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(Minor spoilers ahead)
I have talked a lot about Love is War over the past couple of years, and for good reason. The show has only gotten better with time and additional seasons, further developing its characters into some of the most compelling in all of the medium. Additionally, it does so while basing its entire premise around the conceit of not wanting to confess first out of fear of being seen as weak, which itself is born out of the implicit relationships people have based on socioeconomic status and perceived importance.
Thus, with a sequel movie getting announced after the end of an already incredible third season, there was going to be a lot more to talk about. Expectations, my own included, were pretty high considering what had transpired previously. Now, after having watched the film in the company of a friend of mine, I would have to say this movie was terrible, just awful, a total departure from-
Of course not, Kaguya-sama: Love is War – The First Kiss That Never Ends is one of the best anime films in recent memory. Anything it could have done right it did and manages to navigate both the comedic elements as well as the more genuinely tragic moments with the same level of gravitas.
The Narrative Setup
Japanese Christmas, not having the same sorts of religious connotations for most people as it does here in the west, tends to be a more romantic holiday like Valentine’s day (hence the marketing and release schedule). Anyone who has watched an anime with any sort of romantic plot or even just a subplot has probably figured this out already. Thus, it makes a perfect setup given Shirogane and Kaguya’s kiss at the end of season three. The race against the clock set-up also gives them a perfect window in which to create snappy, comedically effective bits as well as build on previous jokes such as Kaguya’s internal courtroom and various personas.
The two of them clearly want to be together. The problem, and what makes this film so brilliant, is that rather than fighting each other, the two spend most of it fighting themselves. Both Kaguya and Shirogane still have a strong sense of pride, one that will not let themselves be vulnerable around another person. This is especially true in Shirogane’s case, to the point that he ends up collapsing due to sleep deprivation. That strong sense of tension helps to propel the movie forward through its fairly accelerated pace.
Though the film was most obviously going to focus on the two leads, Ishigami’s love for Tsubame felt like one of the more important plotlines of the last season, and the show seemed to imply it was going to get resolved in this film as well. However, the parts of their story that are adapted feel a bit thin, getting a fairly suggestive couple of seconds at the end followed by Tsubame going to a psychic for advice. It was not bad, per se, but lacked the same kind of satisfying resolution that Kaguya and Shirogane ended up with.
Did Someone Say Comedy?
Yeah, I did.
Kaguya-sama has always been known for its fairly ludicrous gag comedy and visual bits, but the animators and editors really turned it up to eleven for this film. The first half is slathered in some of the most out-of-pocket, unhinged humor in the whole series. Hell, the first 20 seconds include Ishigami reading softcore porn and while talking about how publishers skirt obscenity laws by only including four pages of suggestive material, and it really only gets better from there.
The latter half, meanwhile, slows down a bit, switching between comedy and tragic backstory. However, despite doing so fairly often, the weight of the situation is never compromised, because at this point in the series, it is understood how awkward and corny both Kaguya and Shirogane can be. In fact, wearing various masks such as the ones featured in season three’s climax becomes the main visual metaphor for how the two have had to hide their true selves from the world and each other.
Granted, the film is not exactly treading new thematic ground when it comes to this subject. Plenty of media in the past has played with the idea of having to hide one’s true self (Persona 5 comes to mind, primarily because of the way he shouts “persona!” halfway through while transitioning through backstory). Still, The First Kiss That Never Ends brings a sense of freshness to the topic that is uniquely its own.
Ok, maybe “experimental” is not the right word. Still, it is hard to deny, just how much trippy-ass stuff happens in blink-or-you-miss-it moments. One moment that sticks out, in particular, happens during a flashback about Kaguya, where she blankly stares forward into the camera, with black nothingness rotating through her eyes. She does as she is being taught by someone who is presumably a private tutor bought by her family, someone who is also revealed to be just as abusive as the other Shinomiyas. It was genuinely very creepy and out of left field in a way that contributed to the tragedy of her situation.
Additionally, the show also has shot composition and timing down to a science, not just when it comes to comedy, but especially for its more serious moments. The film does a great job of creating further tension by focusing on just a frame or two over the span of a few seconds. Again, not exactly new, but utilized in combination with a distinctive soundtrack and characters’ trademark expressions to ride the fine line between comedic and serious nearly perfectly.
Although, at this point, experimental could be considered standard when it comes to Kaguya-sama, and Bocchi was arguably doing way more experimental stuff for scenes that had way fewer stakes.
I could go on about just how amazing this film is, and depending on my boredom after finishing this review I might, but rather than overexplaining jokes that someone else could probably do a better job of anyway, I will simply say go watch the movie. It absolutely earns every single one of its 96 minutes down to the credits scene. Kaguya-sama fans will not be disappointed.
How do you all feel about Kaguya-sama: Love is War – The First Kiss That Never Ends? Let me know in the comments.
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