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Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai – 02 »

Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen – 01

OP Sequence

OP: 「ラブ・ドラマティック feat.伊原六花」 (Love Dramatic feat. Rikka Ihara) by (Masayuki Suzuki (鈴木雅之))

「映画に誘わせたい/かぐや様は止められたい/かぐや様はいただきたい」 (Eiga ni sasowa setai/ Kaguya-sama wa tome raretai/ kaguya-sama wa itadakitai)
“I Will Make You Invite Me to a Movie, ‘Kaguya Wants to Be Stopped, Kaguya Wants It”

Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen is the last of the major new series on my radar for this somewhat undersized winter schedule.  And it’s a big one too, the third of my top-level expectations shows for the season.  But I was feeling oddly trepidatious going into this premiere.  Usually with those series I’m either familiar with the material and extremely confident, or going in cold turkey on a hunch.  But though I haven’t read the Kaguya-sama (fuck me if I’m going to type that whole title out one more time this week) manga, it almost feels like it because a lot of folks have – and it seems as if almost all of them have strong feelings about it one way or the other.

Still, in all, this is one of the best aggregator-reviewed romcom manga out there (for whatever that’s worth).  It’s published in a seinen magazine (which is probably worth more).  And it’s directed by Hatakeyama Mamoru, fresh off one of the finest anime of the decade in Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (which counts most of all).  So yeah, my expectations had to be pretty damn high – but the tempestuous reactions of manga readers had me thinking I was either going to love this series or hate it.

Funnily enough, it was neither. I liked a lot about this first episode, some stuff about it bothered me, but my main reaction in the end was mild puzzlement over why this series seems to be such a big deal.  It’s certainly not awful, so hard to get why some folks would feel strongly in that direction – but it didn’t strike me as being anything all that exceptional, either.  I mean premise wise, it’s strictly retread tires with one twist (albeit the twist is central to the plot).  That really means the strong feeling it elicits comes down to execution I guess, and the jury would still be out on that for me.

First off let’s get the negatives out of the way, so we can focus on the good parts.  The narration – that was a lot to take.  I certainly have nothing against Aoyama Yutaka as an actor, or even with his performance here, and I get that the narration is part of the gag construction.  But that was a lot to take.  A lot - I mean, it was unrelenting.  And it created a sort of implicit hand-holding by the narrative to make sure we knew when we were supposed to laugh.  I don’t need or want that – I’ll laugh when something is funny (and I often did with this ep) and I won’t if it isn’t.  One of the oldest rules of joke-telling is never explain the joke.

That unrelenting quality – which extended to the visuals too – gave the whole episode a sort of SHAFT quality which hung in the air like a slightly-off smell in a crowded elevator.  It shouldn’t be forgotten that Hatekayama-sensei cut his teeth at SHAFT, though he worked under the name Omata Shinichi there.  Hey, I’d change my name if I used to work at SHAFT too, but old habits sometimes die hard.  Shouwa Genroku certainly represented a big stylistic shift but 2012′s Sankarea was a lot closer to this post-SHAFT vibe Kaguya-sama is repping.  I will say that it worked quite well for me with Sankarea for the most part (it might have even been a top 10 series if 2012 hadn’t been an all-time great anime year), but it remains to be seen if it will with this series.

Apart from that, what essentially saved this premiere from going down the sinkhole was that it actually was funny a good chunk of the time.  Romcoms about two essentially unlikable people have some hills to climb, and student council veep and general ojou-sama Kaguya Shinomiya (Koga Aoi) and seitoukaichou and top-ranked student Shirogane Miyuki (Furukawa Makoto) are pretty unlikable by design.  You climb the hills mainly by casting those people as vulnerable (check) and by not taking the material too seriously (check).  The gag is that the two of them are in-love with each other but so driven by pride and the idea that “love is war” that they’ll be damned if they’re going to be the first to confess.  Hijinks, naturally, ensue.

There were three mini-stories packed into this episode, with each principal “winning” one of them and one ending in a draw (I don’t know if that will be the case every week).  The funniest of the three was the bento chapter, and it may not be a coincidence that it was the one that most prominently featured Fujiwara Chika (Kohara Konomi), the cheerfully airheaded student council secretary and general relationship obstacle/facilitator.  Funnily enough, it helps when Fujiwara is around because she talks so much she pre-empts the narration, which feels like a welcome break.  There were some good gags, sight and otherwise (the weed, and the indirect kiss) and the general youthful foolishness of the leads was exposited quite well.

My worry here is staying power.  The first episode was exhausting, yes – but equally of concern, my sense is that this is basically a one-joke premise.  I love a good joke as much as the next man and probably more, but you’ve really got to be on your game if you’re going to milk the same one for an entire series and not have it go stale at some point.  I see comic potential here, but unless the execution is so spectacular it changes the rules of the game, I would think there’d need to be some tonal variation and diversification of the humor to carry Kaguya-sama for an entire cour.  Who knows, my read could be totally off and both of those things may be on the way in weeks ahead.  I hope so, because I really want this show to work.

