Posted by SuperWooper on 10 March 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

I, uh, wasn’t crazy about this episode of Kaguya-sama. As the end of the decade approaches, I’ve been thinking about my favorite anime of the last ten years, and I was originally hopeful that Kaguya would be able to hang with rom-coms like Ore Monogatari and Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun on that list. Unfortunately, the second half of the show (so far) hasn’t appealed to me like the first part did. My main gripe with this particular episode was that it pushed some of its characters outside their established behavioral boundaries. It never happened without justification, but some of the reasoning it provided felt inadequate, especially in the last of these three chapters. Since all three of them led into each other, with Kaguya’s sickness as the core focus, the whole package was kind of soured. Let me just skip to the third segment and explain what I mean here.

When Shirogane visits a sick-in-bed Kaguya, he discovers that she has transformed into a half-delirious infant (something he’d hoped to see during the Concentration game in part two). Her design is amended accordingly, with downturned eyes and two-tone irises, as opposed to the sharper, more colorful expression she typically wears. She’s on the floor, searching for fireworks in a mess of her own making, and has to be mothered back into bed by Hayasaka (who’s in disguise as a gaijin maid). Aoi Koga even does her best Konomi Kohara impression to give her character the same sense of innocence that Fujiwara carries. It’s actually Hayasaka who provides the explanation for Kaguya’s current state: since her mind is always working at full capacity, her ego is particularly vulnerable to her id during periods of illness. Yes, the show actually trots out Freud’s model of the psyche to explain a character’s sudden witlessness, but this isn’t immersion-breaking by itself. Kaguya-sama has been dropping psychological terms into its script since the beginning.

The real problem stems from the show’s attempt to have it both ways, with a sudden seriousness taking hold when Kaguya explains that she can only manipulate people to express her feelings. We get a clear look at the Shinomiya motto during this scene, which hangs ominously on the wall and instructs family members not to love or rely on anyone. This maxim can be glimpsed in the hallway leading to Kaguya’s room several times before her admission, so it’s nice that the show primed us for that moment, but given the infantilized version of her character on screen just minutes beforehand, the whole segment feels inappropriately sincere. Everything that follows (Kaguya’s dominant id pulling Shirogane into bed with her, then kicking him out when she wakes up in her right mind) feels like the usual anime rom-com bullshit. Kaguya’s past fantasy about the Shirogane family accepting her was a much funnier and less direct way of detailing her oppressive home life, for my money – everything to do with her sickness was all over the place.

Chapters one and two from this week didn’t hold much appeal for me, either. This writeup has already been negative enough, but for the sake of completion, I’ll say a few words about them. In the first segment, there was too much shouting for me. Fujiwara screaming about the kleptomaniac thunder god, Kaguya’s maniacal switching of the president’s phone battery (complete with off-tempo clock sounds for some reason), and Shirogane’s war cry as he pedaled his bike through the rain grated on my nerves before I ever got to the third chapter. It was too much intensity for too little payoff. As for the memory game in the middle, it was fine. Notably, we got to see Fujiwara at her most devious, utilizing multiple rigged decks of cards to win the honor of visiting a sick Kaguya. She’s played to win before (think back to the banned word game), but this was a new side of her that felt natural, especially given her sheepish reactions to being caught. Alright, I’m off my soapbox for this week.

5 Responses

  1. Avatar Mentar says:

    Fair enough, I guess – though if I was asked to summarize why exactly you didn’t like the episode, I wouldn’t be able to really answer it. What’s wrong with “having it both ways”? Without wanting to spoil things: This show will have gradually darker and more serious parts ahead, up to harsh drama in the final one. However, I don’t quite see why this would be a bad thing – in fact, the darker ones manage to endear the characters to me much more. Just like real life isn’t all sweet or all sour – it’s a mixture of both.

    “Kaguya explains that she can only manipulate people to express her feelings” – I’m not sure which translation you watched, but that’s not exactly what she said. It’s rather that she has been raised _not_ to do certain things (like not relying on anyone, not accepting anything from anyone and most importantly not loving anyone), and therefore, whenever she _does_ exactly that, she is lost and doesn’t know how to do it, causing trouble for Shirogane. And since she is clumsily learning to do what she was taught not to do (signifying her change from Iceguya to the Kaguya of today), she is failing a lot. She did _not_ apologize for her schemings and manipulations, at least that’s not my reading.

