Akasaka Aka (赤坂アカ) had a goal, once. In fact, I believe he still has it: the goal to complete his vision of ib – instant bullet – (ib －インスタントバレット－) — his first work and, in his own words, his life’s work. At the time of this writing I haven’t read Instant Bullet, instead I and so many others have read his most recent manga. Its full title is Kaguya-sama Wants to be Confessed To ~ The Geniuses’ War of Love and Brains ~ (かぐや様は告らせたい～天才たちの恋愛頭脳戦～, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai ~ Tensaitachi no Renai Zunousen ~, or simply Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To). Instant Bullet was relatively unknown; I saw it posted a few times here and there, especially as the translation neared completion. I backlogged it, because it seemed to be rather depressing. Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To is not really depressing at all; at least so far. Actually, it’s an out-and-out comedy. What’s more, although it has only ran since May 2015 (it’s September 2016 right now) it is very well-known. This is a popular series, both in the East and West: hotly discussed, ranking well, and having several color page chapters (something publishers only tend to give successful series). Given that success, I wonder what Akasaka-sensei thinks of it all. If he has the chance, will he return to instant bullet again? That’s what’s on my mind when I look at this series.
Oh, and how hilarious it is.
Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To is a comedy/romance manga that bases most of its jokes off the over-the-top stylings of action and sports shounen manga (although it is a seinen series) as well as cheesy serials. Dramatics! Flair! Speedlines! All over the typically mundane, or over much too convoluted plots. Battles of wits! Failures! Tears! Incredible blushes! All of this awaits you should you decide to read Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To. The manga cynically begins by declaring that love and relationships are a complete farce — that the person who confesses first to love is quietly acknowledged to be the submissive, weaker of the two in a newly formed couple. Our two main characters — the titular, multi-talented vice president of the student council, Shinomiya Kaguya, and the highly intelligent and hardworking president of the student council, Shirogane Miyuki — are prideful types who believe in this bitter way of thinking. As two idol-like figures in their wonderfully prestigious school, many students think they would make an ideal couple. They think so as well, but they’d never admit it and thus admit to being “inferior”. Instead, they’d rather play mind games with one another trying to “trick” the other into confessing first, or otherwise demonstrate that they have affection for the other person.
To be honest with you, this actually wasn’t a premise I was excited for. The series was being hyped to this point that my niggling hipster senses kicked in, continually preventing me from deciding to read the series in earnest. A few of the pages I’d seen didn’t really do it for me, I tend to not care for the tropes of rich or privileged characters (I find them jarringly unrealistic, usually), the setup sounded like it’d use a lot of formulaic jokes, and I wasn’t keen on the art. I picked it up, thinking I might review it, but I might also not like it thus I might not review it. And lo, the first few chapters didn’t really grab me. I thought smugly to myself, “ohoho, I was right in my predictions again”, but when I came to chapter 4 I paused and thought, “oh, what’s this?”
The first three chapters play the premise straight: Kaguya schemes, Shirogane schemes, there’s a narrator like the one in Alyosha! constantly jabbering on in a serious and “awesome” way akin to what you might see in Kaiji or something where things are actually tense (if you haven’t, you should really watch Kaiji already). “A chill runs down his spine!” cries the narrator as Kaguya does something somewhat silly, and my pre-judging self was like “yeah alright, I get the jokes”. What chapter 4 and subsequent chapters did for me was make the two main characters characters — ones with more traits than “really smart” and “really talented” — starting with Shirogane.
President Shirogane is hardworking. This is basically the first thing we learn about him in the series, except you can miss it and mistake it for “he’s a brilliant genius” in chapter 1. Hell, they say he’s a “genius among geniuses”, but more importantly they say “in contrast to the multi-talented Kaguya, he focuses all his efforts on studying to a fearsome degree”. In many respects, Kaguya is a natural, but I’ll get to that in just a bit. Shirogane is not a natural; he has to put his all into being the highly recognized person that he is. This means a lot for his character that I’ll bring back up later, but for right now I’ll say that was apparently a secret comedy goldmine from my perspective when I went into chapter 4. This character who was introduced as a brilliant student fails completely at riddles the other members of the student council easily figure out. What helps especially is that as the reader, you’re probably going to be there with him every step of the way as he sits there, baffled at whatever the hell his two colleagues are saying.
