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!

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!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 12 (Fin)

Going into the finale, I held out a glimmer of hope that Kotarou would be able eke out a high enough score to get into Akane’s school, and even if he wasn’t accepted, they’d figure something out.

Well, the finale wastes no time giving us the answer, dropping the news that Kotarou was not accepted in the first minute. It’s a crushing blow, especially knowing how many “first loves” like this are ended by long distance.

Still, if he had passed and been able to attend high school with Akane, where would the drama be? Kotarou’s mentor tells him that nothing an author goes through is for naught; one could say the same of lovers.

One person who hopes long distance will change things is Akane’s sister, who reasonably asks Akane if she’ll take the move as an opportunity to break up with Kotarou and turn the page rather than endure the pain of the distance. Akane is adamant that that’s not what she wants…and that her sister is a jerk.

Another is Chinatsu, who is ecstatic when Kotarou is accepted to the municipal school and takes it to mean fate has worked out in her favor. She decides the time is right to confess to Kotarou; to tell him she’s always like him, and ask if she’s good enough.

And she’s just…not. Everything worked out in her favor except the most important thing: that Kotarou is able to return her feelings. He’s not. She accepts the loss (again) and tries to look forward to the next year with Kotarou as just a friend.

Chinatsu tells Akane about her confession attempt, but Kotarou doesn’t, which makes their last date together before her move more fraught. When Kotarou tells her all the ways HE will make this work—getting a job to afford train fare to Chiba as many times a week as he can manage—she becomes overwhelmed by the burden she believes she’s putting on him.

This is another case of these two being in uncharted territory with no map compass, or experience. Kotarou’s a great guy who loves Akane, but she needs more than for him to say HE’s got this; she has to be a participant in making their relationship survive, and because she’s anxious by nature (doubly so when it comes to him), his unceasing niceness actually works against him as she becomes overwhelmed, cries, kisses him, and runs off.

That meeting on the river is the last time they see each other…before the move, but Kotarou decides to take the advice of friends and start writing as a way to process his feelings. He posts the stories of his first tender love to an online board, where they resonate because everyone has been there, and many even wish they could go back to a time when love was so simple.

Ironically, he’s posting these stories at the end of those simple times. From here on out, things will get more complicated by all of the things in life that interfere or threaten what we want most: to simply be with the person we love.

Yet even though he’s too late to say goodbye to Akane in person either at her now-vacant house or at the train station, Kotarou’s feelings, and the fact they’ll never change, manage to get through to her, and they’re the same feelings she has for him: a deep, warm love that is poised to endure the challenges of growing into adulthood.

And so ends the first stage of the romance between Kotarou and Akane. It turns out not to be fleeting, as thanks to the magic of LINE they stay in touch almost constantly, and also meet up quite a bit once Kotarou makes enough money.

As the credits roll, we see the couple enjoying more firsts like movie night alone (with the parents coming home too early); their first trip together alone; missing out on chatting when Akane gets home too late; Kotarou having drinks with Akane’s parents; Akane being fitted for a wedding dress.

It may seem like jumping ahead, but Tsuki ga Kirei isn’t about these moments and days and nights years…it was the story of how these two found each other, fell in love, and never stopped loving. It was a foundation, and it was a damned strong one.

By the end, after the challenges of long distance and high school and entering the workplace and more hard work and more distance, Kotarou and Akane come out of it wonderfully, get married, and have a child.

It’s the happy ending I hoped for, but with the added bonus of having been earned due to the challenges endured and sacrifices made. And brothers and sisters, if any of you came out of this episode—and that beautiful closing montage in particular—with totally dry eyes, you may want to check your pulse!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 01 (First Impressions)

Tsuku ga Kirei, or As the Moon, So Beautiful, is a quiet, wholesome little tale of tender love blooming with the cherry blossoms. It’s the story of a guy and a girl who like each other but have no clue how to initiate contact. The girl, Mizuno Akane, steels herself by kneading her ever-present “squeezie” and attempts said contact; the guy, Azumi Kotarou, is mostly passive, hiding either among his mates or in his books, but observing nonetheless.

In a stroke of dumb luck (or a meet-cute, if you will), both Akane and Kotarou’s families decide to eat out at the same restaurant (sadly, not Wagnaria). From the moment they notice each other’s presence to their closer encounter at the beverage counter, the dinner scene is suffused with tension.

It’s a tension that reminds Kotarou of one of his favorite writers, Dazai, who said “how excruciatingly arduous and unbearable it is to live,” mostly because he just hasn’t mustered the guts to talk to the girl he likes. Not that Akane is having any more success.

Their mutual concession to the acknowledgement of each others’ existence is for Akane to kindly ask Kotarou not to tell anyone at school about their encounter, and her gratitude that he’s in agreement. They continue to exist in close proximity, unable to make a connection right away; waiting for the other person to make a move, or return a glance.

In another stroke of luck, Akane and Kotarou are assigned to the same sports festival task group. Akane is in charge of coordinating communications through LINE (the real-life ‘LIME’ of ReLIFE), but neglects to contact Kotarou, landing him in trouble with the group leader. She makes up for it by helping him with his gruntwork, giving him her LINE ID and even making a bit of physical contact by patting the dust off his back.

That night, she receives a message from Kotarou, who starts batting his light switch cord in celebration of the progress he’s made. When Akane gets the message, she beams like she’s never beamed before in the episode, equally glad that finally she’s made a connection with the guy she likes. Even teasing from her big sister can’t knock her off this high.

The seiyuu of Tsuki ga Kirei’s lead couple put on a clinic of wordless sounds. Sounds of reluctance, tentativeness, disappointment, and frustration. But all the tension pays off with the genesis of a relationship, and one can’t help but root for both of them, as their joy at the end is palpable; the proverbial speck of gold, glimmering faintly at the bottom of a river of grief.

The message from Dazai is clear: anything worth having is something that’s hard to get.