Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2 07-12 – Production Notes And Final Impressions

Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2 07-12 – Production Notes And Final Impressions

Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2 came to an end with big surprises: touching moments that recontextualized entire relationships, and plenty of non-standard production decisions that allowed it to punch way above its weight, with a flexible team that enabled spectacular individual performances. Time for a last look at the show!


The first half of Kaguya-sama’s second season was unsurprising in the most satisfying ways. It was already a success for it to be able to recreate its predecessor’s virtues, and there was no need for series director Mamoru Hatakeyama to revamp an approach that had managed to capture this work’s appeal arguably even better than the source material itself. A small but tightly-knit group of creators who’ve fallen completely for this work, always under the command of a director with an inescapable visual identity and the ability to make the lead-up to each punchline as funny as the reward itself. Combined with Kaguya-sama’s inherent ability to iterate on its simple premise until the end of time without ever getting old, and we had a sequel that no fan was going to be displeased with.

And then we’ve got the second half, which politely throws all that out the window—again, in the best possible ways. Although I knew about a certain someone’s character arc and was looking forward to experiencing it in anime form, that only ended up being the tip of the iceberg when it came to the surprises that Kaguya-sama Season 2 had in store.

The first thing you might have noticed about the middle stretch of this season is that it appeared to have struck some sort of deal with the devil for the sake of specific skits, going an extra mile for each extended gag and then running a marathon just as if to prove they could. Episode #05, with Hidekazu Ebina’s nearly solo animation of Fujiwara’s choir training, introduced us to this team’s willingness to alter the entire project’s production schedule just to make one skit as funny and authentic as possible. And for this run of episodes, those exceptional circumstances somehow became the norm.

Episode #07 saw the storyboarding debut of Aya Ikeda, a young director with little experience but a strong enough understanding of the series to make the first episode she was fully in charge of fit in seamlessly with Hatakeyama’s overall approach. Much like in his episodes, the connective tissue was just as inventive as the delivery of the punchlines, sticking to specific visual themes that made even non-descript exposition from the manga a fun time; and of course, it helps when that’s coupled with Aoi Koga’s performance of the year as Kaguya. I can no longer imagine this idiotic genius sounding any other way.

That could have made for a satisfying debut in and of itself, but it wasn’t until the post-credits skit that it was revealed how much effort they put into it, as well as the reason why Ikeda was appointed for the job. It’s brave, though not extraordinary, to entrust the episode to a novice because the team was aware of her taste and thought she could make the shoujo manga/otome game-themed skit feel authentic despite the exaggeration for humor’s sake. And it’s dedicated, but again not that outside the norm, to have a new set of design sheets drawn in that aesthetic to bring it much closer to the real thing. When you notice that those designs and the animation supervision were handled by a genuine josei-muke designer and supervisor like Takahiro Yasuda, though, you begin to realize that Kaguya-sama is better prepared for these one-off gags than actual projects in whatever genre space they’re currently spoofing, despite not being a large production in the first place.

Episode #08 followed that trend with another unusual storyboarding appearance, as well as more non-standard practices. This time it was Tsuyoshi Tobita managing the episode: a Kaguya-sama regular and otherwise trustworthy director who tends to frequent high-profile TV projects, but so busy that he rarely draws storyboards for them—seeing his amusing usage of on-screen text in this one, that’s kind of a shame. The name that stands out when it comes to its production, though, is Shinobu Nishioka. An important member of the team who had the crucial mission of designing a doctor and supervising specifically that character, who won’t be seen again, throughout the episode. And people thought that Priconne having a specific alpaca animator as a multi-layered Love Live joke was weird.

If you’ve been following our coverage of the series, you’re likely aware of Nishioka’s unusual position as one of Kaguya-sama’s animation aces; rather than important scenes per se, she’s often given very specific quirky goals like that, and then gets appropriately credited for them with some of the most ridiculous job titles that anime has ever seen. While that may sound like kind of a random, performative in-joke, the truth is that the team is being smart even when it comes to this. Nishioka has a taste for hard-boiled fiction that makes her the best candidate when it comes to drawing tough-looking men or otherwise cool sequences, hence why she was in charge of that stern reputable doctor, the overly serious ramen experts, or Hayasaka’s impossibly badass spy adventures. At the same time, the curiously impulsive feel of her animation makes her the right person to handle Fujiwara, so she’s also been deployed whenever the pink creature reached her chaotic peaks.

