The battle between love and pride continues! Neither Kaguya nor Shirogane has made a move, but new friends and rivals just might push them closer.
The first season of Kaguya-sama: Love is War was a breakout success. With its over the top direction and comedy along with its cast of well-rounded characters with amazing chemistry, the show became easily one of A-1 Pictures’ best works. On top of that, it was helmed by an acclaimed director of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Shinichi Omata. Not only did he return for a second season, but the show would be adapting material manga fans consider to generally be better than what the first 12 episodes covered. With such lofty expectations, it’s difficult to see how a show would really top itself, at least until you see it in action. Visually speaking, it’s an absolute oddity. There are moments where the show tries to escape its blander art style and delve more into something different and more appealing, only for most of the show to retain what it had before. The inconsistency between these two styles reminds me of the strange and ever-shifting artwork quality in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig. Said instability may be the weakest aspect of the show’s visuals outside of the inconsistently handled CGI, but if that’s the worst aspect, then the show’s still among the best in the studio’s catalog from a visual perspective. Shinichi Omata and his team have decided to play with the medium even more than last time. Were the optical illusion backgrounds not enough? Then the show will play with aspect ratios and screen filters, even having jokes where a character’s hand gestures affect both the screen size and loudness of the audio. The show will sometimes shift styles entirely for the sake of certain gags, such as when the show obtains a shoujo manga art style or switches to a fighting game perspective. Each new technique the show fiddles around with feels purposeful and for the sake of bolstering the show’s visual gags and overall stellar comedy. The animation itself is even more fluid in the first season as well and the show hasn’t forgotten how to make genuinely gorgeous shots, either. Kei Haneoka’s music has not faltered much, either. There are not too many new standout tracks this season, but the few there are take a less comedic approach, such as “close attendant” and the track “birthday” which has a more grandiose and emotional feel to it. That singular track is perhaps a personal favorite for the entire series up to that point. The OST at times has a more emotion-driven feel to it, which fits the direction the season takes. The gag “opening” sequence in the shoujo gag from episode 7 is also one of the show’s multiple vocal tracks which are all good in their own right. Lastly, w I am no fan of the ED, the OP, “DADDY! DADDY! DO!” by Masayuki Suzuki feat. Airi Suzuki is a fun, jazzy bop that rivals that of the first season. With the audiovisuals out of the way, it’s time to get down to what makes season 2 a somewhat different beast than its equally funny predecessor. Outside of the last 2 episodes, the first season of Kaguya-sama was more about establishing its characters and their dynamics while planting the seeds for things to come. Meanwhile, this second season can basically be split into 2 arcs with one overarching story of Kaguya and Shirogane’s awkward romance cat and mouse games remaining a constant. The first half of the season is about newcomer Miko Lino and the rivalry she develops against Miyuki Shirogane during the student elections of the new school year. She’s a surprisingly endearing new addition to the cast as an absolute hardass dork, though she certainly cannot compete with the main 4. The second half focuses on the sports festival and what our main leads do to prepare for and conquer it while Miko integrates into the main cast lineup. One thread tying these two together is Ishigami, the dark horse from last season. He effectively comes into the forefront for the bulk of the season with a compelling character arc that puts everything about him and how certain characters react to him into perspective. If season 1 didn’t establish him as a personal favorite of mine, then these 12 episodes most certainly have. This isn’t to say the rest of the cast doesn’t pull their weight. The series has always been incredible at continually expanding on its characters and their dynamics. Kaguya’s progression towards being increasingly vulnerable and adorkable when it comes to her cat and mouse romance with manwhore Shirogane is as priceless as Shirogane’s arcs with her or how the show spotlights more times he has to be brought down to learn something new. Chika, who usually teaches him these things at the cost of her own physical and mental health, has been relegated to more of a dark horse position this time as her agent of chaos moments have been dialed back. Seeing her get more violent and frustrated is also an absolute joy to witness. Even outside of these characters, Ai Hayasaka’s growing frustration and humiliation over Kaguya’s embarrassing behavior regarding Shirogane is wonderful to witness. Other characters such as Tsubame and Shirogane’s dad have their own moments to shine as well whenever Shirogane’s and Ishigami’s arcs come to the forefront. It’s safe to say that by the time the inevitable season 3 rolls around, the show will have established quite the ever-expanding ensemble cast. Of course, some of their humorous antics would not be the same without the over the top voice acting and outstanding directing present, but it’s clear that Shinichi Omata and his team are working with a manga that really has a way with writing both main and side characters. It’s not hard to see why fans of the source feel that the series gets better over time. Not only did this season put into perspective a lot of the character dynamics and gags from season 1, it also amped up its bombastic presentation from both a visual and voice acting perspective. What could have just been more of the same instead stepped up to deliver an astounding sophomore season of perhaps my favorite anime comedy at the time of writing. Its sweetest and most heartfelt moments are even more endearing and powerful than before while the chaotic, over the top comedy remains rock-solid for those who liked it beforehand. Can the narrator sometimes overexplain things when he’s at his best when riffing on the main cast? Absolutely. Is the pacing a bit weird at times with there being more chapters and gags put into each episode? Perhaps. However, that’s not enough to derail top-tier writing or uproarious presentation. Here’s to a third season in 2021 where the show will vie for the title of AOTY for 3 years in a row. The quaint finale cannot be the end.
