Anime Review: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen (2019)

TL;DR – battle of the sexes comedy set in a prestigious school where love is war.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen (aka Kaguya-sama wa Kokuraetai: Love is War) is a hilarious anime that posits the theory that love is a power struggle and the first to confess and fall in love loses. On a deeper level, it demonstrates how not to love because this show examines all the manipulations and mind games that are played between the two main protagonists – Miyuki and Kaguya.

Miyuki is the president and Kaguya is vice-president of the student council at Shuchiin Academy (an elite school for the brightest and wealthiest students). Miyuki and Kaguya are multi-talented, highly intelligent, and are the gossip of the Academy as to whether they are dating or not. In reality, they’ve never been in a serious relationship, don’t have the first clue of what it means to commit to a relationship and view dating as simply a game where they attempt to get the other to confess. There is a genuine attraction and interest displayed by the pair, but they go about manipulating each other in a battle of wills and sexes that overrides any ability to properly connect.

The fact that Miyuki and Kaguya take it so seriously is what makes it funny. Whether it’s taking a psychological relationship quiz from a magazine that reveals sub-consciously what you’re really like and who you like, to other students coming to Miyuki for relationship advice (even though he has no clue what to do), the arena that is the student council room leads to comic misunderstandings and a total failure to communicate feelings properly.

In one episode, a male student comes to Miyuki seeking advice on how he can hold hands with the girl he likes on a date. Miyuki goes to great lengths to map out all the steps which involves getting a job and earning enough money to pay for surgery so the boy’s hands won’t be sweaty when he attempts to hold the girl’s hand. It’s this type of absurdity that makes you laugh because it’s so ridiculous.

Joining our two main characters are Chika (the student council secretary) and Yuu (the student council treasurer). Chika is largely clueless about what is happening around her, yet somehow she comes off as more emotionally mature than Miyuki and Kaguya. Yuu is an introverted student who believes he can read 5% to 6% of what a person is thinking by the expression in their eyes (he places too much weight in this 5-6%). Yuu thinks that Kaguya is capable of killing people if she doesn’t get her way, which leads to some funny situations. He’s a fatalistic character who struggles to connect with the fairer sex and harbours a strong hatred toward guys who have girlfriends but don’t treat their girlfriends first.

The attempts at depth are often short lived in this show, and it aims squarely at the laughs to carry through the series. In this sense, it succeeds as a light and airy affair that serves its purpose as a comedy but is largely forgetful once you’ve watched it.

However, one episode did stick in my mind. Episode nine has three parts that all connect (previous episodes also have three parts but they are all distinct snippets). Part one sees a typhoon hitting the area. Kaguya tries to get Miyuki to ask her for a lift to his work because the trains have stopped due to the bad weather. Kaguya refuses to offer the lift because she thinks if she does this (instead of him asking her) then it’ll be a “car date” and she will have essentially confessed her attraction to him. And though she want to help and would love to spend time in the chauffeured car with him, she can’t bring herself to do the asking. Her manipulations fail as Miyuki ends up daring the storm on his bicycle leaving Kaguya standing outside in the rain waiting for her limo.

Part two is the next day, Kaguya wakes up sick. Miyuki, Chika and Yuu play a memory card game to see who will get to visit Kaguya and give her the student council printouts. Chika reveals that Kaguya becomes childlike when she’s sick and wants to be taken care of. Miyuki and Chika both want to see her in this state for the opportunity to comfort her. It’s a hilarious process as Chika attempts to cheat but Miyuki figures it out and wins.

Part three shows Miyuki visiting the mansion that Kaguya lives in. And the ensuing set up created by Kaguya’s maid to bring the pair together is also laugh out loud (the maid knows Kaguya has a huge crush on Miyuki).

This episode was memorable because all three parts connect and delve deeper into the underlying emotions the pair have for each other.

A crazy, fun ride.

8 out of 10

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