Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 09 – Running Start

Diving Into the Muck

All along both Miyuki and Kaguya have maintained that the one to confess their love first is the loser, but now we have a Kaguya openly declaring her love for Miyuki to Ai and planning to confess during the festival, and Miyuki ready to confess if she doesn’t. But truth be told, Miyuki is already the “loser” of this particular war, and he lost before the first season even aired!

Yes, before Kaguya even knew who he was, Miyuki was a surly first-year with a chip on his shoulder. Shuchiin offered the most student aid but was proving most obnoxious due to how much richer everyone was except him. That’s when the previous Student Council President (with that distinctive gold rope on his jacket) reaches out to Miyuki and recruits him.

The Prez says he wants someone with a “level gaze” who has seen outside the cloistered garden of privilege and wealth, but in practice, he has Miyuki help fish trash out of a swamp. That’s when someone falls in, and Miyuki freezes. Not being able to swim, he simply hopes in his mind someone will rescue the girl. That someone turns out to be Kaguya, who comes out of nowhere,

Kaguya doesn’t hesitate to sully herself with swamp muck when diving in to grab hold of the girl, having tied a rope to herself so the others can pull them both out. That right there was the moment of victory for Kaguya, and she didn’t even know it! Not only was Miyuki smitten with her from then, he was also inspired to become a better person, and eventually swap that muck-covered rope for the golden one of the StuCo President.

Good to the Last Drop of Love

Back in the present, Kaguya’s classmates have ensured she’s dressed as an adorable and elegant Taisho-era Japanese woman for the cosplay café—a look they maintain no one can pull off better. She told Miyuki about her shift times and is hoping he’ll show up to see her in her outfit, but as she’s manning the entrance the cafe is soon swamped with customers.

Kaguya has to wait on customers, and gets the short and very annoying end of the stick when her first two customers are J and San, two of the Four Ramen Emperors of Tokyo. They’re just as fussy and dramatic about coffee service, and when Kaguya starts to serve them, they make her stop and ask that Ai (an actual maid) serve them instead.

Not one to back down, Kaguya admits to her shortcomings when it comes to coffee, but insists that she has no peer when it comes to black or green tea. San and J allow her to serve them, but just when she’s ready to put them in their place, Miyuki shows up. No matter; Kaguya swiftly dispatches San’s concerns with a beautiful cup of tea.

San is moved by his cup of tea, declaring that it was made with love. When he later sees Kaguya doting on Miyuki, he understands where that love comes from and who it’s meant for. Unfortunately, there’s another annoying middle-aged customer right after the first two, so the first day of the festival passes with Kaguya unable to confess to Miyuki. Mind you it’s not tallied as a loss per se, merely a lost opportunity.

Look Past the Discrepancies

That’s the end of Kaguya and Miyuki for the episode, as we move on to Yuu and his new best friend Shijou Maki, AKA “Miss Mood Swings.” She is true to that nickname throughout their interactions, swinging wildly between giddy enthusiasm of the sort one of your mates would dish out when armed with the knowledge you’re trying to ask out your crush, and crushing depression over her own lost opportunity with Tsubasa.

Yuu and Maki are soon joined by Nagisa and Tsubasa, the one established couple in the cast who are probably worth listening to about asking out considering the success they found, even if their PDA is hard to watch. Nagisa also decides to be friends with Yuu, since both Tsubasa and Maki vouch for him as a good guy.

All three of them are behind him in his quest to ask Tsubame out, and while he’s being ambitious by crushing on the Madonna of the third years, he can’t approach the situation with a sense of inadequacy or he’ll get nowhere. When Tsubame goes on her break, the nerds sneak around in the shadows, but Yuu is the one who approaches her, brings up his class’ horror house, and in more words than are probably necessary, gets across his desire to go there with her.

Tsubame picks up what Yuu is laboring to put down, her face lighting up like a Christmas angel as she immediately agrees to go with Yuu, and leads the way with an outstretched hand. It’s a solid victory for Yuu, even though at this point Tsubame may not fully grasp Yuu’s intentions. At the end of the episode Yuu has taken a crucial step forward (one Maki couldn’t), but there’s more work to be done if he’s to exit “beloved kohai/pal” mode.

The only question is whether we get to see Yuu and Tsubame next week, or if the focus shifts to Chika and Miko, who did not appear outside of the background. There are three more episodes for Kaguya, Miyuki, and Yuu to accomplish their goals. FIGHT-O!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 07 – The Dark Legend of Shuchiin

Let’s Have a Campfire

When Miko and Yuu are assigned by Miyuki to aid the understaffed Cultural Festival Committee, they are thrown into a maelstrom of enthusiasm. Miko is thrown off by the intense vibes, Yuu is, as we well know, used to this, and joins in with gusto. It certainly helps that the head of the committee is his crush—the ever sweet and ebullient Tsubame.

