Guest Post – Kaguya-sama: Pride is War

We’re proud to bring you another piece today from Tyler Burnette, one of our most active partners at Beneath the Tangles and a benefactor. You can catch him talking about theology, wrestling, and all things in between over at our Discord Channel, or commenting on our Facebook page.

Under Catholic tradition, pride is the deadliest of sins. It’s the crime against God for which Satan was cast from heaven for attributing himself a position greater than the one for which he was created. While it is one of the most harmful sins, it is also one of the most relatable. Pride, more than anything else is likely the most common fault in individuals within our society today. While we like to cling to our pride and self image, Kaguya-sama: Love is War does a great job at deconstructing it and showing why it’s ultimately harmful to our lives.

The entire premise of the show Kaguya-sama: Love is War is based around the concept that confessing love is admitting weakness and gives the confessor a lower status in the relationship. In the anime almost every joke takes place at the expense of the pride of the main characters Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogane. The two of them have been trained from childhood to hoard power and prestige like a mythical dragon. Each of them want to gain the upper hand in the relationship by not confessing their love. Hijinks ensue frequently as situations and other characters act as a foil to the protagonists and unintentionally thwart their meticulously planned exploitation of human psychology and social norms for their desired goal of a love confession.

Most good comedy comes at the expense of someone: the teller, the object of the joke, or the listener. The comedy in Love is War is some of the best I have seen in a long time in terms of timing and cleverness, and the jokes are delivered with genuine emotion while the situational comedy is playful enough to not be hurtful to anything other than their pride. Even still, until what seems like an eventual confession at the end of the seasons, one could also view the story as a tragedy between two people with honest compassion and feelings for one another refusing to put themselves out on a limb or accept a more humble status because of their pride. The series repeatedly pokes fun at the idea that pride supersedes love whether from the comedy our the overly enthusiastic announcer. It may feel like a joke much of the time, but I believe it should be convicting us. At times it requires exaggeration to show the wrongfulness of what we think are small faults.

Both characters hold their pride and reputation as a higher value than anything else which clearly shows in their interaction together. Even from episode one, they express to their audience in inner monologues how they would be lowering themselves to even consider having a relationship with each other and only at the sacrifice of the pride and status of the other person as it would be befitting to them. Neither of them realize that this situation is playing out in a traditional prisoner’s dilemma scenario. Each of them hold out for their personal maximum gain instead of cooperating and both of them benefiting far more than what they expect to be their own best interest. Ultimately, both of them always lose in spite of the narrator’s occasional claims in the outro.  They both tend to trade slight advantages, resetting to an even playing field as they are evenly matched on logic and wit. There is a degree of futility in play where ultimately the real winner should be the person who concedes and confesses first as they ultimately will get what they want and suffer no penalty as it was pride that was holding them back the whole time. The act of humbling one’s self is gain.

In our current society, at least in America, pride has become such a dominant mental crutch that tribalism has sprung up across nearly all cultures and people-groups. We are identifying far more towards our perspective ideologies, racial groups, and cultural groups than we identify as Americans. This can be fair in some cases, but it means that we inflate our own opinion of ourselves the more locally we identify our culture. When we humble ourselves and remember that caring for others is a far more important endeavor than our own puffery, we can supplant some of these prideful impulses. There is a moment in episode six in which Miyuki in a question game from a horoscopic teen magazine (the kind where you are asked a question and it predicts something about your love life) unwittingly betrays that he wishes to have a large family of nine children after he gets married. These days in our world, there’s a lot of hostility towards motherhood. Some elements in American culture look down upon it as a step down from being a successful person in business, that a woman is not only diminishing herself for not achieving as much fame and wealth as she can for her abilities but in doing so she betrays other women for perpetuating a patriarchal power structure. One person I have seen on the internet was convinced that the concept of a “trophy wife” was no longer a good looking wife but rather how high of a status of woman a man could conquer and convince her to become a house wife instead of a successful businesswoman. (Nevermind the concept that a woman with strong genetics might want to pass on those genes to a child and raise them directly.) While egalitarianism is a good purpose to strive for in principle, we cannot help but always view our “tribe” as being the one most harmed by injustice. We’re wired to believe this because of pride. However, in Kaguya’s private thoughts in the episode, because she is deeply in love with Miyuki, looks up ways that she can facilitate having more kids because she wants to make him happy and see him accomplish his personal life goals. One could say this is out of either eros (infatuation) or agape (compassionate) love, but the fact remains that if they were able to let down their guard down and give up their power struggle, they would stand to have a very solid relationship and probably marriage if they wanted it.

Pride could also legitimately be called self-worship. Humans will always worship something. If it is not God then it is other people. If it is not other people, it is ourselves. Vainglory and vanity are the lowest forms of worship. Unless your object of worship is infallible, it will always disappoint you. What a tragedy it is that in our modern day, we have such amazing technological tools as the internet and social media, but surely no less than 90% of the time it’s used for our own aggrandizement. I am not trying to chide someone for posting a picture of their lunch to Facebook, but we all could take a minute to ask ourselves about the purpose of our actions. Will our actions and words benefit or edify anyone, or will they be lost to the winds of time? It might potentially be this that secretly we all rail against and endlessly struggle. We all have an internal desire to not be forgotten. Deep down, we all know that our time on earth is limited, immeasurably small in the fabric of eternity. Our pride and self worship is an outpouring of existential inner conflict for survival. It’s the idea that if we must pass along, perhaps we can leave something behind. For some this feeling is less fleeting than others. For others it’s the entirety of their life’s pursuit to find an elixir of immortality in the minds of other people. It is a pointless struggle. All earthly attention and praise is temporal. Ultimately the only thing which will be of eternal value is the worship we offer to God in obedience.

