This article contains spoilers for episodes 1-10 of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War!
Let no one ever accuse Kaguya-sama: Love Is War! of trying to reinvent the wheel. The series is now nearing its final stretch. Just as much as knowing its strengths, knowing the limitations of its genre has really defined Kaguya-sama. This is an interesting point to check in at as well, as this is actually one of the series’ weaker arcs.
Indeed, a good chunk of episode 10 is about cheesecake. Cheesecake is a delicious concoction and in real life it’s probably been the source of no small number of arguments. Still, it’s kind of a difficult thing to hammer into compelling material, so let’s rewind just a little.
Episode 9 saw Kaguya come down with a fever. Shirogane, bless him, visited her home to give her class materials and hopefully get a bit closer to her. As is the norm for this kind of thing, he got far more than he bargained for. Through the machinations of Kaguya’s maid Hayasaka (in disguise, of course), he ends up near-literally dragged into bed by a delirious-from-illness Kaguya. Nothing actually happens of course–Shirogane is too principled for that–but it’s enough to plant the seed of a serious misunderstanding. Mostly expressed through the medium of Kaguya throwing things at him and yelling, because this is, after all, a romcom.
So that springs us back ahead to episode 10, and to the cheesecake. Acknowledging that it was a mutual misunderstanding Shirogane and Kaguya have by now apologized to each other. That sounds well and good, but if you’ve been following this series you know full well that these two are way too prideful to let that really settle much. Thus does a piece of cheesecake become the battleground for a proxy war between the two lovebirds-in-denial.
It goes like this: the principal leaves some cheesecake in the student council room as a thank you to the council members. Ishigami eats one. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that the headmaster only left two pieces in the first place. So by the time our story really gets underway here, there’s only one left. Anyone who’s been following the show so far knows what this leads to.
They try to offer each other the last piece of cake. Quite stubbornly. This is the entirety of the bit and it takes up the first third of the episode, but it’s actually a good yardstick for what this episode gets right and gets wrong. It is incredibly funny. Humor has always been the series’ strong point, so this isn’t a big shock. Little moments are expertly interleaved with the dialogue. There Kaguya’s face as Shirogane recalls a detail from a gruff conversation they had not long after they first met:
And this shot, which is the capstone of the whole sequence. It is also of course, what an uncaring Fujiwara walks in on.
So this first segment is all well and good. It’s parts of the second though that falter a little bit.
Kaguya and Shirogane ultimately still both feel weird about what happened while Kaguya was sick. Given their natures, they can’t really bring themselves to admit this to each other. So the second segment involves each of them asking a friend for advice. Kaguya asks the girlfriend of the boy who was introduced all the way back in the second episode. Shirogane asks Ishigimi.
The advice that Kaguya receives is mostly solid (after straightening some misunderstandings out). The advice that Shirogane receives….really isn’t. Ishigami isn’t a bad guy, and his completely disconnected-from-reality views on women are supposed to be funny. However, one gets the uncomfortable sense that a lot of what he says here, which is supposed to be self-evidently ridiculous, is the sort of thing that types much worse than Ishigami actually believe. His exaggerated rant contains such pearls as “if men are wolves, women are snakes”.
Saying he’s framed as having a point would be disingenuous–he’s not. You’re clearly supposed to find what he’s saying stupid, and funny for that reason. It’s more that this is the sort of thing that requires a lot of delicate handling to be joked about. The complaint I have here is that Kaguya-sama doesn’t spend enough time on this segment to really do that.
It’s hard to fault the anime in particular here as this segment is more or less a 1 to 1 adaptation of the manga. Still, for a series that’s otherwise been consistent high points so far it is a notable dip into the ugliness that pervades an unfortunately large chunk of the genre. Even here though there’s a touch of self-deprecation. Ishigami’s justification for his awful advice is the following:
The series clearly knows where it stands. Even if the uncomfortable possibility that not everyone watching will get the message remains.
To make very clear where I stand, I do not think this is a major issue. Just one that’s worth discussing. This takes up only a small part of the episode. It’s not even the majority of that segment. Said segment in fact, actually caps with a nice emotional payoff moment. Kaguya and Shirogane reconcile, and there’s a cute bit where she pokes him on the lips (it’s a long story).
The final part of the episode is something of a footnote by comparison. Not because it’s bad–far from it–but because it actually seems to be more keen on setting up the next episode. Continuity isn’t new to Kaguya-sama, but leveraging the last segment of an episode to set up the next is. Given the setup in question it does make sense but it’s hard to talk about further without spoiling the manga, which is beyond the scope of this column. The gist is that the gang (sans Fujiwara, whose rich family are apparently fond of taking trips abroad) hammer out summer vacation plans.
Suffice it to say, Kaguya-sama‘s had its ups and downs so far (mostly ups if we’re being honest). All in all though, even with this week’s episode as among its comparative weakest, it’s largely been a really fun ride. I have a pretty good idea of what’s coming next, and I’m very confident the show will go out on a high note.
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