Yuu knows he’s far from Tsubame’s only admirer, and so takes strides to one-up all of the other guys’ attempts to sound informed, important, and valuable to her. When Miko’s ideals don’t mesh with the other committee members, Tsubame is there to step in and keep things calm.

When Miko’s own enthusiasm for a campfire is met with skepticism over the many difficulties involved, Miko refuses Yuu’s help and powers through the doubters with her fesity iron will.

As a member of the Disciplinary Committee, Miko deems it her duty to seize trust from the grown-ups. To that end, she uses her solid reputation as a good girl with the neighborhood association, gets the cooperation of the fire department, and knocks on every door in order to notify everyone of the school’s intentions and assure them it will be done right.

Onodera Rei, who was initially one of Miko’s doubters, ends up helping Miko out and the two find a rapport because, after all, she wants a campfire too!

First-Pressed Perplexity

The middle portion of the episode is given over to the Mass Media Club duo of Erika and Karen as they interview various clubs on the impending festival. They start with Kaguya and the Archery Club, and we learn that the two are absolutely hopeless Kaguya worshippers.

Not that I can blame them; she’s spectacular. When they ask a tough question about why she’s not participating in an upcoming tournament, Kaguya keeps her reply vague, since she’d never reveal the true reason: the possibility of going on a Christmas date with Miyuki!

After speaking to the ever-graceful Tsubame at the Rhythmic Gymnastics Club, the media girls head to the roof where the Astronomy Club’s mobbed-up Ryuujuu Momo is loath to speak to them, and directs them to Miyuki, who is working on a giant papier-mâché dragon coiled around a golden ball.

As with Kaguya, Erika and Karen are in awe of Miyuki’s quite nobility, especially when he cryptically declares he’s going to “get it done like a man” at the culture festival.

Finally, the girls check in on the thoroughly oddball Board Game Club, who may not necessarily let the fact their grand plan for “a game involving the whole school” was rejected stop them from implementing it. To be continued…

No Effort Is Wasted

The final segment feels like the weakest, at least at first, with Chika once again being exasperated by Miyuki being extremely bad at something—in this case inflating balloons. No matter how many he pops, Chika refuses to teach “the child” as she has in the past.

Nagisa tries to smooth things over by telling Miyuki to give up and try an easier task, but Chika rightly scolds her for encouraging him to aim lower.

Miyuki ends up going to the StuCo office to attempt to inflate his balloons, and finds Kaguya quietly sewing an apron for her class’s maid café. She says it’s fine for him to carry on, but the repeated balloon bursts soon become torturous.

He proceeds to lament the fact he’s so bad at ordinary things ordinary people do easily, and vents about his frantic desire to hide his weaknesses and struggle to deny his incompetence.

Kaguya sidles up to the frustrated Miyuki with a big warm smile, happy to have “unraveled another mystery” about her boy. She assures him that no effort is wasted. As always, her words are able to soothe his soul.

When it comes to admitting their feelings for each other and agreeing to go out, this is a task neither seems quite ready to pull off, which is a tremendous shame, since they both clearly want nothing else.

That said, Miyuki instituted a deadline for asking Kaguya out, and no matter how many new or old balloons pop, I’m looking forward to him ultimately getting the job done.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 05 – The Truth Is Revealed

Smells Like Teen Spirit of Expression

Oh, my sweet summer child…you didn’t perchance think Miyuki’s rapping was never going to addressed, did you? It all starts when Kei calls Chika asking her big sis to murder her brother. Turns out he’s been practicing at home. When Miyuki tells her there’s no other way to convey his feelings to a certain someone, she’s eager to help him out, just as she did with his anthem singing.

Alas, not only is Chika not remotely inoculated against the scourge of Miyuki’s sea sluggish rhymes, she’s not that strong a rapper herself in the first place, having never really done it before. Still, she stands by the axiom that it’s not how you express something that’s important, it’s what and to whom. Miyuki sets her straight: rap is both a sport and an art, but most of all, it’s a conversation.

Chika’s first attempt at rapping is like watching a baby deer take its first wobbly tentative steps. But once she locks in on the fact that rapping and piano are not that different, she starts to put out something that does more than just bear a passing resemblance to rap. No sooner does Miyuki tell her he has nothing left to teach her, he proceeds to ask her to teach him how to rap. The teacher hath become the student…

Straight Outta Chiba

It isn’t until their training is nearly complete that Chika bothers to ask whether the person Miyuki needs to rap to is someone she knows. He says she does, and we flash back to that karaoke box, where we learn Ai actually opened up to him (presumably before the rapping) about who she is, what she does, and who she works for.

