Kaguya-Sama: Love is War is the Most Realistic Teenage Drama

It’s easy to scoff at this title if you’re familiar with Kaguya-Sama, whether it is the original manga by Aka Akasaka or the stellar anime adaptation from A-1 Pictures. The so-called “Geniuses’ War of Heart and Minds’ is many things, outlandish is foremost in its qualities. The story of Miyuki Shirogane and Kaguya Shinomiya, two high school prodigies that happen to be on the student council together, and happen to be in love with each other, is defined by its wild antics. These two geniuses are characterized by their mind games, their willingness to use anything and everything to get an advantage in their love lives, except to admit it to the other.

This is the part where I warn about spoilers for both seasons of the anime and a large portion of the manga after that. There will most likely be no story-ruining spoilers, but proceed at your own risk.

Shirogane, the typically cool-headed yet intimidating student council president, was born poor and climbed the ranks of one of the most prestigious schools in Japan through hard-won intellect and sheer grit. Kaguya, on the other hand, has had her lavish life and education bestowed upon her by the wealthy Shinomiya family, but this doesn’t mean she hasn’t earned her wits. It simply means she has even more resources at her disposal to bring Shirogane to heel.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War' season 2 proves itself as one of this year's top  anime series – North Texas Daily

Kaguya-Sama is not a realistic portrayal of teenage love because its protagonists are experts in strategy and manipulation, but because its protagonists are self-conscious, self-serious, and almost completely divorced from reality. Most teenagers cannot relate to being a billionaire heiress like Kaguya or even a brilliant insomniac tactician like Miyuki. However, they can relate to clinging to your pride like your life depends on it, and desperately trying to get your crush to admit they like you before you have to. Kaguya-Sama remembers what most teen romance stories forget, that these are teenagers, with all the baggage that accompanies it.

Adolescents are, as a rule, are pretty immature, and absolutely hate to have that pointed out to them. That’s normal; learning to take oneself lightly is a sense that develops over time, but it makes for some great comedy. Kaguya and Shirogane are the victims of inflated egos that have only grown in response to their genius, as well as the status that accompanies her wealth and his bootstraps mentality. The fundamental principle of the series is that it is hilarious to watch two people who believe they are engaged in deathly serious mental combat, only to have it go awry because of the hijinks of the student council secretary, the happy go lucky Fujiwara, or the treasurer, the bitterly antisocial Ishigami.

But why exactly are these two so proud and yet so deeply insecure? It’s simple; they have next to no life experience and maturity to protect themselves from the fear of rejection or not being good enough, so they double down on their intelligence as a result. However, it does not take a psychiatrist to tell you that relying on being the smartest person in the room is not a long-term coping strategy, especially since the person you’re crushing on so hard is just as smart.

Shirogane knows he’s dirt poor and without his good grades, could never hope to meet Kaguya on equal footing. Likewise, Kaguya knows that she’s extremely sheltered and knowledge that most people take for granted (like knowing that your “first time” is not your first kiss). These insecurities build upon the apprehension and anxiety that already accompany first love, and only raises the stakes higher. For them at least, for the rest of the school and student council, they’re frightened and more often confused by the strange behavior of the students leading them.

As the mounting tension rises, so do the lengths that these two will have to go to not only get the other to confess, but to keep themselves in check. Kaguya-Sama is not just interested in the psychological warfare between these two, but internally as well. There’s a reason why Kaguya has to conduct court trials in her mind between her love-drunk “Bakaguya” (or simply Kaguya-Moron) and the emotionally unavailable Ice Kaguya, who advocates restraint nearly at all times. That’s not even counting how many times Miyuki has had prolonged scenarios play out just in his mind of Kaguya suddenly casting him aside as unworthy, always accompanied by the catchphrase “How cute.” These two are just as tired of beating around the bush as the rest of us, but the barriers they put up require constant maintenance, and the fear of rejection is too strong for them to stop.

But, while I have made an effort to belittle Kaguya and Miyuki’s entertaining shenanigans, I have a certain amount of admiration for them. Because teenagers aren’t just selfish, egotistical, and completely oblivious, they’re also unusually sincere. Dealing with conflicting and complex emotions is yet another learned behavior, and the series is just being straight up in that most kids don’t know how to handle it yet. Romeo and Juliet don’t kill themselves for love because they’re dumb, they do it because they’re impulsive, dramatic, and so pure-hearted that committing suicide because your wife who you met a week ago is dead seems like your best option. So basically, they’re just kids, and most romance stories ignore that aspect of their characters, unless it’s convenient.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War manga survived a major turning point - Polygon
Even with every weapon at their disposal, love still hurts more.

Kaguya and Miyuki share a similar dynamic, without the suicide. They’re so impulsive and emotionally fragile and they know it, which is why they feel they have to take such measures to protect themselves. Making an adult romcom almost seems more difficult, because your characters have to act more rationally when you don’t have the excuse that it’s your first love, you’re dumb, and don’t know any better. So when the series goes to ridiculous places, it’s a natural extension of what we saw before, because we already know that they’ll go the extra mile to avoid sharing their feelings, even if it would make them both happy.

To sum it up, Kaguya-Sama manages to capture all the arrogance, the angst, and passion that makes our teenage years such a compelling source of storytelling. People like to complain that anime are only set in high school, but this series wouldn’t work if it’s protagonists were adults or even college students. It does all this while creating a genuine love story between two people who have genuine reasons to like one another, and plus, it’s just funny. It’s one of the few anime that can get consistent laughs out of me on rewatches, and when your series is batting at the same level as Konosuba, you’re doing something right. However, I don’t just love this anime and manga because they have great jokes and reaction images, but because they uses every tool at its disposal to tell a unique story with everything that makes you love a romantic comedy.

And so, I’d like to know what your thoughts on Kaguya-Sama are. Whether you’re waiting for season three, catching up on the manga, or just getting into it, it’d be great for you to comment down below, and don’t forget to leave a like.

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