Consider for a moment, if the two characters held no pride whatsoever. Sure, the series wouldn’t exist, but pardoning that, the character might otherwise be flawless. Since the pride is dialed up to eleven in this anime they spend an inordinate amount of intellectual and physical resources. Kaguya offers to use a vacation to her family’s island resort to coax a confession out of him. She uses her maid and other servants in ploys to gain the upper hand on Miyuki. Miyuki, while not coming from a wealthy family, puts in a lot of physical effort to go out of his way for Kaguya’s confession, and he has his social status as class president that he can draw upon if he needs. All of these resources could be employed to much more productive ends if pride wasn’t a factor. If they could re-focus their effort, money, and connections to improve the welfare of the school and the students, one could imagine a tremendous boom period of growth for all involved. We already know they have some desire to do this in their assisting of other students with love issues and raising money for the school from the early episodes. Kaguya once walks to school on foot and offers to help a young child across the road, and then Miyuki goes out of his way to give a bike ride Kaguya to help her not be late. We know they are otherwise well intentioned and normally kind students diligent in their roles in student government with how hard they work. It would likely be inspiring and a good example to many of the students to see a boyfriend and girlfriend pair in a coordinated effort towards those goals.

art by alisia (reprinted w/permission)

This brings me to the foil of the series and a wonderful example for an alternative pattern of behavior in the character Chika Fujiwara. While on the surface her role is supposed to be the one of the aloof ditzy simpleton meant to spoil the protagonists’ plans, in reality she may be the smartest person of the trio at least in practical terms. Kaguya and Miyuki understand aggregate society and social norms and have tremendous book knowledge, but Chika seems to understand life on a more natural level. She has a strong pedigree and talent, but she doesn’t use it as a springboard for her own personal brand. It’s unclear what her inner thoughts are, but I find it highly probable that everything that comes out of her mouth is exactly what she thinks. What you see is what you get. She lacks any reason to be duplicitous. She is the only person to recognize that their communication app on their phones is too modern for the phone. The only time where she tricks the other two is in a game to convince the other two to say a specific hidden word. She uses knowledge of both of their thinking patterns to do this, but since it’s in a game setting, I feel it is excusable. She knows many foreign languages. In fact, so far in the series the only time where she is shown as prideful is when she teaches Miyuki how to play volleyball, and she claims “I raised that boy” when he succeeds. It is played for laughs as a callback to tropes in western media. She appears entirely innocent with her finding a teen magazine “lewd” even though it’s just talking about kissing. Her honesty with her emotions and goals and her overall cheerfulness makes her extremely likable and a wonderful contrast that further exaggerates the ridiculousness of the show’s premise.

We would be doing this anime a disservice to laugh at its antics and assume no virtues could be better understood from the story it has to tell. The series should be extolled for its perspectives on pride and how they hinder relationships. How many positive relationships are our lives are we missing out on because we think too highly of ourselves or our abilities? What could happen if we jettisoned our assumptions that other people hold a lower status than us? If I could attribute my talents to God and trust in him rather than myself, what opportunities might present themselves, and how might that better help other people?

Kaguya-sama: Love is War can be streamed on Crunchyroll.

9 thoughts on “Guest Post – Kaguya-sama: Pride is War

  1. “It’s unclear what her inner thoughts are…”

    Bold of you to assume Fujiwara has inner thoughts. 😛

    Joking aside, the good secretary provides an excellent example of one of the healthy results of real humility: harmony between the inner and outer self. While Kaguya and Miyuki lead double lives – sweating on the inside, smiling on the outside – Chika is simply Chika.

    Yo! Yo!

  2. Hey! Hey!
    I can sort of relate to her with her knowledge of politics, coming from a family with one in it. I think we cant at least attempt to see she has some inner workings like when she tries to offer a soda as a bribe to get funding increased for her board game club, and she tries to “appear innocent” by whistling and fails miserably. But hey, nobody’s perfect. 🙂

  3. Well said!

    Pride seems to be a common theme in many anime, but usually it’s treated as a positive quality. I’m always fascinated to see an apparently counter-cultural show that critiques pride. Humor is a sort of antithesis to pride (though the same could be said of other qualities, such humility or love). Pride takes itself oh-so-very seriously, but as you said, “comedy comes at the expense of someone.” In the case of this show, humor comes at the expense of at pride’s inherent sense of self-importance. Showing pride itself to be ridiculous and laughable attacks the flaw at its very foundation.

  4. I’ve never experienced pride before
    For those of you who don’t know,I got confirmed Thursday! ✝️

  5. I forgot exactly what the argument statement was, but I think it was something about how Byzantium’s fall could have been preventable.

  6. Yeah Jeskai. That’s spot on. Few things are better at diminishing pride than humor properly applied. That’s a huge thing I notice in all kinds of media is that pride is almost always a good thing. Art tends to be a mirror of our own lives and values, and I think pride’s the biggest “virtue” in our society today.
    Kaguya-sama Love is War does a really good job at not treating the main characters like high and mighty unassailable paragons but also not the lowest forms of humor we’re meant to laugh at and puff ourselves up. In some ways they’re entirely relatable even though they’re well to do model students because we feel the same emotions and probably have thought the same thoughts.

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