When Shirogane is out of his element, he basically becomes a doofus secretly (or just barely) hiding how flustered and terrified he is at being in a situation that he cannot comprehend. Compared to his usual slick self that was only previously flustered when his equal, Kaguya, got under his skin, this adorable kind of buffoonery instantly put him on both a relatable level and a level I could much more easily laugh at.
Moving on, chapter 5 did the same kind of thing with Kaguya. A previously devious kind of girl who just rarely got flustered into a blushing state and had a hint of “too privileged to have experienced ordinary life” (a trait so common to “ojou” (mistress) types it can make me roll my eyes), chapter 5 showed much more clearly just how absurd her cultural ignorance could get, demonstrating better that she, too, could play the part of the fool for comedy. All that natural talent and all that personal teaching she got from her spectacular parents is nothing in the face of homemade bento.
It also showed off how she is capable of extreme jealousy that she vents about in powerful ways, willing to throw her best friend to the wolves should she ever feel slighted.
I believe chapters 4 and 5 are critical to what makes this series so good, and in ways that are rather subtle and thus only become clear in retrospect. I may have been down on chapters 1-3 at first, but they had a function. They were necessary to get across the series’ standard structure, they’re over with quickly, and they’re certainly not BAD by any measure. Similarly, chapters 4 and 5 go to show that the series 1) doesn’t actually even have to follow that standard structure of mind games and 2) that these seemingly perfect students are in fact horribly flawed. Once you can start seeing characters as human, you can start feeling a connection with them and caring about what happens to them. You can start figuring out how they act in certain situations and can come to expect humor from them in ways that don’t feel like “oh, that’s their joke”. Instead, it’s like “ah, that’s so them“. Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To basically acts similar to Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, only like…more better.
And what’s that betterness do? It helps out to make the mind games more engaging, interesting, and funny. You become invested, you genuinely wonder who will “win” or “lose” in each chapter (almost every chapter ends with the declaration of a winner or loser), you laugh more — it’s great. Once I was engaged with this manga I found myself enjoying all aspects of it.
Now, while we’re still on the subject of comedy, let’s take a small tangent to talk about some of those other aspects I came to like.
Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To has a small cast, but they are all fantastic additions that were brought in to vary up the comedy. In total, there’s about 5 characters in the series that I could say are a part of that cast. Aside from the main pair, one appears late and he’s amazing, so I won’t say anything about him (here’s a preview). Another appears early but is only formally introduced around the halfway mark of the series (the series has 34 chapters as of this writing); I’ll talk about her a little bit. The last is a character who is in most chapters along with Kaguya and Shirogane: student council secretary, Fujiwara Chika.
Fujiwara is essentially a wildcard whirlwind. She is…usually innocent and well-intentioned, but she’s also quite foolish, ignorant of the mood, and merciless in her actions be they good or evil. She is the proverbial wrench within gears, and yet she is still full of surprises should you disregard her tendency to ruin the plans of other characters. That is to say, there are things about her that you wouldn’t necessarily expect given the baseline of “bubbly cute dumb girl”.
Fujiwara is easily my favorite character in this series, but I couldn’t tell you all the specifics of why. She regularly gets big laughs out of me. It’s hard to believe considering at the very start of the series she seems mostly innocuous.
Another character I can mention without actually ruining anything is Hayasaka Ai, Kaguya’s valet. I really will only mention her, however, since she does not appear so often. When she does? It’s great. She has a “biting truth” and “had enough of your bullshit” vibe to her, and she seems to like to unsubtly tease her mistress. She and Fujiwara are, like any character in the series, extremely good for laughs. What separates the side characters from the main characters is how the main characters are good for more than that.
