「 シスターズウォー 後半戦」 (Shisutaazu Woo Kouhan Sen)
“Sisters War: Part 2”
In the season finale for Go-Toubon no Hanayome, Ichika has to make amends to her sisters for going all-in on her last-ditch effort to get with Fuutarou. While the last few chapters of the Sisters War arc make sure to keep the peace by hitting the reset button on how Ichika behaves, it also sets the building blocks ahead for what kind of ending is in store for the series.
Ichika’s strategy of throwing whatever she can at a wall and seeing what will stick only makes matters worse for her as she enrages Fuutarou. The sisters were never going to have any seething fury set aside for Ichika. In a way, it adds salt to her wounds as she knows full well that for all of the underhanded tactics she gave to Miku and her sisters, they were never going to hold it against her even if she did wind up profusely apologizing for letting a man get in the way of her sisters.
That’s why the main catharsis for those who hated Ichika’s actions was to see just how furious Fuutarou would get about Ichika actively sabotaging her sisters. Season 02’s change to gold eyes makes Fuutarou’s rage even more intimidating as they peer through the rain to shoot down the only truthful statement Ichika made in her desperation.
One saving grace of the quick pacing is how much time it took for the plot to automatically jump towards Ichika’s redemption arc. Negi’s intention as an author was geared towards having the type of ending where one sister would win, but the audience would still be happy with all of the other sisters. With this in mind, it was a tall order to redeem Ichika after she turned to the dark side in a way that would make Miku fans and possibly Nino fans furious. But while it took about four-to-five months to get to this point in the manga, we thankfully got here within the span of a few weeks.
As much cynicism as I have for the story making Ichika a villain to disqualify her from getting with Fuutarou, it adds to what makes Ichika so fascinating. Because they aren’t afraid to make her a vulnerable and emotionally driven character, the story is willing to take risks with how she behaves such as her move to completely bow out of trying to get with Fuutarou. In her guilt, she kickstarts a scheme to make sure that Miku can have all the time she can to go out with him.
But even though she’s happy that Miku can have that time to him, she’s still saddled with two conflicting emotions; her crushing guilt about having backstabbed her own sister knowing that Miku wouldn’t hold it against her for being cruel to her, and the despair of throwing away the feelings that she held for Fuutarou because her lack of self-control drove a wedge between the both of them. Even when she officially bows out of the race by giving Fuutarou a kiss on the cheek and saying all of her feelings were a lie, she knew that she would be throwing away every moment where she tugged at his heart-strings.
Her job as an actress creates this kind of opportunity to question exactly how someone who is paid to live an entirely different life is able to navigate as an older girl in love. Is she allowed to act authentically to be with someone she loves, or does she have to cast away these emotions to save her sisters’ feelings until she blows a gasket? If she’s going to start asserting herself, does she do it out in the open for a direct confrontation with her sisters, or does she play the puppetmaster from behind-the-scenes so that she can still play the role of the supportive big sister while fighting dirty for love? As Ichika’s lies start to build up, she tries to keep her composure by blending the truth into her fabrications, but it tragically only leads her to continue confusing herself as she deliriously clings onto the side of her that genuinely fell in love with Fuutarou even as her judgment is clouded.
As Ichika gets choked up about Fuutarou not believing the one detail she said that wasn’t a lie, it also gave Nino the floor to work around her own personal feelings. Nino had seen Miku as an obstacle for having a cute charm to her but started to see her moment of being in love with Fuutarou might be fleeting if he got too comfortable around Miku. It was actually pretty emotionally mature of Nino to address that it was hypocritical to act like she couldn’t see where Ichika would come from with her betrayal when she was tempted to tread that path to prevent Miku’s date from being entirely successful.
And if Miku was in it to win it, the time would have been right then and there with that adorable confession. After a calm and cute date, Miku had the perfect confession in mind where she pointed to different locations she loved in Kyoto only to direct her finger to Fuutarou. If she cut it off right there, I don’t see how anyone could turn down a confession like that. But then, her finger drifts above him to call out her sisters who she wanted to thank for helping her share this moment with him.
I guess it makes sense if the epiphany she had was that getting with Fuutarou was a distraction from her trying to better her bond with her sister and strengthen her own personal skills. But reading this way back when, it was a brutal “I love Emilia” moment that also acts as Miku setting herself even further back to having to start from scratch in getting Fuutarou interested in her.
