Posted on 25 March 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

Can somebody explain why, in an episode where Kaguya’s loveless upbringing is shown to have profoundly damaged her, 14 minutes were dedicated to stories about eating ramen and not understanding Twitter? With only two slots left in your single cour run, these had to be among the most skippable chapters in the manga (assuming they’re not original material), yet they consumed the bulk of this episode. Was the goal just to pass time so the summer festival could double as the series’ conclusion? It feels like every time we get an episode that reaches the standards the beginning of the show set for itself, the next one has to take three steps back. I’m sure many of you are tired of reading these sentiments, but I’m just as tired of the weird missteps the anime is making. Taken as a whole, this batch of chapters wasn’t even bad, just the sort of unfocused grab bag the show ought to have ironed out of its repertoire by now.

The first of our stories this week was more about Hayasaka’s occupational weariness than Kaguya’s lack of technological prowess. We’ve seen that Kaguya’s valet does a great impression of a normal high school girl, which helps her blend in at Shuchiin Academy while looking after her charge. What’s clearer than ever after this week, though, is that she has a real desire for normalcy, and perhaps even an awkward first romance of her own. She plays it off as a bit of bathtime musing, but it’s clearly real, which is what makes Hayasaka such a good fit as Kaguya’s friend – they both want freedom from their household’s oppressive atmosphere. If we’re being honest about the broader appeal of this episode, though, Kaguya’s search for “Twitter” in the dictionary will probably make a bigger impact than anything about the girls’ relationship. Her struggle to replicate a captcha phrase was the kind of “so relatable” moment that barely outranks reference humor in terms of comedic effort. And just imagine all the 13 year old guts her confusion about protected accounts must have busted. Is my general disdain for social media coming through right now, guys?

Only slightly better was the ramen chapter, which handled narrator duties over to a brand new middle-aged salaryman character who will probably never be seen again. He creepily observes every step of Fujiwara’s ordering and eating processes, and judges her to be a worthier ramen connoisseur than himself after she buys a fantastic dish and devours it with childish abandon. Was this segment funny? I’d say so, yeah. Some of the dramatic shading on the narrator’s face and his overreactions were worth a chuckle or two. But it didn’t teach me anything new about the characters I like. Even Fujiwara was short-changed by this chapter, and she was the only council member to appear on screen. A far better version of the same story might have cut out the middle-aged man and included both of Chika’s sisters in the restaurant with her. Then we could have learned about two new characters, while getting a different perspective on a familiar one by contrasting her with her family. Perhaps the temporary narrator was meant to parody a Japanese pop cultural figure? If not, this chapter feels like a missed opportunity, as the show is quickly coming to a close, and every minute counts.

The bit with Shirogane and Kaguya visiting the student council room and missing each other by mere moments felt abrupt, probably to make room for the post-credits scene. Those few minutes were certainly the most intriguing part of the episode. At first I thought Kaguya had been summoned to their family’s Kyoto home for a marriage interview, given the table where she was sitting, but apparently all she was called to do was greet her father for two seconds as he walked brusquely past. Perhaps she was called out just to interrupt the shopping plans she made in a previous episode, which would make her father a meddler on top of being an “asshole” (Hayasaka’s words). This is the third episode in a row where Kaguya’s love for fireworks has appeared, and here it carries the most emotional heft of the three. Fireworks are loud, bright, and colorful – all things Kaguya was never allowed to be as a child. Shirogane had better get his shit together and properly invite her to the summer festival. If her pained vocal delivery is anything to go by, she needs to reclaim her lost youth now more than ever.