This kind of awareness is of course not unique to Kaguya-sama, as any smart production that isn’t completely starved for time will try to assign everyone the kind of work that fits them best. But when you mix that mentality with the boldness that Hatakeyama asks of his staff, and a team that has come to know each other very well due to its size and the time they’ve been working together at this point, you get one of the best showcases of talent management in modern TV anime.

That said, it was episode #09 that featured perhaps the best example of this approach where very specific individual talent is allowed to reach a new level thanks to the team that surrounds it. There were many ways in which the gap between Iino’s expectations and the seemingly messy student council could have been portrayed, but since this is not a production that’s fond of settling for anything less than excellence, they obviously chose the grandest possible route.

Since the goal was to depict someone’s fantasies to begin with, Hatakeyama gave massive leeway to none other than returning sakuga superstar Naoya Nakayama—we warned you that he was coming back—to depict Iino’s fantasies as if they were his own. The result is nothing short of spectacular: Nakayama drew the layouts for every single shot spanning a few minutes, supervising them all as well and finishing as many as humanly possible. It’s purposely cheesy, technically stunning, and exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to come out of Iino’s idealistic brain. They could have gotten away with a mere fraction of the effort that went into this gag, but that’s not this team’s mentality.

And that’s the keyword: team. Even though this season has put very talented individuals under the spotlight—Ebina, Nishioka, Nakayama, Hatakeyama himself—they’ve all gone out of their way to say that their success was enabled by the efforts of the whole crew. The only reason why they were able to handle unusually massive workloads seemingly by themselves was that the team as a whole was glad to readjust the schedule to fit their needs; this led to deadlines becoming fully nonlinear, assistants having to tag in for the unexpected developments that ensued, and all sorts of behind the scenes complications they cleared even with a pandemic getting in the way. When we talk about smart management in TV anime it tends to be to highlight the rare titles that are planned and executed with more ample schedules, but when it comes to Kaguya-sama, it’s the exceptional adaptability of the team that allowed its most brilliant individuals to do some of their best work to date.

In an episode where the protagonist is none other than the artist who animated Chika’s special ending, the neat sequence where Kaguya dances to find her comfort pose is somehow not related to Nakayama at all—escaping that animation typecast! No reason to complain either, as Osamu Sakata did a great job with it.

Was there a price to pay for that frankly insane stretch of episodes, though? The answer is yes, but nothing major enough to make that effort not worth it. After treating so many skits as special occasions that bypassed the normal flow of the production and doing management gymnastics to somehow make it all work, the truth is that they had to hold back a bit on the animation front, especially around episode #10. But, since we’re dealing with a series director whose style is geared towards making the best out of limited resources, I wouldn’t blame anyone who didn’t even notice a dip. Even at its most modest, the show still knows how to be a stunner.

Concentrating the output of those animation aces into specific chunks also meant that they didn’t have as much time to show up regularly, but that’s hardly a problem either. No one’s going to be sad that they got so much hilarious Ebina animation in episode #05 that his mandatory Fujiwara training appearance in #10 was shorter than usual, especially since his loose work was as funny as ever—and a weirdly good fit for the flow of the souran bushi dance, jokes aside.

In the end, even the theoretical downsides had positive consequences. As the series director who had to coordinate such a complicated production, Hatakeyama’s usual omnipresence was reduced; for about a season and a half, there was no scene you wouldn’t immediately attribute to him even without context, but that stopped being the case for a while. Fortunately, this gave an opportunity to other directors to rise up and do their thing more than ever before, and that’s exactly what Ryouta Aikei did for the aforementioned episode #09.

The show’s usual flat, essentially binary shading that Hatakeyama employs so well was ditched in favor of Aikei’s more nuanced approach, which accentuated the impossible beauty of Iino’s dreams while also bathing the school scenes in more realistic lighting that was gorgeous in its own way too. His personal interest in natural lighting, sometimes in direct opposition to Hatakeyama’s ideals, gave the episode a different flavor, and in a combination of happy accidents and premeditation, that’s exactly what it needed; not only did it capture the unusual mood perfectly, but since it happened to revolve around characters whose POV we rarely see, a change of pace felt right.

