Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 10 – How A Net Feels

Just as it excels when it focuses on just one or two segments, Love is War is arguably even better at juggling a grab bag of stories in one episode. We get the latter this week and it’s all amazing, starting with Miyuki’s mistaken belief that Kaguya is avoiding him because she doesn’t like him. Kei wants to ask about his romance problems, but because she’s in her teenage rebellious phase, talking to him would mean losing face.

When their father comes home and asks Miyuki what’s up, Kei thinks she’s in the clear, but her father only makes Miyuki more tight-lipped and mad, so Kei has no choice but to offer a piece of advice: a girl can still like you even if it seems like they’re avoiding you. Sure enough, when Miyuki and Kaguya cross paths, she uses her calming ritual and the two walk side-by-side to the office. Miyuki had no reason to despair.

The next segment is the latest installment of the “Chika Teaches Miyuki Things He Sucks At” series, and, clocking in at around six miuntes, one of the quickest and most efficient. This time she’s trying to teach him the Soran dance his class will perform, but his idea of dancing looks more like an exorcism. When she finally loses her patience and storms out, Miyuki ends up relying on an Kaguya for pointers (Kaguya is more than happy for an opportunity to touch his body, the lecher!)

As Chika observes Kaguya’s strategy of simply getting Miyuki to replicate the moves irrespective of heart or passion, her honor as an artist must stand and protest, leading to a literal tug-of-war between the two girls. This mimics how historical Edo magistrate Ooka Echizen ordered two women resolve a custody battle for a child, with the winner being the first one to release the child when he was in pain.

In this case, no one’s letting go, but being pulled back and forth is exactly what Miyuki needed to learn what it was like to be the fishermens’ net, and performs a Soran dance that impresses both Kaguya and Chika.

Following two straight victories by Miyuki, we get a segment from the POV of Kobachi as she and Miko go on their DC rounds. Chika and the board game club doing something akin to LARPing, while they find Yuu playing video games at school. When he points out he’s in territory technically outside their jurisdiction, Miko ropes him and pulls him into it.

Kobachi can tell that while Miko and Yuu don’t get along, they’re a lot more alike than they realize. She knows about the rumors of how Yuu stalked a girl in their class in middle school, fought another boy over her, and got suspended, but notes that Yuu never told his side of the story. And because she knows he has a strong sense of justice and distaste for “irrational things” like Miko, his story is likely more complicated.

I’m sure Kobachi is as eager as me to hear that story someday, but for now, she’s impressed with the strides he’s made, including his participation in the Cheer squad, who unlike the majority of first-years were willing to bring him into the fold and give him a chance, as long as he was applying himself seriously, which he is.

The balance of the episode takes place during the vaunted sports festival. Miyuki and his class perform the Soran dance perfectly, but he’s discouraged to find his dad there rather than at work somewhere, snapping pics of Chika (though that was a request from Chika’s hot-shot dad).

What Miyuki wants to avoid at all costs is his dad getting anywhere near Kaguya, sure that nothing good could come with it. And yet his dad’s advice in the first segment for Miyuki to be the fastest runner, which he dismissed as grade school stuff, actually works like a charm on Kaguya, who despite being on the White team is passionately rooting for the President all the way!

That’s when Miyuki’s dad sidles up to Kaguya without introducing himself and belittles Miyki’s efforts. Kaguya, never one to let people cast aspersions on her beloved Miyuki, offers up all the ways Miyuki is actually a terrific person. When his dad shoots those down one by one, she gets increasingly flustered and annoyed, which leads him to ask not who Miyuki is, but who he is to her.

Kaguya responds with a beautiful monologue from the heart about how Miyuki showed her that not only to kind and wonderful people like him truly exist, but that there are others among her with those qualities (Chika and Yuu, for instance). Miyuki’s dad asks if she’s “romantically interested” just as Miyuki arrives, to which Kaguya compliments Miyuki on having such a “delightfully mischievous” father.

The Cheer squad leader ends up picking Yuu to be his partner in the final relay, and when they win, we cut to the brown-haired girl in the dark flashbacks in which Yuu was accused of stalking and assault.

This certainly lends credence to the theory that not only was Yuu not really stalking her, but that there might even have been mutual affection between them. Will we ever meet this mystery person, and if so, how will this “New Yuu” react? I can’t say, but I’d love to see it.