Posted on 17 March 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

There are times when I judge anime series based on the number of screencaps I’m compelled to take per episode. This was one of those times. After closing the video and taking a look at my desktop, I was unsurprised to see it littered with mpv-shot files, all featuring distinct facial expressions, poses, and situations that were instantly memorable to me. The point I’m belaboring here is that this was a great episode of Kaguya-sama, even though it continued to explore a plot point from last week about which I wasn’t too jazzed. Though the consequences of the “sick in bed” plot were in focus for two of these three chapters, the show was packed with fun details and moments that had me smiling or laughing periodically throughout. Take the first segment, where Kaguya and Shirogane’s frustrations cause them to enter a gigantic argument over a piece of cake. Recognizing the need for de-escalation, Ishigami flees the room in search of Fujiwara, whose face (surrounded by sunflowers) balloons towards the camera like a scene transition from a retro American cartoon. The contrast between the heated fight in the council room and Fujiwara’s status as a comedic icon was too delicious not to play with, but the show pushed it even further than I expected with that silly logo. Kaguya and Shirogane’s rage marks popping like balloons was another neat touch, perhaps foreshadowing their anger evaporating once they took the other’s position into account.

The second chapter took a less conflict-driven, more thoughtful approach to the characters’ feud, with the president and vice president becoming advice seekers (rather than the advice givers they’ve been in past episodes). Kashiwagi and Ishigami give typically female and male answers to their inquirers’ questions, but also prompt Kaguya and Shirogane to think more deeply about the situation. Kaguya’s desire to have been touched is a tricky one to navigate (especially given her lack of sexual knowledge), but I think the show managed it with some grace, since her affection for the president is more than physical. What’s particularly interesting about the resolution of their fight is that Shirogane’s apology dovetails with the fulfillment of her wish, lending a sort of destined feeling to their romance. After Kaguya’s moment of reciprocity, the whole thing ends with an even playing field, but also the sense that some progress has been made between them. To me, this is the best way such a story could have possibly concluded, so bravo to the mangaka for providing a perfect blueprint for the anime. Also, Ishigami deserves a special mention for unconsciously (and hilariously) pouring all his frustration with women into his conversation with Shirogane. Their bro session nicely sets up a moment they share in the week’s final segment.

Free from the shackles of its sexless sleep session, Kaguya-sama revisits the idea of our characters taking a trip together, since summer vacation is quickly approaching. They quickly settle on a summer festival, which excites the fireworks-obsessed Kaguya in the episode’s cutest moment (pictured above). The layout of that scene was perfect, with the prospect of pyrotechnics proving so enticing to the VP that her enthusiasm forces even the bubbly Fujiwara out of the shot. Each character was used to great effect in this scene, with Ishigami acting as a unifying agent for the rest of the student council. Fujiwara temporarily adopts his role as the one to leave the room under the influence of some social trauma, but my inner theorist wonders whether this is just an excuse to get her out of the way for a bit. With the number of festival attendees down to three, perhaps some sort of romantic triangle will develop around a yukata-clad Kaguya? After an episode this good, I’m excited to see how the show’s summer vacation pans out, regardless of my ridiculous speculation. Kaguya’s in her right mind – all’s right with the world.

Posted 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.

Posted on 5 March 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

Kaguya-sama hit a low point for me last week, so I was hoping this episode would be more my speed, and that wish was granted with the adaptations of three fun chapters. One used the introduction of a new character to prey on Kaguya’s unmet desires, one was a narration-heavy dive into academic life at Shuchiin Academy, and one featured Ishigami in his best and most sympathetic role so far. The aforementioned “new character” is Shirogane’s little sister Kei, who made a previous appearance from the neck down, but only came into focus this week. Kaguya is fascinated by the traits she shares with the president, but I was mostly hypnotized by the ornate ribbon she wears in her hair. It’s a cute look, but its extravagance makes Kei feel like a calculating girl. That’s something she might sense about Kaguya, as well, given the nervousness she felt around her. Kaguya was certainly up to her usual scheming ways during this chapter, wondering how she might strike up a relationship with the younger girl to better approach her brother, but her thought process betrays a deeper motivation: Kaguya is “starving for familial love.” Though she has Hayasaka to confide in, I don’t think we’ve seen or learned anything about her parents. The scene she dreams up where the Shirogane family accepts her as one of their own is quite sad when you consider where that dream comes from.

