Introduction: Kaguya-sama Wants to Be Confessed To
I am in love… and so are Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogane, though unlike me neither are willing to admit it to themselves, nor to each other. “Kaguya-sama: Love is War”, by the talented Aka Akasaka, is a satirical romance manga series that has been running for 196 chapters as of me currently writing this introduction. It is about two high school students, two geniuses, who through their superior intellect attempt to manipulate the other into confessing their love.
At least that’s what it seems like the series is about from the get go, but what the reader comes to find as the series goes on is that it’s actually about two morons inept at expressing their emotions. Two morons who are looking for an easy way out instead of just confessing their feelings. It’s also about everyone else around them. A large cast of characters who both affect and are affected by our dumb protagonists.
Kaguya is in love with Miyuki, Miyuki is in love with Kaguya, and I am in love with this manga. So, come one and all, gather round and sit cross-legged like tiny children as I proclaim to you that no… love is not war; love is unity. Also, please allow me to confess to you all now… allow me to confess my love for “Kaguya-sama: Love Is War”.
1. The Student Council Members Want to Fight
Shuchiin Academy! A private school in Japan for the rich and the gifted. As my oldest and dearest friend William Shakespeare would say it is “where we lay our scene”. At this prestigious academy there is a special room. The student council room is not just a student council room, it is a battlefield. On that battlefield there are five soldiers.
Kaguya Shinomiya, a brilliantly smart and talented young woman who can be cool as ice or hotter than the flames of hell. Unforgiving, yet caring, and in love with Miyuki. She is both rich and gifted.
Miyuki Shirogane, a man with an unmatched work ethic. Everything Miyuki has ever gotten has been earned, and he is the student council president of this academy. Also, he is in love with Kaguya. He is neither rich nor gifted.
Chika Fujiwara, chaos incarnate. She is chaos theory given form as a human being. She is a mess, she is conceited, she appears caring, but in truth she is selfish. The characters of our story fear her because she has a tendency to ruin any and all plans. Chika is a necessary force on this battlefield. She is rich.
Yu Ishigami, an antisocial gamer who somehow became student council treasurer. He fears and dislikes other people, especially people he deems normies. He is rich.
Miko Iino, a young woman who is a stickler for the rules and has a strong sense of justice. She’s a snitch. She’s the kind of girl who will tell on you to the teacher for bringing candy to school. She also is hard on herself and responds extremely well to compliments, so much so that she can be manipulated (Primarily by Chika). She is rich and gifted.
This group of fine soldiers are the core of everything I love about this series, both in how they interact with each other, and also how they interact with everything outside themselves. First though we’ll discuss the former.
“Kaguya-sama: Love is War” follows the same structure for most of its chapters, especially early on. Each chapter of this series is a new “battle”, usually between members of the student council. The battle usually centers itself around our two morons. Kaguya and Miyuki constantly see opportunities to get the other to admit they are in love, and they engage in manipulative mental warfare.
However, they often either take it too far and end up in some terrible or ridiculous predicaments, or some of the other members of the student council interferes with their plan and they are forced to adapt. Ishigami, Chika, and Iino are all obstacles to be overcome, and early on in the series they aren’t much more than that.
Hijinks ensue with each chapter tackling some aspect of modern teenage romance: “How should I ask for the number of the person I like?”, “Should I be the one to text first?”, “I wanna try their cooking, but will I look too eager if I ask for a bite of their lunch?”, “Should I take part in the cherry stem tying competition to try and show what a good kisser I am? But what if I fail?”, “Should I get the same smart-phone model as the person I like? What if they think I’m copying them?” and so on. The series pokes fun at these questions often through either Miyuki’s ineptitude or Kaguya’s sheltered upbringing.
What’s most important though is that each battle, each chapter, follows this question and answer format. The answers characters give almost always serve to teach us some small fact about them. Over dozens of chapters these small facts eventually pile up to build a detailed picture of who each of these five characters are as people.
What makes this series so special is that everyone — except for Chika — becomes more than just an eccentric obstacle or crazy talented evil mastermind of love warfare. They become real people. For example, we see Ishigami start getting into battles of his own, and we see him build an almost sibling-like relationship with Kaguya in which she not only helps him become a better student, but also to come out of his shell. We see him overcome his fear of others. We see Ishigami start to open up and do things like joining the cheer squad and falling in love himself — something which I will talk about in greater detail later.