And so, after spending an unreasonable—but very welcome—amount of energy to depict silly hijinks throughout these episodes, Kaguya-sama Season 2 reached its actual climax with episode #11. In-between all that fun, the series had been carefully building up towards the conclusion of Ishigami’s first major character arc; something that the source material did so well that, for once, the anime adaptation followed chapters as they were published rather than picking and choosing the events they think will flow the best as they always do. Credit where credit is due, which is to say, Aka Akasaka isn’t half bad at this manga thing.

The storyboarding duties for arguably the most important episode in the series were entrusted to Masahiro Aizawa, under his widely known pen name Kagetsu Aizawa. Saying that he’s been influenced by Kunihiko Ikuhara woud be putting it mildly to say the least. Aizawa has been one of his most regular assistants for decades, to the point that the only post-Sailor Moon project that he hasn’t contributed very extensively to was Sarazanmai, as that overlapped with a project he was directing himself. Working with a creator as idiosyncratic as Ikuhara for a long time would be a massive source of influence for anyone, and even more so if your career has been conditioned by Ikuni as much as Aizawa’s has; Utena was his first role as a rotation supervisor, Penguindrum featured his first storyboards, and Yurikuma entrusted him with the position of main animator for the first time—almost every time his career has made a leap, it’s been because Ikuhara pushed him to.

An Ikuhara disciple like him felt right at home alongside Hatakeyama: while they’ve inherited it from different mentors, both of them share Dezaki DNA, quite obvious in their aesthetic and staging. Aizawa could have emphasized that farcical feeling he’s so acquainted with to make a very fun episode… but that’s not what this arc is about, so instead we got a deeply uncomfortable episode to sit through, which offered not just Ishigami but us as viewers the most cathartic salvation in Kaguya-sama yet. Aizawa’s vision being more animation-focused than pretty much all his peers in this specific directorial school enabled a more intense and immersive experience, which is excellent in retrospect, but made it even more distressing the first time through the episode. It turns out that this show is good even at making us hurt.

Truth to be told, I wouldn’t blame anyone for having assumed that making Ishigami of all people the star of the emotional climax was a questionable choice. After all, he’d been kind of a jackass so far, and his most explicit character development had been buying better underwear. And yet, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The resolution to this second season is very effective not just because episode #11 is fantastic and makes Ishigami infinitely more empathetic, but also because the preceding episodes make it clear that the change comes within him. Even though now we know that he was by all means the victim, we’d only seen very vague allusions to his traumatic experiences and many instances of him being kind of a jerk, so it might not have sat right with people if it suddenly felt like he was gifted so much for free. Having seen how he’d been trying to improve himself in between the silly gags of previous episodes, though, I believe that even people who weren’t big fans of him were more predisposed to buy into Ishigami’s turn.

Once that happened, the consequences extended beyond him as a character too. These events recontextualize the entire student council dynamics, making them more believable; there are no longer any doubts as to why they would keep someone like Ishigami around now that we know the truth. Kaguya-sama is an outrageous romcom, but this season in particular has emphasized that this group of kids simply enjoy being with each other a lot, so this was the final move it needed for the relationships to click.

To underline that, episode #12 is an epilogue penned by Hatakeyama himself—and boy does it show—that’s all about how much the council means to each other. A return to the norm on a stylistic and also narrative level, since Kaguya’s phone has always been used to hammer this point, but one that feels somewhat different now that we have the full context about this group of friends. And then, as if to remind everyone that it never stopped being a ridiculous romcom either, the show quite literally blows everything up in a spectacular final skit.

With all that said and done, was Kaguya-sama Season 2 just as good as the original series? No, it was superior, and we were already talking about an adaptation that was better than it had any right to be. The series was always blessed with an inventive director and a team that loves working on it, and now that the both of them have grown more intimate with the cast, things have only gotten better. The daring approach that the production of season two took in its middle to last stages took even the biggest fans by surprise, sacrificing very little to earn spectacular rewards in this individual-focused team victory. It may be unreasonable to ask for a full adaptation of Kaguya-sama, but a third season would have an excellent stopping point that could work even as a definitive closure if need be, so there’s genuinely no reason not to do it. Anime, don’t fail us.