January 15, 2019 at 5:52 am
26 comments »
  • January 15, 2019 at 6:08 amOne Pinch Man

    https://randomc.net/image/Kaguya%20sama/Kaguya-sama%20wa%20Kokurasetai%20-%20OP%20-%20Large%2003.jpg
    I picked this anime just because the opening song is awesome.

    First of all, I don’t read the manga yet. As an anime-only viewer, I like their interactions.

  • January 15, 2019 at 6:20 amRenaSayers

    This seems like its one of those really annoying relationships, one puts out the other resists…

  • January 15, 2019 at 6:38 amSpitFire

  • January 15, 2019 at 8:57 amMentar

    Ah, so no omniscient reviewer ;) … that’s actually much more interesting to read for the diehard fans (like me).

    Let me say this: I can perfectly understand your worries (that the main cast might be unlikable and that the show is a one-trick pony), but you’ll see that they are unfounded. The anime jumbled the timeline and animated chapters 1, 12 and 5 (in this order), and these were examples of particularly combative “battles”. It’s clear they wanted to underline this focal point. At the same time, it also skipped some of the more “human” chapters which help the viewers identify with Kaguya and Shirogane.

    Seasoned anime readers know how much more there is to be learned about the two of them – and when you are aware, you find the “evil” parts rather extra funny instead of repelling. Give it some time.

    The one-trick pony: Don’t you worry. If anything, one of the qualities of this show is how diverse it is. It is generally quite funny and self-aware (often drop-dead hilarious), it has very believable and likable characters (including the secondary lineup), it does impressive _horror_ parts (yes, seriously), but what it does particularly well is drama. For example, there are chapters which I can’t finish with dry eyes on the 10th reread, and this is a claim that no other manga can stake with me.

    The general consensus of the rabid fanbase (which would not be as large and vociferous if the show was simple) is that the first chapters are the weakest. Once the cast is introduced, the show will truly kick off. This will take 3-4 episodes however, which is why it’s sad that only 12 eps are allotted. I guess we will skip lots of earlier manga chapters to reach the meat of the show.

    So, please continue to give open reviews – also with openly critical parts – but give things some time. The show is much too diverse with long-range development to judge it fairly after only a few eps.

    • January 15, 2019 at 2:27 pmGuardian Enzo

      It actually wasn’t originally in the plans for me to cover this at RC (though I am at LiA) so we’ll see how that part plays out.

      I have reasonably high expectations based on the director- the hype I can take or leave, I know there’s more here than meets the eye.

  • January 15, 2019 at 9:19 amRuslan

    The main reason of popularity of Kaguya-this is romcom that doesn’t get old or “worse” 130 chapters in,not only that it’s actually improving over the time while being consistent yet diverse,having a lot of developing character dynamics,evolving gags with incredible meme potential,strong side cast of characters,believable drama and many more.For me it’s also important how “humane” it feels despite being over-the-top,I can relate to characters well, overall it’s strikes me as being well-written modern romcom who perfectly knows the genre and readers,because I would never ger attached to the cast as much if it was just wait it seems at first.Anime is pretty good adaptation,there is some moments to it like pacing and narration that could lessen the experience,also number of episodes are concerning,but so far I’m happy with it.

  • January 15, 2019 at 10:43 am7godeohs

    While this is good and I’m glad it was adapted, the manga is much better in my opinion. The internal dialogue is the most important part of the show, and like you said it’s a lot to take in while being shoved down your throat. It needs to be able to breath a little. I was waiting for the ‘charm’ that the manga has and it never really clicked for me. The nuanced expressions in the manga can’t easily be replicated in the anime.

    Also the VAs were a little weird to me. I always though Kaguya would have a little bit higher voice to show her innocence (not little girl high or anything) and the President sounds like a middle-aged man.

    That said I’m surely going to watch it all the way through. There is development beyond the main gag and it will be interesting to see how they handle it. There’s more than meets the eye here.

  • January 15, 2019 at 12:37 pmJon

    Is quite odd to watch this animated. All the narration scenes in tha manga where made with my own voice in my head, and I hardly put attention to that detail. But in the animated version, the narrator becomes annoying pretty fast.
    But overall is good, the voices of Kaguya and Chika are exactly as I imagined them, and the voice of Miyuki is ok.

    I don’t know where will they end this adaptation, because this manga doesn’t have mayor arcs that segmentate the story in the early chapters. Also we will miss most og the best moments of the story, that are those among Chika an Miyuki, they are gold when they are together.

    • January 15, 2019 at 1:06 pmMentar

      Why do you believe you know which parts of the story we will “miss”?

      For example, I’m eating my hat if they skip the Volleyball chapter.