This growth through warfare is the most important aspect of this series. One of the scariest things about war for the onlookers, the non-soldiers, is that once you are in it you begin to fear that the war may never end. You see no resolution in sight, you worry about your side losing, about your loved ones getting hurt, about the war going on forever. This fear manifests itself in the reader as the question, “will Miyuki and Kaguya ever get together, or will we just have to watch them waste away their high school experience fighting a time-wasting war?”. Indeed, the reader fears that this’ll just be a basic manga romcom that may never see a proper resolution to its primary conflict, at least not until the end of the series.
This is where the growth through warfare aspect comes in full force. Kaguya and Miyuki actually make progress. As the series goes on Kaguya’s icy exterior thaws and she grows more and more in touch with her emotions. She starts reading into every little thing and fussing the president, desperately wanting to get opportunities alone with him, or to touch him, or look at him. Her strategies start becoming less roundabout and innocuous. They become direct and forceful, each looking to drive some big confession out of him, rather than looking for little slip ups.
Miyuki is similar. He starts to care more for Kaguya as a person and he can’t stand to see her suffer, as seen when he runs to get her for the fireworks festival. As time goes on, he becomes more serious about Kaguya and more easily flustered by the things she does. He also grows without Kaguya. As I mentioned earlier Miyuki is not gifted, far from it in fact. Miyuki comes from a poor family, and he works several jobs; everything Miyuki is good at he’s had to work hard for, from his studies, to his hobbies. Miyuki is naturally terrible at most things he does — so bad he makes other people cringe or pass out in shock at his sheer ineptitude — and because of his ineptitude he ends up developing a mother-son relationship with Chika.
There are several different points in the series where Miyuki is struggling to learn how to do something, and Chika trains him in that thing until he reaches a level of competence. Activities from volleyball, to balloon art, to rapping, to singing, and an implied number of other things.
Eventually, about sixty-percent of the way through what currently exists of the series, Miyuki and Kaguya mature to the point where they realize that their feelings are more important than their silly war. This culminates in a long arc in which Kaguya and Miyuki come to grips with their feelings of love, eventually confess to each other, and begin dating. This climactic moment makes a weighty impact on the reader, because it is earned. These characters grew and matured, they learned that love isn’t war. Kaguya and Ishigami shared a sibling like love, Miyuki and Chika shared a parent-child like love, and both learned that love is about working together. Love is unity. And in the culmination of this arc we get Miyuki and Kaguya fully exposing their true selves to each other in a park. Nothing extravagant like everything that came before, just something simple and direct. Normal.
I love this because I feel like it made my decision to read through the series justified. All these little seemingly filler chapters of cute and funny skirmishes ended up being important, because they built these characters up and allowed them to grow. Everything that came before was all in service to this moment, and this series justifying the existence of every part of itself was extremely satisfying. It made me feel that this series I’m reading is worth something. That it’s valuable.
And this is just the main cast. This is just the student council. Although the series begins with Kaguya and Miyuki, it does not end with them. I mean that in every sense of the word. After they got together it continued, because “Kaguya-sama: Love is War” has so much more to offer.
2. The Students of Shuchiin Academy Want to Be Confessed To
The supporting cast! Without them this series would merely be good, with them it’s fantastic. From the hyper competent and highly skilled personal maid Ai Hayasaka to Miyuki’s bafflingly strange and scary father, this cast is bustling with personality and activity. Like the main cast, the supporting cast is also built up steadily over the series through individual chapters here and there to entire mini arcs dedicated to them.
The supporting cast gets steadily larger as the series goes on, and by the time you catch up to chapter 196 the cast feels like a large group of real people. That’s what I love the most about the supporting cast. They feel so human and normal, like people you would meet or know in your everyday life — with a few exceptions of course.
Let’s illustrate examples of the development of the supporting cast. First, we shall discuss Nagisa Kashiwagi, Tsubasa Tanuma, and Maki Shijo. Kashiwagi is a friend of Kaguya’s and is a girl who attends Shuchiin. She comes to Kaguya for love advice in the beginning of the series. Similarly Tsubasa Tanuma, apparently an official member of “Miyuki’s Squad”, also comes to the student council for advice on love around the same time. With the student council’s advice these two end up dating almost immediately. They quickly go from inexperienced lovers to the most experienced in the entire cast.
They brag about their relationship and even sometimes come back to the student council for advice despite Kaguya and Miyuki now being less knowledgeable than they; though we do get to see that Ishigami, the treasurer, is surprisingly knowledgeable about how to act in relationships.
Eventually the tables turn and it becomes Kaguya asking for advice from Kashiwagi instead, and Kashiwagi tries to help her with Miyuki. It’s easy to see that these side characters are affecting the plot and helping develop the main characters, but it doesn’t stop there.
