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 2 – 11 – The Other Side of the Story

The Cheer Squad’s cross-dressing skit goes off without a hitch, pleasing Yuu, who feared everyone would think he was gross. He starts to finally think about enjoying life more instead of dwelling on past regrets and failures…only for the greatest regret of his life to show up to anti-cheer him.

Just as Yuu is drafted to fill in for an injured Kazeno as anchor on the club relay race, all of the past unpleasantness rushes back into the forefront of his mind. All his ears hear around him are the discouraged and annoyed voices of the crowd cursing his name and everything about him.

The mystery girl who arrives is Otomo Kyouko, who was neither a crush nor a friend in middle school. She was just a kind classmate who’d look out for him whenever she could. She was a good person. Then she started dating Ogino Kou, whom Yuu soon learns is cheating on Kyouko with other girls.

Honestly I don’t remember middle school being this sexed up, but Kou further demonstrates how pure a scum he truly is by refusing to stop cheating, then using footage of Kyouko on his phone to threaten Yuu into silence.

Not about to let a good person, even someone who’s barely an acquaintance get hurt by a bad one, Yuu’s sense of justice curdles into rage before the despicable Kou, and he punches the shit out of him in the middle of class. He aimed to ruin his face so no girl would approach it again, but Kou quietly threatens to abuse Kyouko if Yuu doesn’t stand down.

If that wasn’t enough, Kou also loudly professes that Yuu is a stalker. To both her and everyone else around, it looks like a crazed Yuu is beating up her boyfriend because he’s jealous and obsessed, and he’s too shocked by how badly things are going for him to defend himself, though I doubt it would have helped.

For the assault, Yuu is suspended for a month and ordered to write a letter of apology to Kou, but despite writing and erasing over the paper hundreds of times, he’s unable to write a single word of anything; neither a false apology nor an indictment of Kou’s own misdeeds. In his absence at school his reputation as a creep crystallizes.

Back in the present, the relay anchors are ordered to their marks, but Yuu is so out of it he forgets what color team he’s on…until Miyuki puts his red headband on his head and offers him words of encouragement and a pat on the back. This mirrors Miyuki’s eventual visit to Yuu’s house to present the “Student Council Secret Report” he prepared with Miyuki and Chika.

While Miyuki doesn’t judge whether Yuu’s actions were right or wrong (merely that they could have been better), he cannot deny that Yuu’s ultimate objective was to protect Otomo Kyouko, and that objective was achieved when Kou broke up with her days after the beating. Turns out all those months of refusing to apologize made Kou paranoid, and he released his grip on the poor girl.

However, Kyouko never saw this report, and still has the same idea of what went down. She still believes Kou to be a good guy and blames Yuu for their breakup. She came to the festival specifically to “unload” on Yuu, but rather than continue to wallow in despair, Yuu draws strength from the knowledge someone—specifically Miyuki, Kaguya and Chika—learned his side of the story and supported him.

So before running his leg of the relay, Yuu responds to Kyouko’s heckling with the same words Miyuki wrote in thick black permanent marker way outside the gridlines of the apology letter stock…so hard that to this day the ink residue is embedded in the desk: GO TO HELL, DUMBASS.

As the race progresses, Yuu is determined to win. He believes he has to win to prove he truly “shake Kyouko off” and move on with his life. Kaguya and Miyuki and Chika cheer him on, hoping the good person they know can overcome adversity. Kobachi loudly cheers him on, while Miko, who helped get Yuu reinstated, cheers for him almost under her breath—but with no less conviction.

Yuu ends up losing by a hair. Like the lack of a forced reconciliation with Kyouko, the defeat is an excellent subversion of how these races usually go. But the fact is, he still tried his best and his cheer squad comrades appreciate that. Koyasu, the pink-haired girl, even tears up, so moved by his genuine frustration. Rather than calling him a loser and failure and weirdo like he feared, they tell him he did good.

Suddenly, as his tears give way and his field of vision clears, he can finally see the EYES of the cheer squad members, a pack of Normies with whom he thought he’d never get along and inherently distrusted due to past traumas. But there they are in all their glory. We’d never seen their eyes either because Yuu never looked at them properly. Now he does, and he’s elated to discover they’re all good people.

As Kyouko departs, she tells her former classmates she was glad to be able to give Yuu a piece of her mind, and leaves Shuchiin with fun memories despite how things turned out. As Kaguya and Ai observe, she’s blissfully ignorant, but the smile she wears as she leaves is the very thing Yuu worked and suffered to protect, and he succeeded.