As a fellow commoner who can empathize with what Ai must be going through, Miyuki embraces her as a friend and gives her his number. He uses it to invite Ai to Chiba Park where he has something he wants to tell her. As Kaguya eavesdrops on her employee-sister’s call, she tags along, while Chika is eager for some BL action, believing Herthaka to be a male butler.

With Chika backing him up, Miyuki spits out his feelings, which challenge Ai’s belief that one needs to put on an act in order to be loved. This rapping Miyuki is being his own best self, and sees no reason why she can’t be hers too.

When Kaguya feels confused, lost, and left out, she eventually cut loose with the illest rhymes of the group, on her first try no less! Then she gets cocky and puts Ai on blast, provoking Ai into delivering her own freestyle rap. As with Miyuki and Chika’s raps, Ai’s is accompanied by music-video style dramatizations.

Ai finally comes out as being jealous of Kaguya enjoying her life as a teenager, with all its highs and lows. She wants a friend in Miyuki…with the option to possibly steal him from Kaguya in the future.

They’re in Nirvana…Never Mind

The final segment somewhat surprisingly does not involve rapping, but is the second of Shijou Maki’s visits that put the council in “student” council. She’s joined the volunteer club at Nagisa’s behest…a club that includes just her, Nagisa, and Nagisa’s boyfriend, whom we finally learn after three seasons is named Tsubasa.

Unaware of Maki’s feelings for Tsubasa, Nagisa is transparently lovey-dovey with him around her. As such, she’s come to think of Nagisa as the devil. Yuu and Miyuki warn her that as the couple is in “nirvana”, breaking them up will be nigh impossible. Maki, as innocent as her cousin, is unaware that the Nirvana they speak of pertains to Nagisa and Tsubasa having knocked boots.

In the end, Maki doesn’t get any useful advice other than the kind that is no longer useful: love is all about speed. Once you know you love someone, it’s imperative to confess to them ASAP, lest they get stolen away, as Tsubasa was. Miyuki, exhibiting the same self-awareness as Kaguya did last week, warns her waiting for the other person to confess is just a passive way to save face.

But Maki’s visit isn’t a waste. She can take some solace in commiserating with and warning these boys not to follow her down the path of inaction. Miyuki envisions Yuu with Kaguya and Yuu envisions Miyuki with Tsubame, and they can feel a glimmer of what Maki feels in reality. So the StuCo office will always be open to her, whenever it gets too hard watching Nirvana from the outside.

P.S. There’s a new ED involving the gang rapping and breakdancing on stage. It’s awesome and features some pretty slick animation (as well as more “serious” character design of the characters) and better rapping than any of the raps in the actual episode. Like the Starship Troopers ED, it also ends with a sweet moment of togetherness with Miyuki and Kaguya.

 

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 03 – Heads Up, Tails Down Bad

Kashiwagi P.I.

Kaguya-sama is to my mind never a show that has to scape the bottom of a barrel, because it has a whole cellar full of barrels that are always full. Take the oft-sampled scenario of the romantically inept Student Council having to give advice to the far more experienced Kashiwagi Nagisa. In this case, Nagisa has come suspecting her boyfriend of cheating on her with her friend.

Nagisa proceeds to confess to a number of actual crimes of privacy invasion before making the ludicrous statement of hiring a P.I. because she trusts her man, but every time Miko tries to point out how rashly Nagisa is acting, Kaguya steps in to support Nagisa’s theories. When Miko says going to karaoke with someone is cheating does Kaguya say it isn’t (due to what happened with Miyuki and Hayasaka). Miko is feeling so bad she has to listen to her self-affirmation audio.

Ultimately by talking things through with Kaguya and Miko, Nagisa works up the courage to confront her boyfriend directly. When he reiterates that he likes her and gives her a gold heart necklace, all is forgiven. Miyuki and Yuu believe the guy made a slick move, while Kaguya, Miko and Chika all agree the necklace is lame as hell! Then Nagisa and her bae start making out, and we’re reminded that it’s the student council that’s lame to cast aspersions about gifts when none of them are officially dating.

Lovesick Heart of the Nation

The second segment involves the other side of the love triangle: Nagisa’s old friend Shijou Maki (a dynamic Ichinose Kana). After pretending not to care about Nagisa telling her not to hang out with her BF so much, she walks home slumped over like Charlie Brown (or George Michael Bluth). Yuu and Miyuki are chatting spiritedly when the latter suddenly steps on the prone Maki’s head, accompanied by a sound effect for the ages.

Just as Kaguya and Miko had to counsel (i.e. endure) Nagisa, Miyuki and Yuu are pressed into service as advisors to Maki, who is a particularly haughty member of a Shinomiya branch family, is possessed of incurable tsundere-ness, and can flip the cuteness on and off like a plasma globe. She goes to some dark places but you can tell it helps just to have someone to listen to, even if she deems them (mostly Yuu) an ignoramus.

