Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 02 – Civil War in the Brain!

Kaguya decides a good way to get closer to Miyuki and determine the best birthday gift for him is through Miyuki’s ethereally beautiful sister Kei. Unfortunately, for the first half of their shopping trip she’s stymied by the Fujiwara sisters monopolizing Kei. It’s only when Kei manages to get away and sit beside Kaguya that any progress is made.

In this case, “progress” not only means that Kaguya determines that a gift for Miyuki should be practical (and not too extravagant), but that Kei is so much like her brother (despite her claims to the contrary), that Kaguya starts to blush as if she were on a date with him, and comes to consider the Fujiwaras floozies for glomming onto Kei—until she herself can’t resist but join said glomming!

Kaguya may have a good idea of a gift for Miyuki, but when it comes to the cake, she clearly lets her “Fool” side override the “Ice Queen” side when she commissions a expensive, towering wedding-style confection. A civil war proceeds to unfold between the two sides within Kaguya’s head.

Kaguya’s younger self presides as judge, but her “normal” self—a combination of all three sides—is the ultimate arbiter. The courtroom drama that plays out is a coup for seiyu Koga Aoi, who deftly juggles four distinct voices at once representing the four Kaguyas. In the end, she takes ownership of her decision, and the need to compromise between the sides rather than choose one voice in her head.

The resulting choice to present a single elegant slice to Miyuki once they’re alone in the office, along with the thoughtful gift of a fan emblazoned with her own calligraphy, turns out to be the right one. Meanwhile, the remainder of the embarrassing cake is sealed away in a closet.

While Kaguya wins this round, Miyuki is hardly the “loser”, as he is thrilled to have received such a cool (literally!) gift and personal attention. The next day, he realizes he could easily use the fan as ammunition to get external parties (i.e. Chika) to conclude that Kaguya is in love with him. Yet he decides to hold his fire; he’s “not the kind of man” to to callously use a girl’s feelings against her.

However, Kaguya set things up so Chika would think Miyuki is the one in love with Kaguya, since he didn’t tell anyone but Kaguya about his birthday. It’s a sign that Kaguya still isn’t leaning too far on one extreme or the other of her personality. The lovey-doveyness is there, but so is the scheming. Still, as Miyuki fans himself with her handmade gift, her delighted lovey-dovey side ends up distracting her from her scheming, and she gets all wobbly!

Realizing he should never have gone easy on Kaguya in the first place, Miyuki manages to turn the tables. He tells Chika how Kaguya has actually known about his birthday for some time, and describing the romantic setting she arranged in which to present the gift. Kaguya is suddenly in real trouble of taking the L this round until she’s saved by Yuu, who also knew it was Miyuki’s birthday and gave him a fountain pen.

The loss passes to Chika, who was both used by both Kaguya and Miyuki in their love war and came to the wrong conclusion. Only at the end of the day it’s the right conclusion, since the prez and veep indeed both love each other. Alas, Kaguya’s kind thanks to Yuu for bailing her out only make him uneasy.

This week focused on the multitudes within Kaguya at war with one another while her whole self is at war with Miyuki on the outside. It also found time to keep the little mini-competition between siblings Miyuki and Kei going (Miyuki got a cool fan from Kaguya, but Kei is now on first-name basis with her)—using just the bumpers!

Through it all, Chika and Yuu are the wild cards that can turn the tide of the battles at any time, lending a thrilling unpredictability to segments. This episode once again demonstrates Love is War is a comedy with writing and performers at the height of their powers.

Kakushigoto – 03 – The Accidental Harem

I came into Kakushigoto hoping it would be a lightweight feel-good slice-of-life father/daughter comedy. Yet every time it jumps to a future where an 18-year-old Hime has apparently lost her father pushes it into striaght-up drama territory. Everything in the present and 10-year-old Hime exhibits a thin layer of wistfulness, lending even mundane or comedic scenes more emotional weight, like the shading of a manga frame.

