Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 02 – It’s Not as Simple as Win or Lose

As a show that blasts through a lot of rapid-fire dialogue and shifts from one scenario to another, tackling a wide variety of interpersonal and societal concepts, it would seem Love is War trusts the intelligence of its audience.

But if that’s the case, why spend the first four minutes of this episode repeating all of the introductory explanations of how things work in the show? Did they just need to fill time, or did the producers think this all had to be explained again in consecutive weeks with the exact same narration and animation? I got it the first time you yelled it at me, VO guy!

Fortunately, that repetition is followed by three more very solid segments that build on the ongoing (and extremely counterproductive) conflict between Kaguya and Miyuki, starting with the notoriously frugal StuCo Prez finally acquiring a smartphone.

Unbeknownst to him, Miyuki dug into her bottomless rich girl resources to make it so he couldn’t resist buying one, so that he’d have to ask her for her contact info, which she’d consider no different than a confession, which would be a win for her.

While he doesn’t know he only has the phone because Kaguya wanted him to get one, he knows he can’t ask her for her info carelessly, and instead tries to bait her into asking for his by sharing a cute picture of him in his youth to Chika, then announcing he’ll change it in three minutes.

It may seem like playing dirty to use Chika as such a transparent pawn, but it’s not like she hasn’t influenced (and will influence) many of their decisions anyway. In this case, she’s a tool to lure Kaguya, who has to play dirty right back by applying “Maiden’s Tears” and protesting simply that Miyuki is being “mean.” It’s not a tactic she can use every time, but it works here, thanks to the psychological “Barnum Effect.”

However, Chika inadvertently throws another wrinkle into the equation that results in a draw, or loss, for both parties. She believes Kaguya is crying because she can’t chat on Line with her and Miyuki, because her antiquated flip phone—which she’s had since Kindergarten—won’t support the app. For all her towering rich girl resources, sentimentality is her undoing (as is her being unaware she couldn’t get Line on her phone).

As with all of their disputes, this isn’t really one that had to take place at all, if only Kaguya and Miyuki weren’t so proud and petty. This is proven when they innocuously exchange contact info anyway.

In Round Two, it’s frigid outside but Chika is already looking forward to Summer, and warns Kaguya and Miyuki that if they continue to sit on their hands they’ll graduate school with “nothing happening.” Chika means having fun high school memories, but Kaguya and Miyuki clearly see it as ragging on their lack of progress due to simple stubbornness and embarrassment wrapped up in an overstuffed “Love is War!” cover.

Chika suggests a Summer trip together, and Miyuki’s imagination immediately turns to the mountains, where he’ll woo Kaguya under the stars (with the requisite mention of Deneb and Altair before she states her desire to be “Alpha Centauri Bb to his B”). Naturally, Kaguya’s suggestion is to go to the sea, not the mountains.

Miyuki can’t swim, which he knows Kaguya would find “cute”, but every excuse he has, from crowds and sun to sharks, is immediately shot down by Kaguya, who had an entire manual prepared with counterarguments to anything he’d say in such a situation. Miyuki curses her for being such a rich girl; all her arguments backs up by cold hard cash. Besides, Kaguya says, the mountains are full of bugs—something the bug-hating Miyuki didn’t think of.

So he relents and says he’ll have to buy a swimsuit. Kaguya has won; they’re going to the beach, right? Wrong. Chika mentions she also needs to get a new swimsuit…because she won’t fit in her old one. Kaguya enters a body spiral, fearing she’ll be the one called “cute” by Miyuki  he inevitably compares her “peashooter” bust to Chika’s “tank-class” physique.

Now at a stalemate, with both now having good reasons not to go to either locale, they leave it up to Chika. Bad Idea; they should have come up with a third place to go as a compromise. Chika picks the mountains, but due to her previously unmentioned obsession with death and the occult, she picks the creepy Mount Osore. The match ends in neither a win or loss for anyone, but is simply “ruined.”

The third segment was my favorite, because it shakes things up a bit by having a wild card element other than Chika: a classmate seeking romantic advice from Miyuki. The kid assumes, like most of the school, not only that Miyuki and Kaguya are a couple, but that Miyuki is an experience veteran in the ways of love.

The truth is, as we know, that he has ZERO romantic experience, and is a complete dilettante in matters of love. But due to his otherwise high opinion of himself, his intellect, and his ability to bullshit, Miyuki decides to sally forth and offer advice, well aware that if he messes up and his ignorance is exposed, it could ruin his reputation.

This has all the makings of a train wreck in slow motion, and Kaguya is lucky enough to be there to eavesdrop, because we’re treated to her hilarious commentary of the advice session, in which she internally contradicts pretty much every piece of advice Miyuki provides.

