I think Kaguya-sama was probably one of the only romance anime that came out of last season to really capture my attention. There were definitely a few too many shonen harem anime during the winter, and that’s not usually a genre I know I’ll enjoy. But I think Kaguya-sama did a phenomenal job capturing the vast majority of anime fans in the US and Japan, making it arguably one of the stand-out hits of the season. I certainly enjoyed myself immensely, and I have a hard time getting both the opening and ending themes out of my head even when we’re now into the Spring season. A-1 Pictures did a great job with the animation, creating an aesthetic that is truly visually interesting and isn’t something I’ve seen for quite some time. And while the focus is certainly more on comedy than romance, there is definitely enough quintessential romantic moments throughout the series to be entertaining on both fronts. So if you’ve been holding off on picking this series up I would highly suggest checking it out especially if you’re looking for a good laugh.
Kaguya-sama follows Student Council President Miyuki Shirogane and Vice-President Kaguya Shinomiya who seem like they would be the perfect couple. Shirogane leads the school with his grades and is generally respected by the school and the community. Kaguya is the daughter of a wealthy conglomerate family, second only to Shirogane in grades. Both of them hold feelings for the other, but neither wants to be the one to confess first, because to confess would be to lose. So begins the war to make the other one confess their love first through trickery, mind games, or whatever’s necessary.
I really can’t help but love this series. A-1 Pictures has really outdone themselves with their animation and overall aesthetic they created for this show. Each episode is full of highly contrasting values and palettes, extreme expressions, and smooth animations. I especially love the stylized nature of the series at points. The red on black color contrasting color schemes that are sometimes used provide a sense of earnestness or severity to the mood or tone of the show which in turn contrasts with the comedy that’s happening at the same time. When you add in Kaguya’s black hair and red eyes, she winds up popping really well in pretty much any background. Most of the action is either confined to the student council room or on simplified backgrounds, but I think that winds up being a good thing. It helps bring the focus to the characters, their expressions, and the comedy going on at the moment. And I think in the area of expressions is where this series animation really shines.
I love a good series and animation staff that really puts a lot of work and care into expressions and body language. I really think it’s one of the things that can take a good series and up it into a great series. Not everything has to be dialogue and exposition, and I think in terms of comedy anime, expressions are key to getting a gag or joke across in a meaningful manner. Kaguya-sama and A-1 Pictures really excels at this, showing off how a seemingly meaningless issue like playing a game or trying to get someone to notice you’ve painted your nails can become the subject of a half-episode through the use of expressions. I really can’t get enough of all of Kaguya’s different expressions, from her tsundere pouting face to her adorable blushes and even her murderous glares. Not to mention the wide range of different styles A-1 uses throughout the series as well, switching between sometimes highly rendered or shaded designs and then more flat designs that rely on contrasting colors rather than shading to get the scene to pop.
However, there’s even more to love in terms of A-1’s production of this series, and that’s their opening and endings. I honestly have a hard time getting either of these songs out of my head they are so catchy, and usually the endings of a lot of anime feel more like after-thoughts than anything else, but not here. A-1 Pictures put a lot of care into these two book-ends and you can really tell. The opening is pretty amazing with its caleidoscope-like effects and contrasting colors, it really sucks you in and gets your excited for the series to start. They brought in Japan’s King of Love Songs Masayuki Suzuki, a veteran of the music industry since 1975, for the opening, creating this great jazzy and upbeat song that really captures the feel of the show.
They then decided to up the ante and created a whole new ending for episode three with a fully-rotoscoped Fujiwara dancing. They really went above and beyond for this one, using rotoscoping over a live dancer to bring out some of the best animation I have seen in a long time (just look at the way her skirt moves!). And then there’s the actual ending which is honestly another amazing addition to the series. The animation, the theme “Sentimental Crisis” by Halca, and the references that pop up in it are all awesome. If you don’t already know, A-1 Pictures took a lot of inspiration for this ending from a really old OVA by Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Oshii called “On Your Mark” about a winged girl. The kind of Miyazaki-esque dream-like state feel to the ending works really well with the theme, making it one of the stand-out ending of the whole season in my book.
However, the main draw of the series is the comedy and the characters. I’m usually not wholly thrilled with the long, drawn-out will-they-won’t-they love stories, but the comedy makes it something almost completely different. While the attention is still on who will confess first for most of the series, the majority of it I believe is focused on what contrived plot of mind-game will these two come up with next. The over-the-top nature of each of these episodes overshadows the drawn-out love confessions and makes it really entertaining. The pride, intelligence, and even naivete of these characters all comes together to create scenarios that pull from simple concepts, like sharing an umbrella or getting someone’s phone number, and make them long convoluted games of 3-dimensional chess full of gags and overreactions. Throw in the chaos theory of Fujiwara, the secretary of the student council and Kaguya’s friend, and you have episodes where these well-thought-out games of chess suddenly get tipped over as Fujiwara introduces something neither of them thought of or completely ruins their plans. It makes for some really hilarious moments.
I think what keeps me coming back the most though is the characters. Shirogane, Kaguya, Fujiwara, and Ishigami are all great characters with well-developed personalities that work well together. We have the perpetually tired-looking Shirogane who likes to act like he’s just naturally the smartest and greatest in school but actually works really hard to keep his place and maintain that image. He genuinely cares about the students of the school and the rest of the student council members, especially Kaguya. Then we have Kaguya, the sheltered daughter of a rich family that has too much pride for her own good. She smart in every way except personal relationships and has been shown to be slight cold at times, but she seems to genuinely care about at least Shirogane and Fujiwara. Both of them work really well off of each other with Kaguya’s sheltered nature contrasting with Shirogane’s more blue-collar background. They are both extremely intelligent and use every skill they’ve learned to try and one-up the other, but you can see through their mind-games that they really do care about and understand one another down to predicting each other’s thoughts and actions. They would honestly make a really cute couple.
I absolutely love Fujiwara, and I think the rest of the internet at this point agrees. While I love the myriad of expressions and character growth we get from Kaguya throughout the series, I can’t help but love Fujiwara’s personality and how she kind of acts as a big-sister and friend role to Kaguya throughout the series. She was Kaguya’s only friend that stuck with her through middle school and she makes the effort throughout the series to help Kaguya grow and let loose, to laugh more often and enjoy herself. She understands about Kaguya’s position and is immensely intelligent herself. Her mother is an ambassador so she knows multiple languages and is apparently an award winning pianist. I think we really get to see the extent of her intelligence during the “forbidden word” game episode where she manages to one-up both Kaguya and Shirogane on their level, being able to predict Kaguya’s actions to a T. I also absolutely love the volleyball episode where she trains Shirogane all week in volleyball. It absolutely hilarious how bad he is but Fujiwara sticks with him until the end like a true friend. She’s the element of chaos throughout the series but is also a kind-of social support network for the student council members as well.
If you haven’t already had a chance to watch Kaguya-sama, I would highly suggest picking it up. I can pretty much guarantee you’ll get a laugh out of at least one episode if not the whole series. I think I might actually pick up the manga as well just to see what else happens with these characters. Drop a like or let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this series as well or, if you didn’t, what you didn’t like about it.
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