The middle chapter was much sunnier in tone, despite the way it put our main characters through the academic wringer. A fair number of the recent stories involving both Kaguya and Shirogane have ended with one silently acknowledging their feelings for the other, but they were much more combative here. With exams coming up fast, they both lie through their teeth about their level of preparation for the tests, probably hoping to lure the other one into a false sense of security (as well as make their victory seem that much more impressive). Fujiwara has been the show’s wild card from the very first episode, but this segment was perhaps the clearest indicator of that status thus far. Kaguya and Shirogane’s deceptions have the slippery-voiced narrator calling them out left and right, but he can’t say a negative word about the pink-haired crowd favorite, whose smarts aren’t sufficient to spot her friends’ lies. It might have been nice to get an outside perspective on exam season from a couple side characters, but Fujiwara already provides a nice contrast to the two egomaniacs, neither of whom end up winning or losing with humility (not inwardly, at least).

Though the last chapter wasn’t my favorite, it provided some essential context-via-backstory for Ishigami, who was once a frequently-truant middle schooler. This lessened interaction with his peers probably set the stage for his current image as a gloomy geek, which not even a spot on the student council has managed to cure. The show pulls a neat trick by placing the events of this story during the lead-up to the exams that conclude the previous segment, allowing us to glimpse a more serious side of the students’ preparation. Ishigami isn’t lacking in wits, just motivation, and it’s Kaguya (of all people) who spurs him to avoid being held back a year by subpar test scores. His usual fear of her harshness gives way to appreciation, especially once she sticks up for him in a library scene that may be the launching point for something more in their relationship. Shirogane once thought of Kaguya as cold and unapproachable, so I don’t see any reason why Ishigami’s trepidation couldn’t give way to affection. Kaguya seems unlikely to set her sights anywhere other than the president, but a one-sided crush from the treasurer’s end looks a bit more likely after this episode.

Posted on 25 February 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

We’re back in love advice mode for the third time this week, with Kashiwagi’s still-nameless boyfriend asking Shirogane for advice on how to hold her hand. Kaguya-sama has mostly avoided the prudish territory in which a lot of high school romcoms drown themselves, so I was relieved when Fujiwara busted down the door and pointed out that holding hands isn’t really that big a deal. Apart from a neat conclusion, this was the oddest of the three advice segments so far, since the president spends so much of it trying to coerce Mr. Boyfriend into getting a part-time job. I feel like something was missing from this chapter – was Shirogane supposed to get a bonus or some other benefit for recruiting a classmate? I know he values hard work and everything, but he pressed the issue so far that I thought there might have been a small omission regarding his motivation. On the other hand, the preposterous hand-holding prerequisites he dreamed up (such as renting a cruiser at sunset to establish the proper mood) somehow endeared him to Kaguya even more, which was cute.

Part two was all Ishigami, who’s still scared to death of Kaguya, though it’s a terror of his own making this time. Gossiping about your female classmates’ cup sizes is poor form, especially in a room where both girls (one of whom you believe to hold a grudge against you) are known to congregate. Ishigami doesn’t seem like the type to learn a lesson from Fujiwara’s paper fan smackdown or Kaguya’s threats, though, since he’s preoccupied with jealousy toward the popular guys in the soccer and other athletic clubs. His proposal of a happiness tax is especially funny given his role as treasurer, but it’s also kind of sad, since he’d clearly love to be well-liked with a girl on his arm. Though he rails against the pretenders among Shuchiin Academy’s club programs, he’d probably be happier if he became one. Honestly, my favorite part of this chapter was learning which clubs Fujiwara and Kaguya were in – an episode that splits its time between those two groups could be a lot of fun, even if they have to recycle the idea that they’re in competition for a chunk of the proposed budget.

Looks like this week’s post will be fairly short, as I have little to say about the wiener chapter. The show explains the joke: in the course of researching the birds and the bees, Kaguya has entered the phase where such terms make her laugh uncontrollably, and many wiener-related outbursts follow. I’m not against sophomoric humor in the least, but with a concept like this, it either makes you laugh or it doesn’t, and I fell into the latter camp. The 80s new wave track that played midway through this bit was a direct rip-off of Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” so that’s neat, I guess? This whole segment was a dud for me, but I’m happy to write it off and look forward to next week, instead.

