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.