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.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 11

Sooo…this episode was just about perfect, which doesn’t really surprise me at this point. Kotarou and Akane are on splendid terms, so Kotarou faces two new conflicts this week, which prove more complex and challenging than winning Akane’s heart. Gaining the approval of his parents, and being accepted into Koumei.

We know Akane’s grades are great and her family is the reason she’s changing schools, so there’s not much tension on her end; just whether or not Kotarou will like her hand-knit scarf (which…DUH of course he will).  So instead we delve deep into Kotarou’s small, quiet family, and navigate the treacherous waters with him.

Like Kotarou and Akane’s romance, Kotarou’s problems with his folks are portrayed with a heightened sense of realism and equilibrium. His mom may sound worse than nails on a chalkboard when nagging Kotarou, but she’s only nagging because she cares so fiercely about her son’s future.

That being said, I don’t decry Kotarou pushing back against the path she’s already laid out in her head for him. It is HIS future, after all. But just as Kotarou was initially so bad at communicating his feelings (or anything else) with Akane, he’s equally bad at explaining why he’s so hellbent on attending Koumei.

Hell, he never even seems to try, which works against him early on as his mother quickly dismisses his intention to follow a “girl he likes” as teenage caprice. We know better—Kotarou near-as-makes-no-difference loves Akane, and she loves him, but his folks have no choice but to work with the information they have, which is scanty.

Rather than hearing it from him, Kotarou’s mother comes to gather more information on her own, as she watches her son furiously studying late into the night. She can tell he’s working hard for something he believes in, so obviously she’s not going to come in and crush his dreams by forcing him into a municipal school. Instead, she adopts a wait-and-see approach, putting her faith in her son by letting him hold the keys to his future.

The constant studying wears Kotarou down, and his mock exams are, uh, nothing special, so it’s great to see Akane spearhead a Christmas meetup that serves as a much-needed break for both of them, as well as an opportunity to exchange presents.

It’s lovely to watch the couple so comfortable and warm around each other, especially the lack of hesitation when they lean in for another kiss. You really get the feeling, both here and after all we’ve seen, that this isn’t mere puppy love; these kids have a future together…even if they don’t end up in the same school.

One night, Kotarou’s father lays it out: they’ll let him apply for Koumei, but if he fails, he’s going to a public school. Kotarou accepts the fair conditions, then stands slack-jawed when his dad tells him when his homeroom teacher told his mom Koumei wasn’t a realistic choice for Kotarou, she fought back, leading to an awesome thunderbolt of a quintessential Dad Line: “She can be naggy, but…Well, there you have it.”

Sure enough, when heading downstairs at 1 am for a snack, Kotarou finds his mother there, making some fresh onigiri; forming the balls with love, care, and gentleness before heading off to bed. His mom is no longer an impediment to his dreams of attending school with Akane. She never was. She saw the effort he was putting in, and decided to support and even fight for him.

The morning of his big, decisive exam—the last true impediment to his happiness (though not really since as I said their love seems likely to endure the lengthy but non-permanent distance)—both Kotarou’s mom and dad are up to make sure he has everything he needs, to wish him luck, and to see him off. And Kotarou does something he hadn’t done all episode, but sorely needed to do: he thanks his mom.

These family interactions are so understated and relatable, and really form a nice little arc within the episode as understanding is achieved between the parties and the conflict is revealed only as a measure of concern. Kotarou puts in the work to assure them they needn’t worry, and they show him that they are and always will be on his side.

Now he just needs to pass that goddamn exam!