The first season was more from the perspective of Shinomiya, examining the lifelong insecurities that drive her obsessive psychological battle with Shirogane, and her inability to be emotionally honest. That surprisingly genuine sincerity of the first season’s latter half revealed Love Is War’s surprising depth and capability for a lot more than simple laughs at the character’s expense. The second season looks to expand this sympathy to the supporting characters, first and foremost Ai Hayasaka, Shinomiya’s long-suffering but nonetheless loyal attendant. As with the previous season each episode is split into three or four vignettes, with the first of this new episode opening on a characteristically ridiculous scenario with Hayasaka at the center, detailing the absurd lengths she goes to meet Shinomiya’s impossible demands, and preserve the happiness of her mistress.
It also appears that animation studio A-1 Pictures has a little more weight to throw around – scenery and characters are drawn and animated with loving exactness – with a particular adoration of absurd facial expressions in almost every cut to a close-up. Even the most mundane scenarios of the episode make use of wild, exuberant movements and great detail. It’s almost reminiscent of shows like Nichijou, as Love is War makes use of anachronistic homages to other genres such as action thrillers even in the most mundane of stories. Case-in-point, the episode’s first part has Hayasaka fully decked out in tactical spy gear as she infiltrates the Student Council room to swap out Shirogane’s coffee for decaf (he almost immediately passes out upon drinking it, reacting as though it were poison – a relatable action).
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The new episode is crammed with jokes from beginning to end, full of subtle but extremely funny callbacks to the previous season alongside its farcical set-pieces, sharp one-liners and clever visual humour. There will no doubt be some jokes lost in translation (the opening credits jokingly crosses out the extremely long subtitle of the original Japanese), with various plays on words and blink-and-miss-it accompaniments to graphics, but the script moves at such a pace that it doesn’t really matter – it only makes it more rewatchable. The timing of each scene is impeccable, and perfectly balanced with the ongoing commentary of an omniscient narrator that recalls the pithy reality checks of Ron Howard in Arrested Development, only with a more intense delivery in this case.
The following chapter, “The Student Council Has Not Achieved Nirvana”, revisits the continuing story of a student couple given (mostly bad) romantic advice by Shirogane and Shinomiya, the boy having returned from summer holiday to gloat about his happiness. The newfound confidence leads Shirogane and Ishigami to suspect that the couple have “experienced nirvana”, and Love is War continues to walk the line between a refreshing frankness about sex while having the characters act hilariously coy when talking about it (in this scene, the act is only ever referred to as “nirvana” or “the divine dance”). It continues into a breakdown of the student council’s lacking understanding of the dynamics of romance, getting plenty of mileage at their bewilderment at each other’s expectations (“holding hands on the first date?!” Shinomiya gasps).
All-in-all, it’s an excellent and well-rounded reintroduction to the show, showcasing and perfecting its most common kinds of scenarios. Take “Kaguya-sama Wants To Get Married,” a fairly typical set-up for a number of the last season that once again has Fujiwara create a game that Shinomiya and Shirogane take far too seriously, and only suffer for doing so. In this instance it’s a bastardized version of The Game of Life, which inevitably leads to overreactions about fictional marriage and the road it leads down. For Shinomiya, it becomes a darkly comic reflection on the life that could await her, should she follow the pre-ordained path that her closed-off father has decided for her. She ends Fujiwara’s game as an immensely wealthy but miserable business magnate (for Shirogane, it’s mostly just debilitating debt).
“Kaguya Wants to Celebrate” ends the episode on a light note, with a tense back-and-forth between Shirogane and Shinomiya as the latter tries to persuade the former to celebrate his birthday, attempting to coax the date (which she already knows) out of him by having him join in on a horoscope reading with Fujiwara and Ishigami. Shirogane refuses, claiming it’s foolish but secretly being an obsessive fan of horoscopes (“Yes! Virgos is in first place!”), and being quietly devastated at having read in a previous one that he and Shinomiya are incompatible. Scored with overly-dramatic music, the stubborn back-and-forth leads to some wonderful facial expressions (like Kaguya’s rage leading her head to expand like a balloon) and quick one-liners. It’s a fairly familiar conclusion to an episode firing on all cylinders, but if the first season of Love is War proved anything, it’s just how much this show is truly capable of.