That Yuu would do that for a classmate he barely knew, at the cost of so much personal turmoil and with no reward, then he must be the very best quality of person. It’s no wonder he was recruited into the StuCo. This episode of Love is War had virtually no jokes or gags, but it didn’t matter. What it offered instead was masterful character drama, further cementing its status as Anime of the Year.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 10 – How A Net Feels

Just as it excels when it focuses on just one or two segments, Love is War is arguably even better at juggling a grab bag of stories in one episode. We get the latter this week and it’s all amazing, starting with Miyuki’s mistaken belief that Kaguya is avoiding him because she doesn’t like him. Kei wants to ask about his romance problems, but because she’s in her teenage rebellious phase, talking to him would mean losing face.

When their father comes home and asks Miyuki what’s up, Kei thinks she’s in the clear, but her father only makes Miyuki more tight-lipped and mad, so Kei has no choice but to offer a piece of advice: a girl can still like you even if it seems like they’re avoiding you. Sure enough, when Miyuki and Kaguya cross paths, she uses her calming ritual and the two walk side-by-side to the office. Miyuki had no reason to despair.

The next segment is the latest installment of the “Chika Teaches Miyuki Things He Sucks At” series, and, clocking in at around six miuntes, one of the quickest and most efficient. This time she’s trying to teach him the Soran dance his class will perform, but his idea of dancing looks more like an exorcism. When she finally loses her patience and storms out, Miyuki ends up relying on an Kaguya for pointers (Kaguya is more than happy for an opportunity to touch his body, the lecher!)

As Chika observes Kaguya’s strategy of simply getting Miyuki to replicate the moves irrespective of heart or passion, her honor as an artist must stand and protest, leading to a literal tug-of-war between the two girls. This mimics how historical Edo magistrate Ooka Echizen ordered two women resolve a custody battle for a child, with the winner being the first one to release the child when he was in pain.

In this case, no one’s letting go, but being pulled back and forth is exactly what Miyuki needed to learn what it was like to be the fishermens’ net, and performs a Soran dance that impresses both Kaguya and Chika.

Following two straight victories by Miyuki, we get a segment from the POV of Kobachi as she and Miko go on their DC rounds. Chika and the board game club doing something akin to LARPing, while they find Yuu playing video games at school. When he points out he’s in territory technically outside their jurisdiction, Miko ropes him and pulls him into it.

Kobachi can tell that while Miko and Yuu don’t get along, they’re a lot more alike than they realize. She knows about the rumors of how Yuu stalked a girl in their class in middle school, fought another boy over her, and got suspended, but notes that Yuu never told his side of the story. And because she knows he has a strong sense of justice and distaste for “irrational things” like Miko, his story is likely more complicated.

I’m sure Kobachi is as eager as me to hear that story someday, but for now, she’s impressed with the strides he’s made, including his participation in the Cheer squad, who unlike the majority of first-years were willing to bring him into the fold and give him a chance, as long as he was applying himself seriously, which he is.

The balance of the episode takes place during the vaunted sports festival. Miyuki and his class perform the Soran dance perfectly, but he’s discouraged to find his dad there rather than at work somewhere, snapping pics of Chika (though that was a request from Chika’s hot-shot dad).

What Miyuki wants to avoid at all costs is his dad getting anywhere near Kaguya, sure that nothing good could come with it. And yet his dad’s advice in the first segment for Miyuki to be the fastest runner, which he dismissed as grade school stuff, actually works like a charm on Kaguya, who despite being on the White team is passionately rooting for the President all the way!

That’s when Miyuki’s dad sidles up to Kaguya without introducing himself and belittles Miyki’s efforts. Kaguya, never one to let people cast aspersions on her beloved Miyuki, offers up all the ways Miyuki is actually a terrific person. When his dad shoots those down one by one, she gets increasingly flustered and annoyed, which leads him to ask not who Miyuki is, but who he is to her.

Kaguya responds with a beautiful monologue from the heart about how Miyuki showed her that not only to kind and wonderful people like him truly exist, but that there are others among her with those qualities (Chika and Yuu, for instance). Miyuki’s dad asks if she’s “romantically interested” just as Miyuki arrives, to which Kaguya compliments Miyuki on having such a “delightfully mischievous” father.

The Cheer squad leader ends up picking Yuu to be his partner in the final relay, and when they win, we cut to the brown-haired girl in the dark flashbacks in which Yuu was accused of stalking and assault.

This certainly lends credence to the theory that not only was Yuu not really stalking her, but that there might even have been mutual affection between them. Will we ever meet this mystery person, and if so, how will this “New Yuu” react? I can’t say, but I’d love to see it.

As it stands, Love is War has deftly and painstakingly painted fully-realized portraits of all four of its main characters plus Miko. It just happens to be both one of the most hilarious comedies in years and a riveting, heartfelt character drama. Shows this unassailably superb don’t come around often. It’s hard to not sound like I’m mindlessly gushing about it, but the excellence is there for all to see.

