Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2
by Amy McNulty,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2 ?
Fresh off his victory in the three-legged race, Ishigami feels like he's on top of the world—until Kyoko Otomo, the girl from the stalking incident, appears before him and scoffs at the fact that he's able to enjoy himself in spite of what he did in middle school. Kyoko's presence triggers a full-blown episode of depression, which leaves Ishigami feeling incompetent, worthless, and alone. Adding to his worries is the fact that Kazeno unexpectedly injures himself and wants Ishigami to represent the cheerleading club in the relay race in his place. Although Ishigami reluctantly agrees, the nasty jeers and whispers of his peers quickly compound his self-doubt.
In the lead-up to his big turn in the race, Ishigami reflects on the middle school incident that's come to color his entire life. As we learn, Kyoko wasn't a crush, but rather a good-natured classmate of Ishigami's who was consistently friendly to him despite his aloofness. However, upon discovering that Kyoko's boyfriend (theater club president Ko Ogino) was being unfaithful, Ishigami requested that he stop seeing other girls. Not only did he refuse this request, Ogino offered Ishigami lewd photos or a sex tape of Kyoko in exchange for his silence, prompting Yu to pin him to the ground and unleash a savage beating. When Kyoko and a gaggle of peers arrived on the scene, Ogino claimed that the beating resulted from Ishigami being in love with his girlfriend, and since exposing the truth would traumatize Kyoko further, Yu didn't dispute this.
In addition to incurring a lengthy suspension, Ishigami was prohibited from returning to school until he wrote Ogino a letter of apology, something he couldn't bring himself to do. However, just when it seemed as if he'd never rejoin society, Ishigami received a visit from Miyuki, who informed him that the student council conducted its own investigation into the matter and found that Ogino (who was nervous about Ishigami spilling the beans) broke up with Kyoko mere days after the beating and that there were no salacious rumors surrounding the split—meaning that Ishigami ultimately achieved his objective. Miyuki then informed Yu that contrary to Kyoko's assertion, he isn't crazy, prompting him to break down in tears. Remembering this brings Ishigami out of his funk just in time to tackle the relay race. In response to Kyoko's heckling, Ishigami tells her to go to hell (thus preserving the image of himself as a villain in her mind) and proceeds to give it his all.
Even though he narrowly loses, his new friends in the cheerleading club laud him for a job well done, leading Yu to the realization that “genuine normies can be genuinely nice.” As Kyoko leaves the campus, she informs her friends that she was hoping today would have been her golden opportunity to reconnect with Ogino—but he's apparently transferred schools. (Hayasaka implies that Kaguya arranged this.) While she's disappointed by Ogino's absence, Kyoko is happy to have gotten the chance to unload on Ishigami, whom she blames for the breakup, and smiles as she reflects on all the happy memories she made at Shuchiin. That smile, Kaguya informs Hayasaka, is what Ishigami sought to protect.
It's always a little jarring when an anything-goes comedy delivers a mostly joke-free installment. Granted, there's really nothing funny about Ishigami's ostracization, but some of the sports festival scenes could have been punctuated by a bit more humor. While this may have detracted from the overall seriousness of the incident, it would have helped make the episode feel more in tune with the series as a whole. (Not even the episodes that deal with Kaguya's potentially traumatic upbringing have gotten quite this heavy.)
That being said, episode 11 does an effective job of invoking a litany of emotions. Ishigami's troubled past is uncomfortable on a number of levels, defined by a lack of clear communication and poor choices that a middle-schooler trying to protect someone he cares about would make. When Miyuki shows up and vindicates Ishigami with an accurate analysis of what really happened, the fact that he points out that Yu could have handled things better helps allay some of the misgivings the audience may have otherwise had about his choices. As horrific a creep as Ogino is, Ishigami wasn't exactly justified in beating him to a bloody pulp—he even strongly implies that his goal was to leave him disfigured.
That said, Ogino seems a bit too evil to be believable at certain points. In addition to being a middle-schooler who arranges sexual liaisons behind his girlfriend's back, he implies that he may physically abuse Kyoko in retaliation for Ishigami's actions. This isn't to say that any of Ogino's actions are outside the realm of possibility, but his villainy feels over the top, even if the goal was to make the character as thoroughly irredeemable as possible to prevent the audience from feeling any sympathy for him.
Keeping the truth from Kyoko in the interest of protecting her happiness and innocence may sound good on paper, but realistically, allowing her to be an active, informed decision maker in a situation that very much concerns her would have been a much better call. Wouldn't being an object of pity be preferable to remaining in a relationship with an abusive, diabolical person? Also, now that both Kyoko and Ogino are attending different schools, the rest of the student body should know the truth—especially in light of the ongoing ostracization of Ishigami. Even if word eventually spreads to Kyoko, enough time has passed that she'd hopefully be able to process the information maturely. Still, in the end, Ishigami accomplished what he set out to do, regardless of what Kyoko thinks of him. Since he never really felt a personal attachment to her, he doesn't desire her approval or forgiveness. Instead, he needs to learn to trust normies again, which he does by letting his guard down with the cheerleading club and no longer viewing its members as faceless annoyances.
One of Kaguya-sama's rare attempts at genuine drama, this week's episode paints a tragic and touching picture of the experiences that shaped Ishigami. As the crown jewel in Yu's character arc, episode 11 provides us with a clear accounting of the trauma he's endured and how he finally moves beyond it.
Amy is an author who has loved anime for over two decades.
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