This recap contains spoilers for Kaguya-sama: Love Is WarSeason 2, Episode 11.

Notice: This article contains discussions of traumatic violence and mild profanity. Reader discretion is advised.

For twenty minutes this week, Love Is War! is not the story of Miyuki and Kaguya and their burgeoning, goofy romance. (Indeed, they’re barely in it.) It is instead, the story of Yu Ishigami, how he became who he is, and where he goes from here. “Shirogane and Ishigami” is consequently not a typical Love Is War! episode for several reasons. Ishigami’s story is largely not a happy one, and the show once again chucks out its ‘three segments’ formula in favor of a single continuous narrative. Interspersed, as it is, only by a lengthy flashback. This is where Ishigami’s character finally begins to open up, but not without a lot of reflection.

Red Team

“Shirogane and Ishigami” picks up shortly after the end of the last episode. The sports festival is still going on, and Ishigami is involved both in his capacity as part of the cheer team and as part of the “Red Team”, for the sporting competitions themselves. He gets surprisingly into it, despite his inner monologue going on about how lame it all is. His eventual task here is to enter the relay race to replace the cheer team’s captain, who’s twisted his ankle. Things go fine for a while.

Ishigami posing

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Then, he sees a familiar face from his past, and everything goes a bit south. That face from his past is Kyouko Ootomo. The girl first alluded to as the indirect cause of his outcast status several episodes ago. In “Shirogane and Ishigami” we get the story in full, and it is not pretty. Before we launch into the flashback, we see the immediate effects of Ishigami’s falling mood. The direction here is fantastic as always, but special attention should be paid to characters’ eyes. “Shirogane and Ishigami” is entirely from Ishigami’s point of view. Thus, when he “closes his eyes to people” in the metaphorical sense, they’re drawn literally without faces. The example in this episode is particularly dramatic, static floods the screen and the aspect ratio even changes. The net result? “Shirogane and Ishigami” briefly looks like it’s being watched on an old CRT.

Kaguya and Miyuki as seen during Ishigami's depression

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The flashback itself pulls no punches. “Shirogane and Ishigami” on the whole will kick you in the gut if you happened to be a “weird kid” in middle or high school. The gist is that Kyouko is an acquaintance of Ishigami’s. (Not, as both he and the show go through great pains to point out, someone he has a crush on or is even terribly close to.) Ishigami, a loner with a pronounced sense of justice, discovers that Ko, Kyouko’s boyfriend, is cheating on her. Ishigami confronts Ko, who tries to bribe him with pictures of Kyouko. The simple confrontation escalates into physical violence, and “Shirogane and Ishigami” depict the shockingly dark scene of Ishigami pummeling Ko in the face. 

Of course, it’s not hard to make the person doing the punching look bad. As classmates rush in, Ko promptly deflects the blame. He accuses Ishigami of stalking his girlfriend, and the whole situation rapidly spirals out of Ishigami’s control. 

Locked Door

He’s suspended, first for a month, and then for even longer when he refuses to write an apology. Ishigami never explains what his real motives were to anyone, perhaps because this is simply how he is, perhaps because he has no faith that the school system would dole out appropriate justice.

The directing here is harrowing. We see Ishigami locked in his room for weeks on end, finally snapping as he swears to spill every last lurid detail of the whole affair as his school-mandated “apology note”. Even after a dozen cuts of him pressing pencil to paper and then erasing and repeating, the sound of the eraser on parchment so loud that it’s deafening, he can’t bring himself to do it. He knows that telling everyone what really happened–if they even believed him–would serve to humiliate Kyouko and make her a target of pity. No matter how much of an outcast he may think he is, he can’t bring himself to do that.

You might understandably wonder at the end of it all what the point of this is. But that’s the sad part, there isn’t a point. Other than Ko, who seems a genuinely awful person, the rest of Ishigami’s class is guilty of little more than being judgmental. Even Kyouko herself is just wildly misinformed. Kids are cruel, it is what it is. 

Giant Kanji

Ishigami remains homebound for months. It’s only the intervention of the other student council member mentioned in “Shirogane and Ishigami”‘s title that saves him. The show employs two neat tricks here, one narrative and one in the soundtrack. Miyuki shows up at Ishigami’s house unannounced, to scout him for student council treasurer. He turns out to know the reality of the situation. How? Kaguya’s extensive network of contacts. It’s not really expounded upon, and you can accuse this of being a sort of minor plot contrivance, but it makes sense. What’s more impactful is Miyuki’s insistence that Ishigami hasn’t actually done anything wrong.

In fact, the student council president grabs his blank essay paper and demonstrates what he should really write on it: “Go to hell, dumbass” in massive kanji. The second trick here is what the soundtrack does: Miyuki’s proclamation is accompanied by the same little scratchy guitar flourish that pops up whenever he manages to genuinely catch Kaguya off guard. Here, it’s repurposed not as per se romantic, but as an indicator of Miyuki’s positive influence on those around him. 

Yay Squad

Cut back to present. Miyuki takes him by surprise by giving him a new red headband. The combination of his contemplation and Miyuki’s help snaps him out of his malaise. When Kyouko (who remembers, thinks Ishigami beat up her now ex-boyfriend for no reason and made them break up) shows up to taunt him, he simply repeats what Miyuki wrote back to her. Shocking her and simultaneously letting himself go from the responsibility of caring for the happiness of someone who doesn’t care about his.

He does not, funnily enough, actually win the relay race, but that’s beside the point. The red team ends up winning anyway, and in “Shirogane and Ishigami”‘s final directorial trick, we get to literally see him “open his eyes” to the people around him. The “yay squad” he was dismissive of just a few episodes ago are drawn with proper faces for the first time since their introduction. Despite the hardships we’ve seen him go through, Ishigami wins here.

the cheer squad

Ishigami cheers with the rest of the cheer squad

And that, friends, is the penultimate episode of Love Is War! 

Until next time.

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Jane Auman
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