Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 06 – The Second-Tallest Mountain

Hinami has a bold idea for Tomozaki’s next assignment. While she was going to make him her own campaign manager for the StuCo presidential election, but with Mimimi throwing her hat in the ring, Hinami believes Tomozaki will get more out of being Mimimi’s manager. Hinami makes clear this isn’t meant to be a form of electoral sabotage: Mimimi is important to her. But she’s as confident that no one—not even Mimimi—can beat her.

Hinami’s attitude towards Tomozaki is basically “You’re not going to win, but give it your best shot”. The question is, is Hinami really this arrogant about the certainty of her victory, or is she quietly hoping Tomozaki will help Mimimi supplant her? Absent other information, I proceeded thinking the former: Hinami wants to win, and she’s not orchestrating her own exit from the spotlight.

Just as she has every right to believe victory is in the bag, Tomozaki has every right to doubt his ability to manage Mimimi’s campaign. Heck, when they almost collide in the hall and he earnestly asks her, she turns him down flat, justifiably questioning his reliability. While in the library, he gets extra context from Fuuka for why Mimimi is even going after Hinami’s throne: she wants to change things, and herself. So does Fuuka, though she adorably tells Tomozaki not to tell anyone!

The next morning outside of school, Tomozaki witnesses Mimimi campaigning beside her kohai and handpicked manager Yumi. He also spots Hinami working the crowd with her manager Mizusawa (the undertones of those two being a couple go uncommented upon). Hinami makes personal appeals to everyone around her, having memorized virtually all of their club affiliations.

Tomozaki sees how formidable a boss Hinami is, and how it’s probably for the best Mimimi chose someone else as her manager. But that changes when they almost collide in the hall again, and Tomozaki can immediately tell Mimimi needs help with her list of campaign promises. Not with the content, mind you: with the layout. He revises it in the lab and wins her over, but for her, it begs the question: why is he so dead set on helping her?

Tomozaki is ready with an answer she can relate to: The uber-powerful Hinami is simply an irresistible challenge to go up against; he wants to take her on and win. What he doesn’t tell Mimimi is that he’s not currently leveled up enough to go toe-to-toe with Hinami in the game of life—she’d mop the floor with him in any theoretical “battle”. But he could gain crucial life XP by “summoning” the top-tier character Mimimi as his “champion”.

Hinami may be imposing in her ability to amass and win hearts and minds, but as he follows her around the school, Tomozaki is reminded how Mimimi is no slouch in that department. Foregoing a full-on frontal assault for a rearguard action, Mimimi targets specific school groups and negotiates bargains in exchange for their votes.

It starts in the gym, where Mimimi can’t help but stuff her head inside Hanabi’s shirt, but she also makes an appeal to her senpai, promising an electric pump for all of the ball clubs. Later that afternoon, Tomozaki and Mimimi rest a spell in a park, where he notices her “totes adorbs” new haniwa (traditionally a funerary object), and she provides further context for her quixotic run at Hinami.

Mimimi starts out with a very effective quiz for Tomozaki: He’s able to immediately answer what is Japan’s tallest mountain or America’s first president, but in the case of naming number two, he doesn’t know. Mimimi does, because she’s perpetually been number two at school, both in academics and sports. She wants to move out of the second place shadows, to better validate all of her hard work and be recognized for it.

Later, Tomozaki asks Hanabi for some help sound checking the gym for Mimimi’s campaign speech. Despite being shirted by Mimimi earlier, Hanabi agrees without hesitation, because it’s for her friend Mimimi’s sake. She just asks Tomozaki to look out for Mimimi, who is an “overdoer” despite her claims to the contrary.

Mimimi and her “Brain” stay in constant contact via LINE (at which Tomozaki has gotten much better) while at school, Tomozaki has grown accustomed to Mimimi’s bubbly enthusiasm and it’s even rubbed off on him a bit, which amuses her to no end. He’s even learned to dodge her back-slapping! The two are well and truly on the same wavelength. Hinami spots the two from her perch on the upper level of the cafeteria, initially looking concerned, but then with a proud smile.

Their physical positions in this scene are instructive. Tomozaki and Mimimi are doing everything they can to win this thing from the lower ground, even though Hinami, by all indications, is sitting pretty atop the high ground, and still not even considering the possibility of an upset loss to Mimimi. But ultimately, only one candidate can win.