As it stands, Love is War has deftly and painstakingly painted fully-realized portraits of all four of its main characters plus Miko. It just happens to be both one of the most hilarious comedies in years and a riveting, heartfelt character drama. Shows this unassailably superb don’t come around often. It’s hard to not sound like I’m mindlessly gushing about it, but the excellence is there for all to see.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 09 – Calming Rituals

In the first segment, Miko becomes the protagonist of her own LIW spin-off as she regales Kobachi with harrowing tales of her experiences in the StuCo that have brought her to the brink of resignation. The drama of various incidents she’s witnessed from various doorways are greatly heightened, and their context twisted to feed the narrative of Miyuki as “Lust Incarnate”.

Kobachi assumes Miko has simply misunderstood each of these incidents, but Miko ends up learning the wrong lesson by simply shifting the role of StuCo supervillain from Miyuki to Kaguya, labeling her “Evil Incarnate” and recontextualizing the incidents as engineered by a deviant and sadistic mind.

However, Kaguya’s response when Miko confronts her—phrased as “What do you think of Miyuki?“—garners such an unexpectedly pure and guileless response, Miko is left not knowing what to think of everything she’s seen and heard…which means she loses.

The next segment is Kaguya-centric and builds on the purity of her response. She’s been avoiding Miyuki ever since her hospital visit, lamenting to Hayasaka how she’s become incapable of staying calm and collected around him. Hayasaka suggests Kaguya takes a page from Ichiro and other sports personalities and adopt a “calming ritual” to steady herself in stressful times.

The process for adopting such a ritual starts with Hayasakai turning on some music and simply having Kaguya dance it out, calling to mind Chika’s awesome dance ED last season as well as being thoroughly adorable. Kaguya eventually settles on touching her left cheek with her right hand, and even impresses Hayasaka with the speed with which she masters the gesture.

However, when it comes time to use it, Kaguya finds herself locked in a Street Fighter II-style match with Miyuki, who unloads a number of special moves that raise her anxiety levels way past safety levels (enter a great momentary cameo by last week’s elite doc…and his theme music).

In the end, despite losing most of her HP Kaguya wins the match by resorting to the use of her black belts in Aikido and Judo, thus freeing her right hand from Miyuki’s grasp. As soon as she touches her cheek she’s calm again…only to immediately lose that calm when she realizes she hurt Miyuki! Still, the ritual worked, so she wins.

In the third and final segment, Yuu rather inexplicably joins the cheerleading squad, which is akin to a polar bear seeking refuge in the middle of the Sahara. He immediately regrets his hasty decision, as he finds himself among members of the “Tribe of Yay!”, while he is, at best, of the “Tribe of Meh”.

When the group agrees on gender-swapping their uniforms, Yuu finds himself in a spot: Miko will refuse because she hates him, Chika will judge him because she’s so real with him, and Kaguya certainly won’t do it because…wait, Kaguya is happy to do it! “Anything for a StuCo colleague in need” and all that.

Kaguya seems to get a kick out of putting Yuu in her school uniform, as well as applying makeup. Miko sees the former (again, sans context) through the partially opened door and flees without comment (another chapter for her spin-off). Then Miyuki peeks through the door as Kaguya is having fun with Yuu and is naturally super-jealous. Oddly, this segment ends without a winner or loser, but promises that Yuu’s story will continue next week during the Sports Festival.

LIW continues to exhibit a strong penchant for diversity in both style and substance, always keeping us on our toes on what it will dish out from segment to segment and yet never letting us down. My only mark against this episode is the dearth of Chika and not quite enough Kobachi, whom I’d like to see more of. But the show has a rare gift for keeping things both fresh and focused. Its characters are always strong and consistent pillars in a motley universe of unpredictable scenarios and cleverly subverted tropes.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 14 – Forest of Illusion

CCS:CC is a show replete with beautiful pastels and idyllic scenes of Sakura’s lovely, happy life, but from its first moments this is an episode that throws a number of strange and even unsettling images into the mix, starting with Sakura waking up to find Meiling and Kero-chan right in her face, trying to compete to see who has the more intense face (it causes the first of ten Sakura “hoeees!” in the ep).

Sakura with her new ‘do and Meiling meet up with their friends at a shrine market, but Syaoran is running late because he’s doing some rather intense magical training, no doubt to be able to support Sakura when the going gets tough.