Way back at the start of this of this article, I mentioned that Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To was not a depressing series, “at least so far”. I can’t say this series will take routes similar to Sora no Otoshimono or Kotoura-san and start becoming incredibly dramatic at the drop of a hat, but I will say that Akasaka-sensei has laid groundwork for serious issues. Whether he will address those issues seriously or bring them up only to laugh at them I do not know, but I am interested in either case.
Basically, two things are the matter. One: Kaguya has some issues that I won’t discuss. Two: there’s an issue of class difference in the series. Kaguya is a girl with a pedigree from extremely successful parents; Shirogane is a boy from a normal household who studied and accomplished so much he’s one of the few of his kind that managed to enroll into the school in which he attends. It’s not as if something’s come up where Kaguya has thought “I would NEVER love a commoner!” or Shirogane has thought “I could NEVER have a chance with someone so noble!”, though. Instead, extra material indicates that there tends to be a lot of negativity directed toward students like Shirogane who joined the academy in high school rather than coming up through the academy’s elevator system. It also indicates that Shirogane is extremely rare, as most student council presidents are not “Impure” like him, but instead “Pure” like Kaguya (who did use the elevator system). Once, apparently, an Impure student council president was elected only to be run out of the academy in less than one semester. Has any of this hullabaloo come up in the series proper…? Nope, not even slightly. Maybe that’s the joke. Kaguya’s issues come up several times, however.
Anyways, aside from the “dramatic” potential, our two main characters are also adorable. Yes, both of them. Kaguya gets embarassed over the strangest things, is protective of Shirogane, and has some just plain cute moments. Shirogane’s nervousness whenever he considers making a move on Kaguya twists my heart, the boy’s actually ridiculously kind to the point that it becomes a genuinely positive trait you could say about him (as opposed to “oh, he’s nice I guess” which is a euphemism for “he’s unremarkable”), and he knows when to back off from the mind games when he feels he could potentially hurt Kaguya deeply. Also, though I already mentioned it I just can’t get over how culturally naive and ignorant Kaguya is, and how Shirogane’s “hard worker” nature compels him to abandon sleep and push his body to dangerous levels simply to improve himself, which is brilliant. And, I guess that’s what makes he himself “brilliant”.
And I suppose it goes without saying, but the feelings these two have for one another are just the cutest; whether they be together or thinking on their own.
And that brings me to my final small point: I haven’t gotten the impression that this series will get old any time soon.
It only occurred to me when I began thinking of what to say for review, but usually with a series that’s a romance I’ll feel like “what’s stopping them, really?” I never had that question here. I won’t say that it’s since the silly premise of love/war games makes so much sense — that’s not really it although it’s a proper surface excuse. I think the thing is that the characters don’t exactly start completely into one another. You only get clear indications of it every once in a while, but Kaguya and Shirogane actually fall for each other more and more as the series goes on. This isn’t accomplished by escalation or something, like first they’re walking home together, next they’re — gasp! — holding hands. No, it’s more like you can see them coming to show greater respect for one another as the manga continues, being easier to “disarm” in their love battles, thinking about one another more often, and so on. I think this quality of the manga isn’t in your face, but it’s an element that helps keep things regularly fresh. That and the comedy, of course.
I’d love to gush more about the characters, but much of this series is content you need to see for yourself, not have it explained to you. And on that note, I think I’m about done explaining. You should go read this if you haven’t gotten around to it yet. It’s highly entertaining and more cleverly done than it initially appears. This series has my high recommendation. I dig it.
Do you want to buy Kaguya Wants to be Confessed To? You may do so through CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan. Do you want to check out the author, Akasaka Aka, more? His twitter account is @akasaka_aka.
Awright, thanks for reading y’all. Be seeing you in two weeks, hopefully.
ib – instant bullet –
Akasaka Aka’s twitter