Anime Pocket Reviews Ep. 61 – Kakegurui XX, Kaguya-sama: Love is War

Welcome to Episode 61, as we continue to take a look through the Winter 19 anime cycle!

Later on we take a look at yet another hotly-anticipated sequel from this year, but first, an early outsider for comedy of the year!

Kakegurui Season Two poster

Kakegurui XX

(2019, S2, 12x24mins) Psychological, Drama

Following on from the events of Kakegurui season one, Student Council leader Kirari Momobami takes the extraordinary decision of giving up her position of absolute power in council elections. However, with this being Hyakkaou Private Academy, there’s only one way to win the throne. Every student is given one election chip and the person with the most chips at the end of the election wins. While the characters come to terms with the potentially seismic shift in the school’s hierarchy, Kirari invites various members of the wider Momobami clan into the school, each with their own desire to win her prized seat. Despite all this, Jabami Yumeko (centre) continues to gamble for the thrill of it, sending her on a collision course with the rest of the school.

Basically Plot: When Kirari suddenly relinquishes the all-controlling student council chair to whoever can gain the most election chips, the school is plunged into an all-new gambling frenzy where anybody can win and everything can be lost!

For us, this has probably been one of the most anticipated series not just of the previous season, but of 2019 altogether. Following the 2017 Anime of the Year that was season one, XX always had a challenge but also had the template for success ingrained in its fabric. In that sense, not much has changed for Kakegurui in season two, which is both good and bad news for everyone.

The storyline for this season is a classic action series arc, although serious questions should be asked about its incredibly sudden ep. 12 conclusion – I had no idea the season was over until I found out online! Forums suggest that there physically isn’t the manga material to write more yet, but if it this is the case, then there’s an argument to say the show shouldn’t have been made yet. This is obviously down to their desire to ride on the wave of the first season and it’s my feelings to the first that are forgiving this ending to the second.

Similar to the classic ‘tournament’ arc seen in superpower series such as My Hero Academia and RWBY, XX sets itself up to be something of a free-for-all, allowing all the characters to get involved relatively from scratch. However, unlike in most shows that excel in this story environment, Kakegurui does not have the deepest character set, and that leads us on to one of few faults we had with this series – the ‘bami’ clan. Out of seemingly nowhere, a-dozen-or-so new characters are thrown onto our screens, each with as much depth as you would expect someone to have from only two minutes of airtime spread over twelve episodes. It is far too many new people and the show does feel bloated at times.

However, thanks to the extravagant, indulgent nature of this show’s direction and storytelling, the handful of great characters that have been introduced get their moment in exciting fashion. People like Igarashi, Batsubami and Toutoubami are all great to watch, while the development of side characters from the first season, such as Saotome and the council leader Kirari, was very enjoyable. In the jumble of bright characters, the show still gives room for certain faces to stand out.

The gambling games themselves are beginning to lose their impact, and when that goes completely there is a real risk of this show becoming awfully unoriginal. However, Kakegurui’s dark edge is still firmly in place and it keeps dragging you in until the very last moment. Kakegurui XX hasn’t done anything different here, but we didn’t necessarily need it to, either. That time will come, but for now, this is still one hell of a watch!

ANIME RANKING: #43 – No change for a series that continues to sit pretty in the upper echelons of our all-time rankings, besides Castlevania and Fate/Zero!

If you liked this you’ll love: Death Parade (#59) – A series full of dark games where ‘life’ hangs in the balance, Death Parade’s core will appeal to Kakegurui fans. While this series lacks the sexual edge of Kakegurui it does share the sense of exaggerated drama, while its character-led story delivers a satisfying undercurrent.

Kaguya-sama Love is War anime poster

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War

(2019, S1, 12x25mins) Comedy, Romance

Set in the prestigious Shuchiin Academy, the show follows Miyuki Shirogane (right) and Kaguya Shinomiya (left), president and vice-president of the student council. Idolised by everyone in the school, the two of them are seen as almost mythical beings of impeccable intelligence and charisma. However, while they both keep prim and proper appearances on the outside, in the student council office their lives are a constant emotional struggle, as Shirogane and Shinomiya are painfully attracted to each other! However, with images to uphold they cannot be the one to fall head-over-heels first. The series follows the two of them through a range of different scenarios as they try every trick to get the other person to ask them out first.

Basically Plot: The two role-model honour students of Shuchiin Academy are hopelessly in love with each other but are each determined to make the other confess their love first!

There are always a few unexpected successes in any year of anime, but already I can’t see many being as good as Kaguya-sama. However, this rom-com isn’t an unexpected success in the traditional sense. What makes this series such an unexpected joy is that, on the face of it, this shouldn’t be a good series. The ‘tsundere’ is one of anime’s most unoriginal and overplayed traits – referring to a character who, despite their obvious feelings for someone is particularly cold towards them, anime has almost become associated for this more than anything else. Nobody needs or wants a series where two of these characters face off against each other for 300-plus minutes. Tsuredure Children was a half-series with multiple couples, and even that struggled to keep its head out of the fluffy, suffocating clouds.

What this series does, instead, is flip the cliché on its head with a hard-hitting truth that intelligently gets to the core of the tsundere cliché – everyone at some point is waiting for the other person to jump first! By turning it into a competition between two smart, scheming and uptight students, you become easily engrossed in a show that delivers a dark edge to the rom-com genre! That way, by the time the lovey-dovey conclusion arrives, you feel invested in this pseudo-competition enough to forgive it.

Another surprise from this series that sees it go against the grain of many other successful rom-com anime is its characters, particularly the two average leads. Comfortably filling the ‘stubborn’ character point and little else, Shinomiya and Shirogane very much struggle to entertain on their own. What saves them in this regard is Chika Fujiwara, someone who looks an almost certain choice for ‘Female of the Year’ in any 2019 anime awards. Not only is she allowed to fill out the cliché chirpy character with abandon but she does it with such gusto that her sheer presence on the screen brings a smirk to your face!

Chika makes watching Kaguya-sama worth it on her own. However, fans of the classic rom-com anime trope will enjoy this clever twist on the genre, full of knowledgeable exchanges and dark characters that make this romance more interesting than most.

ANIME RANKING: #70 – A decent (maybe slightly harsh) ranking for what is, in essence, a simple comedy series, Kaguya-sama sits alongside other good comedies, such as Konosuba and Nanbaka.

If you liked this you’ll love: Nisekoi (#38) – The quintessential rom-com, Nisekoi’s story of forced high-school sweethearts is slightly different to the plot of Kaguya-sama, but offers much of the same tsundere effects. With a great selection of characters, wide-ranging plots and some notable storytelling, this is a must-watch for fans of the genre.

These two shows have been an excellent watch and have really brought this anime year to life, the fantastic starter to the hotly-anticipated Spring season. With Bungou Stray Dogs, Attach on Titan and One Punch Man currently airing, anime is only getting better and better!

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