Enter Maki Shijo. Maki is a distant cousin of Kaguya’s; a member of a branch family from the Shinomiyas. She and Kaguya have hated each other since they were young. Not only that though, Maki is Kashiwagi’s best friend, which is a fairly innocuous fact until it is revealed that Maki is in love with Kashiwagi’s boyfriend Tsubasa. Because of this she ends up suffering from depression and seeking out help and advice from Miyuki and Ishigami.
The three end up developing a strange and hilarious friendship centered around the hardships of love, and they are seen at various points throughout the second half of the series hanging out under a tree talking about their problems. Maki becomes such a developed and prominent character almost out of nowhere, and she even ends up getting a whole chapter dedicated to herself when she travels to India in order to reach nirvana and forget about her unrequited love.
Next up we have one of our main protagonists Miko Iino and her best friend Kobachi Osaragi, and then their connection to members from the cheer squad in Ishigami’s arc. Iino has always been a loner due to being a snitch and a complete stickler for school rules. She also hates Ishigami at first because he never follows any rules. Her only friend is Osaragi. Osaragi is an interesting character because she gets directly involved in the main arcs of several of the main characters all the while watching over Iino and Ishigami from the sidelines. The author also proclaimed her as the hottest girl in Young Jump (the magazine this manga is printed in).
Osaragi ends up dating the captain of the cheer squad briefly, before breaking up with him.
Next, we have Rei Onodera from the cheer squad. Onodera is someone who hates Ishigami, like many people in the school for something he did in the past, which again I will cover later. Onodera eventually learns to respect and appreciate Ishigami, not only that though, she ends up becoming a new friend for Miko Iino, and helps Iino with some of her goals and desires. Her warming up to these characters then serves as an example for Kaguya in a later arc for something that she is trying to overcome (forgiving others for their transgressions against her and flaws in their character).
These are just a few examples of side characters involved in the plot, but it’s easy to see that all of them matter. All of them interact with the protagonists in meaningful ways. This trend would continue if I listed out more characters, but what is perhaps most impressive is that you don’t see any of these developments coming. You see these side characters every once in a while at first, and you think with your cute little brain “oh these are just some random background anime characters, no one worth paying attention to,” but then the series just keeps bringing them back and giving them bigger and bigger portions from the buffet that is the plot. Before long what began as a series with three characters in a small student council room, becomes a large cast of characters in and out of school, all varying in ages and situations. Almost all of them allow for the plot to explore a different facet of Love.
And now my fine readers, I am sure you are getting tired from sitting cross-legged on the ground so feel free to stand or pull up a chair because we still have to cover the most important side character. Ai Hayasaka.
3. Ai Hayasaka Wants to Be Free
Kaguya Shinomiya’s personal maid, Ai Hayasaka! She is one of my favorite characters in the series. Throughout the story Hayasaka helps Kaguya in everything she is trying to do, including trying to get Miyuki to confess. Hayasaka helps her come up with plans, puts up with Kaguya when she is flustered, and comforts her when she is upset. She’s the ultimate wing-man essentially.
Hayasaka wears masks. At school she plays a bubbly teenager while she secretly watches over Kaguya to make sure nothing bad happens to her. In reality her personality is calm and collected, without showing too much emotion. She is an incredible actor and seeing her do things like trying to woo Miyuki herself on a bet with Kaguya is amusing, because we know it’s all a front.
Hayasaka and Miyuki end up becoming friends and Miyuki encourages her to break the mask she always puts up and show her true self. Hayasaka resists this idea at first, but Miyuki manages to reach her through a carefully constructed rap. He rapped from his soul.
Over the course of the series Hayasaka becomes increasingly frustrated with her master, and it culminates in one of the most recent arcs — as of writing this essay — in which Hayasaka quits her job. She has been going behind Kaguya’s back for years and reporting all the things Kaguya does to Kaguya’s father Ganan Shinomiya. The guilt and stress from her job catches up to her. She just wants to live her life as she wants to. Some drama ensues and Kaguya learns of what Hayasaka did. Instead of reprimanding Hayasaka though, Kaguya forgives her for what she’s done (this was set up in Onodera’s arc which I talked about in the previous section). Hayasaka then is able to live a normal life, no longer a maid, and her and Kaguya can finally be normal friends, though in a way they are sisters. They share a sisterly love. Which as you can see is yet another type of love this series explores!
Hayasaka is one of the perfect characters to help illustrate the fact that this series is exploring more than just one kind of love. While Hayasaka longs for a significant other, through her we get to see her express both familial love as well as friendly love with Miyuki.
