Kaguya-sama: Love is War returns for its second season. We get to hang out with one of the most delightful casts of high school characters for another 12 episodes! A student council election, a sports festival, stargazing, and shopping trips are but a few of the adventures Miyuki and Kaguya will go on in their mission to break the other into a confession of love.
What an excellent follow up to the introductory season. Comedy is the most difficult genre to review. Explaining the joke is the death of comedy. There are only so many ways I can say, “It’s hilarious,” (or “It’s just not funny,” for a bad comedy). However, I can pinpoint why this anime comedy hit the mark with me, as a few have done in the past.
The secret is in the characters more than the humour.
I’m sure if you thought for a moment, you would recall several anime/films/TV shows that made you laugh at the time, yet didn’t stick with you. Hell, you may remember laughing but not what made you laugh.
For me, what makes a comedy have a lasting impression is my liking of the characters and how well the humour uses them to craft and deliver jokes. More specifically, the humour needs to fit the characters. When Sagara blows up a classroom in Full Metal Panic because he suspects a student’s backpack is a bomb, it works because it fits his personality. It’s what he would do. And that’s hilarious. So when Miyuki and Kaguya sit down to play the game of life – as created by Fujiwara – with the rest of the student council, it makes sense that Kaguya would have a mental breakdown after Miyuki draws the marriage card, which ties him to Fujiwara. It’s only a game. Not to Kaguya though.
And that’s hilarious.
Combing complex characters with humour derived from their personalities is the magic formula to a great comedy. Certainly, you want a sharp script and perfect timing as well.
For the inverse, think about those dime-a-dozen harem comedies. Characters there have no real personality. They’re clichés of the genre. When the pervy guy cracks a pervy joke, you don’t see him making you [possibly] laugh. The cliché of his character type makes the joke. If you can transplant all humour from Harem Protagonist X to Harem Protagonists A through W, then you don’t have a real character. Just a mouthpiece for jokes. There’s a reason nobody can tells Bill Burr’s stories better than Bill Burr can. It’s all in the personality that informs the humour.
Ever notice how the anime clichés like the tripping over, the boob grab, the punch to the face of misunderstanding, etc. is rarely funny, and yet there is the occasional instance where it kills you into breathless laughter? It’s the same joke, but that slight shift in shaping it to fit the characters – fit the scene – makes all the difference. Actual thought went into the joke and it wasn’t included simply because it’s an anime and all anime must have these same five jokes. Konosuba is a good case of taking the typical and making it novel.
A simple example that encapsulates all of what I’m saying is in the first episode’s coffee scene of Love is War 2. Kaguya, with the help of her faithful assistant, gives Miyuki decaffeinated coffee to have him fall asleep. He’s that sleep deprived from all his work as the best student and council president that he falls asleep instantly without his coffee on the dot. Great moment. Replace him with any other character in the show for this situation and the joke is no longer funny – it’s “lol random”. When his head falls onto her shoulder, blushing her into paralysis and halting her plan, the joke works because it’s Kaguya. Swap her with Fujiwara and you’d be left asking, “Where did that come from?” instead of laughing.
I hope I have managed to convey why I find certain comedies better than others.
Beyond the humour, Love is War is a triumph in visual creativity and acting. Too many high school comedies are flatly shot with standard high school environments and framing, as if generated by AI. Love is War is so much fun to watch. A delight to listen to as well. The dynamic range of these actors, able to switch from friendly to arctic in one sentence is perfect. And of course, I cannot forget to mention the inclusion of another great OP, which in itself is a mini episode.
I said in my review for season 1 that Love is War needed just a little more to elevate itself to the ranks of all-time anime comedy greats. It has succeeded.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: Watch it. Kaguya-sama: Love is War only got better with season 2 and has established itself as an all-time great of anime comedy.
You probably haven’t heard of Fancy Lala – I hadn’t until this came in as a review request – and for good reason. If I gave you these two pieces of information, what does that tell you: “magical girl anime” and “1998”? Yes, it matches Fancy Lala, but also matches a titan of the genre, Cardcaptor Sakura. They didn’t just release in the same year. They came out in the same week. And Cardcaptor Sakura eclipsed the anime we will be looking at today.
