking for an atypical romance plot or something light on the plot and heavy on the jokes.