    I wouldn’t take the cuteness overload of the sickness chapter too seriously though ^_^; … it was primarily a device for a moe overdose, and to establish that Hayasaka has a devious trait in her, too – even though she tries her best to help out her mistress.

    Just for the record: For me, it was a solid episode only – but the majority of reviewers were raving over it. I guess the old proverb is true: Moe overload works with the majority of viewers.

    • Avatar SuperWooper says:

      I watched Crunchy’s subs via HS, which were as follows for the scene in question:

      “I never know what to do. For so many things, it’s the first time for me, so I don’t know. So, all I can do is behave the way I know how.”

      I took the “way I know how” to reference her habit of manipulating her friends. After all, the Shinomiya motto doesn’t just prohibit love or reliance on others – it also instructs the family to use others as tools. To clarify, I don’t think Kaguya was apologizing for anything, just expressing her inability to be forthcoming with her feelings (which is why she kept saying “I never know” and “I don’t know”).

      Why didn’t I like the episode? Well, the first chapter was too raucous for my taste, and the second a bit too ordinary. Both set the table for the home visit of the third chapter, so it had a strike against it already. Apart from that, I don’t like the trope of sickness turning characters into needy babies. Invoking Freud’s psychoanalytic theory to justify the trope’s inclusion wasn’t a spectacular move, either. The bit with her dazedly looking for fireworks on the floor of her room felt like a dishonest presentation of her character (that’s not what happens when smart people fall under the weather), so to follow that up with a more reflective scene felt incongruous.

      I’m not against anime series being both sweet and sour. In fact, I’m a big fan of shows that pull off that contrast. 3-gatsu no Lion comes to mind as a recent series that effectively captures both of those moods, sometimes within just moments of each other. But that line is harder to walk for comedies, and the moe overload of sick!Kaguya felt opportunistic, rather than authentic. I might have liked the whole thing much better if Kaguya had been exhausted, but still in her right mind for the duration of the third chapter.

      • AidanAK47 AidanAK47 says:

        I wouldn’t really take Hayasaka’s explaination as truth considering the girl lies as easily as she breathes. As for it not being representive of Kaguya’s character, that one’s up for debate. Kaguya has shown that despite her front that she can be rather childish due to her sheltered upbringing. Throw in a cold and she just may not have the energy to put up a front anymore.

        There is also another thing due to recent manga developments but well on that nothing has been confirmed and it could just end up a joke.

        • Avatar Mentar says:

          What you’re referring to as recent manga developments: I’m 99% sure that this is not a joke. In fact, this is one of the huge remaining mysteries which have been teasered multiple times, but has never been expanded upon more indepth. The gap between ice princess and the Kaguya at the beginning of the show (I’ll say this much since it was _also_ teasered in the last anime episode). And I’m absolutely _thrilled_ that we’ll finally get to see it.

  2. Avatar Mentar says:

    Okay, now with _this_ detail I directly relate: The famous “a simple cold turning into huge issue” trope is something I can also only shake my head over. I guess it’s an easy cop-out for an author to justify changes to shake things up, even though it’s not truly realistic.

    I think we can trust Hayasaka to the degree that these really ARE the Shinomia mottos. It’s exactly the kind of rules which help you end up rich and powerful – and yet, at the same time, turn you into a sociopathic, isolated creature. Arguing solely on what has been shown so far: It’s obvious that there are multiple self-contradicting facets to Kaguya: Selfish yet helpful, scheming and manipulative yet loyal, underhanded yet open, sheltered ojousama yet trying to break out of this shell. Ignore the Freudian stuff, it’s irrelevant to the show. What matters is that there are different types of personalities which Kaguya shows, and the pretext of being weakened by a cold triggered one of them (which is generally dubbed Baka-Kaguya or Bakaguya in short).

    Bakaguya is the side of her which sheds the cold, calculating and scheming Shinomiya rules and simply wants to be open and close to her friends and especially her crush. Where she wants to be just a normal girl in love who is hampered by her lack of common sense due to her upbringing. We’ll see her (this side of her) again.

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