Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 01 – The First to Confess Loses!

Here it is: perhaps the romantic comedy of the Winter. All dramatic theatrical staging, lighting, and musical stabs, Kaguya-sama: Love is War elevates something as deceptively simple as mutual romantic interest between two high schoolers into a grand operatic life-and-death affair.

Part of that is because the two in question aren’t ordinary high schoolers: are the top two students at the most prestigious school in the country. StuCo Vice President Shinomiya Kaguya’s family owns a good chunk of Japan, while President Shirogane Miyuki, while a commoner by comparison, possesses unsurpassed academic prowess.

Let’s get one thing straight: these two like each other, but would never ever say as such, let alone confess it. To do so would be to surrender the upper hand, shift the power dynamic, and become the supplicant, ceding dominance to the confessee. Despite their disparate backgrounds, Kaguya and Miyuki have too much pride and dignity to let that happen.

As such, while the rest of the student body sees them as the perfect couple who may even already be secretly dating, the two exist in a constant state of war, with the StuCo office serving as the battlefield. The neutral party between them, the far less brainy secretary Fujiwara Chika, often serves as a wild card in the pair’s ensuing battles.

In the first sequence, she’s also a pawn: Kaguya planted movie tickets in Chika’s mailbox, knowing she wouldn’t be able to go and would offer them to her and Miyuki. This creates a scenario in which Miyuki asks Kaguya if she wants to know, knowing that boy-girl pairs who go to this specific movie tend to end up as couples.

Their battle of wills is a chess game of moves, counter-moves, and counter-counter-moves, but when Chika also points out the tickets are also valid for an innocuous kids movie, a chaotic element is added to the pair’s already complex calculations, overheating their brains. Worse, Chika snatches the only source of sugar in the office that they could use to recharge and rally. Thus, the first battle we witness, both Kaguya and Miyuki lose.

In battle #2, Kaguya receives an anonymous love letter, and makes it known to both Miyuki and Chika that she fully intends to go, hoping it will provoke Miyuki into slipping up and demanding she not go…because he loves her. Miyuki knows what Kaguya intends, and attempts to dissuade her not as a man, but under his authority as StuCo President to discourage illicit relationships. He even considers tattling to the teacher, a risky move, but one that won’t expose his true feelings.

Kaguya counters by declaring that if it’s true love, she will risk suspension or even expulsion to give her body and soul to the writer of the letter, which almost causes Miyuki to slip up. He turns things around by asking, very speifically for the sake of argument, if she’d still go on the date if he were to confess to her. Kaguya’s true feelings are momentarily exposed, and she admits, too easily, that she’d reconsider before coming to her senses and preparing to go through with the date.

Ultimately Chika again intervenes in the battle of minds, grabbing Kaguya and tearfully declaring she won’t let her get expelled for a date, because she loves her too much to let such a thing happen. And so, with a crucial but unintentional assist by Chika, Kaguya loses this round.

The theme of the third and final battle of the episode (which packs a lot of bang for the buck!) is lunch. Specifically, Kaguya’s desire to taste a good old-fashioned classic Japanese school lunch with all the standbys: omelettes, hamburger, white rice, miso, plum, and most important, octopus wieners. The lunches she gets are prepared by a team of professional chefs, but Miyuki’s got the stuff she wants.

Of course, she can’t simply ask for a taste. But Chika certainly can, and does, compounding Kaguya’s anguish. She brings in an extra-fancy lunch, hoping to entice Miyuki to trade, but he doesn’t bite. Miyuki even makes Chika an identical lunch just for her, and with every bite (and indirect kiss) Kaguya’s opinion of Chika gets lower and more sinister. Miyuki can sense Kaguya’s negative aura this whole time, but assumes she’s looking down on his meager commoner repast, when quite the opposite is true.

Miyuki suspects Kaguya is up to something, even though this time she just wants a taste of his lunch, and ends up retreating from the office for StuCo business rather than find out what that might be, to live another day. However, since he fled, and Chika ends up offering her a cocktail weiner unbidden, Kaguya wins this last round, bringing her and Miyuki’s week one record to 1-1-1 each (or 1-2 if the first battle is a loss for both; I consider that a draw).

And there you have it! Despite all their constant scheming and wheel-spinning, I found Kaguya and Miyuki to both be likable, rootable characters, even if they remain doomed to remain in a stalemate as long as they maintain their stubborn positions of waiting for the other party to make the first move. The closed-off, bottle-like nature of the StuCo office gives the episode a compactness and laser-focus, and while one more StuCo member has yet to be introduced, I hope the cast stays this small.

Full of lively competitive energy, but with underlying mutual affection and respect, I’m looking forward to watching Kaguya and Miyuki spar in the future, with Chika in the middle demonstrating that they could make things so much easier for themselves if they just lightened up!

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu – 03

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Subaru is surprised to find “Satella” at the loot house before dark, but not for long, as he realizes her nature never changes no matter which timeline he’s in. She always helps the lost girl, then ends up tracking Felt down. However, just when Subaru is making progress mediating between the parties (by being nice to both), Elsa comes out of the shadows.

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Again, Subie uses his knowledge of Satella to summon Puck to shield the blade, knowing he’s still corporeal this time of day. But Elsa still manages to severely wound Old Man Rom. Puck and Satella launch a pretty-yet-terrifying counterattack with their green ice-like crystalline magic, but to no avail—like a cockroach, Elsa just won’t go down.

