Kaguya-sama: Love is War started out as a manga with a specific premise: two high school geniuses, Shirogane and Kaguya, can’t admit they’re in love, so each tries to win a confession of affection from the other. This results in increasingly ridiculous mind games in which they end up outsmarting themselves. Think Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoons, but about high school relationships.
As Kaguya-sama: Love is War in popularity, writer Aka Akasaka’s series also outgrew its roots as a parody of traditional romantic comedy manga. The characters developed complex inner lives, and the series started to explore what, exactly, they couldn’t confess to each other. Slowly the story shed its original competition-based premise and morphed into a charming story about two characters trying to work through their feelings for one another. Even as it changed though the series continued to stick closely to its will-they-won’t-they path — until everything changed.
[Ed. note: the rest of this post contains spoilers for the Kaguya-sama: Love is War manga, which also likely impact the current anime adaptation]
As the manga progressed through an arc centered on the culture festival — the place where more romance manga confessions happen than any other — Kaguya-sama: Love is War seemed to inch towards a moment that fans have spent nearly four years waiting for: the confession. After all, if something is going to be a truly great parody, it also has to be able to fall into line with the genre tropes when it needs to.
Kaguya did that perfectly. Shirogane’s entire grand sort-of-confession was a seamless conclusion of all the moments of character development and growth that had come before it. The gesture was grand, elaborate, shockingly silly, and incredibly sweet, all without betraying the heart of its characters and their inability to express themselves completely.
The confession comes a little less than a year before the characters graduate and Shirogane is set to leave for Stanford. Just when the characters realized how much they really care for each other, it seems they’ll be separated — or Shirogane will forgo his dream of studying abroad to stay with Kaguya.
But that doesn’t happen. Instead, the confession comes along with a request: Shirogane wants Kaguya to apply to Stanford with him.
It’s not often you see a romance series move on to what happens after two characters become a couple. Whether it’s an American sitcom, a romantic comedy movie, an anime, or a manga, the push and pull of a couple coming together is compelling enough drama to drive a story. Without that, it’s easy for the audience to find a vast, empty space where a crush masked a character’s lack of personality.
Kaguya has always managed to transform itself seamlessly because the jokes were always an extension of the characters’ experiences (not to mention hilarious). The writer, Akasaka, has poked fun at everything from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, to popular anime and the romance manga genre itself.
Where Kaguya sets itself apart from other comedy romance manga, however, is that it’s never been limited by its jokes. While they’re always present, the series also has the ability to shift tones on a dime. In one of the latest chapters, the manga blossoms from a meta-textual shot at the romance genre into a vulnerable and heartfelt moment between two characters in just a few pages. It’s an incredible achievement and a testament to how well the series has been written that a tone shift like that wouldn’t feel out of place at all, but rather like a perfect encapsulation of the series. More than anything else, Kaguya-sama is a series about how people change and grow.
From the jokey gag manga about love and war, to a slice of life comedy to a genuine romance, the constant for Kaguya-sama: Love is War has always been its characters, and they’re what will carry over no matter what. And, based on the response to Shirogane’s long-awaited confession, and the couple finally getting together, fans seem ready to follow these characters wherever they go. Even if it’s to America.
Read more: Polygon