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Episode 07

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Aya Ikeda
Chief Animation Director: Yuko Hariba
Animation Direction: Yuko Hariba, Natsumi Ishizaki
Character Design & Chief Supervision For The Shoujo Manga Brainworms Segment: Takahiro Yasuda
Prop Animation Director: Takayuki Kido

Key Animation: Yasuhiro Ueno, Hitomi Urata, Hironobu Dannoura, Natsumi Ishizaki, Daisuke Takemoto, Moe Suzuki, Shouko Suzuki, Kaoru Nakagawa, Satoshi Fujioka, Kaori Henmi, Mayuko Nakano, Masaru Suzuki, Nanami Takahashi, Takuro Naka, Akiko Motoyoshi, Chizuru Mori, Keisuke Furuichi

2nd KA: Chie Tanaka, Yuusuke Suzuki
DR Movie
Kim Kwan-woo, Jung Eun-hee, Kim Hye-soo, Lee Hyun-mi, Kwon Hee-jae, Cho Yun-seong, Kim Kyung-yeon, Yun Seung-hyun


Episode 08

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Tsuyoshi Tobita
Chief Animation Director: Kii Tanaka
Animation Direction: Junichi Saito, Yoichi Ishikawa, Park Ae-lee
Renowned Doctor Supervision: Shinobu Nishioka
Prop Animation Director: Takayuki Kido

Key Animation: Tomoyuki Oshita, Fujiko Aoyagi, Katsushi Morita, Yoshitaka Sato, Yuuki Iwai, Yuu Takahashi, Honoka Yokoyama, Miko Nakashita, Nobuhiro Okazaki, Ayaka Sato, Manami Uebashi, Yuki Kyousu, Sayo Hisano, Masaru Suzuki, Yusuke Adachi, Masahiro Furihata, Toshiya Kouno, Daiki Tanaka, Katsushi Morita (Yes he’s mistakenly credited twice), Yoshio Chizaki
DR Movie
Kim Moon-soo

2nd KA: Takayuki Kido, Chie Tanaka, Yuusuke Suzuki, Daiki Takemoto, Yasuo Aoki, Tomoki Uekado
Asahi Production
DR Movie
Kim Kwan-woo, Jung Eun-hee, Kim Hye-soo, Lee Hyun-mi, Park Eun-ju, Kwon Hee-jae, Kim Hee-young, Cho Yun-seong, Kim Kyung-yeon


Episode 09

Storyboard: Mamoru Hatakeyama
Episode Direction: Ryouta Aikei
Chief Animation Director: Nishichi Yamaguchi, Hiroshi Yako
Animation Direction: Rena Kawasaki, Kohei Yamazaki
Animation For Miko’s Delusions: Naoya Nakayama
Prop Animation Director: Takayuki Kido

Key Animation: Nobuharu Ishidou, Tomoyuki Oshita, Keita Watabe, Keiko Motoya, Mitsushi Kasano, Nanami Takahashi, Chihaya Tanaka, Osamu Sakata, Yuki Kyousu, Kazuki Itou, Daichi Nakashima, Takahiro Ninagawa, Masahiko Ozawa, Katsushi Morita, Ayaka Sato, Honoka Yokoyama
Kazuma Tanaka, Takashi Torii
DR Movie
Kim Hye-soo

2nd KA: Miko Nakashita, Yui Miyagawa, Daiki Takemoto, Konomi Sato, Chie Tanaka
Anitus Kobe
DR Movie
Kim Kwan-woo, Joo Ok-yoon, Kim Hye-soo, Yun Seung-hyun


Episode 10

Storyboard: Tomiko Toshiko (Hiroaki Akagi?), Masakazu Obara
Episode Direction: Takayuki Kikuchi
Chief Animation Director: Hiroshi Yako
Animation Direction: Junichi Saito, Yoichi Ishikawa
Prop Animation Director: Takayuki Kido

Key Animation: Yosuke Imakubo, Kanako Oyabu, Mao Kawaguchi, Rioko Noguchi, Yuuki Iwai, Seren Ogura, Eri Shikita, Ibuki Satou, Hidekazu Ebina, Keita Watabe, Yoshiko Minamihara, Hikaru Uchiyama, Mariko Shimamura, Shinichi Wada, Yuki Itou, Kouichi Takai, Maki Todaka, Hiroyuki Sugawara, Hiroko Shigekuni, Shougo Nishi, Kim Moon-soo, Hiroshi Watanabe