Love is unity. And these side characters show that more than the main cast. The main cast are just a bunch of flies that are caught in a web of interconnected side characters. You strum one string of the web and the entire web vibrates. Hayasaka is a side character that permeates almost every part of this story, and I love it.
The supporting cast of this manga help make it what it is.
4. Yu Ishigami Wants to Be Happy
The student council treasurer, Yu Ishigami! Ishigami’s arc throughout “Kaguya-sama Love is War” is one of my favorite things about the manga. I have avoided talking about it up until now for the purposes of this section, and look how beautiful it is. We have a field of untouched snow in front of us just waiting to be trampled and played with, so let’s make a few snowmen and throw a snowball or three.
As I explained earlier Ishigami is an introvert who a good portion of his class hates. They don’t hate him because he’s an introvert though, no the reason is much more serious. You see, Ishigami was wrongly accused of stalking the girl he liked after he beat up her then boyfriend for cheating on her. He was suspended for several months. Ishigami was about to give in completely to despair as he was shunned when Miyuki came in and swooped him up to add him to the student council. The student council members knew he was framed, because of an investigation conducted at Kaguya’s request, yet no one else knows.
Ishigami wants to keep all of this a secret, because he doesn’t want the girl he liked before to ever find out that her ex-boyfriend cheated on her. He wants her to be happy. This information is the springboard from which Ishigami launches off of for his character arc.
While in high school, on a whim, Ishigami decides to expand his horizons by joining the school’s cheer squad. Something he’s very much not cut out for just due to his sheer utter lack of cheer. When he joins the squad, he is disappointed because he sees all the other members as just boring normies with basic personalities. This is expressed by each member of the cheer squad being faceless.
Despite all this Ishigami decides to give his all to the cheer squad and works hard to cheer with them. As he’s doing it, he starts having fun and feeling happy. He starts feeling good about himself. Ishigami’s arc is about loving himself and forgiving himself for his past actions and looking to the future. Yet another kind of love this series explores.
The sports festival arrives and while Ishigami is finally enjoying himself the girl he used to like and whom he was accused of stalking shows up. She makes some bitter remark to him about he’s looking like he’s having fun. Immediately we see a shadow cast over Ishigami, his past has caught up with him. However, his bro Miyuki cheers him on and tells him to not worry about the past.
As Ishigami is getting ready to anchor a relay, the girl he used to like starts berating him from the sidelines. Ishigami then performs the ultimate task of self-respect: he calls her and idiot and tells her to shut up in a flippant tone before proceeding to finish the race in second.
Feeling down about not winning the race, the rest of the cheer team comes to his side and congratulates them on what an amazing job he did. It is at this point that they become no longer faceless. Each of them gets a distinct face, and for the first time Ishigami realizes that they are all nice and good people. By calling them normies he was just being biased. Just like that Ishigami went from hating himself and fearing others, to loving himself and others.
This is one of my favorite messages about love in the series. Loving oneself is one of the most important things in life, and Ishigami learned that he is worth loving, and that everyone who hates him can just shove off.
Ishigami’s arc continues past that. He falls for one of the captains of the cheer team, Tsubame Koyasu, a senior and one of the most idolized girls at the school. She is out of his league, but Kaguya cheers him on. He is like a little brother to her in a way and she wants to be there for him and help him find love.
He confesses to Koyasu on accident, by giving her a large heart-shaped chocolate during a festival where if you give someone something heart-shaped it essentially means you want to spend the rest of your life with them. She takes time to think about his confession. During which Kaguya talks to Koyasu for him and convinces her to put off her decision and at least give Ishigami the chance of getting to know him better.
They agree to get to know each other better before she answers, but at a Christmas party Koyasu offers to have sex with Ishigami. Ishigami asks her if she wants to be with him, and she says she doesn’t think she can, so Ishigami refuses to sleep with her. She was just doing it out of pity for him.
As he is leaving her apartment with Miko Iino in tow he seemingly intentionally tries throwing himself down some stairs, because he feels like trash, but Iino saves him breaking his fall. Iino’s arm breaks, and because of guilt Ishigami helps her with stuff around school like writing notes. He gets closer to Iino during this time and she begins to develop feelings for him, but just as she realizes this Koyasu comes back to Ishigami saying she would be willing to try again. And so Koyasu and Ishigami start getting to know each other better and actually going on dates.