The two boys agree to help her steal Nagisa’s boyfriend in large part due to this ability to come across as unbelievably cute and sympathetic. Yuu also admires her unvarnished honesty about everything but her love of Nagisa’s bae (finally admitting she does after denying it ten straight times).

After a tense, hostile interaction with her “auntie” Kaguya, Maki says both boys said she was cute, which has Kaguya in Miyuki’s face like stink on shit. But Miyuki can’t very well say he finds Maki cute because she reminds him of Kaguya, not can he?!

Polygraph-Enhanced Fun

In the final segment, Kaguya, still curious about what exactly happened at that group date, asks Chika what goes on at such functions. Chika hasn’t been to one either, but is aware of group date games like one played with 10-yen coins and revealing yes-or-no answers that are kept anonymous by a handkerchief.

Like most seemingly innocuous little games Chika suggests the council plays, this one becomes a battle of wits between everyone to get the others to admit to something they wouldn’t normally admit to. Chika naturally wants to know who is currently in love (three of the five of them…but who’s the third?).

Yuu wants to know who hates him (only one…but it might not be Miko?) Miko wants to know that she’s necessary and wanted (five yesses…even from Yuu). When Kaguya notices that you can tell whose answers are whose by the mint date of the coins, she tries to trap Miyuki into a confession, with the added protection of Chika insisting on a polygraph if any lying is suspected.

Of course, she’s giving Miyuki too little credit not assuming he’d have a defense—in this case a second coin in his pocket that has the same mint date as two others. Unfortunately, his counterattack, to reveal Kaguya has been using the mint numbers to get a leg up, fails when two others admit to doing the same.

When Miyuki and Kaguya are alone in the more dramatically-lit office after school (one of my favorite kinds of Kaguya-sama scenes), Miyuki asks Kaguya if she had group dates on her mind because she heard he went on one. He then clears the air by admitting he did, but didn’t do anything frivolous, and says he wants “at least her” to believe her. When he asks if she does, she doesn’t answer verbally, but sneakily leaves her answer—yes—in coin form on the desk.

While this didn’t pack the emotional or dramatic punch of last week’s masterpiece, it was still a strong episode that followed up on the aftermath of that group date while bringing back Nagisa, a model of romantic honesty, and introducing the intriguing, imperious Maki as a kind of “Kaguya-Lite”. It also looks like the Starship Troopers ending wasn’t a one-off…Good!

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.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 08 – The Kids Call It “Tsundere” These Days

When Iino Miko finally gathers the courage to enter the StuCo office and take her place as financial auditor, she immediately starts auditing the other members’ disgraceful conduct. The only one immune to her scolding is Chika, whom Miko idolizes as the perfect student.

Having the other members’ backs, Chika uses her influence to get Miko to lighten up, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a balance between good and bad cop. To that end, she must learn to let some things slide sometimes, since if those she scolds don’t feel they’re being heard, then they won’t listen in turn.

Yuu proceeds to put his feet up, break out the snacks, and play a Mario Kart-style video game with Miyuki as Kaguya watches (quietly rooting for the president). She’s soon roped into a funny face Insta session with Chika and Miko, resulting in some of the weirder faces we’ve seen in a show chock full of ’em! Since Chika gets what she wants—a new “toy” in Miko—she wins this round.

This segment finally establishes a dynamic of Miko beyond merely reacting to rule infractions, while illustrating how Kaguya and Miyuki’s love for each other has organically created an extremely casual environment, lending at least some credibility to Miko’s worries about setting a bad example for the rest of the academy.

If Kaguya and Miyuki are getting away with proverbial murder in the hallowed StuCo office, there’s no telling what they’d get up to if they found themselves locked in a storage shed. Wait; that’s exactly what the next segment tells!

When the door won’t open, both assume the other arranged it that way in order to compel the other into some kind of romantic act that exposes their feelings for them. In reality, it’s just a branch stuck in the door track. But neither knows this, and soon both fall victim to the “suspension bridge effect” neither of them actually intended.

It’s as if the universe were conspiring to not only lock these two in a dark room together, but get Miyuki on top of Kaguya on a gym mat! Soon their expectations of what the other person is trying to accomplish merge together and they come this close to a kiss.

That’s when that same universe snatches the chance away, like Lucy taking the football from Charlie Brown, and Miko opens the door. Disoriented by the sudden cessation of passion, Kaguya runs sobbing into Miko’s arms, and she declares Miyuki a scumbag. But let’s face it: both Miyuki and Kaguya lose this one, since the kiss they both wanted to experience didn’t happen.

The third and final segment takes place in the wake of that almost-kiss, as Kaguya suddenly passes out after Miyuki removes a piece of lint from her hair—gently touching her cheek in the process.

