So I’ll get this out of the way and just say Kaguya-Sama: Love Is War is probably one of the best romantic comedies out right now. As the anime prepares to enter what may be its biggest season (If you read the manga you’ll know why).
I mean, a lot of the praise from Kaguya-Sama comes from how genuinely good it is- it follows two elite students, Shirogane Miyuki and Shinomiya Kaguya who have intelligence in everything except how romance works. The manga starts as this battle of the sexes while the two constantly try to con the other person into admitting they have feelings for the former, but evolves into this really great story about love and relationships.
It also helps that the manga is genuinely funny- driven by absurdist humor that can only be accomplished when the main characters of your manga are borderline inhuman.
And that actually plays into the main crux of my praise for Kaguya Sama: compared to every other rom com on the market right now, Kaguya Sama’s big appeal is being the only major rom com out right now that’s not an escapist fantasy.
Of Impossible Girls And Their Marketability
Look, I don’t hate the Impossible Girl genre or its offshoots- in fact, I’m probably one of its biggest fans. But just like any other genre, it’s prone to homogenization and oversaturation, and you reach a point where the it’s not about telling you a good story, it’s about selling you a seasonal waifu so you can have a steady supply of scale figure income.
You see this in anime like Nagatoro, Komi San or My Dress Up Darling- the main characters are always fairly normal guys, usually oblivious to the fact that their inability to call the female lead hot is a super power that has these impossible girls all over them, fawning for their attention. You get this extra bad with Komi-San, where the attempt to downplay its own male lead is so strong that I’m genuinely convinced he was written as an author stand-in to fantasize about getting together with his high school crush.
It’s not intrinsically bad, but you can tell when characters are blatant audience stand-ins and it always leads to a worse romance for it. My Dress Up Darling is a great example of this because its romance story is at its strongest when it treats its main lead as an actual character with his own specific thoughts and feelings rather than just “oh my god isn’t blushing when you see a pair of boobs relatable?”
It’s very subtle but you can always tell what role an anime wants its audience to have in these stories- and this genre in particular is notably lousy with really wanting you to think that you could just have a shot at being the one person these characters want to give all their time and attention to.
Kaguya-Sama instead sidesteps this problem entirely- Miyuki and Kaguya are both the types of characters you’d see be the impossible love interest in a lesser manga, and at no point are you actually meant to go “oh no these emotionally stunted idiots are just like me”. You’re not meant to see yourself as either of these characters, you’re meant to simply sit down and understand the reasons they do the things they do.
I mean, for God’s sake, Kaguya rips out the battery from Miyuki’s phone and swaps it with a flat one because she wants to give him a ride home. Miyuki has to take lessons from Fujiwara (a recurring gag) anytime he’s secretly bad at something just so he can keep up his cool guy persona.
It’s totally out there and it works because it’s a story first, and that means having fully fleshed-out characters. Sure, there’s a whole boat of Kaguya merch to sink your savings into, but by skipping the part where any character in Kaguya-Sama is functionally normal you create actually cool characters, not just walking billboards for the Good Smile Company.
Human After All
Of course, one more thing that Kaguya Sama does great is its human moments. Despite being wrapped in layers of absurdist thinking, each character ultimately has simple motivations behind them: Kaguya has an entire monologue just because she’s never tried sausages cut up into octopus shapes before. Hayasaka just wants her own romance story rather than being a side character in someone else’s. Ishigami just wants to trust people.
Even though these motivations can often times have dramatic backstories tied to them, the emphasis falling on on what they want to feel rather than any in-universe goal is a great tool for ultimately making a group of extremely rich and/or smart students feel on some level, relatable.
Love Is War
At the end of the day, it’s great that the rom com genre has grown diverse enough that we can even have these kinds of discussions. It’s not like Impossible Girls are bad- their popularity is driven by the fact that people want a story where the main character is just like them except for having the affection of a hot girl.
But at the same time it’s also important to look at what trend-breakers have that make them great to stop a genre from getting stale like the fantasy genre. I could have easily made this rant about Wotakoi too, and the fact that it boldly has every character in that story be of legal age, which according to other anime is the age where the human body just starts to decay in the sunlight.
Still, if nothing else, I hope this rant has given a good reason to check out one of the best romantic comedies released in the past decade. It’s an S-tier manga with an S-tier anime adaptation, not something you get all that often and the first season of Kaguya Sama is even on Netflix for you to have a taste test to get into.