I was trying to think of something to preface this review with, but all I can come up with is this: Prepare yourself for a lot of gushing about this show. Story Having rewatched the first season not long before this season began airing, Kaguya-sama picks up right where it left off. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that season 2 episode 1 feels eerily similar to the first season. However, we quickly find out that that's not the case. While season 1 has the definitive subtitle "Love Is War", season 2 begins flipping what we know about our star-crossed lovers on its head; hence, the question mark at the end. An example of this is how the characters act and think (I'll get more into it in the "Characters" section of this review). Kaguya and Miyuki begin to stray away from their standard approach to romantic situations, Ishigami's fear of Kaguya dwindles as the season goes on, Hayasaka starts letting Kaguya making more decisions for herself, and Chika......well, Chika is Chika. I don't believe that there's anything wrong with the characters that we see in season 1, but it is definitely satisfying to see that the main cast is having more drastic character developments in season 2. Of course, since the characters are experiencing these major developments, multiple new situations arise. Some of these include Hayasaka attempting to pursue Miyuki, Ishigami joining a cheerleading squad, and Kaguya and Miyuki having several moments where they are within very close proximity of each other. (I hope this section doesn't come off as bare-bones, but it's difficult to talk about the plot without bringing up the characters. Because of this, I'll go further in-depth when we start talking about the characters themselves.) Animation/Sound Not much has changed from season 1 as far as I can tell, but that's by no means a bad thing. For how mundane of a concept Kaguya-sama is (two high schoolers slowly beginning to fall in love with each other), A-1 Pictures goes above and beyond for every scene and every scenario. Character expressions and movements are frequently goofy and wild and, of course, this is greatly aided by the hilarity of every line of dialogue and the delivery of these lines from the voice actors. All of these together often make things like small talk quickly turn into over-the-top arguments and freakouts. While this can easily overstay their welcome in other anime, Kaguya-sama manages to balance these crazy scenes with ones that further develop the plot and characters, making them feel more special here than they would be elsewhere. Characters In a romance anime such as this, story plays a very important role in getting viewers invested, but characters are the most important role of all. After all, if you don't like the characters, you're not going to care whether or not the lovers end up together. However, with Kaguya-sama, it's ridiculously easy to become emotionally attached to the characters. Not only are the characters fun to watch by themselves, but they're even more entertaining to see doing things with the rest of the cast. Every character has something different to bring to the table, and every pair of characters is even more different than they are separately: Miyuki is usually calm and authoritative, but put him with Ishigami and they begin acting like two elementary school boys. Kaguya often comes off as cold and reluctant to new experiences, but her attitude quickly changes when she's with Chika - and even more so when she's with Miyuki. As I touched upon before, the cast has also seen a number of developments since the previous season, one of these being simply how Kaguya and Miyuki interact with each other. In season 1, even if they really wanted to do something with the other, they would absolutely not make the first move. For instance, in season 1 Kaguya and Miyuki both really wanted to hang out with each other before the end of the summer but only ended up meeting up once at the summer festival. In season 2, though, it isn't uncommon for one of them to think that they must plan out their course of actions to get what they want before the other simply does it. Take the season 2 finale for example: Kaguya's flip phone gets destroyed and Hayasaka ends up convincing her to upgrade to a smartphone. After acquiring said smartphone, Kaguya begins exchanging contact information with the student council members. Meanwhile, Miyuki begins thinking of ways to get Kaguya's number without coming off as romantically interested. Before he can come up with an idea though, Kaguya walks up to him and asks for his number outright. In short, the characters are able to stay true to how they were in season 1 while continuing to grow and change as the story leads us every which way. Conclusion Most of what I've talked about here can be seen as the natural progression of the show, but Kaguya-sama: Love Is War? seemingly goes above and beyond in delivering not only an enjoyable continuation of a romantic comedy but also an increasingly enjoyable continuation of Kaguya-sama. With the striking visuals and stellar VA performances helping to carry the constantly developing story and characters, this will almost certainly go down as one of the best anime of 2020 and one of the best romance anime of all time.
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