When Kaguya is rushed off in an ambulance, and the other StuCo members discuss her weak constitution around changes in season, a segment steeped in drama wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Still, just after using the storage shed bit, LIW takes things in a much different and more hilarious direction that further demonstrates just how much of a dummy falling in love has made these two.

The Shinomiya family doctor is one of the ten best physicians in the world (he even has his own awesome theme music!) yet when he determines her symptoms are the result of nothing more than lovesickness, she insists on further (and extremely expensive) tests, and still calls the guy a quack!

Hayasaka is present for all of this absurdity, and vows never to set foot in the hospital again, so embarrassed she is by her mistress’ inability to grasp reality. Still, she’s not so heartless she’ll betray Kaguya by reporting the medical results to Miyuki…

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 07 – The Aquarium

LIW’s second season continues to take anime comedy to dizzying new heights and unexpected places. There’s literally no telling what it’s going to throw at you next, and that unpredictability combined with top-notch execution at every level of production means this is a show that keeps getting better and more entertaining.

We begin with Chika and Kaguya learning that Yuu is a briefs man, followed by his passionate assertion that boxer-brief men are nothing but “man whores.” Kaguya is determined to learn what kind of underwear Miyuki wears, she formulates an entire perverted plan in her head before rejecting it, showing just how demented by love she’s become.

Naturally, that same derangement compels her to ask Miyuki the question casually while serving tea, and Miyuki naturally assumes she’s talking about his preference in girl’s underwear. Not wanting to come off like a cad, he proceeds to describe girls’ bloomers (since anything he’d pick for Kaguya would be hot), but the same traits apply to mens’ boxer briefs, Kaguya loudly proclaims Miyuki is a man whore!

Suffice it to say, this is not proper behavior in the StuCo office of a prestigious school, but this is where Kaguya, Miyuki are. So it’s most inauspicious that Iino Miko should come through the office door just as Kaguya is yelling this, and Miko runs off in fear Miyuki will attack her “next”.

In the next segment, Kaguya offers to give Miyuki a hand massage as an apology for disparaging him. Her true motive, however, is to use the pressure points in his hand to secrete “prevent-men-from-cheating” hormones of the type released during “se-“.

Note that Kaguya can never complete the word “sex”, but only utters the first half of the word in a high-pitched voice that Hayasaka can’t help but imitate while explaining sex hormones to her.

The resulting hand massage is a stirring tale of two nervous systems. While Kaguya’s hands are small and soft, they’re causing extreme pain to Miyuki’s hand, releasing stress hormones like beta-endorphins and cortisol. Simultaneously, love hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin are being secreted in Kaguya’s brain. It’s as if the StuCo office has suddenly turned into a biochemistry lab!

With all those love hormones suddenly swimming in Kaguya’s already love-addled head, she gets a little more comfortable and offers to do Miyuki’s back. She ends up on top of Miyuki on the couch, which is again the precise moment Miko decides to enter the StuCo office.

Combined with all of the misleading things she hears from them (“If I feel any better than this I’ll die!”) the mere sight of two students going at it in the sacred StuCo office is enough to cause Miko to flee in terror once more. Miko’s minimal usage in these first two segments is truly inspired.

Not only is it a means of gradually easing her into the office (if she ever manages to set foot in there, of course!), but it shows just how unprepared an outsider like her truly is for the demented antics of that room. One does not simply walk into that room!

The opening moments of Segment #3 would seem to hint at a shift to a Kei-focused story, but she’s only there in order to pass on an accursed shougo manga that is 100% guaranteed to make you weep uncontrollably no matter how much or little you like manga or the shoujo genre.

A skeptical Miyuki is converted that very night, and decides that introducing the manga to Kaguya is the perfect strategy for getting her to ask him to go out with her so they can enjoy a flowey, lovey-dovey shoujo manga-like romance.

But as has been established from her taste in eyes, Kaguya doesn’t really go for common romantic archetypes, and proves a tough nut to crack even as Miyuki has both Yuu and Chika in full agreement that the manga is a must-read tearjerker.

The trio’s enthusiasm for the story causes them to leak too many details and spoilers, and the second-hand synopses still fail to move Kaguya. Heck, she can’t even understand what they’re saying once they’ve all covered each others’ mouths to stop blabbing.

It’s at this point when Miko enters the office a third time to find something strange and horrifying waiting for her. Then as the narrator declares the result (everyone loses but Kaguya), Miko asks if this is really “what happens at the end?” of segments, in a lovely breaking of the fourth wall.

However…this is not the end.

At this point the episode had a solid-“9” in the bag, but there was still a ton of time left after the end credits, so I was curious and excited about where it would go for the finale. It turns out Kaguya did end up reading the shoujo manga the previous night, and joins the ranks of her StuCo comrades (sans Miko) in the Shoujo Manga Brain club.

