Ishigami: Life is War

It’s the night of Monday, August 10th, 2020. I turned twenty-two years old just under two weeks ago, and earlier tonight, I watched the second-to-last episode of the second season of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, an anime I would highly recommend to anyone under the age of thirty and/or who enjoys romance stories.

Kaguya is a story about the president and vice-president of a high school student council who are madly in love with each other, but are both intent on making the other party admit it first. Throughout the two seasons of the show, their relationship transitions from a die-hard battle of wits to more of an open secret as they slowly begin to question their own motives behind hiding their feelings from one another.

I’m always prepared for some feelings when I watch Kaguya (or any good anime, really), but the episode that I watched tonight caught me off-guard. It was not about the two main characters; instead, it focused on Ishigami, the treasurer of the student council and a stereotypical social outcast. Acknowledging himself as being asocial, Ishigami prefers to keep to himself (when he’s not bringing balance to an otherwise hyperactive student council.) He doesn’t have many friends due to a series of events that occurred in junior high, which I will not elaborate on because the show is too good to spoil in a personal blog post like this.

An online friend (the only kind I have since leaving my hometown last year, and the only kind anyone has since COVID-19 broke out) recommended another show to me recently, Sound! Euphonium, which is about the members of a high school concert band. I told my friend I was specifically avoiding that one because it would make me too depressed. “Oh, okay… it’s not sad,” he replied. I had to explain to him that even if the plot wasn’t saddening, it would touch too closely to a time in my life that I miss, making me miss it more than I already do. “I was a huge band kid in school, all my friends were from band; now I have no friends, I have no band…” Another member of the voice channel vouched for me, agreeing that for students who were part of social music programs in school, “it sucks to lose all of that.”

Kaguya, being a high school love story, always reminds me of something I didn’t have. Since I didn’t have it, I can wish for it, but at least I can’t miss it. Ishigami also doesn’t normally remind me of myself. He gets bad grades, while I was an honor student; he’s visibly dreary, while I at least attempted to present myself neutrally in public. On the other hand, we’re alike in some ways: we’re both computer people, we can both get into a rant sometimes, and we’re both weary of social encounters.

Leading up to this episode, Ishigami was starting to get tired of being an outcast, and he decided to join the cheerleading squad (a coeducational activity in Japan, or at least in the world of Kaguya.) After an internal monologue in which he came to terms with the fact that he’s the weird one, not everyone else, he worked up the nerve to volunteer and be around other people… and once he’s in the room with the cheerleading squad, invested far enough to be stuck with it, he realizes that being around other people will not, in fact, bring him joy. “It’s not that joining the cheerleading squad will make you a normie, but that only normies join the cheerleading squad.”

“I made a terrible decision in a moment of doubt.”

I absolutely loved that sequence because it’s so relatable. I’ve definitely pushed myself to “get out more” and then, once I’m out, wished that I was back home by myself. Knowing how these things usually go, I was looking forward to the second-to-last episode where we find out how Ishigami’s time in the cheerleading squad will turn out.

What I was not expecting in the episode was a backstory about how Ishigami came to be friends with the other members of the student council (once again, avoiding major spoilers.) His past threatens to drag him down, but in a touching display of support, the other regular characters give him a push of encouragement to help him realize he doesn’t need to be an outcast. “Apparently, it’s true that genuine normies can be genuinely nice.”

The reason this hits so hard is fairly simple. Although I’m a more “normal” and generally respectable person than Ishigami, both of us ended up feeling disconnected from the world of people around us. We both took steps to try and push past that. Ishigami closed his eyes to his doubts and stepped out of his comfort zone by joining the cheerleading squad, and he found people who welcomed and supported him. But while I took a risk and moved out of my comfort zone from St. Louis to Denver, the difference in my case is that nothing changed.

Don’t get me wrong, I was able to move to Denver because of a job offer, and I’m very content with my professional life. However, part of the reason I was excited to move was that I thought it would improve my personal life as well. It seemed like all of my friends in St. Louis got as far away as possible for college, but Denver is supposed to have more people of my own demographic, which means more potential for social interaction. Do I see more people my age when I’m driving through town? Yes. Judging by the way they behave, are they people I would have any interest whatsoever in associating with? Absolutely not. Would I have a reason to talk to any of them even if I wanted to? Not at all.

I’m roughly a quarter of the way through my life, I’ve never had a girlfriend, I only have a handful of people I would consider “friends” in general, and even those people I only talk to once or twice a year. Ishigami’s story drew parallels to my life, but it ended with a resolution that’s not available to me. He had opportunities to make new friends, while I don’t; he had existing friends to help him along, while mine dwindled before I moved away from them entirely.

For a while, I thought I wasn’t moving fast enough on building my social life, but could still pick up steam if I tried. Now, I’m realizing that I’ve missed the boat entirely on all of these things. High school and college are years when social circles are supposed to be formed, but I distracted myself trying to get ahead professionally (with mixed success), and now I’ll never get those critical years back.

Damn it, Kaguya, this is not the escapism I was looking for when I pressed “Play” tonight.