It’s a fun and pleasant day as usual, until Sakura and only Sakura starts seeing animal ears and tails on all of her friends. They even start “talking” like the animals they represent, until the very environment around them starts to blur and twist and Sakura finds herself in a great grassy valley with a planet in the purple sky.

This is one of the trippiest cards since the Escher-esque labyrinth, and Sakura doesn’t have a clue where she is and how to change her increasingly animal friends back. She can’t even catch up to them, as they scatter and run when she approaches, eventually settling down at the base of a massive baobab tree.

Sakura is scared, and things suddenly get scarier. A storm swoops in, and a lightning bolt splits the tree in pieces, causing it to burst into flames. As it begins to fall on her animalized friends, time suddenly stops, and Syaoran literally tears through the fabric of the environment to join Sakura.

The time magic he used has gassed him, and the magic won’t last long but he still manages to calm a panicking Sakura down with a big hug, urging her to control her breathing and think about the situation. Sakura realizes she wanted to go to the zoo, so the card turned her friends into animals. When she became scared, it made things scarier.

Once sufficiently calm, Sakura is able to break out of the illusion and secure the “Mirage” card that caused all of the trouble. Everyone ends up back at the shrine, none the worse for wear save Syaoran, who is still exhausted from his use of powerful magic.

Meiling acknowledges her cousin Syaoran doing his best for Sakura’s sake (and the fact he calls her “Sakura”), while expressing her aggravation that she has no magic with which to help out. Still, neither Meiling nor any of Sakura or Syaoran’s friends need magic to support them; their friendship is something worth becoming stronger to protect.

I imagine Sakura will have to grow stronger still in order to face whatever nefariousness Yuna D. Kaito is up to.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 13 – Meiling It In

After cheerleading practice, Sakura gets a surprising phone call from Meiling announcing that she has arrived in Japan. Since this is my first foray into CCS such an arrival means less to me than those who’ve watched the franchise in its entirety, but despite not knowing much about her or her past exploits with the other characters, she’s still a welcome and refreshing (re-)addition to Sakura’s circle of friends.

Rather than stay with her cousin Syaoran, Meiling decides to stay at Sakura’s permission for which she receives from Sakura’s dad over the phone, using such polite and formal language she shocks her old friend.

While Sakura’s brother stays at Yukito’s, avoiding answering questions about whether his powers are returning, Meiling and Sakura make delectable homemade gyoza, while Meiling and Kero square off multiple times, requiring Sakura to play peacemaker.

After helping Sakura dry her hair (resulting in a slightly different, more refined look), Meiling gets Sakura (a “natural airhead”) to open up about Syaoran. Sakura knows that Syaoran is hiding something, but also trusts him enough to believe if it were something he should and could tell her, he would, or will when he’s ready. I hope her trust isn’t misplaced.

As for Akiho, she continues to read from the tome of stories, one of which depicts a girl who grew cat ears and a tail—which is precisely what Sakura sees Meiling growing at various moments before they go to bed. She and Meiling chalk it up to Sakura simply being half-asleep and seeing things, but it’s clear the ears and tail are not only real, but something being instigated by Akiho, seemingly at the behest of her watch-wearing butler.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 04

So, the pretty new transfer student Shinomoto Akiho is totally the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, right? Someone her same height (and even a similar-sounding name) shows up way too concurrently with the arrival of the cloaked figure in the real world at the tail end of last week’s outing.

If Touya doesn’t let on like he knows anything concrete (for now), he certainly seems to sense Sakura is out of sorts the morning after her disturbing vision of the figure. As for Sakura, she and Tomoyo are bowled over by Akiho’s beauty and eager to make friends with her ASAP.

Whatever, I say, could go wrong here?!

Syaoran certainly seems suspicious of Akiho, even if the others are just as charmed by the newbie as Sakura (then again, remain suspicious of Syaoran…what a tangled web we weaved). Akiho seems singularly invested in making Sakura like her as much as possible, flattering her when they’re alone in the hall, and again when Sakura gets an answer right in class (apparently not a common occurrence!).

After giving that answer, Sakura notices the trees getting up and walking around outside, setting off a series of Sakura’s patented all-purpose catchphrase, HOEHHH! At this point I always look forward to every time she does that, and hearing all the subtle variations on that exclamation. Tange Sakura is a treasure.