Questions abound: Will the result profoundly affect their friendships, and if so, how? If Mimimi loses, can she take solace in knowing she did her very best with Tomozaki by her side? Could their time together lead to them…dating? Would Hinami handle defeat with grace, or with an identity crisis? With its intricate and fast-evolving relationships, Bottom-Tier Tomozaki has infused new life and intrigue in the well-worn school election scenario, and I can’t wait for the returns!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 06 – Winning the Right Way

Only one battle is covered this week, and it’s not in Kaguya and Miyuki’s War of Love, but the StuCo Presidential Election. Osaragi, Iino Miko’s best and only friend, gives an impassioned speech on behalf of her candidate, but only half the crowd at best is even listening. By comparison, Kaguya’s speech is preceded by intentional mic feedback.

Kaguya speaks with equal or greater passion than Osaragi, but with all the attention and none of the desperation. More to the point, everyone adores and idolizes Kaguya, and the lavishly-produced visual aids are, as Osaragi says, “full of shameless baloney” but nonetheless incredibly effective.

This one was in the bag from the start, but what bothers Yuu isn’t that Miko will lose, it’s how she will lose, which is the same way she’s lost every election she’s run in with increasingly dire results: she’s a terrible public speaker. Yuu doesn’t like how someone who works as hard as Miko ends up the laughingstock of the student body simply because of stage fright.

Again and again Osaragi’s heart has been broken by her friend’s defeats, knowing that while everyone sees Miko as serious, no one ever saw her cry bitter tears in the bathroom stall, wondering why her message fell on not just deaf but maliciously mocking ears.

Miyuki picks up what Yuu is putting down, and just when Miko looks like she’s going to secure her worst defeat yet in an embarrasing, self-destructive fiasco of a campaign speech, Miyuki…interrupts. She forces Miko to forget about the crowd that is causing her so much anxiety and simply focus on him, the person she’s running against.

By asking her pointed questions about her policies, Miyuki helps Miko get back on point. Because she’s simply talking to one person, Miko can summon her pride, confidence, and passion.

Not only that, the crowd Miko forgot about is finally seeing Miko stand up for herself against an opponent, and it never occurs to them this is only happening because Miyuki furnished the conditions with which to stand up to him.

Miko ends up losing to Miyuki, but it’s a damned close race: he only beats her 320 to 280. Far more importantly, their spontaneous debate, which stretched on for over half and hour and captivated students and faculty alike.

As such, Miko the toast of the school: a scrappy, righteous underdog who fought the good fought, came up a bit short, but is in prime position for a victory in the next election. Osaragi has never been more proud to be Miko’s friend now that she’s finally been acknowledged…and it’s all thanks to Miyuki.

Kaguya, meanwhile, suffered a number of stomachaches that landed her in the school infirmary. There, she asks Hayasaka where the hell Miyuki is and why he didn’t come to her bedside immediately to watch over her. Did he discover all of the political dirty tricks she pulled to secure his victory?

Was his assist to Miko meant as a stand against the “horrible girl who relied on foul play?” Was she wrong about Miyuki being nice to her as a sign he liked her, since he was also nice to Miko, and come to think of it, is nice to everyone?

The answer to all of those questions is either “no” or “it doesn’t matter.” Miyuki was only delayed because the first duty of the new StuCo is to clean up the post-election mess—which he achieves with the help of Chika and Yuu, who retain their positions as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

When he comes to her bedside, he apologizes for his impulsive behavior on the stage, but tells her he was only able to do it the same reason he’s able to do anything: thanks to help from her and the others. He doesn’t just like Kaguya, he needs her. He needed her for his campaign, and he needs her by his side as vice president for the next year. Elated but not quite able to face him, Kaguya flashes an “ok” sign, and all is right in her world once more.

With that, the stressful StuCo Election is finally behind us, but we won’t be returning to the status quo ante. That’s because, acknowledging her value, Miyuki has invited Miko to join the StuCo to perform their forthcoming financial audit, and to be in charge of “general affairs.” Having a fifth member in the StuCo office of Miko’s caliber should prove to be a lot of fun!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 05 – Together We Will Rise: A Symphony in Three Movements

First Movement: When the Glare’s Not There

Chika is the first to behold Miyuki’s terrifying new face, or rather un-terrifying new face. As the result of his break from StuCo duties he’s been getting three extra free hours per day, giving him time to sleep more and fix his bed-head.

This has had the effect of making his eyes less heavy, so rather than glaring, his expression is bright and cheerful. This is very unsettling for both Chika and Yuu, so used to his usual scowl. But as other students greet him and invite him to hang out, it dawns on Yuu that Miyuki might have entered his Popular Phase!

