*Quick note: this whole article was written by an anime-only fan. No manga spoilers, please.*
Kaguya-sama: Love is War is, at its core, a comedy. Its main aim is to make you laugh. And if it’s good at anything, it’s good at that. But what makes the show special isn’t its hilarious character-driven comedy. Rather, it’s the character-drive drama that balances it out that makes the series so remarkable.
Of all the characters in the series, few can claim to encapsulate that better than the treasurer of the student council: Yu Ishigami.
Ishigami is more or less the punching bag of the series. The only member of the main cast who doesn’t knock him down on occasion is Shirogane. He is quiet and unpopular, infamous for an incident in middle school that we’ll talk about later. His tongue often gets the better of him, whether he’s voicing an opinion that will get him into trouble or he’s shouting in violent rage. It’s easy for the characters of Kaguya-sama’s world to mark him as separate and pick on him.
But therein is the genius. Because that is Ishigami’s whole character. He chooses to be the person everyone ostracizes and pushes away. Not because he can’t help it. But because he’s trying to help someone.
The Wound: The Dark Side of Popularity
For a comedy, this part is pretty dark. Especially when you remember this happened to him in middle school. Kid can’t have been older than fourteen.
Growing up, Ishigami was used to being the school outcast. That is, until one day, when a girl started to act very friendly to him. There wasn’t any real reason for it aside from her simply being nice. He quickly grew fond of her, though he didn’t see her in a romantic light. He simply appreciated that she was a good person to him.
Then he overheard a conversation her boyfriend was having over the phone. Turns out, he was cheating on her. Worse still, he had… well, let’s just say that he had less than savory plans for the girl. Plans he offered to let Ishigami in on in exchange for his silence.
So, naturally, Ishigami chose violence.
Unfortunately, the boy was popular, and Ishigami was not. It was easy for him to turn the entire school against him, teachers and all. All of his peers suddenly thought Ishigami was a violent lunatic, driven by jealousy over the girl he supposedly had a crush on. No one knew what his true intentions were, nor did they bother to look.
Because of this, Ishigami was suspended. The school board would not let him back until he wrote a letter of apology to the boy he assaulted. But Ishigami refused to write it. Even when it drove his parents away, even when he was all alone in a dark room for ages, cut off from the world, even when he wanted to simply say “Fuck it” and write the damn thing, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He knew he was in the right and he refused to give in.
Ultimately, that course of action worked out for him. Shirogane figured out what had really happened (which is likely why he is one of the few who truly respected Ishigami all throughout the series) and managed to end Ishigami’s suspension, even bringing him onto the student council. Better still, the boy was actually afraid of Ishigami because he never relented, so he broke up with the girl and never laid a finger on her. The girl herself hates Ishigami for this, but only because she never learned the terrible truth.
Even still, regardless of his success, this deeply affected Ishigami.
The Lie: Alone in a Room
Before the incident, Ishigami was a social outcast. That only became worse after the incident. Everyone started to look at him as the ‘violent boy’, the kid you didn’t want to spend any time with. They pushed him away. So Ishigami did the only thing he could think to do: he pushed right back.
Even after Shirogane ended his suspension, Ishigami never really left that dark room. He never reconnected with his peers; he never even tried. Instead, he built up this idea that youthful things such as clubs or teenage relationships or sports festivals are stupid and chooses not to be a part of them. Most of the time, he never even gives them a chance, drawing false assumptions about them to fit his own viewpoint.
There are multiple ways to interpret this. Perhaps he was bitter about being rejected by the world around him. Maybe he was scared to put himself out there and try new things for fear of being haunted by his past; we saw that very thing happen near the end of season two. It could be that he simply became comfortable there.
Few could break through his barriers. Of those few, he was only truly comfortable around was Shirogane. On paper, that doesn’t sound so bad. One true friend is better than a hundred false ones.
But still, Ishigami wasn’t happy.
The Want: Understanding
As you might have figured from the entire Wound section, Ishigami is a good person. Arguably the best in the entire series. All of his misery isn’t caused by any mistake of his own, but by lack of understanding, either on his part or on the part of those around him.
He himself understands this painfully well. It isn’t really possible for him not to, after all that happened to him. If he didn’t already know it, his time with the other members of the student council helped him realize it.
Eventually, he must have realized that no one was going to make the effort to understand him. No one aside from Shirogane, Kaguya, and maybe Iino. So instead, he decided to make an effort to understand them.
So he decided to go for the one thing he would normally never consider: he joined the cheer squad for the sports festival.
Initially, this seemed like the worst mistake of his life. He had suddenly surrounded himself with all the ‘hip’ and ‘popular’ kids at school. The kind of people who weren’t afraid to embarrass themselves in front of their peers if they thought it would make for a memorable moment. He felt so alien around them that he couldn’t even look any of them in the eyes (hence why they’re drawn without them in the anime). Ishigami didn’t just leave his comfort zone, he locked the door behind him!
Soon enough, however, he would discover that this was the exact opposite of a mistake.
The Need: Open the Door
To Ishigami’s surprise, his time in the cheer squad wasn’t all that difficult. Sure, memorizing and perfecting the routine was a challenge. But everything else that he thought would be difficult, such as communicating with the others or finding a girl’s uniform to wear, weren’t all that bad. Someone quickly came in to help him in each case, much to his shock.
Probably to our shock, too. Never though Kaguya of all people would give Ishigami her clothes.
More shocking still: he was actually enjoying himself! He gave it his all and actually earned the respect of his peers in the process. They all saw him for who he really was and not what the rumors painted him as.
That same day, his past came back to haunt him in the worst possible way. But rather than being crushed by it, he just… let it go. Instead of letting the past rule over him, he chooses to put himself out there and live for the future. To prove himself to himself, he vows to win the relay race.
And… he loses. Even after giving it his all, he still fell short.
Yet his peers still reach out to help him up.
After that, he sees them for what they are: good people. They might be popular and eccentric and different from him, but they were still good. Through them, he conquers his fear of others and gains a new confidence to carry him into the next step of his life.
It’s fairly easy to see why Ishigami is widely regarded as best boy (and best girl). His arc is a remarkably effective one that most of us can relate to on some level or another. It’s a beautiful, tragic, and inspiring story all about suffering pain and moving on from it. And his good, selfless nature makes it incredibly easy to root for him.
I’m excited to see how Ishigami grows throughout season three. And if he takes a step back to let the other characters shine for a while, that’s still fine. So long as he keeps on being lovably gloomy.
Here’s hoping Kaguya decides not to murder him. Maybe then my poor boy will be able to get some sleep.