Set off the fireworks; Kaguya-sama: Love Is War! lives to fight another day. We covered Kaguya-sama‘s first season last winter. It was one of the first true runaway hits of 2019. Shinichi Omata‘s explosive, inventive directing brought already-hilarious source material to a new level. At the same time, the series could get genuinely emotional when it needed to, providing the whole thing with a solid emotional core. What this all means is that Kaguya-sama‘s grand return has a lot to live up to. It is my great joy as a critic to report that not only does the second season’s first episode mark a return to form, it might actually be an even stronger debut than the first season’s. Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogame, scheming to make each other confess their love, are back. It’s as wonderfully ridiculous as always.
The first face we see back in the show proper is actually neither Kaguya nor Miyuki. It’s Hayasaka; Kaguya’s maid, classmate, and, if this opening segment is any indication, a good candidate for the next James Bond.
Hayasaka’s “mission” here, as dictated by Kaguya, is the sort of simple ridiculousness that makes the show so great. Her task? To swap Miyuki’s favorite coffee for decaf, which will make him zonk out in the middle of the day and allow Kaguya to “help” him back on his feet. The show takes this relatively simple (and wonderfully dumb) gag and, with Omata’s directorial powers and a smattering of A-1 Pictures‘ best and brightest, turns it into a kaleidoscopic pastiche of a thriller film. Things go awry when Miyuki falls asleep on Kaguya’s shoulder, rendering her immobilized by his cuteness. Hayasaka is tasked with guarding the door to make sure no one sees this embarrassing situation. Here, as just one example, is how chaotic screwball Chika Fujiwara is depicted in Hayasaka’s Spy-O-Vision.
Good comedy is hard. Good animated comedy that takes full advantage of its medium is much harder, and it’s sort of astounding how in just its first few minutes back, Kaguya-sama deploys an array of tricks–filters, overlays, a combination of deliberately over- and under-animated cuts (some in Live2D of all things), and so on–with the sole goal of making everything on screen as ridiculous as possible. This, of course, is just one segment of four in this episode.
The second is the weakest, involving a recurring nameless second-stringer asking Miyuki for love advice. The third, though, is great. Chika once again presents the student council with a board game she and some of the other members of her board game club developed. It’s essentially a pastiche of Life. Anyone familiar with that game can guess how this goes already. Miyuki and Kaguya are torn apart by circumstance. Miyuki ends up marrying Chika and living a full life while Kaguya builds a fortune but remains lonely and alone. In the game, of course. The distinction strains Kaguya, who, for instance, bitterly offers Chika and Miyuki real money as a “wedding gift”.
This whole affair somehow ends in Kaguya ending up married to Chika(!), with eleven kids. A perfect encapsulation both of the characters’ wackiness and, well, the inherent silliness of the boardgame the segment is a parody of. The episode’s final segment is great too and involves horoscopes. For the benefit of not spoiling everything for the reader I won’t go much into detail on that one. Just know it involves Chika in a witch hat.
In a season as ridiculously strong as the Spring 2020 season is shaping up to be, it’s important for something like Kaguya-sama to show that it’s still got it for its return. The first episode of the new season demonstrates that flawlessly. As good as Kaguya-sama‘s first season was, the second is primed to be even better.