This week only begins (and doesn’t end) with a time leap, so we can still ease into the present-day slice-of-lifeness. But we learn something definitively that I had been suspecting: the house at the top of the hill is the exact same plan as the one 10-year-old Hime lived in. Kakushi apparently had a copy of the house built to the exact specs of the older one…where perhaps he and his wife lived before Hime?

In Mangaland, Kakushi’s entire staff has injuries, a stroke of bad luck and coincidence, so his editor hires a substitute replacement. The regular assistants are impressed with his speed and efficiency, but Kakushi deems him “too efficient” for an assistant.

That confuses them at first—how could an assistant be too fast and efficient?—until they find that assistant published his first work. Once an assistant has reached a certain level of skill, there’s nothing stopping them from striking out on their own, without even mentioning how he worked for Kakushi for a few days or so!

As for the curious design of the house, Hime’s friends wonder out loud if Hime and her dad are poor (of course, one of them has an elevator and concierge in her house, so wealth is surely relative). Hime had never thought about finances before, but takes it upon herself to pinch every penny.

Kakushi comes home on a hot summer day to find the A/C suspiciously turned off and Hime pressing her body against the nice, cool floor. He proceeds to tell her he makes far more than the average salaryman, almost betaying that he’s not really a salaryman before recovering and saying he’s more like upper middle management. He also almost explains why the house looks the way it does, but stops himself.

Since Hime found not only clothes but age-appropriate cooking recipes in her 10-year-old box (her mom really went the extra mile), Kakushi allows Hime to cook with the housekeeper. Turns out the housekeeper is from Indonesia, and so puts an Indonesian flair on the recipe. This mirrors a situation at work where the studio is digitized and they receive a rainy day from a remote artist, only it’s an Indonesian day, not a Japanese one.

Hime’s school sports festival arrives, and Kakushi tries to get himself in shape should he have to do anything athletic. There’s a fun bit discussing the various muscle groups used while reading manga. Then he has trouble drawing a high school girl character aspiring to be an idol, only to come home and find a high school girl aspiring to be an idol in his house, the guest of her first-ever fan, Hime.

The girl, Senda Naru, is so surprised that an adult (and a man) is so eager to hear her story (because Kakushi needs material for his manga), that by the time they part ways she’s developed a bit of a thing for him. She won’t be the first!

As Kakushi openly expresses his worries about his daughter not having a mother around, he inadvertently compliments both his cooking teacher You and the local florist Kumi. When the clothier sells his salaryman disguise and he has to go out in public in white tie like a groom, he runs into Rokujou, who assumes he’s proposing and wigs out.

By the time the festival rolls around, Hime has an entire cheering section composed of her dad, and his rather sudden but diverse harem: You, Kumi, Rokujou (who turns into a demon when she sees Kakushi with the other women), and the aspiring idol Naru. Yet Hime is more bemused than appreciative; for all of Kakushi’s worries, Hime isn’t missing a mother in the slightest. If anything, she’d rather spend more time with just him!

The fact she’s so naturally mature about these things at ten years old (not to mention how quickly she learns how to clean and cook) makes be believe that despite having neither parent alive, 18-year-old Hime is going to be just fine. That means Kakushi did a great job, despite his insecurities … which makes the time leaps a little less sad.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 09

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Things move fast this week, but most of the things that occur are basically foregone conclusions. Kikuhiko and Sukeroku both become Shin’uchi, but in his debut, Sukeroku sticks it to the association president by performing his specialty, “Inokori”, in which he must embody multiple sides of one character, Saheiji, depending on who else he’s talking to. It’s a challenging story, but Sukeroku pulls it off and gets the only approval he needs: that of the crowd.

Now a Shin’uchi, Kikuhiko is committed to shedding a woman he feels someone of his stature can no longer be with. It’s not pride so much as obligation to the structures he was raised into, which demand that a man put things above his own personal feelings. His breakup with Miyokichi had been telegraphed for some time, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when the hammer comes down.

