#1 Perpetual status quo
Love is War is a 12-episode romcom anime about the school life of Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogane, respectively the vice-president and regular president of a prestigious school’s student council. Kaguya hails from a wealthy and proper family, which makes her a proud and somewhat stuck-up character, whereas Miyuki’s family is impoverished and he had to get by based on his actual merits.
Both are intelligent students dedicated to their role in the student council, but there is a problem: they are both secretly in love with each other. However, both of them believe that the person who initiates a romance is always the inferior part of the couple, which neither of them is willing to accept. So now they spend their every day trying to trick the other into making a romantic move, leading to needlessly-complicated battles of wits.
A storyline might, for example, have both characters waiting inside the school on a rainy day. Both of them have an umbrella in their bags, but they want to hide that fact while also tricking the other into admitting it. The line of thought being that they’ll then feel pressured into offering to share their umbrella, which would count as an act of romance.
It’s fun. It really is. I enjoy watching these two characters compete with each other as they desperately attempt not to show any romantic interest. However, the format demands a perpetual status quo. Every arc, every trial, and every competition is just going to somehow flop so a different, petty fight can occur next. After 12 episodes, I can safely say that I laughed a few times, but as a whole, it felt like I just wasted 4 hours on a story that barely budged from its starting position.
#2 The meme character
Like many others, I first found this show after seeing funny screenshots of it on anime-related communities like Reddit. In particular, the character of Chika was very prevalent, which made me believe that the romantic side of the story was a competition between her and Kaguya.
In reality, Chika is, by the show’s own admittance, an element of chaos. The carefully plotted strategies of Kaguya and Miyuki are frequently sabotaged by Chika, who is an oblivious moe blob that neither party can accurately predict. She is eccentric and overly-energetic, which are usually traits I appreciate in characters. Here, however, it felt weirdly cringeworthy and obnoxious. Chika just feels tossed in to have some strange distractions that look funny in screenshots and gifs, all while being pretty hollow when viewed from afar.
Chika just has no ambitions or goals within the boundaries of the story, she just exists to complicate things for Kaguya and Miyuki. She also doesn’t really have any consistent traits, so she just flips between different skillsets to facilitate whatever the story needs. When Miyuki needs help exercising so he doesn’t look like a klutz during gym, Chika is suddenly athletic. When Kaguya is asked for romantic advice and doesn’t want to appear inexperienced, Chika swoops in as a romantic expert. People online kept bringing up that she’s a rapper, which I felt could be really interesting, only to have it just be for 1, brief scene.
Like the anime as a whole, Chika could get a few laughs, but ultimately left me wishing there was more to her.
#3 Its narrow scope
Almost all of Love is War concerns the battle of wits between its two main characters and those battles, almost exclusively, take place in the small office of the student council. It’s an anime with such a small scope it wouldn’t be wrong to call it tunnel vision, which both limits the prospects for the story, and is just dull to look at.
The office of the student council is completely sterile and devoid of personality. If you look at anime like K-On! and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, or even something as recent as Yuru Camp, the room of their respective clubs mold themselves after the people inhabiting them. On very rare occasions there’ll be scenes at Kaguya’s house, other parts of the school, or the city streets, but there too there is a lack of anything visually interesting to give it some personality. Apart from one statue on the school’s roof, every scene of Love is War feels like it has to be cleared by 3PM so a different anime can shoot a scene there.
As for the characters, the narrow scope mostly applies to how little we learn about them. We know that Kaguya and Miyuki are both smart kids with clashing personalities and origins, but beyond that, we only get tiny bits of information. We don’t know what these kids want out of their lives, what they enjoy, or even just how they feel. The show hooks you in with its clever premise, but the two leads are so underdeveloped that it becomes hard to care about the romance. I don’t even think they really address why the two of them are in love, what they see in each other beyond basic physical attraction.
My frustration with the show peaked whenever it had story arcs that felt like they could have been used to explore the characters further, only to have them clam up immediately. This leads the show to a final episode that attempts to suddenly bank on drama that it never set itself up for and which feels both out-of-tone for the show and out-of-character for the mains.