Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 12 (Fin) – Adjusted for Inflation

After the thrilling but nearly completely comedy-free Ishigami Sports Festival denouement, Love is War returns to its bread-and-butter with a relatively understated slice-of-life, life-goes-on finale. We get two stories, the first of which is by far the most emotionally engaging.

The Principal wants to snap photos of the StuCo, but Shinomiya family policy forbids Kaguya’s face from being distributed in any media, so she sits out the shoot. The Principal quickly pulls Miko out of her shell, but gets on Kaguya’s bad side when he pairs Miyuki and Chika as a dating pair.

While Kaguya once looked down on other girls who took pics with their phones, she’s nevertheless come to enjoy documenting her life with the StuCo on her antiquated flip phone (full disclosure: my landlord still has one, and she’s not planning on giving it up anytime soon!).

When the other members insist on including her on a private rooftop shoot, her phone falls off the roof during the exchange with the principal, and it is destroyed, along with all of the data (since it’s not only old, but a weird proprietary phone with no SD storage).

Crestfallen, Kaguya and Ai head to the store to buy the latest smartphone, but she’s thoroughly down that all of her precious memories were lost. The rest of the StuCo picks up on that, so Miyuki finally starts a StuCo LINE group with a shared cloud album, having held off until Kaguya got a smartphone, not wanting to leave her out. Suddenly, her phone, so sad and lonely when new and empty, starts to burst with brilliant 4K HDR photos of the StuCo’s hijinx.

This also serves as a curtain call for some of the most indelible images from this marvelous season. Kaguya’s blank look of quiet despair becomes a gleaming smile, and the five StuCo members pose for another group photo. Needless to say, Kaguya wins, having lost a low-res flip-phone album but gained a much more comprehensive hi-res one.

The majority of final segment feels like a stakes-free epilogue that could also have aired at any point this season. It makes a point to demonstrate that despite all the development these characters have gone through, they can still fall into their old habits, whether it’s Miyuki worried about Kaguya saying “How Cute” to Yuu losing his nerve.

The premise is easy enough, and starts out as a very direct double entendre involving pumping. Chika has a big balloon leftover from the sports fest, and pulls everyone into an increasingly stressful game in which each player must pump at least once, but if the balloon bursts, they lose. Chika actually gets poor obedient kohai Miko to pump the most, but lets her stop before it bursts.

This leaves Miyuki and Kaguya as the last two to pump, and they too survive, but when Chika gets a drop of tangerine juice on the paper-thin rubber, a cataclysmic explosion occurs that destroys the entire academy. As the credits zoom horizontally from right-to-left (a la Chihayafuru), both Kaguya and Miyuki, who survived the blast, are determined to get the other to take their hand.

What sets this interaction apart from so many past ones is that for once their wavelengths are perfectly aligned and they each get what they wanted, which was to hold the other’s hand without saving face or enduring mockery. It’s the perfect way to wrap up this momentous second season, while creating hope for a third one.

Still, I’d be very surprised (and delighted!) if a potential third episode surpassed this second, which goes down as one of the best second seasons of anime ever. MAL has it at #22 all time, and I think that’s a little low. I’ve savored every minute, and now that it’s over for now I shall miss it dearly!

Steins;Gate 0 – 12 – Paradox Song

There’s this song. It’s a song Mayuri sang to a young Kagari in the future, just when she finally became her legal mother. When the Kagari of the present hears the Mayuri of the present singing it, she loses consciousness. It’s not that Mayuri’s singing is just that bad—it’s quite lovely—but rather that Kagari’s brain is suddenly getting hit by some pretty profound aural stimuli.

But when Kagari makes the connection between the song and her fainting spell, the question becomes where did Mayuri learn the song? That takes us on a rather wild ride: She heard it from Suzuha, who heard it from Yuki, who heard it from a woman in her baking class who turns out to be…Rintarou’s mother. Yet Rintarou himself, apparently the source, can’t remember singing it. To quote Alice, “curiouser and curiouser.”

Rintarou’s mom said he used to sing it to Mayuri to cheer her up when she was in her “reaching up at the sky at a cemetery” part of her life. They visit Mayuri’s grandma’s grave to try to spark Rintarou’s memory, but get caught in the rain.

While seeking shelter by a shop window, Kagari hears “The Magic Flute” (K620) playing on the radio and goes into a kind of trance, remembering when she once walked along that same street in her bare feet and pajamas. She’s almost hit by a truck (of course), but Rintarou makes a diving save.

While she’s out this time, something happens. Kagari runs to her mother’s arms; a blurry figure that she discovers is Shiina Mayuri. Waking up in a hospital room, she sees Mayuri by her bedside and immediately recognizes her as her one and only mommy.

