Kaguya-sama: Love is War – Episode 3

Strap yourselves in folks, we’re checking out another episode of the last few years’ most beloved romantic comedy, Kaguya-sama: Love is War. Kaguya’s first two episodes were an unrelenting visual feast, demonstrating that director Shinichi Omata is just as comfortable elevating farcical conflict as he is illuminating somber dramas like Rakugo. Building off of Kaguya’s own fundamental design, Omata has constructed a dynamic world of red, white, and black contrast, with every scene offering creative new visual punchlines.

Of course, I knew going into Kaguya-sama that the direction would be fantastic, because Omata is one of our living legends. The bigger issue for me is the show’s somewhat repetitive comedic structure, an issue exacerbated by its as-of-yet unwillingness to really dig deeper into its characters’ lives. But even that seemed like less of an issue in the second episode than the first, and I’ve been told the show will continue to expand on its initial premise as it goes, evolving from its basic “spy vs spy reimagined as a love comedy” dynamic to a more character-focused story. With Omata at the helm, I’ll certainly have plenty to talk about either way, so let’s get right into another episode of Kaguya-sama!

Episode 3

A new variable has entered play: a magazine promising to be a “Teen Love Bible,” which was confiscated by the headmaster from one of the students. In the context of this student council office, it might as well be a loaded gun

Oh my god Chika. She opens the magazine and is immediately overwhelmed by its lewdness. How can someone so fluffy possibly survive

I love this cut of her just stomping her feet in a close circle – this sort of panicked spinning is a common visual gag, but it’s normally framed as a sort of exaggerated cartoon gesture from far away. Instead, Kaguya-sama carefully and accurately animates her feet moving in circles, which actually amplifies the power of the joke, since it’s clear it’s not just a farcical exaggeration

“Maybe nudity with pubic hair?” Goddamn Shirogane

They learn 34% of high schoolers have already done it. This is an extremely relatable situation – the classic hemming and hawing regarding who’s “done it,” involving a lot of posturing and hushed whispers and anxiety about falling behind your peers in terms of life experience. It’s frankly refreshing to see a statistic like that in a show like this; most high school anime are unrealistically sexless, presenting an unconvincingly chaste vision of what high school is like. Here, it’s clear that some teenagers are having sex, but our three student council dorks are still at “AN INDIRECT KISS!?!”

Shirogane and Chika console themselves by assuming it’s sample selection bias, but then Kaguya responds with the power play of “you really think so? Seems accurate to me”

Aha, I love this trick with Shirogane’s thought process, where he actually leaps out of his own portrait window to rush ahead of his mental conclusions. What a clever way to convey the idea that his emotions are running ahead of his reasoning

“I don’t have a relationship… right now.” As the narrator is eager to point out, “right now” is a wonderful way of establishing some reasonable doubt regarding your past romantic experiences

“The women must be attracted to my overflowing intelligence. Should I feel guilty?” Oh my god Shirogane. His mentality is a pretty common adolescent mindset, though – when you feel self-conscious about your lack of maturity or the signifiers which imply “adulthood,” you cling to what you have experienced, and essentially try to rationalize away the distance between that experience and what you have yet to explore. It all feels kind of silly and pointless in retrospect, but when you’re in that headspace, it’s hard to avoid the sense that growing up is a competition, and you’re currently losing

This use of bokeh and faded typography is so good. Omata’s maximalist approach to visual metaphor works so well for a farce like this

Shirogane could lie and say he’s not a virgin, but that would leave him open to a potentially fatal counter blow. I appreciate that the “fail state” for all of Shirogane’s hypotheses is still Kaguya saying “how cute” to him

So what does Kaguya actually think they’re talking about? Hugs? Taking a bath together?