Fancy Lala is about a third-grade girl with an imagination larger than life. Miho has a chance meeting with two little fairies (more like dragons) who give her a magical pen and notebook. Anything she draws in the notebook becomes real. Furthermore, the pen can transform her into the blue-haired teen Lala from her sketches. It isn’t long before an agent discovers her, convincing Lala to become a model and singer. Thus, Fancy Lala is born.
The first thing that strikes me about Miho is what she considers “cool”. Get this, right, she has the power to create any clothes she wants. Anything. So what does she draw? A transparent raincoat. Except it’s not even a raincoat. It’s a plastic wrap. Then we have her stage name, Fancy Lala, of all names. And I love it. I love how nonsensical her imagination is. This is what a nine-year-old would come up with. The brilliance of Miho is that she feels and thinks like a little girl, not what an adult says a little girl is like. I remember this one kid from primary school who said that if he were a billionaire, he would have a McDonalds at his house so he could eat there every day. That was the grandest thing he could think of. Miho captures that child mentality.
There isn’t as much fanfare as you would expect when she discovers the power. She’s rather casual about it, though I suppose transformation magic isn’t far out of the ordinary for a kid full of imagination.
The episode to episode story reminds very much of Clark Kent/Superman from the Lois & Clark TV series, except with modelling and school drama instead of dastardly villains. Lala has a photo shoot today, but oh no, Miho has to do something with her school friends at the same time! There’s plenty of transforming back and forth, Miho pretending to have arrived just as Lala left, and all that fun secret identity stuff. She notices how differently people treat Lala from Miho. The story strikes a good balance between real Miho plot and the Lala work plot. While she’s trying to make it as a model and then as a singer, she also has school events, family conundrums, and personal issues.
The one real gripe I have against Fancy Lala is how it handles the entertainment industry. Now, I know this a cartoon for little girls and not Perfect Blue; however, no one questions why a teenager never has her parents with her at any photo shoot, film set, or performance. You don’t want to teach kids to go into entertainment alone. The closest thing we have is an agent that tries to force her to work for him, from whom she flees, but then the woman she does join is also a stranger. She could be a trafficker for all Lala knows.
Apart from that, this anime has many great lessons to teach young girls. It explores the power of imagination, but tempers it with reality, talks about divorce, emphasises the importance of hard work and becoming someone people rely on, to name a few. When I first started Fancy Lala, it reminded me of Searching for the Full Moon, a similar anime I had seen long ago (in that, a girl with cancer can transform into a teen singer). Turns out it was inspired by Fancy Lala. This reminiscence was not a positive, for Full Moon was atrocious and taught some horrible life lessons. I expected to have much the same here – wish away your troubles, hard work doesn’t matter, and all that idiocy. Thankfully, Fancy Lala proved me wrong before long.
As a brief side note, Fancy Lala itself took from another series, as is the case with all art, called Creamy Mami, the anime that invented the idea of using an anime to promote idol singers. Fancy Lala’s twist was adding an actual story and drama.
Is it fair that Cardcaptor Sakura pushed this anime into obscurity? No, not in the slightest. Fancy Lala is the better anime. I like Cardcaptors well enough, but this not only avoids a formulaic structure each episode, the characters have more depth and the life lessons are far stronger. Fancy Lala has an ending I would not expect of the magical girl genre. It is a poignant end that leaves the audience with the best message of the series, while instilling inspiration and joy.
Art – Medium
The art is notably aged, but it holds up well and cel animation always has that textured beauty to it.
Sound – Medium
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn – considering the genre – that a first timer, an idol with a short-lived career after the series, voices Miho/Lala. Her acting is alright, better than one would expect. She’s here for the singing talent. The OP screams ‘90s magical anime. The dub actress is similar, whereby her musical ability is stronger than her acting. She’s fine in that regard as well. They did a good job translating the songs.
