At their super elite high school, Miyuki Shirogane and Kaguya Shinomiya rule the roost as student council president and vice president. Kaguya, a refined young lady from a wealthy and influential family, and Miyuki, who has earned his top academic ranking through focus and grit, are geniuses admired by their classmates. Although all agree that the two would make the perfect couple—for who else could match them?—and they themselves both acknowledge privately that they would, perhaps, deign to settle for each other, the two have made little romantic headway. Why? Because neither of these two overachievers can stand to lose the game of love by being the first to confess their feelings.
Overburdened by brains and pride and lacking any romantic experience whatsoever, these two clever teens use every convoluted strategy at their disposal to maneuver the other into making the first move. From psychologically probing games of Old Maid, to considerable intrigue over a pair of movie tickets, Kaguya and Mikyuki deploy their greatest schemes against each other. But will these two ever make any progress?
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War is a clever romantic comedy that turns the minor dramas of adolescent romance into a strategic war in the style of psychological thrillers like Death Note. The over-the-top scheming leads to a variety of hilarious situations and each chapter ends with a final score, awarding points to the character who carried the day. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the joke is really on Kaguya and Miyuki: all their careful strategy only reveals their underlying naivete when it comes to love, to the point that Kaguya and Miyuki defeat themselves easily as often as they “defeat” each other. There is something awkwardly endearing about the way both characters overdo it so spectacularly rather than reveal their vulnerabilities to each other, even when it is clear that they genuinely do like one another. One can’t help but root for them along with the rest of the school.
Author Akasaka’s art particularly sells the melodrama of the pair’s quotidian battles, with stark lighting, copious action lines, and theatrical character reactions as the two attempt to outwit each other. Although the proportions of the characters are a bit idiosyncratic at a few points, the slight lack of polish is not enough to be distracting, and is balanced out by well-paced chapters and a good sense of comedic timing. The manga is so far primarily episodic, with some suggestion that there will more characters and slightly more involved “battles” down the line.
Kaguya-sama’s T rating is more an indication of interest level than appropriateness. Aside from a touch of fanservice when Miyuki imagines his crush—ahem, rival—in a bathing suit, there is little to concern parents and selectors. However, in addition to the age of the characters and the focus on romance, which both point to an at least tween audience, the humor depends on the reader having a maturity level that is a bit higher than that of the characters. Some knowledge of Japanese culture is tacitly assumed, as well a some manga tropes—e.g. the all-powerful student council and the stock “ojousama” type—but almost everything is explained sufficiently within the text and there is nothing that would give a new or infrequent manga reader significant pause.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War Vol. 1 is an amusing series starter for this episodic romantic comedy with a melodramatic twist. The manga has broad appeal, and will be especially attractive to fans of similar competitive romantic comedies like Takane & Hana, Teasing Master Takagi-san, and Tsuredure Children, as well as those who enjoy a parody of dramatic thrillers like Death Note and Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler. Collections seeking romantic comedies with appeal across the gender spectrum will want to consider this manga, which would be equally at home in a YA or adult collection. Three volumes are currently available from VIZ Media, and the manga is ongoing in Japan.
An anime based on the manga has premiered on the streaming service Crunchyroll on January 12th.
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, vol. 1
by Aka Akasaka
VIZ Media, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: T