It’s Tomoyo to the rescue, having the class believe Sakura is not feeling well. Of course, she also has ulterior motives, and has prepared a Chinese-style costume for Sakura to don during her next card-capturing escapade.

Sadly for her, Tomoyo doesn’t get to film much of the spectacle, as Sakura encloses the runaway trees within Siege, then floods the cube with water from Aqua to immobilize their scampering roots.

Every action sequence thus far in CSS has been a delight to watch, from the novel ways in which Sakura achieves victory, to even the more repetitive elements like her chants and pose-striking (week-to-week variety to which is achieved by the varying costumes).

Her next card, “Action”, thus secured, Sakura takes it to Yukito, whose alter-ego Yue inspects it and concludes that it also seems to lack magical power; it’s all, apparently, in Sakura’s key and staff. The visit gives us the opportunity to see both sides of Yukito/Yue, and learn more about the interesting dynamic he has with Sakura.

Then Syaoran calls, and we’re treated to another heart-melting romantic exchange between the two, with Syaoran accepting Sakura’s offer to make him a lunch sometime, then asking her to call him if anything unusual happens, and Sakura taking it further and asking if she can call him even if it isn’t something unusual.

While Sakura is calling from Yukito’s porch, bathed in gorgeous light of the setting sun, Syaoran is holding the phone at arms length, holed up in the shadows, because he is clearly up to some shadowy shit. He immediately calls Eriol, who isn’t returning Sakura’s calls, and reports on Sakura, Akiho, and the new card, before these words are exchanged:

Eriol: I’m sure it’s hard on you, but this is not the time.
Syaoran: I came here to be ready for that time, when it comes.

All the while, the true mastermind, the dreaded teddy bear, looks knowingly, menacingly on.

I kid, but seriously, what is Syaoran’s deal? Has he been deceiving Sakura with a fake lovey-dovey act (I won’t forgive him), or is there a less sinister explanation, like he’s working in the shadows to protect her? While it’s still a bit too soon to tell, things are not looking good…and that’s not an accident.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 03

The rate of strange magical happenings in Tomoeda increases this week, with Sakura capturing not one but two Clear Cards. The first is a water-element Card called Aqua, which telegraphs its presence to us early on with an unexpected rain that grows heavier and heavier as the day progresses.

School goes on as it pours outside, affording us a look at “indoor lunch”, as well as another demonstration of how Yamazaki and Chiharu’s running bit in which he comes up with bizarre and dubious facts about things, Sakura and Li believe him, and then Chiharu hits and/or scolds him.

Finally, the rain is so heavy Sakura has to respond by releasing her staff, while Tomoyo provides a frog-themed battle suit. Sakura also makes use of her Clear Cards for the first time, using Gale to disperse the rain and Siege to surround and hold its source so she can secure it.

Indeed, it’s as if a Card showed up that specifically required the power of the two Cards she’d already collected to capture. I’m also now versed in Sakura’s trademark lingo, be it “Release”, “Secure”, and her all-purpose exclamation of “HOEHHH!” All good stuff. Also: consistent Battle Music!

When Sakura texts Yuki that she’s gained another Card, her brother Touya is nearby, and lets on that he may know a little about what Sakura and Yuki are up to, and that he himself once gave them power which he doesn’t expect he’ll ever have back.

The next day Sakura and Chiharu get to show the Cheerleading Club what they’re made of, but after stooping down to tie her shoe, Sakura gets up to find every other person at school gone. With nothing attacking her, she releases her staff and goes on the offensive, only to have her Gales either hit nothing or get reflected back.

Eventually, Sakura can see a faint wisp of something racing around, but it’s mostly invisible, so she employs Aqua’s rain to render it visible. Upon securing it, she herself is drenched by the rain she used, but Li races to the rescue and lends her his jacket until she can change.

It’s a cute and heartwarming moment, and it’s nice that every episode has at least one or two such moments (even if Li still seems a bit shady).

Just as Sakura thought she was done with magic for the day, she suddenly loses consciousness and ends up in her recurring dream with Cloaky. This time the figure tries to steal her Key, and when she grabs hold of it she gets pulled along with it, until she’s face to face with them.

Upon waking up, she notes that they’re about the same height, but that’s about all she seems to know. I’m now caught up on CCS:CC, and must now wait until next week like everyone else to see where this goes.