Mayuri protests that she’s not a mommy, but, well, she just is. Or rather, she will be…just as Suzu is Daru’s daughter. Rintarou nods assent, and Mayuri goes with it, providing Kagari with the affection she needs. The plain credits roll as a very lovely rendition of the song is sung, at it seems things will end on a pleasant note.

Of course, this is the twist-loving White Fox we’re talking about, so after the credits we find ourselves on a train platform where that same barefoot pajama’d Kagari is singing the song, and a teenaged boy overhears it—a teenaged boy with the same color hair and eyes as Rintarou.

I’ll admit, I was a little confused by this scene, but maybe that was the point. Here is Kagari, who will presumably be adopted by Mayuri in the future, in Rintarou’s past, singing the song he’ll sing to Mayuri to cheer her up. Seems an awful lot like a causal loop to me.

That would be fine, except there’s a creepy white van parked near the platform, confirming that “Runaway K-6205” has been found. Are we watching past events here, or is Kagari in danger no matter where or when she is? Will the next episode continue in this world line, with “Macho Psychologist” Rintarou helping Kagari out? I honestly have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

Steins;Gate 0 – 11 – WWIII Averted…For Now

The shadowy guy whom Maho hired to analyze Makise’s laptop turns out to be…Daru, working out of the back room of a cosplay store. He still needs three days to complete his work, but after telling her the whole story about the time machine and the horrors the secrets within the computer may unleash, Rintarou manages to convince Maho to destroy it.

Before they can, the “wrong hands” in which it would be so dangerous arrive in force. Daru has an escape route worked out, but they’re still cornered in a dark alley and Maho is nabbed and has a knife placed against her throat. That they were able to find Daru’s hideout so soon, or were watching listening for just the right time to move in, is disconcerting, to say the least.

However, they must not have been listening in, because after some negotiations they’re willing to let Maho, and Daru walk away unharmed in exchange for the laptop. Rintarou briefly switches places with Maho as their hostage, but then another masked group arrives and opens fire, making sure the laptop is destroyed.

It’s doubtless a harrowing ordeal for Maho; she may have been held up along with the others at the lab, but no shots were fired. Here, had Rintarou not pushed her flat to the ground, she might’ve died. Back at the lab, she’s so out of it she doesn’t notice she’s clutching one remaining shard from the laptop in her hand so tightly it’s drawing blood.

Rintarou takes Maho to Feyris’ to clean up, but the trauma from the shootout has a more pronounced effect than she thought, and after all that tension, every muscle in her body goes limp, making her practically a helpless doll. And just as Rintarou once walked in on Kurisu, he ends up facing Maho just as her towel falls off. The universe is keen to make him suffer, but also to make him accidentally see his love interests in the nude.

That night, Maho asks Rintarou to stay by her bedside a little longer, and he happily obliges. Returning to her Mozart-Salieri narrative, after hearing from Rintarou about the possibility she might “disgrace the dead” by unlocking Kurisu’s laptop’s secrets, Maho admits to herself that it wasn’t just a matter of honoring her friend’s legacy, but trying to subconsciously exorcise the frustration she felt.

Not just frustration over not being able to achieve the things Kurisu did, mind you, but frustration over the mere fact she’s so concerned about her as a rival; Mozart, she says, never wasted a moment concerned with Salieri; he only made great music (and drank and gambled…it’s all in the movie).

Rintarou disputes the similarities between the two pairs of gifted people from vastly different times. He’s convinced that Maho loved Kurisu and would never disgrace her. It’s why she agreed to break the laptop, it’s why she shed tears and apologized, and it’s why she clutched the fragment so tightly.

It’s such a quiet, tender scene filled with mutual respect and affection, with Mamoru Miyano wonderfully modulating Rintarou’s voice to a caring hush, matching the vulnerability of Yahagi Sayuri’s Maho. Very nice work here.

After Rintarou and Maho’s lovely night together, she and Leskinen head back to America, but not before inviting him to Viktor Chrondria University whenever he can make it. So it’s not goodbye, merely see ya later for the couple. That probably makes both Leskinen and Amakurisu happy; Ama also fully intends to see and hear from Rintarou again, expressing Kurisu’s tsundere mode.

Rintarou is also able to convince Suzuha that they’ve avoided a potentially WWIII-starting clash between America and Russia (the two powers he suspected he and Maho were caught between), though Suzu remains skeptical that they’ve eliminated the only cause of the war, only one of them. And she’s most likely right.

One of the last scenes is of Maho’s colleague Judy Reyes aboard a flight, hiding…something in her lap. Was she one of the masked people in black? Could it be salvageable remnants of the laptop? Whatever it is, it’s clear Rintarou’s work is far from done. Meanwhile Mayushii seems to harbor some conflicting feelings about Okarin leaving for America to join Leskinen, Maho, and the digital Kurisu.