The New Kaguya-sama: Love is War

Written and Illustrated by Ran Kuze

Published by Weekly Shonen Magazine

Licensed by Kodansha USA

In 2022, we lost the best rom com in manga. I’ve written about the series numerous times, and yet I’m struggling to find the works to eulogize one of the greatest stories ever written. There is peak fiction, and then there are stories like Kaguya who stand away from those titles when all the hyperbole falls away. It’s possible we’ll never see a rom com of Kaguya’s caliber again.

However, that doesn’t mean we just sit and twiddle our thumbs, wishing and waiting for that next title that may never come along. In the meantime, I read a lot, and I mean a lot of rom coms.

After mourning the ending of Horimiya, I very famously went on a spiritual quest to find an anime or manga that could fill the hole. It took more than a full year after Horimiya concluded, and I had already given up on finding anything that came close before I randomly decided to put on Tsurezure Children. Similarly, I wasn’t even looking for a replacement for Kaguya because, well, how could you possibly replace it?

So, if you’re like me and you’d really love something to scratch that Kaguya itch, sit down and let me tell you about Medaka Kuroiwa is Impervious to My Charms.

A slight caveat before proceeding: Kaguya was always about “The Geniuses’ War of Hearts and Minds”, so if you go into Kuroiwa expecting the genius part of that equation…you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’re familiar with Kaguya, you should really know by now that the so-called geniuses are bigger idiots than allegedly normal people.

But our protagonist is anything but normal. Mona is not your average girl, she is, in fact, the cutest girl in the world (according to her). Everyone in her life affirms that objective fact, so it has to be true. No one can resist fawning over her.

Well, except for Medaka, the new transfer student who sees this image of divine beauty and grace, and grimaces. What Mona doesn’t know is that Medaka was raised in a Buddhist temple, far away from the world, and began attending school as a sort of trial by fire so he might cast aside any temptation as he becomes a monk.

What Mona sees as scowls and rejection are the boy’s desperate attempts to get a grip on his emotions in the face of a girl who is indeed as cute as she thinks she is. Unwilling to let that insult stand, she contrives a scheme to really make his heart race, and it’s not because she likes him at all, obviously, baka.

It is a simpler yet similar set-up to Kaguya-sama, where the author can position their two romantic leads in orbit of one another without worrying about ending the story before it (or the money that it generates) gets good.

I will admit that Kuroiwa is not as clever as Kaguya, but it doesn’t really need to be. No one is going to perfectly replicate that story, nor should they try. While the stories bear a strong resemblance, the romantic warfare in Kuroiwa has its own distinct flavor. Namely, Mona forcing Medaka to participate in a game of chicken by throwing every asset at her disposal at him, and our sweet little monk boy praying to Buddha that he manages to resist such earthly desires.

Normally, I wouldn’t so blithely dismiss a story as not being “smart” enough, but we’re comparing that story to Kaguya, the king of stupidity. The Shuuchin Academy student council was full of some of the biggest idiots in anime, and that’s precisely what I love about the characters in Kuroiwa.

Mona and Medaka are actually extraordinarily self-aware and in control of themselves, as far as teenagers go. Like Kaguya and Miyuki, they’re charming because they’re wound up tightly and it’s fun watching them fail to be as collected as they imagine themselves to be.

Mona is the cutest girl, and her every move has to support that truth, so getting flustered is not an option. Medaka was literally trained in a monastery to keep his composure, and I don’t think I can oversell how funny it is that the only way he knows how to keep that composure is to just keep scowling.

Now, where Medaka Kuroiwa parts from Kaguya is in its content, particularly its content warning.

Kaguya-sama is actually pretty tame as far as rom coms go. Fanservice is minimal, and sex is limited to exclusively the domain of established couples, and even then, only references. The manga ventures a bit further, but I struggle to call it PG-13.

Kuroiwa’s fanservice is much more explicit, and we’re firmly in ecchi territory. If you’re of the opinion that fanservice limits a rom com’s wholesomeness, then sorry, but you’re not invited to my birthday party. I already wrote an essay describing the relationship between “horny” and “wholesome” in another romance anime, My Dress-Up Darling, which you can read here.

To summarize, nervous hormones are an inherent trapping of teenage relationships. It’s played up, both for ecchi and for laughs, but that’s just anime. Actually, Kuroiwa has an even better excuse for its lewder moments than My Dress-Up Darling, though I don’t think it even needs an excuse.

Mona is a person who has cruised through life solely on her looks and charisma, so using her sexuality in a misguided attempt to manipulate someone is good consistent character writing. The author and story rightly disapproves of that behavior, because she’s never rewarded for it. For every attempt to play to Medaka’s attraction to her, she winds up ironically punished, a la Wile E. Coyote.

When she comes to the conclusion that Medaka has a fetish for girls at water fountains, she winds up soaked and he offers her his shirt, backfiring as he accidentally plays to her attraction to him.

Medaka, on the other hand, holds strong convictions that can’t be easily displaced. While many rom coms don’t really bother trying to explain why a girl would hang around a guy who has repeatedly seen her naked/looked up her skirt/accidentally groped her/gosh, anime is weird/had weird sitcom-esque misunderstandings, Kuroiwa’s story is centered around a self-sufficient premise. The more Mona throws herself at Medaka, the more he will cling to his lessons from the monastery, which will in turn make her more desperate. Rinse, repeat.

And the author does an excellent job of giving the appearance of slow and steady progress. At the chapter 50 mark, we have one character who has come to terms with their feelings, while grappling with the bigger issue of Medaka’s religion contradicting any potential romance that will presumably come later. Satisfying progress is very difficult to do without either giving too much up at once or teasing your audience for the entire run.

Medaka Kuroiwa is Impervious to My Charms may not be peak fiction, but it fits comfortably into a niche of “pretty good rom com”. By my own rating scale, I’d say it’s Entertaining Pleasing.

 If you’re like me and could use a fifth favorite romantic comedy, then yeah, you could do worse. What else were you going to do? Read Rent-a-Girlfriend?

Rather than suffer that fate worse than death, you could read Kuroiwa, or maybe some more essays and reviews on the Otaku Exhibition. While you’re at it, follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress for notifications whenever those posts go live. If you prefer your anime takes bite-sized, check out @ExhibitionOtaku on Twitter, where I talk about all sorts of anime and manga before it makes its way here. Until next time, thanks for reading.

FineKaiju No. 8
PleasingBlue BoxMedaka Kuroiwa is Impervious to My Charms
FantasticChainsaw Man

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