Iino starts suffering from the pain of unrequited love which she confesses to Miyuki. Then half of the rest of the big cast is split into people who ship Ishigami with Iino and Ishigami with Koyasu in a satire of shippers and shipping culture. Kaguya is with the Ishigami x Koyasu shippers whereas Miyuki is with the Ishigami x Iino shippers. This doesn’t strain their romantic relationship though as they support each other’s differing opinions.
Ishigami’s arc is all about self-respect and dignity. Choosing not to sleep with Koyasu was the responsible thing to do out of respect for himself and his own feelings. Doing so would have been self-destructive. The old Ishigami would have done so. The new Ishigami is one who loves himself and can be loved by others, and while he’s still his same old self in a sense, he’s now a much better person than he used to be.
This is a recurring phenomenon with “Kaguya-sama: Love is War”. In a lot of other comedies characters become reductive and exaggerated versions of how they were at the beginning of the series, but with this manga we see the opposite happen. In the beginning there are just a bunch of basic anime characters who you don’t think much of, but as the series goes on these characters only become more and more complex. It’s like with the cheer squad. Originally Ishigami saw them as faceless “normies”, but once he got to know them he began to see all their features and even fell for one. This is what happens with the reader and all of the characters in the story, and it’s fantastic.
While there is all this serious business going on in this manga it is still important to talk about how it’s a comedy and a satire, and it’s brilliant at both.
5. Chika Fujiwara And Friends Want to Make You Laugh
Love Detective Chika is here! “Kaguya-sama: Love is War” is hilarious. There is no character who encapsulates this hilarity better than the one and only Chika Fujiwara whom I have not discussed much this far except to say that she is essentially the devil.
Chika Fujiwara is one of the most prominent characters in this manga, being featured in most chapters, yet she is the only character in this entire series who has no arc whatsoever. She doesn’t grow, she doesn’t learn, she’s not a good person and she’s chaotic. Constantly Chika will take characters who are taking a particular situation or battle too seriously, blindfold them, then spin them around thirty-six times (metaphorically speaking of course). She’s essentially a reverse cupid, unintentionally ruining all of Kaguya and Miyuki’s plans for making the other confess.
Despite her constant meddling and disregard for other people, Chika is one of the funniest characters in the series. Consistently she makes me laugh with her remarks or her actions. Often when the main characters are being stupid or frustratingly stubborn a good dose of Chika is exactly what the manga needs.
Her presence is like that of a white blood cell. While she’s not the only funny character (most characters are funny) she’s here to keep the tone in check. She is a tool in this sense, and without her this manga would definitely lack something essential. She is a counterweight. This little gremlin manages to be one of my favorite characters despite not having an arc at all, and that is an amazing feat considering how fleshed out everyone else is.
This manga is a satire of the genre a lot of the time, from directly ripping into a type of anime the manga itself has dubbed “Heisei era romcoms”, to its satire of shippers and shipping wars. Nothing in “Kaguya-sama: Love is War” can ever be simple, and that in and of itself is a sort of joke. Nearly every single chapter of this manga gets to me to laugh.
6. Alex Wants to Read More
I want to read more of this manga! This manga is more enjoyable than a lot of other stories I have consumed. The sheer amount of joy reading each chapter brings me, moment to moment, is not something that can be matched even by things I’m more deeply in love with than “Kaguya-sama: Love is War”. From the hilarity, to the story, to the characters and their interconnected webs, to the strong themes, this manga is something truly special.
The best part is that it’s not over. “Kaguya-sama: Love is War” is an ongoing series, but keep in mind that it isn’t an aimless one. There are several ongoing plot lines that need to be resolved and there is an end goal. Once Miyuki and Kaguya finally got together Miyuki told her that he is going to study abroad at Stanford for University. This would bring a premature end to their relationship under normal circumstances, but Miyuki requests that she apply to Stanford as well and come with him. Currently in the series we are waiting for her to get accepted, and for them to leave the school which is still a good bit off. As things stand right now though the Shinomiya household likely will not let Kaguya leave.
An end goal is an extremely important aspect in a story. It is a tool that can help both the author keep the narrative focused and on track, as well give the reader a clear understanding of what to look forward to, and give them something to get excited about. This is something I will talk about in greater detail in my next essay “I’m In Love With The Wheel of Time”. That one is probably going to be at least four times the length of this one, so look forward to it.
I’m excited to read more “Kaguya-sama: Love is War”, and if you haven’t read it then I hope I have convinced you to try it out by this point. I know this essay has had a lot of spoilers in it my dear reader, but I assure you a lot of enjoyment is still to be had in this series.
You don’t have to listen to me anymore, but just remember this one thing: Love isn’t war, Love is unity, and I’m In Love With Kaguya-sama: Love is War.