Posted on 17 February 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

The treasurer of the student council, Ishigami Yuu, finally got a proper introduction this week. I’d say this episode was his time to shine, but it’s actually the opposite – he’s so preoccupied with Kaguya’s apparent hatred of him (as well as his own social faux pas) that it was actually his time to mope. His design screams “introverted nerd”: dark hair and eye color, long bangs covering one eye, and headphones around his neck, ready to block out the world at a moment’s notice. Throw in the running gag about wanting to ditch school due to Stockholm Syndrome or a desire to kill himself, and you have a totally ReLaTaBLe character with whom all the sad dorks out there can identify. I don’t want to come down too hard on the guy just after his introduction, but I do have an issue with the series’ decision to create a character with his function (that being his detection of Kaguya’s more cunning personality). Kaguya-sama already does a great job of balancing her two selves through the use of internal monologue, narration, and quieter moments alone or with Hayasaka, where we see Kaguya as she truly exists. She’s already a well-rounded character, about whom we get plenty of different perspectives through the president, secretary, and admiring student body. I don’t feel as though an additional set of eyes, particularly not one that interprets things in such an exaggerated fashion, adds much to the proceedings.

This is undoubtedly an unpopular train of thought, as Aidan mentioned in the comments of a previous review that Ishigami is /ourguy/ among the manga’s fanbase. I can understand why that is, but if he’s going to contribute to the show, I’d rather it be on his own terms. For example, in the final chapter from this week’s episode, he’s struck with embarrassment after Fujiwara calls him creepy for a remark about her new conditioner, and he excuses himself from school. If his arc will involve battling his depression and social awkwardness to become a new or improved version of himself, that’s cool. This is a rom-com, so I assume the story will eventually nudge him in the direction of a female character, which could be the catalyst for that change. As long as his screen time isn’t dominated by a fear of the vice president, I’m down to see where he’ll go in the future (apart from “home” midway through every segment).

All of that aside, my favorite story from this episode was probably the Fujiwara-led barrage of psychological tests. These things usually function as a way for lazy writers to let their characters speak directly to the audience, but in a series built around deception, they were just another opportunity for comedy. I think this is the second time Shirogane has defaulted to being a siscon to avoid his crush on Kaguya being detected, and while he escapes for the price of the girls’ scorn, Kaguya gets overwhelmed upon realizing the meaning of the flower test. The shot of the dump truck backing up and gently covering her in a pile of petals was the best of the week, for my money. It was nicely stretched to allow us to anticipate the moment when they would fall, and to feel Kaguya’s shock at their intended symbolism. This show continues to be very well-timed, with another case coming near the end of the third chapter, where Shirogane frantically pedals away from Kaguya after failing to compliment her nails. Just as he and his bike are about to disappear from sight over a hill, he freezes in midair for a moment, emphasizing the hunched position he uses to flee the scene. It adds to the comedy of the moment, but also the light pathos of being too afraid to compliment the girl you like. Good storyboarding is likely responsible for these small successes, so kudos are in order for whoever has handled that task so far. We’ve arrived at the midpoint of Kaguya-sama’s 12 episode run, so I hope this level of attention is maintained during the show’s back half.

Posted on 12 February 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

This was the first episode of Kaguya-sama that did anything less than thrill me, probably because it retread so much ground that previous episodes had already covered. The laugh-out-loud moments and generally heartwarming atmosphere were still present, but they weren’t as fresh as in previous outings. We went back to the ‘three chapters’ format this week, but after spending the last couple episodes branching out from Shuchiin Academy, all three of these new stories took place on campus. They all closely echoed previous chapters, as well, especially Kaguya’s love advice segment (which is a direct follow-up to Shirogane’s bluff-fest from several weeks ago). I’ve written before that Kaguya-sama’s power lies in its reliability, but after watching the series’ formula undergo these slight tweaks, it’s a small disappointment to receive an installment that doesn’t mix things up in the least. The show is still my biggest hope for the winter 2019 season, however – its positivity and sense of fun are undeniable.

