Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 01 – The First to Confess Loses!

Here it is: perhaps the romantic comedy of the Winter. All dramatic theatrical staging, lighting, and musical stabs, Kaguya-sama: Love is War elevates something as deceptively simple as mutual romantic interest between two high schoolers into a grand operatic life-and-death affair.

Part of that is because the two in question aren’t ordinary high schoolers: are the top two students at the most prestigious school in the country. StuCo Vice President Shinomiya Kaguya’s family owns a good chunk of Japan, while President Shirogane Miyuki, while a commoner by comparison, possesses unsurpassed academic prowess.

Let’s get one thing straight: these two like each other, but would never ever say as such, let alone confess it. To do so would be to surrender the upper hand, shift the power dynamic, and become the supplicant, ceding dominance to the confessee. Despite their disparate backgrounds, Kaguya and Miyuki have too much pride and dignity to let that happen.

As such, while the rest of the student body sees them as the perfect couple who may even already be secretly dating, the two exist in a constant state of war, with the StuCo office serving as the battlefield. The neutral party between them, the far less brainy secretary Fujiwara Chika, often serves as a wild card in the pair’s ensuing battles.

In the first sequence, she’s also a pawn: Kaguya planted movie tickets in Chika’s mailbox, knowing she wouldn’t be able to go and would offer them to her and Miyuki. This creates a scenario in which Miyuki asks Kaguya if she wants to know, knowing that boy-girl pairs who go to this specific movie tend to end up as couples.

Their battle of wills is a chess game of moves, counter-moves, and counter-counter-moves, but when Chika also points out the tickets are also valid for an innocuous kids movie, a chaotic element is added to the pair’s already complex calculations, overheating their brains. Worse, Chika snatches the only source of sugar in the office that they could use to recharge and rally. Thus, the first battle we witness, both Kaguya and Miyuki lose.

In battle #2, Kaguya receives an anonymous love letter, and makes it known to both Miyuki and Chika that she fully intends to go, hoping it will provoke Miyuki into slipping up and demanding she not go…because he loves her. Miyuki knows what Kaguya intends, and attempts to dissuade her not as a man, but under his authority as StuCo President to discourage illicit relationships. He even considers tattling to the teacher, a risky move, but one that won’t expose his true feelings.

Kaguya counters by declaring that if it’s true love, she will risk suspension or even expulsion to give her body and soul to the writer of the letter, which almost causes Miyuki to slip up. He turns things around by asking, very speifically for the sake of argument, if she’d still go on the date if he were to confess to her. Kaguya’s true feelings are momentarily exposed, and she admits, too easily, that she’d reconsider before coming to her senses and preparing to go through with the date.

Ultimately Chika again intervenes in the battle of minds, grabbing Kaguya and tearfully declaring she won’t let her get expelled for a date, because she loves her too much to let such a thing happen. And so, with a crucial but unintentional assist by Chika, Kaguya loses this round.

The theme of the third and final battle of the episode (which packs a lot of bang for the buck!) is lunch. Specifically, Kaguya’s desire to taste a good old-fashioned classic Japanese school lunch with all the standbys: omelettes, hamburger, white rice, miso, plum, and most important, octopus wieners. The lunches she gets are prepared by a team of professional chefs, but Miyuki’s got the stuff she wants.

Of course, she can’t simply ask for a taste. But Chika certainly can, and does, compounding Kaguya’s anguish. She brings in an extra-fancy lunch, hoping to entice Miyuki to trade, but he doesn’t bite. Miyuki even makes Chika an identical lunch just for her, and with every bite (and indirect kiss) Kaguya’s opinion of Chika gets lower and more sinister. Miyuki can sense Kaguya’s negative aura this whole time, but assumes she’s looking down on his meager commoner repast, when quite the opposite is true.

Miyuki suspects Kaguya is up to something, even though this time she just wants a taste of his lunch, and ends up retreating from the office for StuCo business rather than find out what that might be, to live another day. However, since he fled, and Chika ends up offering her a cocktail weiner unbidden, Kaguya wins this last round, bringing her and Miyuki’s week one record to 1-1-1 each (or 1-2 if the first battle is a loss for both; I consider that a draw).

