By Owen Glancy
“Kaguya-sama: Love is War - The First Kiss that Never Ends” is a film sequel to the anime’s third season, released on Dec. 17, 2022 in Japan and on Feb. 14 in the United States.
When making a film based on a popular anime franchise, there is this unspoken expectation that it should be better animated and more visually impressive than its source material. While this definitely rings true when compared to the original manga, this film is visually indistinguishable from the television anime.
The anime looks great on its own, but with the budget of a film, it is disappointing that there was no visual evolution in the movie. Fortunately, this doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the film, but is still an aspect that could be improved upon.
There is one glaring downside to the film that must be touched upon before talking about how excellent this movie really is. This film’s structure is terrible. It feels like three or four episodes of the anime are awkwardly edited together. The movie even begins with a cold open, followed by a theme song and there are also awkward pauses during key emotional moments.
Outside of these structure issues, the film is phenomenal.
“Kaguya-sama” has always done well at balancing genuinely romantic scenes with hysterical comedy. Despite this, the show always leaned further into the comedy aspects. The film perfectly nails this balance, giving both tones equal amounts of screentime.
A big part of the film are the comedy scenes. Many of these scenes are very brief and snappy, shooting off jokes at a rapid-fire pace. Every single joke lands, and could be found funny by nearly anyone. Seeing this film in a full theater really made this aspect clear, as the roar of laughter from the audience and myself was deafening.
While this is an undoubtedly funny film, its major strengths come from the emotional moments. The central relationship between Kaguya and Shirogane has always been at the center of the story, and this has never been more apparent than in this movie.
The show’s side characters do mostly get shafted, with Chika and Hayasaka being the only ones who get any meaningful screen time. While this would hurt any other film, the increased focus on the main couple makes the story much more compelling.
Kaguya Shinomiya is the character for whom the entire franchise is named for, yet she’s always been on the less interesting side. In seasons 2 and 3, many of the characters got a ton of development, leaving Kaguya in the dust. This film transforms her into a far more fleshed out character, especially in the many scenes that take place within her own mind.
Miyuki Shirogane, unlike Kaguya, has always been a great character throughout the franchise’s lifetime. He only gets better in this film, with his self-worth issues and parallels to Kaguya making him the strongest character in the film.
Much of this film relies on the element of subversion and familiarity with the show. Many of the jokes are callbacks to previous moments in the series, and while these are often hysterical, they also rely on prior knowledge. While it may seem like this isn’t a big issue for a franchise film, it does alienate a potential new viewer looking to this film to introduce them to the series.
“Kaguya-sama: Love is War - The First Kiss that Never Ends” is an excellent addition to the “Kaguya-sama” franchise and does both the TV series and manga justice. Despite the structural issues and disappointingly similar animation to its parent anime, this film is incredible. It develops every character that needed it, delivers incredible emotional moments, remains hilarious, and is most importantly a great time.
A-: A wonderfully romantic experience