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 – 04 – Little Girl, Big Talk

It’s been three days since the StuCo disbanded, but Kaguya and Miyuki haven’t so much as spoken. Hayasaka finds Kaguya’s lack of progress pathetic considering how many romantic events she and Miyuki have shared.

A frustrated Kaguya lashes out, challenging Hayasaka to get Miyuki to fall for her. Hayasaka accepts, breaking out an adorable new persona with which to seduce Miyuki as Kaguya jealously watches in the shadows.

Hayasaka is a pro at this (what else is new), and gets off to a great start by chatting Miyuki up in a bookstore then getting him to have a coffee with her as she considers a computer purchase. Ultimately, Hayasaka ends up the loser, even though she offers to be a “side piece” should he already like someone.

Turns out liking someone else means Miyuki’s not interested in anyone else, period. A bitter Hayasaka insists her loss was due to the need to get the job done in one day; given more time, she’s confident she would have prevailed. I believe her!

Miyuki determines there’s no one better to write his campaign speeches than Kaguya, but has trouble approaching her in her class. Enter Hayasaka in “Gal” mode (whom he can’t tell is the same person who asked him out the other day), who bursts in and makes a huge production of Miyuki coming to see Kaguya on a matter of great importance.

News that he asked to meet her behind the school causes the entire student body to convulse in anticipation that these two top students are going to become a couple. The hype takes on a mind of its own as their meeting is built up as the can’t-miss school event of the decade.

When the big moment comes, both Miyuki and Kaguya are very much aware of their huge, expectant audience. Only Kaguya says she doesn’t mind it, while Chika is completely oblivious to the vibe and complicates matters by coming off as the third side of a love triangle.

Miyuki knows he’s suffer a political price if he embarasses Kaguya with his piddling speech request, so he makes the request in a whisper, inches from her face. Similarly safe from prying ears, Kaguya tells him the answer is yes—whether it’s to write him speeches or something else entirely.

It’s a good thing Kaguya is on Miyuki’s team, because he may have some stiff competition in the election in the person of first-year Iino Miko, this season’s newest character. Miko is at the top of her class, president of the morals committee, and believes having a “commoner” like Miyuki as president is an affront.

Tomita Miyu (Made in Abyss’ Riko, BokuBen’s Rizu)’s performance is appropriate for a pint-sized character packed with power. Before he knows it, Miyuki is caught up in her competitive, adversarial spirit, seeing her as his political rival in the fight of his life.

He and Yuu even mock her for relying on her pure ideals without a track record of success to fall back on, to the point Chika tries to stop them from sounding like villains. Then Miko brings Chika over to her side by expressing her admiration for Chika’s piano prowess and other positive qualities, and offering her the vice presidency if she joins Team Iino.

Chika later reconsiders her quick turnabout, but the fact remains Miko seems to be a larger threat than Miyuki or Yuu think. When Miyuki sees her wholesome flyer his confidence in beating her only rises, when I really think he shouldn’t be listening to Yuu and be preparing for a tough campaign.

Right off the bat, Miko is thankfully presented as someone who isn’t interested in Miyuki, and not just because she doesn’t know him and he’s in her way. Rather than a rival to Kaguya, I can see Kaguya closing ranks with Miyuki even more in the face of an adversary who thinks so little of the man she loves—a catalyst for their growing closer. In any case, this should be a fun campaign!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 03 – Okay to Be Selfish

Kaguya and Miyuki are both dedicated combatants in their ongoing War of Love, except for certain special occasions. This week is one of those occasions: there’s a bright harvest moon and a clear sky, and Miyuki wants to gaze at it from the roof of the school.

Kaguya tries to find a way to embarrass him by getting him to lend her his jacket or share the same teacup, but Miyuki is so “moony from the moon” all pride and shame fall by the wayside. When Kaguya brings up her legendary royal namesake as the reason she hates the moon, Miyuki presents his interpretation of the tale.

To him, Princess Kaguya didn’t offer her lover on earth an immortality potion so he could find another love, but as a message that she’d one day return to him, long after a human’s normal lifespan…and he’d wait as long as it took for Kaguya to return.

He continues to wax poetic until an overheated Kaguya can’t endure anymore and flees. However, Miyuki still loses when he comes off his “moon high” the next day and realizes all the embarrassing things he said.

One reason everyone went along with Miyuki’s moongazing session was that the StuCo will be disbanding soon, so opportunities will grow less frequent and carry more weight. In the second and final segment the council members go through the accumulated items from their various adventures together—some of which Yuu is sore about not being present for.