Though the episode felt too familiar, it did surprise me in one way, and that was in its choice of the next student to seek romantic advice. Episode 2 pointed us in the direction of Kashiwagi’s friend, whose obvious consternation pointed to her crush on the (still nameless) male inquirer. Instead, it was Kashiwagi herself who came to Kaguya with feelings of ambivalence, which the inexperienced Kaguya is ill-equipped to handle. She does a better job of it than Shirogane, but it’s actually Fujiwara who saves the day, deerstalker cap and pipe in hand. After expressing a desire to be involved in love talk during last week’s banned word game, she simply barges into the room upon hearing what the other girls are talking about, and inadvertently causes Kaguya to realize her feelings for the president a little more clearly. Though she often foils Kaguya’s romantic schemes by accident (as seen during the umbrella segment in this episode), here she helps her friend to equate jealousy with attraction. Coupled with her bizarre “resist society” advice to Kashiwagi, her previous lack of involvement in others’ love lives was probably a blessing, but things seem to work out for everyone in this segment. Well, everyone except Kashiwagi’s friend, who is still lurking tearfully in the background at the very end. Hopefully her distress doesn’t become a running gag.

Fujiwara’s curiosity about others’ romantic situations extends briefly into the volleyball chapter, when she suspects that Shirogane’s athletic training is to impress a girl. This was probably my least favorite of the three stories this week, because it didn’t take us anywhere new. We already knew that the president is a hard worker and a bit of a klutz (though perhaps not on this level), so devising a plot where he works hard to compensate for his lack of hand-eye coordination feels too safe. Fujiwara’s ponytail look and bandaged bow near the end were cute, but her trainee’s eventual success wasn’t much of a payoff for me. Better was the traditional game of wits surrounding the umbrellas, where Kaguya proved once again that her preparation is second to none. Even putting aside her aborted victory over Shirogane, she claimed a win against every girl in school who had designs for summer vacation involving the president. Though Kaguya inwardly claims not to care about sharing an umbrella with Shirogane so much as everyone witnessing them sharing an umbrella, she does get swept up in their resulting closeness when all is said and done. I say it every week, but that contrast between her rational and emotional minds is my favorite thing about both her character and the show. Even when it falls back on familiar material, Kaguya-sama has a weapon that can always put a smile on my face.

Posted on 6 February 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

Kaguya-sama isn’t the sort of show that would suddenly depart from a tried and true formula, especially not after attracting so many eyes in just one month thanks to whip-smart direction and a memetic ED. Nevertheless, this was a week of firsts for the anime. We got four short stories in this episode instead of the usual three, stepped outside the student council room for the largest portion of an episode yet, met some French transfer students, and received some wonderful eye-catches to bridge the gaps between each chapter. I remember seeing those little transitions last week, as well, but these were on another level, featuring a couple of dynamic poses from Fujiwara (her demonic cat impression made the biggest splash for me), who I assume is the fan favorite at this point. I’m personal to Kaguya, whose dual traits of perfectionism and ignorance create some very cute conflicts, but in a series like this one, everyone is a winner.

The first two segments this week were classic “mental gymnastics in the student council room” routines, revolving around cat ears and the banned word game, respectively. The performance that most impressed me here was that of Makoto Furukawa, Shirogane’s seiyuu, who really let loose this week in order to flesh out the president’s attraction to (and slight feelings of inferiority toward) Kaguya. We’ve gotten hints of the latter in the past, especially where her finances are concerned, but her cute cosplay and flawless French stunned him this week, and Furukawa’s yelps and prolonged cries gave us a good look past the veneer his character usually keeps up. This dorkier version of the president is one we’ve known about since he bluffed his way through a romantic advice session (despite having no experience of his own), so it feels natural to see him act a little nuttier here. On the other hand, the wordiness of his resolution to throw the banned word game to Fujiwara was a bit thick – but of course, that’s the scriptwriter’s decision, not Furukawa’s. And hey, it was still a nice gesture for him to make, even if it failed spectacularly. I do appreciate that the show’s three main players have genuine affection for one another, rather than mean-spiritedness (as would be in the case in a lot of other comedies).