Far more than make more friends, Miyuki wants to get Kaguya confess her love for him, and sees his new face as the latest weapon in that war. Unfortunately, Kaguya loves his ordinary intimidating glare, misses his “cool eyes”, and is thrown into a crisis of confidence in her love.

She goes to Nagisa for advice, mentioning a problem “her friend” is having. Nagisa instantly sees through the half-assed subterfuge, but admits she’s not nearly pure enough to endure—let alone discuss—on a topic as embarrassing as “What is true love?” Still, she tries her best, telling Kaguya she has nothing to worry about.

Chika overhears the conversation and declares love based on appearances to be fake and bad, but then Yuu pops by and argues that all love is true love if it comes from the heart, or some such. Kaguya eats it all up while Nagisa worries about losing her lunch.

Then, in a beat so unexpected and hilarious I had to pause the show to laugh, Miyuki appears looking like a dried-out demented wooden doll (exhausted from campaign work), scaring the Hell out of Nagi but delighting Kaguya, who is relieved her Miyuki’s face no longer resembles that of a stock shoujo manga love interest. Kashiwagi loses, while Hayasaka worries her mistress has adopted a particularly worrying face fetish.

Second (Bowel) Movement: Producing the Same Sound

The first movement explored the distinctive qualities that move someone to love that outsiders will never understand. This middle movement is all about a dark secret and deep yearning that dwell within Miyuki, which only comes to Chika’s attention while she’s conducting the student body in the singing of the school anthem, and notices Miyuki is lip synching. From her perspective, a former president and current candidate not knowing the words to the anthem is a scandal-in-waiting.

But Miyuki knows the words, and he wants to sing. He just doesn’t, because he’s “a little crap” at it. Despite reservations about the last time she trained him, this time Chika is right in her musical wheelhouse and wants to help him out. But when she hears him (and boy is it something to hear), she realizes she may have repeated a grave mistake and dug her own grave in the process. He’s not “a little” crap. He’s a veritable Cthulhu dump post-gorging on civilization!

No matter; Chika is a virtuoso, and if she can’t teach him he can’t be taught. She starts with the basics in a very beautifully directed sequence where she’s carrying a note and guides him to match that note using comments on the chalkboard. When they match, it’s a beautiful sound is produced, and Miyuki’s confidence is boosted.

When he tells her how his own elementary school teacher told him “you don’t have to sing” and his middle school classmates begged him to lip-sync, he stopped singing altogether and never looked back, but always felt left out and unfulfilled.

Chika displays a fierce maternal instinct in taking it upon herself to make a proper singer of Miyuki, so he no longer has to suffer in silence. A quick montage ensues with the two doing various exercises, and then the moment of truth arrives: another singing of the anthem.

To my surprise, Miyuki not only sings, but sings right on key! This show doesn’t always rip the rug out from under you! Even better, the anthem’s bittersweet lyrics very closely match the epic struggle she and Miyuki went through. By the time the anthem arrives at its coda, Chika is wading in a pool of her own tears…but they’re tears of pride and accomplishment. It’s a stirring win for both her and Miyuki.

Final Movement: Perfect Compatibility

Now we approach the end of this exquisitely crafted and performed symphony. The focus returns to the election, all-important to Kaguya in particular because the StuCo is the least suspicious means of spending time with Miyuki. The movement opens with Kaguya in Political Operator Mode, conferring with her contact Hayasaka on how oppo research on Iino Miko is going.

Hayasaka has their best internal and external people working on it, and we’re reminded of the long reach of the Shinomiya Empire, making it that much more charming that hardly any of it matters at all when it comes to Kaguya trying to get Miyuki to confess his love for her! Still, Kaguya’s not discouraged by the lack of dirt on their opponent. She simply has to turn Miko’s own pristine-ness against her.

When Kaguya meets with Miko in the darkened StuCo office in a nice bit of venue-as-posturing, we recall how when it comes to matter not related to love or Miyuki, she’s as competent and ruthless an operator as high school girls come. She’s able to assess Miko’s reliance on her strict ideals and their fragility in her moments of anxiety.

In far more words, Kaguya proposes a deal whereby she and Miyuki will support her in next year’s election if she bows out of this one. Miko can smell the dirty tricks a mile away, and proceeds to dress Kaguya down by saying she and Miyuki are “two of a kind” with “perfect compatibility.” Kaguya is delighted by her kind words, but thrown just enough off balance to be left open for Miko’s counter offer.

