This recap contains spoilers for Kaguya-sama: Love Is War! Season 2, Episode 9
It’s getting a little difficult to find new ways to say “another week, another three great Love Is War! segments”. Yet, here we are, another Saturday down, and another 20-some minutes to the show’s sterling credit. I’m comfortable at this point calling Love Is War!‘s second season the best thing airing right now. It just barely beats out fellow GGA weekly Tower of God, and not much else is even coming close. (Though as a side note, if you’re in the mood for a more serious, grounded romance series, Sing “Yesterday” For Me is worth your time.)
This episode brings a veritable visual buffet, with a number of the show’s signature stylistic shifts. Plus, the final segment, “Kaguya Doesn’t Say No”, kicks off a surprising character arc for Love Is War!‘s most overlooked character.
The Incredible Imagination of Miko Iino
I’m on record as thinking that Miko’s material at the stage of the manga this season is pulling from is some of the weaker stuff in Love Is War! I end up feeling surprised then, how often the anime absolutely knocks adapting it out of the park.
Miko’s whole shtick is how bad timing combine with her own wild imagination to make her constantly misread situations. This segment here, where her friend Kobachi tries to hash out what she might be misinterpreting, is that gimmick taken to its logical conclusion. There are no fewer than three specific style parodies here. The first comes when Miko tries to explain how she thought being part of the student council would go. It’s presented as a fictional in-universe movie called Student Council Wars.
Here, Miko is the heroine of a maudlin romantic school drama, complete with a drippy directorial style and romantically soft lighting. She imagines Kaguya and Miyuki as a pair of stone-hearted cynics who want to ban love and affection from the school in their entirety. (Given her own agenda during the election, we can take this to be Miko projecting a bit.) The visual element here is great too. The two are represented by red and blue lighting on a black backdrop respectively.
In this particular fantasy, she saves the day with the help of Chika, who she imagines as a pure, nearly-angelic figure. The visual parody here is sharp, though it doesn’t feel mean-spirited, thankfully. She is ultimately correct in this scenario. The student council see her as a “breath of fresh air”.
White Lily, Red Rose
Meanwhile, back in reality, Miko tells an anecdote of how she once got an anonymous letter and flower from someone encouraging her to keep her head up. This, she says, is how “pure” romance should be. Kobachi, being Miko’s best friend, is nonplussed. She’s apparently heard this story a good dozen times.
Kobachi then tries to convince Miko that there’s no way the student council are as bad as she thinks. And while she gets through to the treasurer about Miyuki, she then gets the idea that it’s Kaguya who is the evil one. We then leap headlong into a marginally less effective lampoon of sleazy sado-romance anime like Scum’s Wish. It’s an odd fit for Love Is War!. But the visual effects again elevate the parody beyond a simple pot-shot. In particular, the lurid red lighting and the comically sadistic role Miko imagines for Kaguya are the highlights of this part of the segment.
Finally, the third parody is the briefest. Miko’s imagination again shifts to the forever-sunset-lit world of a sports anime as she inexplicably clutches a football and declares her intent to confront Kaguya.
When she does, Kaguya’s flustered by her demands. In particular, the question of “what her relationship is” with Miyuki sends her into a tizzy. Miko, her fantasy completely blown, ends the segment utterly confused. It’s the single strongest comedic turn for the character in the whole series so far. This segment is by far the funniest of the three in this episode. Did I mention the brief, hilarious cut to a Peanuts parody? That happens here too.
The second segment this week is the shortest. It’s also the only one that directly involves Kaguya and Miyuki’s relationship. The setup is simple: Kaguya, still flustered from the incident in the storehouse on last week’s episode, has been avoiding Miyuki. She looks at him and her heart goes all a-flutter, you get the idea.
Hayasaka, in her infinite wisdom, proposes that Kaguya invent a “calming ritual”. This proposal involves cuts to a bizarre magazine cut-out style that looks like something out of Monty Python’s Flying Circus as she explains that it’s something athletes often do.
Even more unexpected is the downright surreal sequence of Kaguya voguing at Hayasaka’s request while she tries to figure out what calms her down.
Eventually, she hits on holding her left hand to her right cheek. She practices doing this every time she feels calm. Which we get to learn about in a series of slides of her doing various relaxing activities.
Kaguya tries this technique the next day as Miyuki, worried he’s somehow upset her or that something happened at the hospital. Kaguya tries her calming technique, only for Miyuki to grasp her hand in desperation. The result is framed as a fighting game, and it’s amazing.
Eventually Kaguya’s panic wins out over her common sense, and we learn that Miss Shinomiya is a black belt in judo as she promptly flips Miyuki over her head and onto the floor. The narrator calls this one for Kaguya. It’s pretty hard to argue.
The final segment this week is the most curious. It’s called “Kaguya Doesn’t Say No”, and dips into the mind of probably the least-explored member of the entire cast, Yu Ishigami. Ishigami is a divisive character, and the arc that “Kaguya Doesn’t Say No” kicks off is similarly so, but I’ve come around to it over time, and this segment itself is a good primer on why.
Ishigami is probably the least likable person in Love Is War!’s cast. He’s weird, socially awkward, and kind of an insensitive jerk. This is someone who uses the term “normie” with zero irony. “Kaguya Doesn’t Say No”, and the slow-build arc that follows it, find their triumph in going to great lengths to humanize the character. It almost feels like author Aka Akasaka setting a writing challenge for himself.
Not to say it’s perfect. “Kaguya Doesn’t Say No” begins with Ishigami getting the bright idea to join the cheerleading squad to make himself more “normal”. This goes about as well as one would expect, as the boy shortly discovers that it’s not that being a cheer squad makes one popular. Rather, popular people join the cheer squad. Ishigami (and the narrator) term these people the “yay” group, because they say “yay” to everything.
Ishigami’s journey throughout the arc “Kaguya Doesn’t Say No” kicks off involves, among other things, learning to be less judgmental. It’s well-trodden territory for this kind of series. (Indeed, many lesser romance manga essentially have “guy learns to be less of a jerk” as their entire plots.) There’s clearly some amount of intended “you’re this guy” going on here, but even this early on in the arc, Ishigami is taken by surprise a few times.
The first is our introduction to the character of Tsubame Koyasu. She’s another member of the cheer squad, and notices that Ishigami isn’t really participating in the squad’s first meeting. She offers to add him on LINE. Then, when he turns out not to have it, asks for his email. Ishigami is a little taken aback at someone bothering to show him any consideration. We’ll eventually learn why he’s so surprised, but that’s beyond the scope of this recap.
“Kaguya Doesn’t Say No” gets its name from what happens next. The cheer squad hit on the comically doofy idea of a cross day, where the girls dress in the boys’ uniforms and vice versa. Everyone is responsible for finding someone else to borrow a uniform from. This poses an issue for Ishigami, who imagines no one would be willing to lend him one.
To his surprise, Kaguya overhears him thinking out loud, and is more than willing to lend a hand. (Remember, he still thinks of her as some kind of monster. It’s not really come up much this season, but that misunderstanding was never fully resolved.) Thus, “Kaguya Doesn’t Say No” ends with Ishigami crossdressing. Itself not particularly funny (though Miyuki lurking outside the student council room, flaming with jealousy, is), but surprisingly heartening. We close on Ishigami getting a text from Tsubame, leaving a lingering little note at “Kaguya Doesn’t Say No”‘s tail end. This isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of these developments, but it’s nice that they’re off to a good start.
And goodness, all of that for just one episode! I must confess I find it hard to reign in my writing when talking about Love Is War!, there’s just so much to go over.
Until next time, Love Is War! fans!