She’s certain the chocolate the guy received was obligatory, but Miyuki insists it was meant to show that she actually loves him. Even the guy thinks she was making fun of him with her friends for not having a boyfriend, but Miyuki insists all four girls are into him, and he’ll have to break three hearts to win the fourth. I just couldn’t stop laughing not just at Miyuki’s ridiculous advice, but Kaguya’s harsh critique of same.

Finally, Miyuki demonstrates to the guy how to confess and ask the girl out, by using a tactic he “invented” that is nothing more than cornering a girl and slapping the wall, something Kaguya privately points out has been around forever. The thing is, Kaguya is on the other side of the door when Miyuki slams it, so in a way, he unknowingly does a wall-slam (or “wall-down” as he calls it) on her…and it kinda works.

Miyuki also tells the guy not to engage in unsightly convoluted schemes with the girl he likes, and even he can’t ignore the irony of him making that kind of statement…convoluted schemes being his stock and trade.

The guy, whom Kaguya has concluded to be an even bigger idiot and naif than Miyuki, thanks him for his advice, and brings up the rumor that Miyuki and Kaguya are dating, which flusters both of them. Miyuki quickly denies, and furthermore relays his suspicion that Kaguya doesn’t even like him and may indeed hate him.

When the guy asks him how he feels about Kaguya, Miyuki lists all the things he doesn’t like first, irking her from behind the door, before launching into ebullient praise and declaring her the “perfect woman”. The fact is, Miyuki spotted Kaguya’s hair peeking out from behind the door and so said what he knew she wanted to hear—as well as something he truly believed about her, but wouldn’t suffer consequence since she “wasn’t there to hear it.”

Similarly, Kaguya can openly display her wonderful mood after having such nice things said about her without worrying about him getting suspicious about why; after all, she doesn’t know he spotted her. Still, while there’s no consequence there isn’t much benefit to Miyuki’s actions, as it’s not like he wasn’t able to get Kaguya to confess, so he’s the loser for expending so much effort. On the bright side, as I predicted, the guy’s wall-slam actually ended up working (for once), so go figure!

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!

Little Witch Academia – 19

In a move that initially feels like she’s been underutilized in the show thus far, Diana makes the decision to drop out of Luna Nova Academy, effective immediately. The Cavendish family is in dire straits, she is the only one who can right the ship, and the window to assume the mantle of family leadership is closing, and won’t open again until the stars literally align years from now.

In true form, Akko either rejects whatever reasons Diana has or doesn’t bother to ask what they are: she’s only concerned with whether this is really what Diana wants. It’s clear Diana isn’t happy about leaving. But pride in her once-great family, and love and obligation to fulfill her now-deceased mother’s wishes outweighs her desire to stay in school.

Akko doesn’t make Diana’s departure any easier, so she throws Akko’s own main goal—the Words, and her inability to find them as quickly as she claimed she would—back in her face. There’s a nice meta nature to this: Akko has futzed around with Amanda and Cons but has yet to find the fifth, “history and tradition”-related Word.

There’s also the fact that Diana always thought she would be the one entrusted to the task of unsealing the words and opening the gate. But she ruefully accepts that Akko is the “chosen one”, and not her.

When Diana arrives at a huge but increasingly deteriorating Cavendish estate, we’re officially in Magic Falling Aristocrat Land, complete with Diana’s drunk aunt, Daryl. She and Diana exchange hollow pleasantries, barely bothering to hide their mutual disdain.

The sense is immediate that not only would Diana not have to deal with the collapse of her family before she finishes school, but that Daryl, the proxy head, has no desire whatsoever for Diana to come in and start mucking about the lifestyle she and her daughters cling to: sucking up what’s left of the Cavendish fortune and grinding its name into dust.

Naturally, Akko isn’t taking Diana’s goodbye lying down, and she’s clearly unconsciously drawn by the possibility the fifth word will lie in her interactions with Diana and her family. But whether it’s too slow, out of magical range, or the writers simply forgot, she doesn’t take the broom Cons made for her last week.

When she’s had her fill of travelling by foot, she thumbs a lift, and is reluctantly picked up by none other than Andrew and his father, who happen to be on their way to the Cavendish Manor. An initially tense, awkward backseat scene is lightened when Andrew refutes his father’s claim Akko “ruined” his party, while Akko tells Andrew the reason for their “fated” encounter: she’s going to bring Diana back.

Akko’s arrival with Andrew and his father certainly surprises Diana (Andrew’s line about finding her by the side of the road is at once cruel, hilarious, and true), but in this nest of vipers, it’s Diana who does what she can to keep Akko safe, claiming her as a guest (and as much a witch as she is), and getting her dolled up for dinner, after which she’ll go straight to bed and leave first thing in the morning. (Diana also hides her pried Shiny Chariot card from Akko…we know she was a big fan too!)