And there you have it! Despite all their constant scheming and wheel-spinning, I found Kaguya and Miyuki to both be likable, rootable characters, even if they remain doomed to remain in a stalemate as long as they maintain their stubborn positions of waiting for the other party to make the first move. The closed-off, bottle-like nature of the StuCo office gives the episode a compactness and laser-focus, and while one more StuCo member has yet to be introduced, I hope the cast stays this small.

Full of lively competitive energy, but with underlying mutual affection and respect, I’m looking forward to watching Kaguya and Miyuki spar in the future, with Chika in the middle demonstrating that they could make things so much easier for themselves if they just lightened up!

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Ore Monogatari!! – 16

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—”I wonder if I can like someone again.”
—”I’m sure you can.”
—”When?”
—”Eventually.”
—”I’m sick of this! I want to now! But I can’t right now!”

That exchange between a fiercely honest, freshly-heartbroken Saijou Mariya and a savvy, supportive, tissue-providing Suna, says it all: Falling for someone who’s already firmly in love with someone else SUCKS. But it’s also a near-universal feeling we all have at some point in our lives. Even “Nature Is My Master” Takeo felt that way, when he thought Rinko liked Suna and not him.

As such, it’s a near-ubiquitous theme in romance anime. But rarely have I seen it so beautifully—and efficiently!—handled than these last two episodes. Saijou’s arc went by breathlessly quickly, yet still allowed us to get lost in it, in her head, and in all those swirling emotions people in her situation tend to have.

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When she added “…as a person” to her confession to Takeo last week, I knew she actually liked him as a man, you knew she actually liked Takeo as a man, and after a couple periods of class, Suna knew she actually liked Takeo as a man. But Takeo? Forget it. In exchange for all his wonderful qualities, he’s an appallingly oblivious fellow, and that’s okay; I don’t need a perfect protagonist.

But more to the point, he simply trusts Saijou’s words as she spoke them, because he has no reason he knows of not to. He’s convinced he’s not popular with girls…and because neither Ai nor Saijou confessed their love, he has no reason to doubt that assessment of himself, either.

Similarly, Rinko trusts Saijou, and even decides to cultivate a kind of friendship with her, as they find it easy to talk to each other. Rinko is worried about other girls falling for Takeo, but not Saijou, because she said she likes him as a PERSON. That’s enough for Takeo, and it’s enough for Rinko, and neither will be hurt by Saijou continuing this charade indefinitely.

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No, the person who will end up hurt is Saijou herself. When Suna approaches her, she expects to be castigated and comes clean to him: “Yes, I know I’m a cheat, and I’m lying about the extent of my feelings. So what?” She knows the answer: because she’ll never be happy with things like this. At the end of the day, she’s a good person, and isn’t going to try to break anyone up. To her surprise, Suna isn’t concerned with her actions thus far, but rather the emotional toll they’re having on her. He…he cares about her! AS A PERSON!!

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Thanks to Suna, Saijou decides to nip things in the bud. The limbo she’s in is untenable; she has to be honest about her feelings, because Takeo and Rinko will never accuse her of being dishonest. The scene where she finds Takeo alone in the dark classroom, which then fills with gorgeous golden light, is as good a visual metaphor for a weight being lifted as one can ask for. It’s also mighty purty.

Takeo briefly sports an appropriately stunned look, followed by a quick and categorical rejection. But he’s not saying no because he already has a girlfriend; he’s saying it because he loves Rinko with all his heart, for any, all, and no reasons at all. He’s oblivious about a lot of things, but his heart never lets him doubt his love for Rinko for a minute.

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Saijou tells Takeo she wasn’t lying when she said she liked him as a person too, and is able to withdraw with dignity, but once she hits the bench outside, the tears come hard and fast, so it’s good Suna’s there with two(!) boxes of Kleenex to help her through this trying but ultimately necessary time. She fell for the wrong person, but it will pass, and she’ll fall for someone else eventually. Hopefully Suna, AMIRITE!?!

As for Takeo, the sudden realization that there are girls besides Rinko who do like him, make him look upon his constant protestations to the contrary with contempt. All this time he was telling Rinko something he believed was true, but wasn’t. So as soon as Saijou is gone, he runs as fast as he can to Rinko to make everything sparkling clear: it doesn’t matter whether other girls like him or not (sorry Ai!); Rinko is the only girl for him.