Story – High
A little girl finds a magic pen that transforms her into a teenager, soon becoming a model and singer. Packed with good lessons, escapist fun, and some nice music, Fancy Lala is a strong offering from the magical girl genre.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For young girls. I like Fancy Lala. Do I recommend it? Not quite. Not unless it’s to a child or an adult who has fond memories of being the sort of child who would have loved this anime, ready for a comfort trip back in time.
Lovely Complex takes the usual romance trope of tall guy with shorter girl and flips it. She’s the tall one (“Amazon”) and he’s the short one (“midget”). Risa and Ootani are two high school students looking for love, her insecure about being taller than every other girl and him insecure about being so short, even for a Japanese boy. His ex-girlfriend is now with a tall guy. These two friends – often referred to as a comedy duo by schoolmates – are helping each other find love. However, Risa soon develops feelings for Ootani beyond friendship, but how is she to convince a guy who only sees her as a freakishly tall friend?
This couple is different from most anime couples in that they start as friends. The conflict doesn’t derive from what they think it does – their heights – but from the fact that they are friends. It is easier to start an intimate relationship with a stranger than it is with a lifelong friend. She takes longer than she should to realise that she’s in love with him, while he thinks she’s just joking. Just a joke between friends, right? However, a relationship founded on friendship is more likely to succeed and have deeper roots.
Their relationship is endearing. They’re nervous about the most trivial matters, but that’s what it’s like in early love. Best of all is how believable they are as friends first. The comedy duo dynamic works at both delivering tons of comedy and selling us on their friendship. From there, the romance builds.
Early conflict comes as they look outside of themselves. Ootani is interested in another girl, Risa is interested in another guy – the typical situation (this is before Risa realises her true feelings). Once Risa fixates on Ootani, it becomes a back of forth of “will she, won’t she,” and, “Will he, won’t he.” Will she confess? Will he accept? Will she try again? Will he change his mind? And this is all good except for a couple of annoying and contrived scenes to set the relationship progress back to square one.
In an early episode, Ootani kisses Risa, ending the episode on that pivotal moment. But then next episode, he says, “Oh, I don’t remember doing that. I was sick.” A later episode has him pour his heart out with the camera close up on his face, before it pulls back and reveals that she was asleep all along. This type of moment happens several times across the 24 episodes and only make you pinch the bridge of your nose in frustration each time. There is even a moment like this ahead of the climax!
They are cheap and lazy solutions to delay progress in the relationship. You get maybe one use of these before the viewer finds it contrived and tedious. It would also help if the roadblock were more believable. No one would believe that Ootani doesn’t remember kissing her (not even if he were trying to pass it off as a lie). A believable example of this happens at the end of Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun. It would have simply been better to have setbacks that are more dramatic. The moment Ootani tells Risa that he’s not sure he feels the same way as she does is a perfect example of stalling the romance correctly.
Even with these scenes accounted for, Lovely Complex is still fun. Yes, these moments are artificial setbacks, but everything between them still works. And much to my delight, we have a complete arc here. There is a definitive coupling, a proper and satisfying conclusion, and no loose ends.
I am content.
Art – Medium
The art is easily Lovely Complex’s weakest quality and hasn’t fared well with age. Some of the visual humour, especially the facial expressions, is still hilarious.
Sound – High
Great voice acting for the two leads. You can hear two real people bickering back and forth like a real couple. Supporting cast is good too.
Story – High
A tall girl has trouble convincing her short best friend that they should be a couple. While it does have a few frustratingly clichéd moments to prolong the conflict, Lovely Complex is a successful romantic comedy that flips a classic trope on its head.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For rom-com fans. Lovely Complex may be a little old now, but it holds up with a fun couple and some hilarious hijinks.
Onoda is the type of kid who cycles four hours each way to Akihabara instead of taking the train because it’s free. A train fare worth less than an hour’s work saved at the expense of eight hours cycling? I love this kid’s dumb innocence. Seeing Onoda tackle the incline to school with ease, cycle club member Imaizumi challenges him to a race and soon ropes him into joining the club.