Kaguya’s obsession with her cell phone was undoubtedly my favorite chapter this week, though I do have one knock against it, and that’s the reuse of 3D council room assets in the creation of Kaguya’s room. Her desk and bookshelves looked eerily similar to the ones we already see every week, and provided a sizable distraction to an otherwise charming story. That aside, though, seeing the calculating vice president dissolve into a bundle of nerves over a simple phone conversation was precious. I’m glad Kaguya has a “girl talk” sort of friend in Hayasaka (the pressure of being an heir to such a large legacy might otherwise be crushing), but I’m equally glad that Hayasaka likes to push her buttons, since that teasing exposes a side of Kaguya that she ordinarily keeps locked up. The thought of a president/secretary relationship is enough to briefly fluster her charge, but Hayasaka’s flawless poker face makes her such a wild card that I wouldn’t be surprised if she went after Shirogane herself (if only to spur Kaguya into action). Whatever the series’ romantic blueprints may be, I’m hoping she’s involved somehow – her character is too fun and too valuable not to be included.

Posted on 28 January 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

Kaguya-sama continues to pleasantly surprise me with each episode. Just as its two main characters attempt to trick one another into confessing their love, the series pulled the wool over our eyes this week by aborting its usual intro midway and getting straight to the good stuff. Its playfulness and experimentation reminds me of SHAFT’s older romcoms, and since that’s where director Shinichi Omata got his start in the industry, the feeling makes sense. More than his work on series like Arakawa or Denpa Onna, though, it’s his masterful adaptation of Rakugo Shinjuu (under the name Mamoru Hatakeyama) that makes me believe Kaguya-sama might have a future in the pantheon of great anime comedies. Omata’s method of bringing rakugo performances to life bears some similarity to the way he heightens the hormonal delusions of Kaguya and Shirogane – after all, they’re essentially performers in a grand farce, with the student council room as their stage. The two series share a scriptwriter in Yasuhiro Nakanishi, as well, so they likely forged a strong working relationship several years ago, and it’s paying off a second time in 2019. If you ever want to predict which anime will be great before the start of a new season, it’s the key staff members that are most important, as this show’s success can attest.

The playfulness I mentioned earlier wasn’t limited to the fast-forwarded introduction. It can be found all over the three chapters adapted in this episode, especially the first, where Kaguya’s lack of sexual awareness causes all three council members to be plagued by self-doubt. The highlight of this segment was her roundabout plot to make the president confess, first by imagining his panic at never having been kissed, then assuming his thought process would lead him straight into her arms to rectify the situation. Anime’s prude take on romance can be frustrating at times, but Kaguya’s sheltered upbringing and Shirogane’s nervous bluffs just make things funnier for me. Fujiwara has to explain the mechanics of sex to her friend in the end, but her embarrassment doesn’t function as an excuse for anyone to be mean-spirited. Rather than tearing down its characters, Kaguya-sama is dedicated to building them up via small details, like the slow social evolution the vice president has undergone since joining the student council. Though Shirogane’s observation of this change serves as a simple catalyst for a game of 10 Questions (complete with an old western theme), it’s his understanding of her screwy personality that ultimately enables him to win. Even though they’re constantly trying to one-up each other, it does feel like they’re slowly learning more about one another.

That sense of impending closeness is given a boost by the conclusion to this week’s final chapter, where Kaguya gets to ride on the back of Shirogane’s bike (a big romantic flag in Japan) as he pedals furiously to beat the tardy bell. In the show’s most heartwarming turn of events so far, this event is only made possible by Kaguya’s accompaniment of a frightened young girl to meet her friend before school. Her original plan was to ambush the president on his normal morning route (which she naturally has memorized), but by taking the time to assist a crying child, she abandons that opportunity in order to help her fellow man. As a viewer, I was really satisfied that Shirogane’s lateness allowed her to meet him unexpectedly, as though she were being rewarded for her good deed. I also really liked the backgrounds during this scene, which nicely mimicked the style of the council room; though I doubt too much CG was involved for this chapter, the sterile layout of the city and slightly inky linework made it look consistent with the show’s normal one-room environment.