Akko holds her own in deflecting barbs from one of the few Cavendish maids left (her communist tendencies were well-documented from the faerie strike episode), but Akko also learns from the maid that Diana’s parents died when she was little, and she immediately feels guilty for all the awful things she’s said to her. Diana is also known within her family as being “kind” like her mother, in keeping with the Cavendish motto: “Affection.”

Akko also proves again that she cleans up nice, but her questionable dining etiquette earns her a simple wordless glare from Diana, one of my favorite moments of the episode.

The classiness and elegance of the evening starts to erode when Aunt Daryl reveals her reason for inviting the Hanbridges: she would like to sell them some prized, priceless Cavendish heirlooms, including the tapestry of Beatrix, one of the Nine Olde Witches who founded the family and was involved in the Grand Triskelion business.

It’s a very distasteful business, especially when Daryl all but begs a departing Hanbridge for money, offering a discount. This is what has become of the Cavendish family, other than Diana: a collection of people who have abandoned pride for greed. Daryl is only interested in maintaining her fancy quality of life, even though it’s unsustainable, considering there’s only a finite amount of Cavendish treasures she can monetize.

For her part, Daryl blames the sorry state of the family to her all-too-kind sister, Diana’s mother, and her insistence on helping others for free, as befits the Cavendish motto. But even if Daryl isn’t responsible for getting the family in this mess, she certainly has done nothing to get out of it.

That’s why Diana believes she must perform the ritual and become family head as soon as possible. Akko almost gets lost int he midst of this family drama, but there’s no way she won’t play a role in resolving it, no doubt unsealing a word and maybe even bringing Diana back to school in the process.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 08

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ACCA had been teasing us for a while now about who exactly Jean and Lotta are, and last week finally answered that question: they are a prince and princess.

This week gives us more of what I yearned for—specifics—by taking us back 33 years, to when King Falke’s daughter Princess Schnee leaves the royal family and renounces her titles so that she can spread her wings and be, in her view, of more use to the nation, by traveling and learning more about it.

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The four people who arrange Schnee’s “detatchment” from the family (complete with faked death) are the king, Privy Council President Qualm, Schnee, and her loyal aide Abend, who looks a lot like a young Grossular.

The twist is that Abend isn’t the one Schnee falls for: he fades into the shadows and receives reports and photos from Niino’s father, which he then relays to Qualm, who relays them to the king.

Everybody seems to win in this arrangement: Schnee gets to live her life (and fall in love with a commoner, resulting in the birth of Jean and Lotta) out in the world, the king never had to “clip her wings”, and the president rids the royal family of a member who he deemed might’ve caused undue, possibly republican (small r) disruption to the crown.

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After she’s ensconced in Bodan and starts a family, Schnee and her kids are largely on the margins, Abend disappears altogether, and Niino and his dad are front-and-center. Niino’s dad is fiercely loyal to Abend, who in turn is fiercely loyal to Qualm and Falke.

He takes his duty to keep an eye on Schnee and her fam very seriously, but because it is essentially his life, he also takes the time to enjoy it, and imbues that sense of duty, and sense of enjoying one’s duty, into his trusty son. That, and we see where Niino got his sweet tooth.

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The idea is that King Falke was perfectly fine with his daughter leaving the palace, as long as tabs were kept on her. It doesn’t seem like he intended for Schnee and her issue to be some kind of “backup plan” in case his younger daughter’s issue (Schwan) wasn’t up to snuff.

When Jean enters high school, Niino’s dad sends him there to befriend him…even though Niino is ten years older (chalk it up to good genes). Niino also joins the photography club and makes use of the camera given to him by “Master” (Abend). It’s clear both Abend and Niino’s dad are grooming him for the role of Jean and Lotta’s next “royal observer.”

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When tragedy strikes, it isn’t just Schnee and Jean and Lotta’s father who perish, but Niino’s father, who was traveling with them, as well. Just like that, the torch has been passed. The episode then fast-forwards back to the present, where Niino is telling the adult Jean all of this, and Jean is trying to process it.

Jean doesn’t care about whether he’s eligible to the throne (technically he isn’t); he just remembers how Niino cheered him up back in high school after his parents died, and how that helped him be strong for his little sister, who looks more and more like their gorgeous mother by the day.

The end credits play as they always have, but finally in context: the woman isn’t Lotta, but Schnee, barefoot, plainly clothed, and free from the isolation of the royal palace. She gave up everything, but gained freedom and the run of the whole nation, both for her and her children.

Now that Jean (though, notably, not Lotta) knows the truth, what will he do now?

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