The next day is presented as an entirely different anime, one that is a straight-up high school shoujo romance with Kaguya as the heroine and Miyuki and Yuu as competing love interests. It’s as ambitious as it is hilarious.

Everyone’s character design has been “beautified” and their voices either more lovey-dovey (in the case of Kaguya) or more “cool-sounding” (the boys). Heck, even the damn narrator has “gone goofy!”

Once Chika arrives at school, we learn that the change in her personality is negligible, but she interrupts what was about to become fisticuffs between Miyuki and Yuu for the right to take Kaguya to the aquarium.

In the end, Miyuki wins out by insisting on valiantly escorting Kaguya to the infirmary hand-in-hand. He then manages to ask Kaguya to go to the aquarium with him, only for her to decline since, so overcome by longing for love, she already feels like she’s at the aquarium!

So Miyuki and Yuu go instead, and end up having more fun than they thought they would! Note that at no point did Miko set foot anywhere close to the StuCo office for this latest bout of nonsense. You know what they say: “Once bitten, twice shy…thrice traumatized.”

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 06 – Winning the Right Way

Only one battle is covered this week, and it’s not in Kaguya and Miyuki’s War of Love, but the StuCo Presidential Election. Osaragi, Iino Miko’s best and only friend, gives an impassioned speech on behalf of her candidate, but only half the crowd at best is even listening. By comparison, Kaguya’s speech is preceded by intentional mic feedback.

Kaguya speaks with equal or greater passion than Osaragi, but with all the attention and none of the desperation. More to the point, everyone adores and idolizes Kaguya, and the lavishly-produced visual aids are, as Osaragi says, “full of shameless baloney” but nonetheless incredibly effective.

This one was in the bag from the start, but what bothers Yuu isn’t that Miko will lose, it’s how she will lose, which is the same way she’s lost every election she’s run in with increasingly dire results: she’s a terrible public speaker. Yuu doesn’t like how someone who works as hard as Miko ends up the laughingstock of the student body simply because of stage fright.

Again and again Osaragi’s heart has been broken by her friend’s defeats, knowing that while everyone sees Miko as serious, no one ever saw her cry bitter tears in the bathroom stall, wondering why her message fell on not just deaf but maliciously mocking ears.

Miyuki picks up what Yuu is putting down, and just when Miko looks like she’s going to secure her worst defeat yet in an embarrasing, self-destructive fiasco of a campaign speech, Miyuki…interrupts. She forces Miko to forget about the crowd that is causing her so much anxiety and simply focus on him, the person she’s running against.

By asking her pointed questions about her policies, Miyuki helps Miko get back on point. Because she’s simply talking to one person, Miko can summon her pride, confidence, and passion.

Not only that, the crowd Miko forgot about is finally seeing Miko stand up for herself against an opponent, and it never occurs to them this is only happening because Miyuki furnished the conditions with which to stand up to him.

Miko ends up losing to Miyuki, but it’s a damned close race: he only beats her 320 to 280. Far more importantly, their spontaneous debate, which stretched on for over half and hour and captivated students and faculty alike.

As such, Miko the toast of the school: a scrappy, righteous underdog who fought the good fought, came up a bit short, but is in prime position for a victory in the next election. Osaragi has never been more proud to be Miko’s friend now that she’s finally been acknowledged…and it’s all thanks to Miyuki.

Kaguya, meanwhile, suffered a number of stomachaches that landed her in the school infirmary. There, she asks Hayasaka where the hell Miyuki is and why he didn’t come to her bedside immediately to watch over her. Did he discover all of the political dirty tricks she pulled to secure his victory?

Was his assist to Miko meant as a stand against the “horrible girl who relied on foul play?” Was she wrong about Miyuki being nice to her as a sign he liked her, since he was also nice to Miko, and come to think of it, is nice to everyone?

The answer to all of those questions is either “no” or “it doesn’t matter.” Miyuki was only delayed because the first duty of the new StuCo is to clean up the post-election mess—which he achieves with the help of Chika and Yuu, who retain their positions as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

When he comes to her bedside, he apologizes for his impulsive behavior on the stage, but tells her he was only able to do it the same reason he’s able to do anything: thanks to help from her and the others. He doesn’t just like Kaguya, he needs her. He needed her for his campaign, and he needs her by his side as vice president for the next year. Elated but not quite able to face him, Kaguya flashes an “ok” sign, and all is right in her world once more.

With that, the stressful StuCo Election is finally behind us, but we won’t be returning to the status quo ante. That’s because, acknowledging her value, Miyuki has invited Miko to join the StuCo to perform their forthcoming financial audit, and to be in charge of “general affairs.” Having a fifth member in the StuCo office of Miko’s caliber should prove to be a lot of fun!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 05 – Together We Will Rise: A Symphony in Three Movements

First Movement: When the Glare’s Not There

Chika is the first to behold Miyuki’s terrifying new face, or rather un-terrifying new face. As the result of his break from StuCo duties he’s been getting three extra free hours per day, giving him time to sleep more and fix his bed-head.

