Does what we do really matter? I don’t mean the big, profound actions we do from time to time, or our continual overtures to those most intimate to us. What I’m asking is, “Do the small, kind things we do really make a difference in the long run for others’ lives?”
The most recent episode of Kaguya-sama: Love is War takes a stab at answering that question. Ishigami, the treasure of the Shuchi’in Academy Student Council, hits one of those big life moments where he decides to make a change, to move forward and grow past the hurt he’s incurred. At first blush, though, everything seems to revolve around big events: the pain of the past, for instance, which erupted from a physical fight and the whole class turning against him, and then the transformation occurring through a race in front of the entire school. But these are merely stopping points on a map—significant stops for sure, but still just points on a journey.
To get to that point of transformation, Ishigami has had many cumulative experiences, which in middle school plummeted him on a downward spiral. At that age, Ishigami had a heightened sense of justice. Even though he was quiet and didn’t seem to have any close friends in class, that sense of justice overwhelmed his introverted nature when he came to the defense of a classmate, Otomo, a girl who had previously been kind to him. Ishigami discovers that her boyfriend is cheating and confronts him, but the boyfriend doubles down, leading to a physical assault by Ishigami. The boyfriend, though, uses this to his advantage by inferring that Ishigami attacked him out of jealousy; sizing up the situation, the class sides with Otomo’s boyfriend, with the final insult being Otomo herself, who acts and believes the same as the rest.
Now a student at Shuchi’in Academy, Ishigami is given an opportunity to help the “Red Team” win the field day competition by running the anchor leg in a relay. But Otome is also attending the event and reminds him of what she feels about his actions, putting Ishigami again into a self-abhorrent mode. He’s self-destructing at this point, and it doesn’t seem that he’ll run competitively; in fact, he may just walk off entirely and make himself even more a pariah in high school than he was in middle school. But encouraged by Shirogane, Ishigami finds the strength to rise up and do his best, even if he falls a couple steps short.
But that’s not 100% true. Shirogane is really more a final catalyst or a reminder for Ishigami to focus on truth instead of the perverted version of it that’s in his mind. He’s grown strong enough to flip that switch because of all the goodness poured into him throughout this school year. He has Student Council peers that accept him as a cohort and friend—easy enough with Chika, but more profound because he is treated as highly valued by the president and intimately by Kaguya, toward whom he has fear and some aversion. The Cheer Squad is just as important, a group of peers that aren’t quite friends yet, much like his 9th grade class. He expects them to turn on him as well, but they don’t; they treat Ishigami with the same kindness they have all along, showing him that goodness among a group of young people (and “normies” at that!) is possible.
Those individual kindnesses that have built up day by day are what give Ishigami the strength to transform. The club’s active investigation into what really happened in middle school, and Shirogane revealing their belief in him, certainly played a major role, but so, too, did more minor acts, like the Cheer Squad’s daily show of integrity, the Student Council’s silly discussions, and Kaguya’s lending of her clothes. Like rungs on a ladder, they aided Ishigami in climbing out of the spiral and into the light, where he could see truth for what it really is and declare what he really felt toward Otomo.
Is it the same in real life? I think that yes, largely it is. Maybe it’s not so neatly wrapped up as Ishigami’s story—after all, we’re not always in constant, close vicinity with those we’re trying to affect (we may only say one nice thing to a passerby in our lives, for instance) and they may be closed off entirely to receiving kindness. But the thought that our deeds are meaningful is more than optimism. It’s a reality.
This idea weighs as heavily on the Christian as anyone. As we reflect Christ’s love to those around us, with the thought of eternity in mind, it’s easy to become burnt out. We might find ourselves in a downward spiral of sorts when we don’t see fruit and wonder if all we’ve done meant anything at all. But I hope that should you fall into such a place, that you might reminisce on the people in your own lives that have helped build you up, and then consider that there are perhaps dozens or hundreds of moments and people that you don’t know of and don’t remember that encouraged you in some way as well. Again, like rungs on a ladder leading you to where you are.
Paul tells us, “…the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Gal 5:14). Why is that so important? Why is love the fulfillment of the law? God wants all of us to be with him in eternity, and if we are here to do his work, it is accomplished by doing so with love. Like Ishigami heading downward and then up, each person is on a path; wherever it veers, the destination is ultimately into eternity. We crossed path with so many individuals throughout the course of our lives; for some, the path overlaps for years, and for others, just a few minutes. We may not give a gospel presentation to all of them, but we can be kind and loving to most and trust that with God’s concern for humankind, that he may use even these little moments to help draw our friends, acquaintances and family nearer to him.
And so, as Paul continues (Gal 6:9-10b), “…let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone…” Remember, even in your discouragement, your effort means something—to the Heavenly Father above and in the lives all the Ishigamis (and Kaguyas and Shiroganes and Fujiwaras) in your life. So keep loving. Keep encouraging.
Season two of Kaguya-sama: Love is War can be streamed on Funimation.