The first five minutes of the first episode were probably some of the most “awkward” moments in the anime, it started out with this notion of how there are winners and losers in a couple, but our protagonists aren’t even a couple yet – that’s a weird way to set up the “theme” of… whatever this was going to be. The introduction to the duo created an instant feeling of dislike to the characters, they seemed like the type of arrogant, spoiled kids I avoided back in high school, and the last thing I would do is care about their romantic development.
Cue the insanely well visualized oh-that’s-so-anime mind battles, and I’m hooked, it was like I forgot that the characters were insufferable. I liked how the episode was structured in a three round format with winners and losers, although the battles being themed around manipulating someone to confess to them felt pretty weird at the time.
The reason I am mentioning that is, despite my initial impressions being not super positive, the show managed to come around and actually make, at least one half of the duo, compelling and, in turn, making me care a bit about their development. I liked how Kaguya’s outer-personality was peeled down, layer by layer, throughout the series to reveal an insecure girl with neglect issues that makes her put up an arrogant egoistic attitude to mask her feelings… yeah, not the most original character archetype but I liked how it was done. I wish that Shirogane also received the same treatment, his “personality flip” was done in a more blunt way so I didn’t end up caring much about the boy – although, the volleyball training session with Chika was pretty hilarious.
Yes, then there are the supporting characters. Chika was, like for many others, the primary pull for my interest toward the show, and I wasn’t disappointed with what the show did with the character. She’s the kawaii cheery, mischievous addition the cast needed to counterbalance the over-the-top atmosphere in the student council room. Chika is definitely one of the biggest selling point for the anime – I mean, thinking about her arsenal of cute quirks put on display throughout the anime’s run time, it’s hard to deny her showmanship (that was a pretty weird place to put that word in but okay). Ishigami’s introduction was late but I don’t think the show would stayed as entertaining as it ended up being without his presence; he has his own gap moe – he generally stays reserved around others, but under certain circumstances, he becomes a loose cannon and his comedic routines never went stale. Honestly, I found the character chemistry between Chika and Ishigami more interesting than that of between Shirogane and Shinomiya.
It took a couple of episodes for me to figure out the way the battles were presented in a self-aware way, with the over-the-top animation and the dramatic voice-over commentating as if a high-voltage 9D chess match was taking place. Even the winner/loser announcement at the end isn’t taken as seriously after a couple of episodes. I am really fond of how visually neatly-constructed these battles are, even though it’s over-the-top, it’s coherent enough to not make the comedy of the battles be a lazy “haha lol there’s so much mental gymnastics going that no one has a clue what’s going on haha” type of deal. It’s cool that the “battle of the brains” didn’t just take place in the student council room, so the battles rarely felt formulaic.
But due to the goofy presentation of the battles, anyone looking for meticulously laid out ooh-that’s-so-badass-and-kinda-smart psychological battles like in Death Note/Code Geass would be disappointed with it… I think. Honestly, I’m happy those battles were brought under a parodic light because if not, it wouldn’t have helped my initial distaste for the duo; and besides, it would have meant that the anime was comfortable with presenting psychological manipulation in love to be “cool” to impressionable teenagers. I don’t mean to virtue signal, but anime influencing kids is a real thing.
Anyway, I’m also fond of the way of these mind games, the presentation of the characters’ mindsets shift from “I’m going to make him/her confess” to “Oh no! I will probably get rejected if I open up” – it’s a nice way of peeling away the arrogant veil of their unlikable personalities to reveal a more sympathetic insecure version of themselves, it’s not super elegant but it does the job effectively. The battles themselves are nothing substantial in my view, they are entertaining when “it’s on” and then I forget about them since most of them don’t add much to the overarching development of the duo’s relationship, and even when they do, it’s a cumulative effect.
I didn’t like the ending, everything sort of got reset and I was left scratching my head as to what to make of Kaguya finally being sincere with herself and with others in the first half. Sure, “reset” is a loaded word to use here because the characters did change throughout the show’s runtime but it’s annoying to see the show do a reversal to circle back to the initial “theme” of the show… I guess people want a season 2, I sure don’t.
That’s not to say this show is bad. As weird as the premise was and as goofy as the battles themselves were, it’s refreshing to see a mind-game centered rom-com. In the end, the reset kind of put me off but I won’t say that the characters ended up being as insufferable as they were on first impression. It’s undoubtedly a really well-produced show and the comedy is pretty cleverly written and neatly presented – it’s quality entertainment. So overall, I would recommend this show to anyone looking for a good comedy, but I wouldn’t if one is looking for a riveting romantic story.
Okay, I will end this before I repeat myself even more. Thanks for reading.