This has had the effect of making his eyes less heavy, so rather than glaring, his expression is bright and cheerful. This is very unsettling for both Chika and Yuu, so used to his usual scowl. But as other students greet him and invite him to hang out, it dawns on Yuu that Miyuki might have entered his Popular Phase!

Far more than make more friends, Miyuki wants to get Kaguya confess her love for him, and sees his new face as the latest weapon in that war. Unfortunately, Kaguya loves his ordinary intimidating glare, misses his “cool eyes”, and is thrown into a crisis of confidence in her love.

She goes to Nagisa for advice, mentioning a problem “her friend” is having. Nagisa instantly sees through the half-assed subterfuge, but admits she’s not nearly pure enough to endure—let alone discuss—on a topic as embarrassing as “What is true love?” Still, she tries her best, telling Kaguya she has nothing to worry about.

Chika overhears the conversation and declares love based on appearances to be fake and bad, but then Yuu pops by and argues that all love is true love if it comes from the heart, or some such. Kaguya eats it all up while Nagisa worries about losing her lunch.

Then, in a beat so unexpected and hilarious I had to pause the show to laugh, Miyuki appears looking like a dried-out demented wooden doll (exhausted from campaign work), scaring the Hell out of Nagi but delighting Kaguya, who is relieved her Miyuki’s face no longer resembles that of a stock shoujo manga love interest. Kashiwagi loses, while Hayasaka worries her mistress has adopted a particularly worrying face fetish.

Second (Bowel) Movement: Producing the Same Sound

The first movement explored the distinctive qualities that move someone to love that outsiders will never understand. This middle movement is all about a dark secret and deep yearning that dwell within Miyuki, which only comes to Chika’s attention while she’s conducting the student body in the singing of the school anthem, and notices Miyuki is lip synching. From her perspective, a former president and current candidate not knowing the words to the anthem is a scandal-in-waiting.

But Miyuki knows the words, and he wants to sing. He just doesn’t, because he’s “a little crap” at it. Despite reservations about the last time she trained him, this time Chika is right in her musical wheelhouse and wants to help him out. But when she hears him (and boy is it something to hear), she realizes she may have repeated a grave mistake and dug her own grave in the process. He’s not “a little” crap. He’s a veritable Cthulhu dump post-gorging on civilization!

No matter; Chika is a virtuoso, and if she can’t teach him he can’t be taught. She starts with the basics in a very beautifully directed sequence where she’s carrying a note and guides him to match that note using comments on the chalkboard. When they match, it’s a beautiful sound is produced, and Miyuki’s confidence is boosted.

When he tells her how his own elementary school teacher told him “you don’t have to sing” and his middle school classmates begged him to lip-sync, he stopped singing altogether and never looked back, but always felt left out and unfulfilled.

Chika displays a fierce maternal instinct in taking it upon herself to make a proper singer of Miyuki, so he no longer has to suffer in silence. A quick montage ensues with the two doing various exercises, and then the moment of truth arrives: another singing of the anthem.

To my surprise, Miyuki not only sings, but sings right on key! This show doesn’t always rip the rug out from under you! Even better, the anthem’s bittersweet lyrics very closely match the epic struggle she and Miyuki went through. By the time the anthem arrives at its coda, Chika is wading in a pool of her own tears…but they’re tears of pride and accomplishment. It’s a stirring win for both her and Miyuki.

Final Movement: Perfect Compatibility

Now we approach the end of this exquisitely crafted and performed symphony. The focus returns to the election, all-important to Kaguya in particular because the StuCo is the least suspicious means of spending time with Miyuki. The movement opens with Kaguya in Political Operator Mode, conferring with her contact Hayasaka on how oppo research on Iino Miko is going.

Hayasaka has their best internal and external people working on it, and we’re reminded of the long reach of the Shinomiya Empire, making it that much more charming that hardly any of it matters at all when it comes to Kaguya trying to get Miyuki to confess his love for her! Still, Kaguya’s not discouraged by the lack of dirt on their opponent. She simply has to turn Miko’s own pristine-ness against her.

When Kaguya meets with Miko in the darkened StuCo office in a nice bit of venue-as-posturing, we recall how when it comes to matter not related to love or Miyuki, she’s as competent and ruthless an operator as high school girls come. She’s able to assess Miko’s reliance on her strict ideals and their fragility in her moments of anxiety.