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Miyokichi, as it happens, isn’t the only one who gets dumped: as a result of his insolence in his debut, Sukeroku is taken aside by his master, who informs him Kiku, not he, will be the Eighth Generation Yakumo. Again, the writing was on the wall. As well-intending as Sukeroku is, and no matter how much practical sense it makes, he was never going to be able to successfully convince the old guard of his “change or die” views of rakugo.

For the elders, including his master, change is death; there is no difference. Oral tradition cannot truly survive if it becomes a game of Telephone. Tweaking tradition is a slippery slope, one that the elders would rather fall to their death by clinging to rather than allow it to be propped up with new ideas.

Furthermore, Sukeroku was always hampered by his modest origin; he was always an interloper, a “stray dog” who clawed his way into this world. There’s no way the master would allow such a person to succeed him, no matter how unassailable his talent. There may be TVs now, but castes still matter.

When Sukeroku argues too forcefully, Yakumo expels him, throwing him out of his house. And that’s how our two dumped and dejected people find and comfort each other.

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Speaking of comfort, Kikuhiko isn’t experiencing it just because everything seems to be going his way. In his mind, Sukeroku is still better at rakugo than him, no matter how many elders or syncophants say otherwise. He’s particularly irritated when a dilettante-ish rakugo critic tears down Sukeroku in an apparent effort to curry favor. Kiku ends the interview right there.

Then Master Yakumo’s wife dies, and with mortality on his mind, he informs Kikuhiko that he intends to give him his name. Kiku’s initial reaction is that it’s a mistake; Sukeroku should get the name; he’s more skilled; he doesn’t have any skill compared to that raw talent. But Yakumo reproaches his apprentice.

It’s not Kiku’s place to tell him who he should give his name to, nor to say whether he’s better or worse than Sukeroku. Just like his brother, Kiku spoke out of place, but out of humility and inferiority, not arrogance and outsize obligation to take rakugo upon his shoulders and “save” it, as Sukeroku wants to do. There’s more to being Eighth Generation than being The Best At Rakugo. 

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As Kiku continues to thrive but derive no joy from anything other than doing rakugo, Sukeroku and the scorned Miyokichi quickly shack up together and become an item. Just as Sukeroku and Kikuhiko must embody different people to perform their stories to suit their audiences, so too does Miyo, a skilled and experienced geisha, know how to be exactly the woman a particular man wants. She could be classy and prudish for Kiku, whom she loved, but knows Sukeroku less propriety.

I’m glad Miyo doesn’t waste any more time than she needs to worrying about Kiku; what’s done is done, and she’s moving on with someone who actually wants to be with her. Sukeroku doesn’t know if he’s quite that person yet…but he does like boobies. There’s something sad and close-looped about the two being depressed about the same person—Kikuhiko—but they must make do with each other.

Also, she doesn’t have time to wait around or worry; she has a baby on the way, and wants to raise it in the countryside. Her geisha house is shut down, so she steals the till with the intention of running off with Sukeroku.

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He stops by Kiku’s not for money or a place to stay, but to say goodbye, even as Kiku urges him to make peace with the master so he can give him his name. Sukeroku knows what he has to do to get back in the good graces of their master, and he can’t do it. He tells Kiku about Miyo and the baby and the country, and Kiku is not happy.

What is Kiku going to do without Sukeroku around annoying him and challenging him to be his best? What is he going to do with Yakumo’s name when he’s certain his drunk, uncouth, stray dog of a brother deserves it more? Someone he wants to punch and embrace in the same moment?

These unanswerable questions (which must attempt to be answered anyway, one day at a time) sow the seeds of a bitterness and regret that will stay with Kiku for years, then made worse one day when Sukeroku loses his life in his prime. That bitterness will come to define the man telling this story to Yotarou and Konatsu in the present.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 08

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As we return to Kikuhiko’s tale, he’s just finishing up his tour with Master Yakumo, having steamed up many an audience in Kyoto with his seductively funny rakugo. Talk of making him a shin’uchi is no longer presumptuous; as even his own master was too enthralled both with his performance and the reaction of the crowd to notice the mistakes he made.