In President Miko and Vice President Chika’s administration, Miyuki and Kaguya will remain in their StuCo, albeit in reduced roles. Miko’s goal is to “restore order” to an academy wracked with chaos. Kaguya is instantly intrigued by this proposal, since it means she and Miyuki will still be together. It may even be preferable to him winning reelection, since he’ll have less exhausting work to do (though she doesn’t consider what that will do to his cool eyes!).

Miko may be petite, but she has big plans for the StuCo, who will act as an extention of the Morals Committee she already heads: Uniform checks in the morning, garbage pickup in the afternoon…she and Miyuki could do all of these things together! But the bubble bursts on this ideal scenario when Miko declares that the academy will be a strict No-Romance-Zone. That’s a dealbreaker for Kaguya, and so negotiations break down!

But while a soft resignation and coalition with Miko may be impossible due to her staunch morals, those same morals may well sink Miko’s chances of gaining much support beyond her loyal base. High schoolers typically like the freedom to engage in hanky-panky. It’s a school, not a church. Can Kaguya craft the narrative that exposes the disconnect between Miko’s policies and the will of the student body? I wouldn’t bet against her!

 

 

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 04 – Little Girl, Big Talk

It’s been three days since the StuCo disbanded, but Kaguya and Miyuki haven’t so much as spoken. Hayasaka finds Kaguya’s lack of progress pathetic considering how many romantic events she and Miyuki have shared.

A frustrated Kaguya lashes out, challenging Hayasaka to get Miyuki to fall for her. Hayasaka accepts, breaking out an adorable new persona with which to seduce Miyuki as Kaguya jealously watches in the shadows.

Hayasaka is a pro at this (what else is new), and gets off to a great start by chatting Miyuki up in a bookstore then getting him to have a coffee with her as she considers a computer purchase. Ultimately, Hayasaka ends up the loser, even though she offers to be a “side piece” should he already like someone.

Turns out liking someone else means Miyuki’s not interested in anyone else, period. A bitter Hayasaka insists her loss was due to the need to get the job done in one day; given more time, she’s confident she would have prevailed. I believe her!

Miyuki determines there’s no one better to write his campaign speeches than Kaguya, but has trouble approaching her in her class. Enter Hayasaka in “Gal” mode (whom he can’t tell is the same person who asked him out the other day), who bursts in and makes a huge production of Miyuki coming to see Kaguya on a matter of great importance.

News that he asked to meet her behind the school causes the entire student body to convulse in anticipation that these two top students are going to become a couple. The hype takes on a mind of its own as their meeting is built up as the can’t-miss school event of the decade.

When the big moment comes, both Miyuki and Kaguya are very much aware of their huge, expectant audience. Only Kaguya says she doesn’t mind it, while Chika is completely oblivious to the vibe and complicates matters by coming off as the third side of a love triangle.

Miyuki knows he’s suffer a political price if he embarasses Kaguya with his piddling speech request, so he makes the request in a whisper, inches from her face. Similarly safe from prying ears, Kaguya tells him the answer is yes—whether it’s to write him speeches or something else entirely.

It’s a good thing Kaguya is on Miyuki’s team, because he may have some stiff competition in the election in the person of first-year Iino Miko, this season’s newest character. Miko is at the top of her class, president of the morals committee, and believes having a “commoner” like Miyuki as president is an affront.

Tomita Miyu (Made in Abyss’ Riko, BokuBen’s Rizu)’s performance is appropriate for a pint-sized character packed with power. Before he knows it, Miyuki is caught up in her competitive, adversarial spirit, seeing her as his political rival in the fight of his life.

He and Yuu even mock her for relying on her pure ideals without a track record of success to fall back on, to the point Chika tries to stop them from sounding like villains. Then Miko brings Chika over to her side by expressing her admiration for Chika’s piano prowess and other positive qualities, and offering her the vice presidency if she joins Team Iino.

Chika later reconsiders her quick turnabout, but the fact remains Miko seems to be a larger threat than Miyuki or Yuu think. When Miyuki sees her wholesome flyer his confidence in beating her only rises, when I really think he shouldn’t be listening to Yuu and be preparing for a tough campaign.

Right off the bat, Miko is thankfully presented as someone who isn’t interested in Miyuki, and not just because she doesn’t know him and he’s in her way. Rather than a rival to Kaguya, I can see Kaguya closing ranks with Miyuki even more in the face of an adversary who thinks so little of the man she loves—a catalyst for their growing closer. In any case, this should be a fun campaign!