I was going to watch just a few episodes of Yowamushi Pedal before dropping it, but I ended up finishing the season. The protagonist is so likeable and the technical explanations do a good job of engaging you in cycling as a sport. Onoda makes an outgoing friend in Akiba, Naruko, who teaches him how to gearshift like a pro and draft while chasing a punk in a car that threw his trash out the window. It’s a tad unrealistic, of course, but it’s good fun.
Yowamushi Pedal gives off similar vibes to Haikyuu (not as good though), so if you liked that, you will enjoy this. Where Yowamushi differs is in the protagonist, Onoda. What personality type do you think of when someone says “boys’ sports anime”? Most would imagine an energetic, hot-blooded guy with endless determination to be the best, always the centre of attention. Onoda is the opposite (he’s almost Mob from Mob Psycho 100 levels of opposite). He’s timid, introverted, doesn’t like having the spotlight, barely speaks up for any reason, and has confidence in the negatives. He’s not someone you’d cast as a shounen sports protagonist.
However, he works as lead in Yowamushi because one, the explanation for his sporting ability makes sense (they didn’t have him scale the mountain the first time on a bike after some ancient master “saw something special” in him), and two, his evolution from this starting point is believable. The supporting cast works on his aforementioned weaknesses.
Naruko teaching him how to cycle properly and not just on sheer determination is perfect. He justifies his place as a support character and it establishes who he is (he’s the sort to help a newbie in need). Great way of inserting shounen “ability exposition” in a natural manner, by the way. Onada’s cycling team is a good make up of characters. You have some of your usual archetypes here, though an unusual one is Makishima, a creepy looking dude with long green hair and a bizarre notion of what can pass for fashion. On first introduction, he’s a bit of douche with his bluntness, made worse by his attitude and appearance, but as time goes on, you learn why he is this way, and how he cares about the team even when rude to them. He provides a balance to an otherwise “good guys” team.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the antagonists. The competing racers aren’t interesting or memorable. Well, one guy is memorable, yet for all of the wrong reasons. The antagonist focus goes to (I had to look up his name) Midousuji, a design mix of the Cheshire cat meets Orochimaru. He has a broad grin of grinding teeth, bulging eyes, a reptile’s tongue, and a personality that transcends human limits into the comical realm. With a personality so over the top and played up to a grotesque degree, you can’t take him seriously, even when he strangles teammates. He’s so ridiculous that I think he walked into the wrong anime. He does not fit. At all.
Worse still, he just doesn’t stop with the cackling, the grinding teeth, the leering, and the lolloping tongue. Terrible antagonist. I find myself more interested in the small rivalries within the team than the main conflicts against this guy.
As for the cycling itself, you know, the core of the show, it’s solid. You won’t feel lost if you have no idea how it works at a professional level. I dare say, you may even find the intricacies of working as a team and pushing the man and machine symbiosis to the limit surprisingly interesting. It isn’t about pedalling as hard as you can.
Yowamushi Pedal is still a sports anime for sports anime fans at the end of the day. It’s a good one at that, though I don’t imagine it will draw in many outsiders. Want a lesser featured sport in anime? Yowamushi Pedal has you covered.
Art – Medium
Yowamushi Pedal has a good amount of animation, but as a sport that’s constantly in motion, they had to rely on CG roads and environments when cycling, so you will need to get used to it. Animations repeat often as well, but seeing as cycling is a repeated motion, it isn’t a notable problem and the camerawork mixes things up. I like the character designs, reminding me of Haikyuu with the easy distinction among the cast.
Sound – High
Strong acting. Honestly, even if you aren’t into cycling, the characters keep you entertained. The background music is solid as well, though the OP and ED aren’t hype enough for a sports anime.
Story – Medium
An otaku who cycles long distance to save money has his arm twisted into joining the school racing team. Yowamushi Pedal follows the standard sports formula, not that this is a bad thing, but it doesn’t take any risks.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For sports fans. Yowamushi Pedal is the perfect example of a sports anime that delivers every aspect to a good standard without excelling in any way either. Good for sports anime beginners.
Today theme of quick reviews is action anime I liked at one point, yet haven’t seen in a long time and haven’t reviewed. When I did my “Watched but Not Reviewed” list (missing quite a few titles, in hindsight), it brought many anime back to my attention that simmered to the surface until I had the urge to check them out again. Are they as I remember?