Once everything is packed up, the lights are out, and the doors to the 67th Student Council close for the last time, Chika can’t help but start to tear up, and Kaguya can’t help but cry in response.

During a celebratory dinner at a family restaurant, Kaguya realizes that since Miyuki isn’t President anymore she has to call him something else…but just can’t because it’s too embarrassing and scandalous.

Of course, Chika inadvertently rubs Kaguya’s inability in her face by calling the former president by his first name like it’s nothing. Yuu even gives him a cute nickname “Myu.”

Once Chika and Yuu have gone home and Miyuki has walked Kaguya to her front gate, she considers how few opportunities they’ll have to see each other without the StuCo or any classes to connect them. It makes her feel lonely, but even if she became the new president and Miyuki was her veep, she knows he’d work too hard, when he already has the letter of recommendation from the Board of Trustees.

To want more would be selfish, and she tells herself she shouldn’t be selfish…but when push comes to shove she can’t give up Miyuki that easily. She grabs his arm and asks him if she can be selfish, by asking him to serve as president one more year. Turns out he’d already secretly filled out the candidate application, hoping she’d be the one to bring it up.

So, as is usually the case, Romantic Kaguya wins when Combatant Kaguya loses, as she does here. That is, if Miyuki ends up winning the election; there seems to be a new contender interested in the job!

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.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 12 (Fin) – The War Continues

Last week ended on a hopeful note, but there was still a lot that could go wrong with Kaguya and Miyuki’s big night at the fireworks festival. And what do you know, it does! Just as she’s ready to head out, one of the butlers not named Hayasaka vetoes her outing as too dangerous, so she has to text Chika that she can’t go, and she’s sorry.

Kaguya enters heretofore unplumbed depths of dejection, but Hayasaka tells her to regain her Kaguya attitude that would have normally had her trying to sneak out by now. Hayasaka aids in all the ways she can by posting a tweet to Kaguya’s feed that Miyuki picks up on, then disguising herself as Kaguya so she can swing Tarzan’s Jane-style over the wall and to a waiting taxi.

While getting out of bed and sneaking out of the house was a big win, Kaguya still has to get to the fireworks before they’re over…and she isn’t able to succeed. The taxi is stuck in traffic, and there’s only so much ground she can cover in yukata and geta. She’s able to glimpse the fireworks closer than ever before—between buildings—but by the time she reaches the meeting spot, the display has concluded and the crowds are cleaning up after themselves (what a concept!) and heading home.

Of course, all this time, we know that Miyuki has been racing around on his bike, attempting to intercept Kaguya on her ill-fated solo mission to reach the fireworks. He manages to pick the right alley where she’s chosen to cry, then takes her by the arm and tells her he’s going to make sure she sees some fireworks. He accomplishes this with help from Yuu and Chika, who are waiting with the same taxi  Kaguya took before, driven by one of the Four Ramen Kings.

The driver takes liberties with the speed limit and gets them under the Aqua Line towards Umihotaru, where the fireworks display will still be going on for another twenty minutes. There’s an action thriller flavor to their undersea tunnel trip, and an ultimate feeling of triumph when they emerge at the other side to a sky full of gorgeous fireworks. Only now, that she’s closer than ever to those fireworks, all Kaguya can watch is Miyuki’s face, and all she can hear is the beating of her own heart. Daaaaaw.

While the fireworks night turned out to be a great victory for everyone, pulled from the jaws of defeat numerous times, the real proof in the pudding of whether Kaguya and Miyuki’s relationship has grown would come in the aftermath. We get a glimpse of that as the new school term begins, and both of them are so bashful and self-conscious that every time they try to approach each other, they end up sailing by like ships in the night—or two dogfighting planes.

Again and again they swoop by, with Chika eventually getting into the spirit of things with an “asterisk” before Yuu arrives and unwittingly makes it a “triangle.” Kaguya and Miyuki then banish both Yuu and Chika (“shooting them down”, as it were) in order to get the privacy they need to finally confront each other about last night.

Kaguya just wants to thank him for everything he did, but as they finally meet and end up bumping into a kind of half-hug, her broomstick juts into his chest, and she says the very words he feared she’d say as an appraisal of his “egotistical” behavior and “cringeworthy lines” the other night: “it must be painful.” Of course, she was talking about the broomstick, not his behavior. But he runs off anyway, and Kaguya gives chase, and henceforth everything is pretty much back to normal.

Surely other situations will come in the future where the two will be able to hang out and do fun stuff and experience moments of beauty and honesty together—but due to their stubborn pride and persistent self-consciousness, any such interactions will only come after much hand-wringing and hesitation. Perhaps, given enough time, it will get easier. But as long as they think something that manifestly isn’t a war is, it’ll remain akin to pulling teeth. But hey, a romantic can hope!