Kiku is rapidly progressing on the steam locomotive to greatness, but there are sacrifices that need to be made on the way – both those imposed upon him, and those he imposes on himself.

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Back in Tokyo, Miyokichi sits in the back of another full house as Sukeroku performs and effortlessly drawing huge laughs. But she’s not laughing; she’s there to catch a glimpse of the man she loves who’s currently giving her the cold shoulder.

Her presence didn’t go unnoticed by Sukeroku (she was the only one there who wasn’t “ancient”), and he proposes a commiseration session: she gets to vent to him about a subject he’s very well versed in – Kiku-san – in exchange for buying him a drinkypoo.

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Their ensuing conversation, a thing of beauty, offers many insights into Miyokichi’s character and the nature of her love of Kiku. She doesn’t even like rakugo; she prefers movies. Hearing his voice is the only reason she goes to the theater. She endures the stodgy, old-fashioned practice she wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day…for Kiku. She also endures his constant brush-offs, including this most recent unannounced trip of his.

Miyo can endure this because she’s strong. She had to be. Abandoned by a man when in Manchuria, she had to sell her body to survive, until Master Yakumo brought her home. But because she’s become so tough, neither the good Master nor Sukeroku are her type. She doesn’t go for nice guys, she likes cold guys, and Kiku has certainly been that to her.

Miyo doesn’t want the moon; she just wants to be able to stand beside the man she loves and support him as a woman. But she suspects, and Sukeroku can’t convince her otherwise, that Kiku intends to break up with her. When she takes her leave on that somber note, Sukeroku, ever the nice guy, can’t help but draw her into a hug.

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It’s while she’s struggling to get out of that hug that Kiku appears, suddenly back as quietly as he left. His exchange with Miyo is brief and probably the coldest yet, but there’s a reason for it; Kiku indeed intends to break up with her, and doesn’t want to be cruel by being kind beforehand.

Kiku can admit to Sukeroku that he loves Miyo, but the Master has told him he needs to find a “proper woman” to settle down with a family. Disobeying would mean expulsion from Yurakutei, and in this case, with his rakugo future so bright and his identity and place in that world so clear…Miyokichi is second fiddle to all that.

In fact, Kiku would rather simply be alone than be with anyone, a sentiment that quickly evolves into an agreement for Sukeroku to move out of his apartment. Kiku relays to Sukeroku all of the flaws their master mentioned that are making it hard to promote him, but Sukeroku is in this business because he loves rakugo, and he has bigger plans than the Yurakutei orthodoxy could ever accommodate.

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His position is legitimized by the simple fact they’re in a packed jazz hall filled with Japanese in Western clothes, listening to American music. The times they are a changin’. He acknowledges that a part of rakugo must always endure, but that’s Kiku’s duty. Sukeroku intends to be the part of rakugo that evolves by changing to suit whatever the people want, which is never fixed.

Kiku is a traditionalist; Sukeroku the innovator. But they are alike in two important ways: they both love rakugo and they both respect each other’s place in that world. At the same time, Sukeroku didn’t want to end up like his previous “master”, the one from which he took the name Sukeroku, who ended up dying penniless.

That night, Master Yakumo celebrates with Matsuda his hard-won success in getting both Kikuhiko and Sukeroku promoted to shin’uchi, he takes the Yurakutei family record from the alter to let the past generations share in the celebration, even as he laments he wasn’t quite able to achieve what his forebears did.

Unaware of his promotion, Sukeroku roams the streets, gently kicked out of Kiku’s place, backlit by the bright lights and the winds of change. Kikuhiko, also unaware, but now alone in his apartment like he wanted, pauses his practicing to inspect the old fan Sukeroku gave him. They’ve started on very different paths for the same love of rakugo. It was an amicable parting, but that doesn’t make it any less sad!

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