Speaking of CG, I’d get my head bitten off if I didn’t mention this week’s new ending theme, which starred Fujiwara doing a super cute dance that I suspect involved some extra computer assistance. Actually, my head might be in danger for bringing it up in the first place, since I didn’t seem to enjoy it quite as much as the rest of the Internet. Though it perfectly captures Fujiwara’s fun-loving personality (as well as her good-naturedness in releasing the cicada at the very end), I felt the uncanny valley creeping up on me as her eyes didn’t quite follow her head during her more elaborate movements. It’s a fine ED that contributes to the show in a meaningful way, so it’s good that so many people are raving about it, but I can’t count myself among them. Rip me a new one in the comments if you must!

Posted on 20 January 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Romance, Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai

WARNING: This review of Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai has been authored by a non-manga reader. His ignorance of future characters and plot points may limit his perspective on the series as it unfolds. Proceed with caution!

Boy, is this show a treat. I know we’re only two weeks into the winter season, but Kaguya-sama is my favorite new anime so far by a landslide. Even this episode’s repetition of last week’s establishing narration (before and after the OP) didn’t bring me down. The show leans into its “Geniuses’ War of Love and Brains” premise so heavily, after all, that reminders of their financial and academic superiority only heighten the comedy of their social ineptitude. Despite using bits of recycled animation during these introductions, this episode did move the opening venue from one of Shuchiin Academy’s many hallways to its auditorium, so I hope these changes in setting continue from week to week. It might be nice to omit these scenes altogether once we have a better sense of the characters and setting, but right now they’re important for establishing just how revered (and how gossiped about) Kaguya and Shirogane are by the student body they govern.

Speaking of the student body, this episode introduced several of its less glamorous members, marking a departure from the premiere’s tight focus on its three main characters. The third and final segment of this episode brings a nameless advice-seeker into the council room in search of romantic wisdom from the class president. The only problem? Shirogane is hardly the Casanova everyone envisions him to be, never having been on a date in his life. This chapter is great for a bunch of reasons, chief among them being Aoi Koga’s performance as an eavesdropping Kaguya. Her exasperated and disbelieving reactions to both boys’ stupidity are so good that I’m sure even the staunchest manga purists were pleased. What interested me even more than this segment’s technical merits, though, was the potential it created for the series to further populate its cast of characters. Thanks to our nameless inquirer, we now know that his crush is a girl named Kashiwagi, that they’ve begun dating (despite Shirogane’s spectacularly bad advice), and that her three friends are likely to recur. One of them is singled out in a pre-ED card as “the next person seeking advice,” and given her distraught expression, it’s likely that she had a thing for her friend’s new man. If I had to guess, she’ll probably ask Kaguya for help in next week’s episode, where her romantic ignorance will be measured against the president’s.

This kind of situational repetition is working in Kaguya-sama’s favor so far (the show, not the character), creating a pattern that’s fun to confirm, rather than tiresome to watch. Take this episode’s first chapter, for example, where Shirogane purchases a new smartphone in the hopes that Kaguya will ask for his contact info. He’s quite self-satisfied with his decision, but a flashback reveals that Kaguya had planted a number of her family’s employees on the street to subconsciously entice him to upgrade his phone. This echoes her manipulations from last week, where she secretly delivered movie tickets to Fujiwara as a prize in a fake contest, all in the hopes that she’d give them to Shirogane so he could ask her out. Seeing it confirmed once again that Kaguya’s approach to love involves espionage and deceit charms me to no end, but the president’s tactic of gaining her interest with a profile photo of himself as a child is just as brilliant. These two are a perfect match for one another, given their shared pride and intelligence, which makes it fun to watch them butt heads, even while a part of you is pulling for them to be together. I’m still in the earliest stage of my Kaguya-sama fandom, but whatever route the series ultimately takes, I can’t imagine being unhappy with the outcome.

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