“It’s referring to kissing.” There we go

NO GUYS DON’T TELL HER ABOUT SEX. IT WILL DESTROY HER

I like the show’s use of grain filters and saturated colors for its flashbacks; it’s just a fundamentally pretty and clearly parsable effect, and it also fits neatly into the show’s spy drama aesthetic

The clubroom is abnormally quiet when Chika is out, an effect the show capitalizes on with this brief, abrasive cut to her fawning over her dog Pesu

So did Shirogane actually confess to Kaguya once before? Her response in that flashback would imply so, but I’m uncertain whether that actually happened or was just one of his mental projections

Oh shit, they’re actually having a normal conversation about their friendship! Nice to finally be getting into material where they can just talk, rather than constantly compete

“Let’s test how much you really know about me.” Kaguya can’t help herself, though. But their competitive nature is also a core part of their personalities, and part of what they appreciate about each other

This is the most visually indulgent explanation of 20 Questions I’ve ever seen, which I suppose is par for the course in this absurd production

Shirogane stands, and the show briefly shifts into “western mode” to commence the showdown. It’s not too hard to convey the tone of a cowboy drama – Kaguya-sama accomplishes it with letterbox formatting, an orange late-afternoon tint, and one burst of harmonica fanfare

“Is it something that can be touched?” “Yes.” A solid first question, immediately discounting any ideas or other non-physical concepts

“Is it an electrical appliance?” “No.” WHAT. WHAT!?! WHY WOULD YOU ASK THAT!? THAT QUESTION IS SO NARROW. You could go with “is it a consumer product,” but electrical appliances specifically? That’s a terrible question!

“Is it something that’s warm or cold?” “Yes.” THAT’S EVEN WORSE. YOU LITERALLY JUST ASKED IF IT POSSESSES A TEMPERATURE

This show makes good use of stretching its background frames to create a sort of disorienting, “morphing” visual effect. This effect is particularly pronounced when those backgrounds shift to abstract black and white patterns; at that point, it looks like a moving optical illusion, a perfect metaphor for the characters attempting to wriggle their way out of each other’s conversational traps

“Is it something you own? Is it something you touched today?” This is precisely the wrong way to go about asking questions, but it fits with Shirogane’s confidence. Normally, you’d ask broad, categorical questions with the intent of invalidating as many possible answers at once every time – instead, Shirogane is attempting to precisely snipe the one correct answer, thereby proving how completely he understands Kaguya

“Is it something you like?” receives a quiet, bashful “yes.” THE GAME IS HEATING UP!

Terrific cut of animation for Shirogane retreating into his own head, literally drawing up a mental image of himself one line at a time, and then zooming into that image’s skull. This show has such a natural way with visual metaphor, and it always nails the execution of its ideas

It’s gonna be Pesu, isn’t it? It’s definitely gonna be Pesu

Shirogane asks if it’s something that’s “very intelligent, handsome, with somewhat light-colored hair and well-defined eyes?” First of all, excuse you, Shirogane. Second of all, yep, it’s definitely Pesu

Reflecting back on how much he thinks he’s learned about Kaguya, Shirogane realizes she’s far too nefarious to give the game away this easily. So at least he actually is learning more about her!

And yep, even Shirogane understands her well enough to make the correct guess. I like that – their feelings for each other aren’t based in some expectation that they’ll ever stop being such terrifying schemers; they actually like that about each other

Kaguya wants to walk to school! And it looks like she has an ally in her maid Hayasaka

“If you’ve got a problem, briefly tell me what it is.” Kaguya is so good with kids

Ahaha, Kaguya’s look of disdain at “there are a lot more pedestrian crossings” is wonderful

We’re getting some nice traditional backgrounds around Kaguya’s neighborhood. Normally the show is constrained largely to the student council room, so the backgrounds tend to embrace abstraction in order to keep things visually interesting, but here the neighborhood itself serves as a lovely, inviting backdrop

Kaguya can’t respect this child’s bawling, but she can certainly relate to her desire to be with and like everyone else

And as a reward for her good deed, here comes Shirogane speeding down the sidewalk, ready to act out that classic “sharing a bike to school” adolescent experience. Adolescence is somewhat weird in that we culturally define it so precisely that even teenagers themselves are painfully aware when they’re experiencing a “quintessential teenage experience”

And Done

Alright, we’re really getting somewhere now! This was definitely the show’s most character-rich episode so far, with the second act frankly digging into the relationship between Shinomiya and Shirogane, and the third offering them a genuine bonding moment, with none of the defensive brinkmanship that usually defines their dynamic. The show is continuing to build character-focused foundation to supplement its initial comedic appeal, while maintaining the creativity and beauty of visual execution that made it special in the first place. It’s still too far towards the farce end of comedy for my tastes, but I’m sure you all know my tastes at this point – and with this much visual flair to munch on, I’m still having an excellent time!

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