On a surface level, Kaguya-sama: Love Is War is a school romance anime, featuring high school shenanigans and light-hearted fun - when Kaguya's shady family isn't around, at least. But if you dig a little more deeply, there's much intertextuality to uncover. Not only is the anime full of pop culture references, but a lot of characters are also partly inspired by Japanese folklore, adding depth to the anime. Here are some of the intertextual references in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War explained:
Related: Where to Watch Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: Ultra Romantic
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Folklore References Explained
A lot of the main characters' names in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War have been derived from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, also known as The Tale of Princess Kaguya. After all, the show's title "Kaguya-sama" isn't by chance; "sama" is an honorific reserved for royalty, and would probably be excessive in real life, even for someone with Kaguya's upbringing.
Kaguya, therefore, is based on Princess Kaguya, the main character of the folktale.
In the tale, five suitors fought for Princess Kaguya's hand. The student council's names are based on them. The suitors include:
- Grand Councilor Ōtomo no Miyuki (Miyuki Shirogane)
- Kuramochi no Miko (Chika Fujiwara)
- Ishidzukuri no Miko (Mikro Iino)
- Isonokami no Maro (Yu Ishigami)
Mikado Shijo, who is Miyuki's literal rival for Kaguya's love, is based on the emperor. Ai Hayasaka, who helps Kaguya escape from her family in later manga chapters, is based on the celestial envoy who was tasked with returning princess Kaguya to the moon.
Aka Akasaka, the creator of the manga, mentioned that he initially wanted to portray the characters as flat, almost like folkloric archetypes, and gradually make them more human and relatable by giving them characteristics and experiences he or people he knew had.
In the original folktale, all of the suitors are faced with impossible tasks and fail. It is no secret that Kaguya and Miyuki end up together at some point, so fans of the couple can only hope that the anime and manga won't choose to interpret this literary, by having the relationship of the two main characters fail.
Overall, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter concludes with Princess Kaguya leaving her earthly friends and family, and returning to the moon. For the time being, it's hard to tell whether the romantic comedy will choose to interpret this in any way, or simply leave it, as the characters have walked away from their folkloric inspiration, toward lives of their own.
Related: Who Does Ishigami End Up With in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War?
In any case, basing characters from Kaguya-sama on characters from Japanese folklore is a clever idea, that inspires non-Japanese fans to interact with the original tale, while also adding depth to what might seem like a typical comedy at first glance.
The retelling is loose enough to stand on its own even if you don't know the references, but knowing them makes the experience so much more enriching!
The manga of Kaguya-sama is close to its conclusion but still ongoing. We expect to see a few more intertextual references in it - and in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Season 3 - Ultra Romantic before the end!
For more articles like this, take a look at our Anime and Kaguya-sama: Love is War page.