This season’s result: The fans win.
What They Say:
“The Student Council Would Like a Group Photo / The Student Council Is Going to Get That Group Photo / Chika Fujiwara Wants to Inflate”
The season finale of “Kaguya-sama: Love Is War?” Will there be a confession of love?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first season of Kaguya-sama ended with its most serious, poignant material, with a sillier, more comedic epilogue of sorts. After the end of that season established that the series was comfortable with the former material, this masterpiece of a sequel has dabbled in it much more often and, in my opinion, to even greater effect, an impressive feat as the focus for the emotional arcs in this season was not the main couple the series centers on but their supporting cast. The big finale-level installment of the season came in the form of Ishigami’s arc, touched upon throughout the past three episodes, with the last of them given exclusive focus to his story and a more consistently dramatic tone than any full episode of the series to date. But as that arc reached its cathartic coda in said episode, it left the season with its actual finale all alone without much chance of feeling as impactful as its predecessor. And so, as we come to that finale, we see that the practice of ending on a lighter note has continued for the most part; just as Ishigami’s story was given more time than probably any other so far, we get an entire episode to unwind after it. Or at least that’s what the early moments of the episode would have you believe.
In actuality, after the incredibly silly antics of the principal trying to take pictures of the student council as an advertising campaign to try to draw prospective students to the school, the episode takes a heartbreaking turn that extends its impact to the following segment and one of the final shots of the season. This isn’t anything on the level of Ishigami’s life-threatening anxiety, but as Kaguya has grown as an extremely sympathetic character, particularly since the last few episodes of the first season, something as simple as her old flip phone breaking and taking with it the memories she was too embarrassed to openly share is so effective that it’s a testament to how endearing her character has become.
This moment seems to cause Kaguya to regress back past the Kaguya we first met, all the way to the level of the old ice queen that we’ve seen in flashbacks before the student council came into her life. With her personality shifted to one similar to Hayasaka’s default, Hayasaka takes the opportunity to assume a persona similar to Kaguya’s current default around her, but to no effect. It’s telling of both Kaguya’s growth in her relationship with Shirogane and her despondency about the current situation that she brushes off Hayasaka’s image of how Shirogane would react to her getting a matching phone as impossible. On a side note, Hayasaka seeming to legitimately nerd out over the specs of the latest smartphone is one of the most lovable moments for a character who has had no shortage, especially throughout this season. A later moment when Ishigami acknowledges some of the same features makes me think that the two of them wouldn’t make an impossible couple under the right circumstances.
So Kaguya returns to the student council with her fancy new smartphone, but with no photos to reminisce upon, she’s no happier for it, regardless of the enthusiastic reaction of Chika and others. As the subject of apps now available to her comes up, it quickly becomes a discussion of how she has to set up a LINE account and add the others. While Shirogane begins to prepare himself for the battle of exchanging IDs, the same factors that caused Kaguya to shut down Hayasaka’s fantasy also break down any expectations of conflict or trickery around such an action, and she adds Shirogane without a thought.
Kaguya may feel like her happy memories with the student council have been lost forever, but she forgets one crucial fact. She’s lucky enough to still be in that student council, and just as they brought light to her life when they first became acquainted, they save her from this newfound despair just as naturally. Maybe her exact photos are gone, but the memories still exist not only in her mind, not only in the shared experiences of those she still gets to spend precious time with, but even in some very similar photos of all the same events she wanted to relive, plus many she never thought she’d see. This tight-knit group has waited for their essential last member before forming the social media connection that was inevitable.
The direction for this series has always been excellent, but this season has kicked it up a notch, as it has with nearly every aspect, and some of the simplest yet most effective examples have come in these last few episodes. I mentioned the faceless motif of Ishigami’s arc last episode, and Kaguya’s story in this episode is bookended by very similar choices. When her phone dramatically falls from the roof, the top of her face is cut out of the shot to obscure her reactions until we see her tears well up and pour out. Similarly, the moment she realizes that the student council has preserved the memories she so desperately wanted not to lose, her eyes shift from the blank slates of the Kaguya coldly suppressing her emotions to the Kaguya she’s grown into through the warmth of her friends who bring that light back into her life just as they did originally. It’s a simple visual choice, but it couldn’t be articulated more beautifully.
The final segment of the season goes back to straight episodic comedy and is fun but not worth talking about compared to the heartbreaking and heartwarming moments that preceded it, to say nothing of the more powerful arcs we were treated to throughout the season. This episode couldn’t possibly surpass last week’s in some ways, but it takes a silly start and a simple premise and swiftly transforms it into a more fitting finale than any of the big drama pieces. Ishigami may have received unrivaled character depth, but this is a story not only about Kaguya but about the beautiful sense of community that his inseparable group of friends has forged. Add in particular focus on how that group has saved Kaguya from despair and this serves as a perfect counterpart to the first season finale and the finest examination of those two themes that I think of as the most important to the series. It’s about the relationship between the two leads, sure, but really, it’s about the collective relationships between all of these characters, and how much that means to people who so desperately needed that community. We’ve recently learned that Ishigami was one such character, but Kaguya has always been the most prominent example.
I had heard great things about the Kaguya-sama manga before the anime started. It’s the reason I decided to review the latter. And I always liked the series. But just as I couldn’t have imagined how much it would improve over the course of just the first season, that season still gave me no indication that its follow-up could be an actual masterpiece. Yet here we are, at the end of a season that maybe five anime worth watching made it through thanks to the pandemic that has affected everything about life in 2020, and I’ve been blown away by how great this season of Kaguya-sama was more and more with each episode. It manages the seemingly impossible feat of being the most hilarious comedy in at least the past year by a good margin, the most delightfully adorable and endearing romance in longer than that, and one of the most poignant slice of life dramas in a good while, switching tones with effortless deftness and combining aspects of each in ways that shouldn’t work but absolutely do. This is the bright spot that anime fans have needed over these past three months, and we need a third season as soon as possible.
Streamed By: Funimation
LG Electronics OLED65C7P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick