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Kaguya-sama: Love is War Vol. #01 Manga Review

6 min read

A student council president and vice president at an elite high school attended by the modern aristocracy of Japan fall in love, but neither wishes to be the first to confess their love for the other. How cute.

Creative Staff:
Art/Story: Aka Akasaka
Translation: Emi Louie-Nishikawa
English Adaptation/Editor: Annette Roman
Touch-Up Art & Lettering: Stephen Dutro
Cover & Interior Design: Izumi Evers

Kaguya-sama: Love is War manga volume 1

What They Say:
Two geniuses. Two Brains.
Two hearts. One battle.
Who will confess their love first…?!

As leaders of their prestigious academy’s student council, Kaguya and Miyuki are the elite of the elite! But it’s lonely at the top… Luckily for them, they’ve fallen in love! There’s just one problem—they both have too much pride to admit it. And so begins the daily scheming to get the object of their affection to confess their romantic feelings first

Love is a war you win by losing.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Aka Akasaka’s Kaguya-sama wa kokurasetai ~ Tensaitachi no ren’ai zuno sen ~ originally launched in Shueisha’s Miracle Jump magazine in 2015, later switching to the publisher’s seinen manga magazine Weekly Young Jump the next year. Now, it is being released in English by Viz Media (as usual, with Shueisha titles) as part of their Shonen Jump line, even though the work is aimed at a slightly older audience.

As should be expected from one of the industry leaders, Kaguya-sama is handsomely produced by Viz in the usual trim size with covers on stiff card stock and good quality paper used for the main body. In addition to the covers, there are 3 full-color pages at the beginning of the volume printed on glossy paper, with the table of contents on the back of the third page. The color pages consist of the opening prologue that explains the basic concept of the story as well as a two-page chapter titling page featuring the two leads of the story. It’s helpful to have them in color here, to give us some idea of their “natural” hair, eye, and clothing color, which we cannot get from black and white artwork…obviously.

The printing, both color and black and white, is well done, all properly centered both vertically and horizontally. No bleeding or smudging is apparent. The binding is solid, handling the usual “bend it like crazy test” without any issues (not even leaving any creases in the spine, though I don’t recommend stretching it out and holding it in that position for too long unless you want creased spines). The front cover features a large close-up image of Kaguya Shinomiya, one of the main characters, along with the title. The spine features both the Viz and Shonen Jump (as noted, this title comes from the SJ stable) logos in addition to the title. The back has the catalog copy and a selection of panels from the manga.

For the lettering and touch up, there is nothing to comment—which is actually what you want. Everything fits naturally on the page. A minor issue for those who are perhaps a touch too much on the silly purist side will be that sound effects are completely translated into English—the original kana sound effects have been replaced with translations in the original positions.

Aka Akasaka’s artwork varies between slightly generic and somewhat interesting, with clean, clear lines and characters that stay on model throughout. There are the usual shortcuts that all manga artists take (in terms of simplifying hair, facial features, clothing, etc.), but the designs themselves, especially of Kaguya, are quite distinct, not too generic feeling overall. The settings and background are largely the usual school hallways, meeting rooms and classrooms with occasional forays outside, providing few occasions to show off any stronger artistic skill. But it is all very competently done.

From the initial premise, I came into this work with the usual sorts of measured expectations. “Not another rom-com set in a high school. Not another one featuring ‘the elite’ of modern Japanese society, going to some impossible school only for the very wealthy. Not the same old, same old high school cliches. Haven’t we had enough of them?” With that in mind, I plowed ahead.

…and was pleasantly surprised.

Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogane are the vice president and president of the student council at Shuchiin Academy, which was apparently “established many years ago to serve the noble and warrior classes” (later we are told the school was founded 200 years ago). They stand at the very top of the social hierarchy. They are rather different types, however: Miyuki is a commoner who has risen to the top through single-minded dedication and hard work, spending most of his time outside of class studying, with the result that he has superlative grades; Kaguya, on the other hand, is from a powerful business conglomerate family that has been on top of things for many generations, what passes for nobility in a country where official nobles were stripped of their titles following the Second World War. She is different from Miyuki in being a natural “genius” with many talents and abilities, born and raised as a proper, well-bred young lady (I do not have the Japanese at hand, but I’d bet good money the term ojou-sama made an appearance here somewhere).

It can be lonely at the top, as the saying goes, but it appears that these two have become very impressed with the other to the point Cupid must have been shooting a few arrows in the student council room. The problem is that both of them are so impressed with themselves that they feel it beneath their dignity to make the first move. Doing so would be to “lose” to the other. “Winning” consists of getting the one they love to confess to them first. And so we have the start of a screwball comedy with occasions of pure absurdity as these two fairly smart but extremely inexperienced and naive young people attempt to force the other to confess first.

I think what won me over was how the first chapter proceeded. What starts as a silly little battle of wits when the most common third person in our chapter-length “battles” between the two, the Student Council Secretary Chika Fujiwara, offers a pair of movie tickets for a romantic movie for them to have, was not very interesting until later in the chapter it is revealed how she got those tickets in the first place (hint: it was not a coincidence or a lucky happenstance). From there, each battle of wits (tempered by their youthful cluelessness and lack of experience) proceeds to show the ridiculous and absurd lengths each will go not to confess their love first. There is a cerebral element to it all, but it is moderated by the silly ways these two otherwise quite intelligent young people behave.

I can see how there might be a danger of repetitiveness or lack of originality (as the school setting for a romance is beyond over-done at this point), but each battle of wits has so far not managed to walk over the same ground. There is some wit to go with the whimsicalness. Kaguya’s superiority is balanced by her naivety, caused by a sheltered upbringing. Miyuki’s pride in his position, both academically and socially, is cut down to size by a very strong sense of inferiority vis-a-vis Kaguya. While over the top in many respects, Akasaka knows how to pull things back from the precipice. It’s a lot better than the initial premise made me expect and I am curious how this one will proceed.

In Summary:
Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogane are the vice president and president of the student council at a prestigious high school and the objects of admiration to their peers. They also love each other, but cannot admit it to the one they love since…that would be losing. Therefore, we have a never-ending battle of wits between these two who stand at the top of elite society, with ludicrous (and humorous) results.

Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: B+
Package Rating: A-
Text/Translation: A-

Age Rating: Teen
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
MSRP: $9.99

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