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During Elsa’s fight with Rom, Felt, Satella, and Subaru, she’s full of quips, and so is everyone else. As the blades and crystal saggers fly, so to does the juicy dialogue, which is just as sharp and satisfying as the action.

Subaru makes mention of how cool he is when he realizes he needn’t fear dead (since he can always start over at the vendor) but at the same time, really doesn’t want to die and have to start over, especially now that he’s made progress with both Felt and Satella.

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Satella goes down for a moment, but gets back up and helps Subie when she can from long range, while Felt is able to escape outside to call for help, which they’re going to need because Elsa is as relentless about disemboweling everyone as she is hard to kill.

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That help comes in the form of Reinhard, who is a resplendent model of ultracool fantasy hero timing, appearances, and dialogue. He doesn’t even take out his own sword, choosing instead one that’s lying around, so confident is he that he doesn’t need to go all out against the likes of Elsa, the “Bowel Hunter.” It’s also cool how Elsa knows him too, and is excited to see what he can do before she kills him.

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In a great bit of world-building even within this one loot house interior, Satella admits Reiny can’t go all out while she’s healing Rom. But when Rom is out of danger, she gives the go-ahead, and Reiny goes ALL OUT, launching a terrifyingly powerful attack that rends half of the bottle episodes bottle clean away. Outstanding presentation of an “overdrive” attack.

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Everyone celebrates the victory, until Elsa pops out of the wreckage, STILL not dead; only wounded. Fortunately, she chooses the better part of valor by retreating, but the fact she’s still out there with her chilling desire to disembowel everyone else is certainly…disquieting, as is the fact even that huge attack didn’t kill her.

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Her last attack is foiled by Subaru, who uses Rom’s giant bat to parry her blow, saving Satella in the process. When the coast is clear once again, Subie goes into self-aware fantasy hero mode, asking for something from his rescuee in return for his heroics: her name. She replies, Emilia, with just about the sweetest gosh-darn smiles of the Spring. A great little transaction.

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Even with all the twist and turns we’d experienced so far, Re:Zero still isn’t done yet, as when Felt finally produces the insignia she stole from Emilia to return it to her, Reinhard suddenly hardens his previously lenient stance (he’s off duty, so he’ll overlook theft) and formally arrests Felt, hitting her with a sleep spell when she resists.

Once again, the strong reaction from another world insider creates great gravity and significance for one innocuous-looking little piece of jewelry, like the name “Satella.” But this time, Subie didn’t call her by that name, got on her good side, and when the wounds Elsa made finally open, she heals him and prevents another reset.

I was really glad about that, because my heart nearly plummeted all the way down into the Central Dogma when it seemed like he was going to die. That said, I do hope Felt is okay—she seems to be a pawn in all this—and Subie and Emilia can secure her freedom without making Reinhard mad or getting the law on their backs.

Overall though, this week was simply a tremendous piece of entertainment. Succulent kick-ass combat, quick-witted, tasty dialogue that never felt in the way, and countless twists and turns that only added to the richness of the whole—this was the complete package.

And it was a brilliantly compact package at that, with 99% taking place in the confines of the loot house, without the setting ever seeming stale for a second. Eschewing the OP and ED were also a gutsy choice for what is just the third episode. Re:Zero is a must-watch Spring experience, and this was its best episode to date. Hopefully it keeps this up.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 05

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Sidonia belts out yet another BADASS episode, that’s very different from the four that preceded it. In fact, one of the only things that held it back from a 10 was the somewhat meaningless cutaway back to Sidonia in the middle for what was nothing but an infodump by Kobayashi and the wierd Bear woman (?)(Why is she a bear? Inquiring minds want to know…). But the badassery of this episode wasn’t due to any flashy battles or explosions.

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No, this was a bottle episode, the majority of which took place inside Takane’s frame after rescuing Shizuka. They’re beyond the point of no return and his fame is out of juice anyway, so they have to do a lot of sitting and waiting for one of two things: death or rescue. This is by no means original, but I have to say, I’m hard-pressed to recall better executions of this kind of lost-in-space scenario.

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Leaving aside the convenience of two love interests being in such close contact for so long. And Shizuka strips down to her birthday suit for a totally practical reason: to photosynthesize! Despite how cold and terrifying space looks out there and how tiny the frame looks compared to it, there’s a warmth from the two of them that permeates their scenes. You get the feeling everything will be fine, because at the very least, if they die, they’ll die together.

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Ten days pass before any hint of rescue, and food and water are exhausted, the latter an example of over-complicated technology coming to bite them ass at the worst possible time. When Takane starts to succumb to dehydration, that same fancypants tech is his savior, as Shizuka is able to filter her urine for him to drink, a touching scene with shades of Princess Mononoke. The act also gives Takane the idea to filter the frame’s lubricant for more water. Wonderful things, these filters!

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The victory is enough for the couple to try a closer embrace, forgetting their suits are on. Further hanky-panky is interrupted by One Hell Of A Dramatic Entrance by the entire defense wing, which disobeyed orders and formed a 256-frame relay ring to come back for the pilot who defeated the Gauna (along with his would-be girlfriend). Their arrival is a powerful moment of jubilation and relief, and a happy ending that neither felt like a cheat nor an inevitability.

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