Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 16

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While the last couple weeks were a bit of a rest going into the Li Twins battle, this is definitely all battles—the end of one and the beginning of another—with the slightest of breaks in between.

While that makes it a bit disjointed (I prefer episodes that start and end with one battle), the action, taunting, and over-the-top explosive tactics were all there, and the fact I knew the Li Twins battle would end this week (this show doesn’t spend long chains of episodes on single battles after all) I felt I could kick back and enjoy the carnage.

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Until the climax of the Li Twins battle, Ayato is simply meditating in the corner whil Julis acts as his shield, enduring attacks from both twins, who seem more interested in torturing her than snapping her badge and ending things quickly. One look at Shenyun’s increasingly twisted face and you know the guy’s a sadist dick. Shenhua, less so, since she’s not shown piling on the way her brother is.

But all of Julis’ suffering isn’t for naught: Ayato finds the key to unlocking the next level of his sister’s seal, enabling him to store far greater amounts of prana and go longer in battles. He says it doesn’t result in any significant powering up, but I’ve gotta wonder, after the destruction he unleashes with ease on the twin’s carefully constructed web of traps, talisman bombs, and invisible strikes.

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Ayato basically takes a bi ol’ Ser Veresta to all that, blasting Shenhua then delivering a well-deserved bone-crushing fist to the face of Shenyun, ending the fight. Julis gives the thumbs-up (the fanservice on her torn uni is kept to a minimum), while the Twins’ tiny prez looks approvingly at Ayato’s performance, and looks forward to meeting him (i.e. fighting him, probably) someday.

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With that, Ayato and Julis are in for some well-deserved rest before heading to the semifinals. Claudia, making a rare appearance this season, wants to not only offer her thanks to the partners on their great win for the school, but also thank Ayato personally, in her room, at night. Hmm…could she be talking about sex???

Julis doesn’t stand by and let Ayato be dragged off; insisting he stay with her to “go over strategy.” C’mon Julis. You don’t want the kid sleeping with Claudia. Simple as that.

That leads to the week’s second match: Saya and Kirin versus the Allekant robots. Aldy and Rimsy give another one-minute grace period, but both girls are tired of being mocked and looked down on for being weak and organic.

Kirin uses a bit of old-fashioned samurai sword skills to show Aldy he’s wrong about his defense being perfect, because he cannot hope to reach the sensitivity necessary to fight Kirin. For that, you have to be human.

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Her attacks make Aldy pull out his weapon before the grace period is over, which combined with scoring several strikes on him, are all first in the Festa. Meanwhile, Saya stands by during the minute, choosing not to attack Rimsy until she’s coming at her with everything she’s got.

When she does, Saya breaks out some badass-looking flying battle armor that suddenly makes her a good match for Rimsy. And like Kirin, she scores the first hits of the Festa on Rimsy. Things are looking good, but while watching the match in the stands, Flora gets kidnapped…probably by someone working for Dirk at Le Wolfe.

I guess the Festa fights aren’t the only thing our guy and gals will have to contend with…not that I doubted that would be the case!

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 15

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Ever since learning Haruka may still be alive, Ayato has been distracted. Julis thinks he’s afraid his sister abandoned him, but she’s big enough to admit this time she isn’t the person best-suited to bringing him out of his mini-funk.

That person is Saya, who knows her mission and swoops in like the adept climber she’s always been, as when she watched Ayato and Haruka spar from a tree branch years ago. I’ll admit, I half-forgot these two go back so far, but it’s nice to see Saya get to be nice and cozy with Ayato for a change.

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In one of the more sustained flashbacks involving Haruka, we see a big sister clearly concerned with the potential of her little brother, whose approach could either be ‘you’ll never beat me so please don’t try’ or ‘you won’t beat me until you not only become stronger, but employ the aid of strong friends.’

Ayato tries both in the flashback, but fails both times. But at least, with Saya on his side (asking a favor of her with “favor cards” they often exchanged to help each other out) Haruka had to fight more seriously than when she was sparring with Ayato alone.

And Saya of the present finishes their little get-together by saying, with a melancholy smile, that as much as she may not like it, sometimes she won’t be the one best-suited to fight beside him either.

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The message is clear, and it’s kind of a repeat of what we already know (hence the mere 7): you can be the strongest, but you’ll still never be as strong as if you have someone fighting beside you. That’s why fighters have partners in the Phoenix Festa, and why the fights are often more interesting than one-on-one matches.

The match with the Li Twins doesn’t disappoint in terms of sheer frustration. Having thoroughly researched their opponents, the twins coolly reach deep into their bag of tricks, employing illusory smoke, shadow clones, invisibility, and explosive talismans to make life a living hell for Ayato and Julis and, more importantly, drag the battle out until Ayato’s dreaded 5-minute limit arrives.

