Fall 2015 is the season of battling magical school anime, and after previously sampling the very similar Gakusen Toshi Asterisk, I’m going to come right out and declare Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry the week one winner, and it wasn’t really close. Rakudai had the smarter, fleeter, more engaging intro, and featured far stronger characters and an actual arc. It even handled fanservice better, as Ikki manages not to use any boobs as handrests.
Stella Vermillion, like Asterisk’s Julis, is also a pink-haired princess with high-ranked magical skills and initially reacts in a similar fashion when Ikki, a much lower-ranked student accidentally peeps on her. But her later reactions are a lot more nuanced, as she’s actually impressed by Ikki’s “manliness”, and is disarmed by his appeal to her rare beauty.
The show is also pretty cheeky in witholding the reason Stella (finely voiced by Ishigami Shizuka) was even in Ikki’s room changing. The director of the school, in an effort to shake things up, brings together the strongest and weakest Magic Knights at her school by making them roommates. When the two quibble over house rules, she also suggests they settle matters with a mock battle.
The method in her madness becomes clear when the two knights clash in the arena. Ikki may have the least natural talent, but he works uncommonly hard to overcome his weaknesses.
Stella, who came to Japan to escape the box labeled “Genius” her people put her in, wants to prove she works hard too, and isn’t just gliding on her natural talent.
To Stella’s surprise, not only is Ikki not a pushover, but he notices how hard she works in the way she’s fighting. He also steals her sword skills in order to keep up, and uses a once-per-day trump card to nullify her coup-de-grace and nab the victory.
In the hospital, Stella realizes she wasn’t any better than her legions of worshipers, putting Ikki in a box labeled “The Worst One.” But as the director asserts, and what is proven in their battle, is that there’s no reliable way to evaluate Ikki’s true strength. And there’s value in sticking around someone like him if she wants to grow as a knight.
In a nice inversion of the scene where he walked in on her dressing, Stella almost grows up too much when she comes home to find Ikki asleep, and can’t help but touch him, curious as to how a man really feels. He’s a twist-and-turner in bed, so she gets snagged by one of his arms, and seems on the verge of having a crisis when he wakes up asking what she’s doing on top of him.
And that gets to the strength of Rakudai so far: its central couple, Stella and Ikki. When they meet they misunderstand one another, but they never outright hate each other, and by the end, they fully embrace sharing a living space and learning more from one another.
This is partly because Stella lost the duel and is merely honoring their arrangement, but also because she gained a lot of respect for Ikki, now that she knows more about him. And while Ikki does slip up early, he is, well, very chivalrous. This isn’t rocket science: decent characters can go a long way towards making a decent show.