You know those romcom series that have you watch the entire series just to blue ball you at the end with nary ANY progression in the “will they/won’t they” scenario? How about we do that, but parody the living crap out of it and make it even more roundabout while we’re at it?
In the prestigious Shuchiin Academy student council sits two of the students top students: the brilliant Miyuki Shirogane who managed to get into this academy filled with students of high status and influence, and Kaguya Shinomiya, daughter to the massive Shinomiya conglomerate. Though seemingly perfect for each other, the two because of prideful (and stupidly hilarious) reasons have not confessed to each other out not wanting to show weakness to the other. After all, love is war, and the first to crumble under the psychological warfare is the loser.
Taking a small slice of the original manga (because believe me, this goes on for a while), Kaguya-sama is ultimately a romcom series that has the audience sit in waiting watching the show’s main couple attempt to socialize/get closer with each other with varying degrees of success each time. Each episode consists of three or so chapters of the manga with the ‘result’ of each battle being shown right before the commercial break so stat trackers have an easy way to tally up the number of victories, losses, and stalemates on each side. What happens in these chapters however can vary from a wide array of different romance, school, and slice of life tropes all given the ‘Akasaka’ spin that makes the show so memorable and worth watching in the first place.
The ‘Akasaka’ spin is Akasaka-sensei’s way of exaggerating and turning literally every possible scene and action conceivable into a mindgame where the protagonists consistently fight with each other in psychological warfare trying to predict and counter each other’s next move, focusing almost exclusively on internal monologue and usage of a third party narrator in order to relay information to the audience given the hilarious complexity of trying to achieve something as simple as trying to offer him a ride home in the rain. This makes up the lion’s share of the series, being one of the show’s major sources of comedic fuel and one of the primary reasons why the show is ultimately so entertaining to begin with because everything is taken so hilariously seriously.
While the show only makes incremental amounts of progress due to the series ultimately still being a romcom that has no way to go anywhere fast with only twelve episodes, the show more than makes up for the lack of speed by making the ride there as ludicrous and needlessly roundabout as possible. It’s not a show where you (mostly) watch the characters try and get together, but rather one where the ride is more important because the presentation and portrayal of typical anime scenes make it so. Because believe me, it’s funnier having them spend time lamenting over their own stupidity rather than having the stupid happen without any acknowledgment.
For a pair of supposed geniuses, these two are a pair of lovable dunderheads. Kaguya and Miyuki act as the series’s centerpiece and the primary reason why the show is so much fun to watch to begin with. Though on the outside they seem like the refined rich lady and the accomplished brainiac, other factors that come into play like sheltered knowledge and social ineptitude come up quite often in their quests to try and ‘conquer’ the other. More often than not the traits of themselves they try to hide from the public eye come out in the limelight, resulting in many, many moments of Kaguya’s softer side, a lot of moments with Miyuki mentally shutting down from trying to think things through, and a near excessive amount of overthinking where they each think they fucked up when trying to romance the other despite more often than not, the opposite effect is taking place.
Because there aren’t enough wrenches thrown into the mix due to the protagonists’ ineptitude, the show also spotlights the two other members of the student council: the spunky living meme Chika Fujiwara, and Ishigami Yuu halfway through the series. Explaining these two can be easily described as: the spunky, airheaded secretary that unknowingly manipulates everyone around her for personal gain, and the depressed otaku gamer that just wants to be left alone with his life intact. For the most part, these two act as stopgates (mostly Chika) or ‘hinderances’ (again, mostly Chika) to the goals of our main couple. The show primarily uses these two during times when the show tries to take a break from its romance aspect and instead puts the ‘Akasaka’ spin on really whatever it fucking wants. Ishigami doesn’t really get much of this since he’s barely here for even half the show, but Chika certainly takes up a large portion of the show with her antics to break up the usual action.
The majority of the side cast usually doesn’t take up really take up enough time to matter most of the time, which is a shame given the consistency of their appearances. At most we see Kaguya’s personal maid Hayasaka show up in the latter half, as well as the couple of Kashiwagi and her boyfriend for some much needed ‘normies go explode’ moments. Personally I’m disappointed at how criminally underused Miyuki’s family is, as Kei is by far my favorite character in this series, and their dad hardly shows up enough to matter which, if you got Dio to voice the man, you should use him just a little more. (Also cause the man’s hilarious too.)
I’m not really sure how A-1 had any budget leftover to do both this and SAO concurrently, but hey, I’m not complaining. However because of that arrangement, the art for Kaguya-sama somehow feels a bit lacking. At points the show looks a lot rougher than it probably should have, which is made more apparent given the sheer amount of dynamic animation the show employs in order to bring out the inner psyche of these idiots. The color scheme this time is also pretty dull and not much pops out unless the show for some reason decides it’s time to make Chika the star for a brief moment and brighten up the background.
However art isn’t really where the show shines, but in the animation. Because of the nature of this show, A-1 employs an absurd amount of speed lines, metaphoric cutaways, and complete contrast to the show’s typical artstyle in order to make the show visually interesting. Because of this, a lot of the time the show doesn’t even have the background JUST be the student council room or any other typical setpiece, once again furthering the show from your typical romcom while making it stylistically different and interesting.
Personally I’m not really a fan of the tracks in the show. Masayuki Suzuki’s “Love Dramatic” is certainly a unique song, being a lot more jazzy than I expected with the chorus of ‘Love is War’ being accompanied by visuals reflective of the show’s psychological nature. It’s just however something I’m not a fan of, but I definitely do recommend it as a listen. To contrast, halca’s “Sentimental Crisis” is a more instrumental and somber piece that’s reflective of Kaguya’s sentimental crisis as it speaks of the backstory of her prior to being the school’s VP (that we don’t get to see in this cour).
Then there’s the bloody “Chika Dance” song that…I guess it’s alright. I admit it’s quirky and it pretty much encapsulates her personality in a minute and thirty second bite with a good section of the audience having to google what ‘rotoscoping’ is due to confusion as to how they managed the almost uncanny visuals of her movement. However because I’m not really a big fan of Chika, it’s not really something I care to ogle over, though I respect the one guy that decided that spending five months of his life to do this was worth it.
I always found Kaguya-sama to be an amusing read because it takes everything that exists in a typical romcom and smashes its face into the pavement in order to assert dominance by practically making fun of the genre whilst throwing its own story of two characters trying to confess to each other into the mix, so it’s no surprise the series took off as well as it did. (I’m also really glad they kept the ‘how cute’ gag and overused it as much as they did.)
Though it looks a little lower budget than I expected given its popularity, the adaptation didn’t disappoint and I’m glad that at least one of my favorite series this season got the attention and care that it deserves. My only lament beyond the side cast not shining as much as I wanted them to is that the fact that they didn’t have Jouji Nakata do the voice of the narrator, because they had him do something like that for Noucome way back when, and that was fucking hilarious cause the dude couldn’t hold it together when doing some of the lines. Yutaka Aoyama still does a good job and I’m more than happy that they actually did the narrator because the show literally wouldn’t be the same without one constantly reiterating stuff in the background.
If you’re a romcom fan and want something out of the ordinary to add to your ever growing collection of that genre, Kaguya-sama is definitely one to have. The presentation more than makes up for the fact that the show barely makes any progress towards the finish line, and all of the ways the characters try to manipulate each other despite ultimately failing at whatever their plan was is hilarious and never fails to deliver a good punchline in the end. Highly recommend this series, but not THAT much cause Kei got maybe two appearances total, and that to me is a crime of the highest order.