We start with GetBackers, my favourite of the three in the past. It even featured an honourable mention in my “Former Favourite Anime” list, so this was important to me. I need to say this right away though: GetBackers does not live up to my memory whatsoever. The art is super budget for this super powered series. The animation is far more of a slideshow than I remember and the characters have little detail, though their designs are unique so clarity isn’t an issue. I swear it looked better in my head.
GetBackers is set in an alternate Earth where some people have superpowers akin to The X-Men (each can do their one thing) and most of these superhumans work as either Retrievers, Transporters, or Bodyguards at odds with one another. It’s like John Wick – you have to accept this is how the world works or we aren’t going anywhere. Main duo Ban and Ginji work as Retrievers, the GetBackers, guaranteeing satisfaction no matter how small or impossible the request. Unfortunately, they are horrendous with money even after a big payday and so live in squalor.
To give a few positives, the main duo is good fun and the humour is successful, for the most part. GetBackers also feature the best – the best – use of chibification in all of anime. If I will forever remember one element of GetBackers for the rest of my life, it will be the chibification perfection. I still laugh whenever Ginji turns into a scared chibi after realising he’s alone with Dr Jackal.
Now for a dose of memory versus reality. I remember GetBackers as an awesome action series with cool powers, varied characters, and a mysterious plot. In reality, we have repetitive action, cool though limited powers, varied but one-note characters, and puddle-deep mystery. It astonishes me how different this is from memory.
GetBackers was in the early years of when I really got into anime and when one is at that early stage, everything is so much more impressive. I believe this was my first super power variety anime (saw Scryed later). I can imagine past me having a conversation with present me, gushing about how cool the powers are and how there are so many, how unique it is, only for present me to pull out 30 anime that do the same and often better. Conversation over.
It’s why I don’t blame newcomers for thinking everything is amazing. Everyone has been there. Every anime is a 10 when you have only seen seven of them. As one’s mental library builds, the flaws start to come out when a superior example is available.
A key detail I never noticed was the repetition. Nowadays, repetition almost guarantees to kill my interest, never mind rewatching the series, as I did several times with GetBackers in its heyday. Ban has the power to make people see illusions for one minute after eye contact. Let me tell you, no word of a lie, that this resolves every case. I love illusion powers and I thought this was the coolest thing ever, but man is it the same resolution every time. A common scene is to have the villain kill the heroes, immediately vocalise his plan/list of compatriots, and then for Ban to say “Just one minute”, revealing it was all an illusion. This is no Sharingan level of cool.
On rewatch now, GetBackers was okay for the first few cases. Once they enter the Infinite Fortress – a labyrinthine slum filled with superpowers – it loses the fun. The anime also didn’t adapt the biggest reveal of the story, which would have explained why people have these powers and why the Infinite Fortress matters. Knowing the twist, however, I’m not sure I entirely disagree with cutting it.
I tried the dub for the first time (none of these anime had a dub at the time) and holy Pokéballs, Shinji, is it not good. It isn’t “they recorded random people on the street” levels of bad. These are clearly actors, just not voice actors. This is a great example of a professional dub that studios thought were fine once upon a time, which thankfully doesn’t fly anymore (at least, I hope not). The lack of energy in the voices, the stiff reads, the monotones, bloody hell, what a disaster. The acting starts bad and only gets worse with each new character introduced. It’s hard to believe the likes of Cowboy Bebop managed a perfect dub when this was normal.
Almost forgot – the OP song may just be the worst I’ve heard in anime. If you want to know my taste in music, then take this and imagine the opposite.
Next we have Kiddy Grade, an anime similar to GetBackers with a variety of super powered pairs facing off, but in a heavy sci-fi setting. Our leading ladies are Éclair and Lumière, agents of the Galactic Organisation of Trade and Tariffs. While the organisation’s name implies involvement only in commerce, it actually has fingers in every space pie (everything comes back to money if you look far enough).