There is also the pet peeve of minimizing Yotsuba’s role at this point in the series as her side-remark that she wouldn’t need to tell Fuutarou that she was the main sister that he met in Kyoto is the most we got out of her in a while. She has some guilt about Ichika misusing her advice, but the anime rides on the idea that you wouldn’t have to think about important details like who Rena is or which sister kissed him near the bell-tower until the next season or film is out. It’s kind of a bitter, cynical way of ending the show to have that earlier reveal not even matter until it becomes a small kernel you can take with you as a cliffhanger.
It wouldn’t be controversial to say that this season of Go-Toubon no Hanayome had dramatic highs and lows. The most glowing praise has to go to Bibury for having a new art-style that does more justice to the source material and gives us a Nino that wasn’t drawn to look like this —> ( * v . ) .
But on the flip-side, we have to contend with pacing that flies by at breakneck speed. While the first season animated four arcs at their most detailed, this season gave us a whopping nine arcs to handle all at once. While it helps speed past some of the empty filler that would make more sense if you were following the chapters week-after-week, the manga really benefited from that structure where each chapter ended with a detail that made you even more curious about how it linked to the Bride’s identity.
When it’s translated to anime form, we’d end up speeding past said details regardless of whether these details should have been lingered on more deeply or not. It also took the emotional bite out of certain scenes such as this last episode where Ichika left Fuutarou by saying that everything she felt from what they met onwards was a lie. The whole tapestry of positive memories that Ichika had to toss away at that moment is reduced to a short, brief cutaway that transitions back to the bus.
On a narrative level, this is also the season where we went from having a cute anime where the sisters were getting to know each other to a duplicitous game amongst the sisters where they have to compete as hard as they can to try to score with their tutor. Any kind of innocence or purity is thrown out the window as Ichika, Nino, and Miku fight as hard as they’re willing to in order to get Fuutarou to like them.
Nino’s positive development involves making a 180 from cruel and sadistic to smitten and overbearing. She’s not as cruel to Fuutarou and her sisters, but she throws away any goodwill her development gave her by acting as if he has no say as to whether he’ll fall in love with the girl who drugged him twice and desperately tried to get him fired.
Miku ends up falling down a stagnant hole where she is unable to develop because she keeps giving herself roadblocks of her own design such as only confessing if she gets high marks or only confessing if she can make a good croissant. For all the self-improvement she makes, she still elects to be possessive of Fuutarou even though she does nothing to make him know she’s interested in him nor does she have the faith in herself to upright tell Ichika and Nino to sod off the moment she knew they were both gunning for Fuutarou’s heart.
Ichika’s development is a clear-cut example of character assassination on behalf of the author to make an otherwise strong contender for Fuutarou’s attention unwanted and undesirable. She spent most of the manga being very personable towards Fuutarou and was friendly and cordial with him even as he caught herself catching feelings for him. She was a refreshing character that had no ill-will towards him for making her study, but also naturally fell in love with Fuutarou based on the kindness he gave to her, just as Miku fell in love with him. Narrowing it down, Miku and Ichika were the only two that naturally fell in love with Fuutarou. But with her Miku disguise, it gave Ichika an easy way to be written off as a love interest with the writing on the wall that the series was ending soon. I have no doubt in my mind that Ichika being the villain of the Sisters War arc was out-of-character and a ploy to get rid of her.
Only Yotsuba and Itsuki are left unscathed, but that’s because of the neglect the story gave to the two of them. Yotsuba is given a little more love because she is the only girl who had Fuutarou’s back from the start, but Itsuki had little to no role aside from trying to give Yotsuba happiness, trying to get Fuutarou to recognize Rena’s true identity, and possibly follow her mother’s dream of being the best teacher she can be.
It wasn’t a kind season for the sisters and ended up transforming a cute yet suspenseful anime about a poor tutor having to put up with dumb rich sisters into a messy, trashy rom-com where we get to watch a family implode from the inside-out over a boy. But ultimately, that’s a problem with the source material. Bibury might have sped through the material in a way that lacked the emotional crescendos that the first season hit regularly, but the animation was still fine and there is only so much power they have over a story that ends up crumbling under its own ambition to be more complicated, bitter, and subversive than your dad’s rom-com anime. Season 03 looks like it might happen at some point, but with the pacing of this anime, I’d be surprised how they end up making it longer when these guys could easily get to the end by the halfway point.