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As they walk home hand-in-hand, tears suddenly come to Rinko; tears of happiness, which finally spur Takeo to say “I love you” out loud. Woo! And she says the same. Saijou may have felt like a rival and a possible antagonist last week, but turned out to be neither, but something much, much better: a lifting of the misconception of Takeo’s popularity with girls, a catalyst for the deepening of his relationship with Rinko, and, as we see the next day, a new friend who still wants to call him “master.” Saijou Mariya was another revelation in a show positively stacked with ’em.

Now, start falling for Suna. Immediately.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 15

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I’m not sure I’ve heard the parable about the bear who danced with the girl, but because Rinko likes big things the way Takanashi likes small things, in her version the girl who dances with the bear comes to like said bear. And so it comes to pass, when Takeo takes an athletically ungifted classmate everyone else is miffed about being in the upcoming Swedish relay under his wing. So just as the door seemed to be closed (for the time being) on Ai, it opens on one Saijou Mariya, she of short statue but ample bust.

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Saijou feels like she’s in the way and, like most people, assumes Takeo is mean, scary, and easily upset, when none of the above are the case. Gradually, as she spends more time with Takeo simply being Takeo, you can see the increased affection growing in her eyes, in the many gorgeous close-ups of her normally reserved for Rinko (and to a lesser extent, Ai). Ironically, it’s running from Takeo out of a misplaced sense of fear that motivates Mariya to run her fastest…along with his constant support.

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When the day of the relay arrives, he tells her, quite simply, just run as fast as she can and pass him the baton. Well, once everyone else passes her, she trips and drops that baton, but remembering his directives, she gets back up, keeps running, and passes that sucker off. Then Takeo does his thing and they win by a landslide. Then the kicker: he congratulates her, then asks her if she’s okay from her spill, and BOOM, without even trying, “not popular with girls” Takeo has finished unlocked Mariya’s heart.

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Let me say one thing: I like Mariya, even though she’s Rinko’s new rival. I like her a lot. She’s cute, she’s kind, and in some ways, she’s a lot more normal than the often eccentric Rinko. Not that eccentric is bad; Takeo is eccentric too (so is Suna, for that matter…and Takeo’s parents…and Ai…aw jeez, what have I done?!). But despite the fact she sees Rinko right there, and Takeo introduces her as “my girlfriend” she still has the guts to give him her gift of a towel (his first, somehow!) to him. This is a girl who knows how she feels, and is honest about her feelings, at least in this instance.

Meanwhile, because Rinko has always felt her grip on Takeo was precarious at best due to her own perceived inadequacies, she seeks advice from her girlfriends on how best to fight for Takeo. Despite Takeo’s protests he’s not popular with the girls, Rinko, to her credit, knows what she saw: Mariya danced with the bear, and liked it. (Oh God, that sounds so wrong!) 

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Mariya is also the recipient of some good luck vis-a-vis Takeo. She goes to the same school and is in his class. Even when she nervously mocks his couple background and matching straps (which IS a bit overkill, if not SO overkill)when she runs after him to apologize and trips down the stairs, she ends up in his arms, and after it’s clear the shoulder-leaning is out due to Takeo and Suna’s imposing height, she gets to choose Takeo to ride piggyback on. Suna really tried to do it so Takeo didn’t have to, but Mariya overruled him.

Unfortunately for Rinko, she chose this afternoon to wait outside Takeo’s school, though Takeo doesn’t act guilty, because he isn’t guilty, because he loves Rinko and is just giving Mariya a hand. When he runs straight back to Rinko after his errand, she can’t help but beam with glee. But in the normal universe where high schoolers of the opposite sex aren’t normally so friggin’ nice to each other—like the universe Mariya normally inhabits—Takeo with another girl riding him still looks bad.

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By the way, I’m not considering Mariya’s non-confession legit. She’s not giving up; she’s just decided to play the long game. She only tells Takeo (with Rinko eavesdropping) that she likes him “as a person”, but we know better, since we’re in her head too. Now that she’s allowed to call him “Master”, she has an excuse to stay by his side as his “student”. Rinko has been enjoying a “Pax Gouda” up until now, but love is war, and the battle has begun.

Takeo won’t be easily swayed—had Mariya had confessed for real here, I’m certain he’d have shot her down without hesitation—he does love Rinko deeply. But Mariya knows that, and I hope she’ll apply the same determination to pursuing Takeo as she did preparing for the relay with him.

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