2nd KA: Miharu Nagano, Chie Tanaka
PRA Animation Department
Misaki Sugawara, Mana Onuki, Yuuki Nomura, Satoru Okoshi
Studio Gash
Tatsuo Arai
Studio Elle
Asahi Production
DR Movie
Kim Kwan-woo, Kim Hye-soo, Cho Yun-seong, Yun Seung-hyun


Episode 11

Storyboard: Kagetsu Aizawa (Masahiro Aizawa)
Episode Direction: Moe Suzuki
Chief Animation Director: Hiroshi Yako
Animation Direction: Konomi Sato, Takayuki Kido, Satoshi Noma, Park Ae-lee
Assistant Animation Director: Natsumi Ishizaki, Junichi Saito, Kohei Yamazaki, Lee Bu-hee
Prop Animation Director: Takayuki Kido

Key Animation: Chiho Fujiwara, Kaori Henmi, Naoko Ozawa, Fujiko Aoyagi, Toshihito Kato, Hiroaki Shimizu, Masato Hagiwara, Yusuke Adachi, Keiko Motoya, Moe Suzuki, Satoshi Noma, Takuro Naka, Yuu Takahashi, Masaya Sekizaki, Keisuke Furuichi
DR Movie
Kim Hye-soo, Yang Sung-won, Kim Moon-soo

2nd KA: Miharu Nagano
Konomi Sato, Ayaka Sato, Takayuki Kido
Asahi Production
TAP
DR Movie
Kim Kwan-woo, Kim Hye-soo, Jung Eun-hee, Lee Hyun-mi, Cho Yun-sung, Yun Seung-hyun


Episode 12

Storyboard: Mamoru Hatakeyama
Episode Direction: Yujiro Abe
Chief Animation Director: Kii Tanaka
Animation Direction: Park Ae-lee, Rena Kawasaki, Hayato Hashiguchi, Shuntarou Yamada, Kazuaki Imoto
Prop Animation Director: Takayuki Kido

Key Animation: Rie Omori, Yoshio Chizaki, Maki Sawai, Takashi Fujiura, Ryouta Iwai, Keita Watabe, Ayaka Sato, Takumitsu Miura, Katsushi Morita, Masaru Suzuki, Toshiya Kouno, Yosuke Imakubo, Miko Nakashita, Hironobu Danura, Shinobu Kikuchi
DR Movie
Kim Moon-soo

2nd KA: Yuusuke Suzuki, Atsushi Yonezawa, Akane Takeda, Yuki Kyousu, Takumi Niwa, Chie Tanaka, Miharu Nagano, Yuusuke Matsui
TAP
DR Movie
Kim Kwan-woo, Kim Hye-soo, Cho Yun-sung, Kun Seung-hyun


Full series coverage:


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Cyh Lucky
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Cyh Lucky

Amazing review!

u4004
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u4004

I can’t wait for Nishioka’s take on India and the National Police Agency in later seasons…

shiba
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shiba

kevin im so dead!!!!!!!!!!! kaguya-sama s2 broke my whole dang heart and was also so sweet it gave my heart CAVITIES. hearing about (getting reminded of?) aikawa’s ikuni roots made me go ohhh THATS why so much of the atmosphere of ishigami’s backstory episode felt so familiar!!! the directing was so immersive and i LOVE how uncompromisingly uncomfortable it is, both for what it does to elevate the story and because “actual predatory creep frames someone else, gets off scot-free” is unfortunately a situation ive seen happen over and over in real life, especially in online circles, sometimes to friends.… Read more »

Chipmunk
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Chipmunk

Excellent article as always, Kevin! As a great fan of the series since the anime airing last year, and partly due to how this site covered it, I’m so absurdly happy as to what this second season turned out to be. The source material was already an improvement over what the first season covered, and yet there’s always that fear that things will not go out as planned or that it will not reach the same heights (especially with a bloody pandemic of all things), yet they managed to enhance it and give it its own identity. What a blessed… Read more »

Romulo rafael
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Romulo rafael

that analyze incredible guy, I created an account just to comment this kkk
congratulations