This is a spy thriller with Éclair donning a number of disguises, undercover missions, and gadgets for every conundrum. It explores several “what if” questions from the setting and sci-fi concepts for drama. Even the powers have sci-fi roots. Lumière can talk to computers, for example, and Éclair’s strength comes from body modification. There is effort in the world building.
After the stark difference between memory and reality with GetBackers, Kiddy Grade is about as I recall. I should note that this anime came to me later in the experience track and that I didn’t love it at the time, just enjoyed it enough for a rewatch (when you didn’t have much variety, rewatches were common). My opinion of it has fallen – I lost interest by the end of act one this time – as this is a case where once you’ve seen so many better versions of this story, this setting, this idea, you can’t help but wish for something else. Also, my distaste for lolis has only increased, of which there are too many here.
The similarities between Kiddy Grade and the previous anime are uncanny, right down to espousing the same basic morality lessons – “Being evil is bad.” “Don’t kick puppies.” I never put the two together until this rewatch.
However, Kiddy Grade works better than GetBackers by having more variety, more effort in the narrative through line, and significantly better art. Without looking it up, I want you to guess how far apart these anime released.
Five years? Three years? Three months? Try five days apart. Kiddy Grade is better representative of how standard anime looked in the early 2000s. The production holds up from studio GONZO and the dub is so much better than GetBackers that you’d never guess they came from the same year. It’s fascinating to see.
And finally, we have Witchblade, based on the American comic series of the same name and the anime I had watched last of the three. By the time I got to this, I had seen plenty of anime, so I was under no illusions towards its quality. The question is whether my slightly favourable memories are too kind or too harsh.
This is a more mature series than the other two. A sci-fi action series like the others, except hyper sexualised in the ass kicking. Kiddy Grade has panty shots; Witchblade has death by snu snu. If the shot in the OP of the protagonist wiping streaks of blood across her bare arse, vagina blade in full view, isn’t enough to tell you what this anime is going for, then no one can help. Witchblade is about tall, leggy, busty women in scant armour beating the life out of one another (toned down from the comics, if you can believe it). The Witchblade lusts for battle – literally – as combat turns it on to orgasmic peaks.
And if it were in the hands of a worse team, that’s all Witchblade would be. However, this anime has more to it, for at its heart is the story of Masane doing everything she can to give her daughter Rihoko a better life. Their relationship, not the action, is the spine of Witchblade. In fact, of these three anime, Witchblade has the least action with far more time spent on character and relationships. Furthermore, despite being more sexual than the others by leagues, it is the most mature (and certainly less creepy than Kiddy Grade). It has a surprising romance that doesn’t forget Masane’s status as a single mother. Long before the end of the story, I care for this woman and her daughter. I feel for the struggles they go through as a child welfare agency wants to separate them. And I appreciate how grown up the romance is without changing the tone into a heavy drama.
Should action be your main draw, then Witchblade also delivers. It isn’t repetitive, unlike the other two, nor does it drag beyond its welcome and doesn’t pause to exposit on how the powers work every fight. This isn’t some spectacular anime, of course – more lore, a darker mystery, and more development to the antagonists wouldn’t have gone amiss. It engaged me to the end, however, and that is worth something.
I also like the scientific approach to the Witchblade. If you supposed this device and its power was real, how would scientists approach it? Masane ends up working for a corporation doing such research (they pay her to kill rabid mutants and machines on the streets) and the antagonists come from a rival corporation developing other Witchblades, exploring the genetics of it all. They are trying to make it work with men as well (the device only functions on women).
So much to my surprise after this trio revisit, Witchblade turns out to be the best of the three, no contest. The production quality is also the highest, though it is newest. When considering my opinion of these three at the time I first watched them, Witchblade was the lowest. Now, it’s the best.
Recommendation: I recommend Witchblade – I give it a medium rating, with a low for the other two, which I don’t recommend. GetBackers is too dated, too repetitive, and too long for me to justify, while Kiddy Grade is somewhere in the middle. There is simply so much better these days. If you do want similar from that era, go with Scryed. Witchblade’s focus on a much older protagonist than usual with an older relationship too makes it stand out from the crowd.