In far more words, Kaguya proposes a deal whereby she and Miyuki will support her in next year’s election if she bows out of this one. Miko can smell the dirty tricks a mile away, and proceeds to dress Kaguya down by saying she and Miyuki are “two of a kind” with “perfect compatibility.” Kaguya is delighted by her kind words, but thrown just enough off balance to be left open for Miko’s counter offer.

In President Miko and Vice President Chika’s administration, Miyuki and Kaguya will remain in their StuCo, albeit in reduced roles. Miko’s goal is to “restore order” to an academy wracked with chaos. Kaguya is instantly intrigued by this proposal, since it means she and Miyuki will still be together. It may even be preferable to him winning reelection, since he’ll have less exhausting work to do (though she doesn’t consider what that will do to his cool eyes!).

Miko may be petite, but she has big plans for the StuCo, who will act as an extention of the Morals Committee she already heads: Uniform checks in the morning, garbage pickup in the afternoon…she and Miyuki could do all of these things together! But the bubble bursts on this ideal scenario when Miko declares that the academy will be a strict No-Romance-Zone. That’s a dealbreaker for Kaguya, and so negotiations break down!

But while a soft resignation and coalition with Miko may be impossible due to her staunch morals, those same morals may well sink Miko’s chances of gaining much support beyond her loyal base. High schoolers typically like the freedom to engage in hanky-panky. It’s a school, not a church. Can Kaguya craft the narrative that exposes the disconnect between Miko’s policies and the will of the student body? I wouldn’t bet against her!

 

 

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.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 01 – Happy Life Game

With Re:Zero, SAO, and SNAFU all postponed due to These Times, Love is War emerges as our #1 most-anticipated sequel of the Spring. That’s not to say it wasn’t the equal or better of those; only Dororo and The Promised Neverland ranked higher than Kaguya’s first season in Winter 2019. Those were a couple of absolute powerhouses, but neither was a school rom-com.

Love is War’s second season wastes no time getting right back down to business, delivering a tantalizing variety of scenarios involving our favorite will-they-won’t-they couple in years. The first segment focuses on Hayasaka Ai, who as Kaguya’s servant and ally wants to help her mistress achieve love and is willing to go to Mission Impossible style lengths to see to it.

Unfortunately, her considerable efforts prove wasted. After going to the trouble of switching Miyuki’s regular coffee with decaf, thus bricking him,. Kaguya is utterly paralyzed by the fact his sleeping head came to rest on her shoulder, and whatever it was she wanted to do with that tape measure never comes to pass.

The next segment reiterates Miyuki and Kaguya’s additional roles as love-advice sages despite their utter lack of experience (beyond their various machinations involving one another, of course). Tsubasa returns from Summer vacay utterly transformed into a “dude-bro” and only seems to want to throw his lovely dating situation in Miyuki and Yuu’s faces.

When his girlfriend Nagisa shows up, Miyuki and Yuu leave the office while she waits for Kaguya, leaving Nagisa and Tsubasa alone. Kaguya and Chika arrive just as things start getting hot and heavy in the office, but Nagisa reveals she and Tsubasa were only teasing them. They successfully punk’d the whole of the StuCo.

The third segment underscores Chika’s importance as the chaotic ball of energy that is constantly—and usually unconsciously—either helping or hindering Kaguya and Miyuki’s progress. This time it’s with a game her Tabletop Game Club came up with: the “Happy Life Game.”

In real life, Kaguya lucked out by being born into money; in the game she lucked into a big #MeToo settlement. To her horror, Miyuki ends up marrying Chika and they have nine kids, while Kaguya gets richer and richer remains single into old age.

Even when Miyuki and Chika divorce late in life, Kaguya can’t get married due to a DISTRUSTS ALL MEN card. The game is a nightmare for all except Chika, who had fun, and Yuu, who was happy to die on his first turn.

Finally, the episode closes with a segment that hearkens back to the time when Kaguya and Miyuki were cold and impersonal with one another. A year ago, Kaguya told him she wouldn’t dream of doing anything special for his upcoming birthday, but a lot’s changed in a year and his birthday is all she can think about.

When Chika introduces a horoscope app based on gender and birthday, Kaguya can smell the Barnum effect of the fortunes. She still insists on Miyuki participating, which he vehemently refuses to do. Turns out he’d not only already used that app (and wasn’t pleased with the fortune), but has Kaguya’s birthday of January 1 prominently marked in his planner, just as his is in hers.

Kaguya, perhaps prematurely, interprets Miyuki’s reluctance to do anything for his birthday as a sign he’d rather do something just with her, like a couple. I doubt he’d have a problem with that if it went down, but he’d never tell Kaguya that.

We’ll see if Kaguya can make it happen without betraying her intentions too overtly. She’ll probably need help from Agent Hayasaka. Until then, Love is War’s return was packed with wonderful situations, dialogue, animation, and laughs.

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