      • January 15, 2019 at 10:32 pmJon

        Exactly, that is one of the best moments of the manga. But I would kill to watch the animated version of the rapping sessions training, and it’s too far to be adapted.

      • January 15, 2019 at 10:58 pmkurt

        With 12 episodes i think they will wrap up at firework arc, closed with one of coolest title drop :p

  • January 15, 2019 at 12:48 pmGlancoplox

    While reading the manga, in my mind I always used Stephen Fry’s voice as the narrator —as in Little Big Planet. A bit disappointed that was not the case in the anime :|

    • January 15, 2019 at 2:29 pmGuardian Enzo

      Now that I would have been on-board with.

  • January 15, 2019 at 2:38 pmDavid

    I’m guessing this will end up like Hinamatsuri last year, where Enzo was rather harsh on it at first for purely speculative reasons, but that he ended up recognizing the value of. It’s just going to suck reading his reviews until he reaches that point.

    • January 15, 2019 at 5:01 pmGuardian Enzo

      Utter twaddle of course – I was praising Hinamtsuri tentatively from the first episode and totally on board by the end of the second.

  • January 15, 2019 at 5:52 pmNitro

    I have to say, I really love the manga but was also really worried about how the narration would carry over, the manga is really heavy on it too, and I understand this review’s complaints… I think the manga gets a lot better as it goes, but who knows how far the anime will be able to reach during its runtime.

    The way I dealt with it in the anime was to sort of treat the narrator more like a sports commentator, something like an absurdly enthusiastic chess commentator. Might not work for everyone though.

  • January 15, 2019 at 6:42 pmhjerry2000

    To each their own I guess, but personally, I burst out laughing all throughout this episode. The way in which they took just the smallest things and made them into such huge ordeals was just hilarious to me. Explaining it in such detail just made it even funnier. I haven’t laughed this hard since the last season Saiki Kusuo. Series like this just really appeal to me for whatever reason. I absolutely love Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.

    My only worry is if they can keep this thing rolling with enough ideas to keep the concept fresh. If so, I really think I’ll end up loving this series.

  • January 15, 2019 at 8:50 pmZen

    This is all very entertaining in its own way, but I’m finding it a little hard to suspend my disbelief, considering that intra-couple competitiveness is generally considered a cardinal sin of relationships by family/marriage therapists.

  • January 15, 2019 at 10:30 pmsouma

    https://randomc.net/image/Kaguya%20sama/Kaguya-sama%20wa%20Kokurasetai%20-%20OP%20-%20Large%2003.jpg

    I love that OP song, it have this “james bond” feel to it, asa manga-reader i Lol’ed when the op shown chika as a joker card and “some awesome guy” as a ace card.

  • January 16, 2019 at 9:14 amJason

    “It’s published in a seinen magazine (which is probably worth more)”

    I mean, not really. There’s many romcom on seinen magazines that could be on shonen magazines without any problem. Yokai Shoujo which were on the same young jump was a romcom that totally could be in a shonen jump. It’s not because it’s in a seinen magazine that it’s going to be mature or such thing, even more when in young jump Umaru-chan was published there, much like the Kirara magazines are all seinen. lol

  • January 16, 2019 at 10:46 amRathje

    I’ve read most of the manga as released so far. I love the manga a lot.

    But yeah… I can totally see your point about how overbearing narration could damage this show’s watchability. It’s not a problem in a manga – where reading is a lot of the point. But it definitely could be in a TV show.

  • January 18, 2019 at 4:08 amVomitOnCavas

    gave the whole episode a sort of SHAFT quality which hung in the air like a slightly-off smell in a crowded elevator. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Hatekayama-sensei cut his teeth at SHAFT, though he worked under the name Omata Shinichi there. Hey, I’d change my name if I used to work at SHAFT too, but old habits sometimes die hard.

    Ha! Your disdain for SHAFT is similar to my disdain for modern abstract “art”. I personally don’t mind SHAFT though and I felt SHAFT’s style worked well for the Monogatari, ef, Madoka and here as well.

  • January 18, 2019 at 11:51 amNamaewoinai

    So Love is war huh………if it does well…
    Show Spoiler ▼

  • January 19, 2019 at 12:49 amBambi

    I thought the episode/series was quite promising, personally quite impressed with the visuals, which I feel often falls short with a lot of romance manga adaptations because the stylistic translation from manga to anime disappointing.

  • January 19, 2019 at 11:49 pmMockman

    Include me in the ‘this narration sucks’ camp. It went beyond incessant, relentless and deep into brutal territory. They’re gonna have to fix this.

    I liked Kaguya’s voice and am looking forward to more of her.

    I found the lurches between clever dialogue and overbearing narration jarring enough that I’m not yet sure what they were trying to accomplish.

  • January 20, 2019 at 11:15 pmEmptybox

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