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Kaguya-Sama: The First Kiss That Never Ends, and How I Couldn’t Fall in Love

I have a lot of mixed emotions watching Kaguya-sama: Love is War — The First Kiss That Never Ends, but almost none are in regards to the movie’s quality.

Note — this article contains spoilers for the movie. If you haven’t read the manga or seen the movie yet, you should do so before reading ahead.

As a movie, The First Kiss That Never Ends is pretty great. For many fans, this arc is easily their favorite part of Kaguya-sama and it’s really easy to see why. The most important part for many romance stories is when the main characters finally become a couple, and this is especially true for Kaguya-sama. It’s a series where A) the premise focuses on them becoming a couple and B) it spends three seasons (or about a hundred chapters) building up to it. The payoff is amazing and the way Akasaka managed this climax is incredible: 90 Minutes of incredibly personal Kaguya-sama, with phenomenal character development. I’d go as far as to say we learn more about both Kaguya and Shirogane in this 90-minute movie than we learn throughout the entire preceding three seasons..

From Shirogane dropping his facade of being a “perfect president” to Ice Kagaya melting away to reveal her desire to live an ordinary life with an ordinary romance: having these truths unveiled in such a poignant way is beautiful. Of the two, Shirogane’s development really speaks to me. There’s something about perfect characters that really bothers me, almost an uncanny valley situation: flaws show character and charm. We all have weaknesses, and one of the strongest tells of a healthily developing relationship is being comfortable with your partner to unveil one’s flaws. This is especially true for Shirogane, where so much of his behavior has focused on projecting strength.

In The First Kiss That Never Ends, we learn that Shirogane’s entire persona at school is a facade, a fake it until you make it act that’s actually succeeded until Ice Kaguya quickly dismantled it. Instead of crumbling under pressure though, Shirogane admits he doesn’t need to bottle all that up, to show weakness to others and show his real self. It’s the kind of character development and depth that is far greater than what one would typically expect from an anime romance, and for Kaguya-sama to start developing it’s cast in this manner after they’ve already had the big kiss and reveal is a testament to Akasaka’s writing.

The First Kiss That Never Ends works a lot better as a film than I expected. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s easy to overlook its structural flaws when it nails its thematic focus of showing each other your true self, feeling incredibly cohesive throughout. It is almost solely focused on Shirogane and Kaguya, developing their characters and relationship.

But as I stepped out of the movie theater, I knew I would be lying to myself if I said I’d loved The First Kiss That Never Ends. Or at the very least lying to myself by saying I loved my experience with this movie at the current moment.

Ultimately, this movie covers events that comprise a series of chapters from a weekly rom-com manga, making parts feel a lot more disjointed than would a true original movie. Keeping the “omake” transitions was a huge mistake and impairs the seamless scene transition expected in a movie. I expect a movie to feel at least a little bit special: when I go to the movie theater or prep up the home movie setup, I’m committing to a set time with my entire focus in a way that I wouldn’t with other mediums, in the hope of experiencing something unique. The big budget visuals, the exhilaration and excitement of the movie’s events: to me, a movie is a fundamentally different experience to a manga or anime. The timing, cohesiveness, and intense focus on a story’s narrative in most standalone movies makes them a fundamentally different storytelling medium compared to a continuous serialized manga.

While there is a delightful beautiful climax and a sweet satisfying ending, ultimately it just feels like more Kaguya-sama to me, with manga-like pacing and flow. This was especially prominent with the inclusion of some of the tangents in the movie, showing what the other characters were doing at the same time. Obviously they were obligated to include these contemporaneous scenes as this movie is a part of the bigger work as a whole, but it detracts from the consistency of the movie.

To love a work is to resonate with it, and while I resonated with the arc that The First Kiss That Never Ends adapts when I read it previously, I didn’t when watching this movie. I’m at a different time in my life now with different experiences behind me, and I don’t find myself loving it in the same way. This is partially because reading the manga is very different to watching the anime.

I haven’t re-watched the Kaguya-sama anime since season 3 ended, and that half a year gap diminishes my experience, at least in comparison to the way that the manga resonated with me before. There was something really special for me about reading Kaguya-sama’s manga weekly. It was almost certainly my highlight of any given week and I think that having that weak break to think about the series, to wait and anticipate the next chapter really enhanced Kaguya-sama for me and no adaptation will ever match reading it weekly for me. With subsequent binge-reads the emotions stay fresh in my mind. Binging the anime before watching the movie you could probably get pretty close to my experience with the manga, but that’s not what I experienced here.

Most importantly in regards to the reasons why I can’t love my experience of watching The First Kiss That Never Ends, are that I’m at a fundamentally different point in my life, with a different mindset than when I watched and read Kaguya-sama for the first time. I’ve lived alone for several years, and have consistently failed to experience any kind of romance. I’m not looking for sympathy, but the concept of romance for me — for the most part — is dead, serving more to fuel my loneliness than to bring me joy. In comparison to my college years when I was a hopeless romantic, at least in this moment, something like The First Kiss That Never Ends will never resonate with me compared to the times in which I had hope.

In a way, The First Kiss That Never Ends evoked in me the pains of growing up. I will always hold that Kaguya-sama is one of my favorite works, something I consider to be one of the best romance anime/manga ever created. Kaguya-sama features some of the most relatable and best written characters, developed in a manner that nobody feels like a trope, but instead feel like real people with real problems. It does all this while maintaining a balance of tone that always puts a smile on my face whether Kaguya-sama is in anime or manga form. Maybe the manga still is one of my favorite works, but even just admitting that I don’t love the movie is an example of growing up for me. I know in the past I 100% would have lied to myself, saying how great and amazing it is.

When watching this movie, I don’t feel any personal bond or resonance with it, and it makes me realize that I was lying to myself quite a bit when watching the TV anime, because there were plenty of times it failed to make me feel the way the manga did. Almost the opposite of resonance, I found myself kinda frustrated with the character of Ice Kaguya in this movie, because when observing from Shirogane’s perspective she’s acting insane: almost every problem could be easily handled by talking and communicating in a healthy manner, instead of acting Tsundere. While I could say that’s just a part of being young, and definitely caused by deeply rooted traumas, I now have far less tolerance for that behavior in my entertainment.

So, Kaguya-sama: Love is War — The First Kiss That Never Ends. It’s something I wholeheartedly recommend and think is actually pretty great! The events in the movie are incredible and I truly do think that it does a very good job of adapting the manga. Maybe in a future re-watch I’ll love it for everything it has to offer, but for now I can’t fall in love for a variety of personal reasons. Even if you love a series, you don’t need to love every entry, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that.

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Kevin Mai - Reikaze

VN, Anime and Tech Enthusiast! Reikaze Rambles, Writer for @AniTAYOfficial, formerly also @NoisyPixelNews. AKA @RockmanDash12