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The match follows a pretty well-worn pattern of moves, counter-moves, and one-upsmanship. The Li twins grow more and more sadistic and evil-grinny as the match intensifies (Shenhua’s finger caress being particularly creepy), and while they acknowledge the pluck of their opponents, they have full confidence they will emerge victorious, with a wealth of tricks left to use if they ever get into trouble.

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Indeed, Ayato uses what seems to be his last ounce of strength to slice the medallion of who he believes to be the real Shenyun, but turns out to only be another shadow clone; Shenyun, like Shenhua, has in reality spent most of the match concealing himself.

But Ayato isn’t alone here, and before he gets blasted to smithereens, Julis flies in and rescues him. As they regroup, she asks him to rely on her, repeating the words he said to her back when they were first starting out: “Well then, who’s going to protect you?”

The line does a lot more than Julis expected, as Ayato seems somewhat restored in vigor, as if he suddenly sees something he didn’t se before; perhaps something involving his sister’s seal on him. Maybe the seal can come undone once he accepts the strength within him is to be used not alone, but in concert with another. Like Julis!

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She and Her Cat: Everything Flows – 02

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This was a brief but lovely, emotionally rich, gently-told story of how the girl and Daru met. A lonely, morose girl who just transferred to school, her busy mother thought it would be a good idea for her to have a companion for all those hours home alone.

Like everything at this point in the girl’s life, she’s initially skeptical. After all, even Daru knew then she had a large hole in her heart he wasn’t sure he’d be able to fill.

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Still, Daru does his best to cheer her up, in a very catlike way: presenting her with a still-alive lizard, while breaking a mug her (apparently dead) father gave her. When the girl sees the cat take up precious few moments she has with her mother, she decides it would be best if both she and the cat were alone.

She puts him in a box with some toys and leaves him by the river…only to come right back when some schoolboys spot the box; she just couldn’t go through with abandoning the poor thing. And her change of heart is rewarded when Daru becomes a conduit for her to meet her first friend in her new town, who likes her cat.

A sunset in the present day reminds both the girl and Daru of the day they met. And now, though they can’t understand each other verbally, they’ve gotten to the point they know what they’re thinking.

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Golden Time – 16

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This episode was called “Wake-Up Call.” There really couldn’t have been a more appropriate title. There were many such calls, starting with Banri waking up in time to stop the car before it went off a cliff. The last thing he sees in his dream? Linda visiting him at the hospital, at a time when he didn’t remember who she was. That was a desperately tragic scene, one in which Linda was powerless to set right Banri’s misunderstanding about her feelings, such that even a second-long flash back to it in the episode’s opening moments was devastating, especially under the circumstances.

That was only a taste of the emotional devastation to follow, starting with the mortified look on Koko’s face after the accident, followed by a long period of her being incommunicado, even to Banri, who eventually decides to visit her house, leading to an amazing scene that was simultaneously Banri and Koko’s first real fight (and making-up), and another wake-up call to Banri about the kind of person his girlfriend is.

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First of all, a couple things about how the aftermath was handled. First of all, it infantilized everyone involved, who are, lest we forget, college students; young adults, not children (yes, even the button-cute Chinami). But that’s pretty much what happens when you get in an accident: you feel helpless and humiliated…you know, like kids. Not that we can excuse Koko’s father’s frankly over-the-top slap to Koko’s face. Forget child abuse, that was battery, and we’re not sure we’d have stood by if we were one of the friends present.

To do such a cold, horrible thing to your child when you knew full well her fragile emotional state smacks of sadism. After that slap we kinda washed our hands of her dad, even when he makes nice with Banri and is followed by that damn cat (What, cat’s can’t be bad judges of character?) But then Koko works herself up into a post-fight frenzy when her dad walks in on her and Banri (they were just hugging), and he calmly tells Banri to make him ramen. Banri returns to see the dad (and cat) sitting there seeing Koko off to sleep, looking very fatherly. It doesn’t forgive that awful slap, but it would appear he does love his daughter.

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We won’t deny the fact that Koko has exhibited a short fuse, and when she melts down she melts down. Still, the self-hating things she spouts under her sheets are heartbreaking, and we’re right there with Banri in not quite knowing how best to resolve the matter with words. Suddenly Banri and the others’ talk about it being everyone’s fault—which made perfect sense at the time, but Koko thinks it’s laughably ridiculous. We noted how  many times both of them asked what the other was talking about: sometimes it seems like different languages are being spoken.

Afraid that if he doesn’t handle this talk right, he may never see Koko again (a very real possibility, considering this show), he tries everything he can to stay in the room and try to talk Koko down, even bringing up reset buttons, which leaves him wide open for Koko’s Pillows of Truth: He’s allowed to reset his life and abandon everyone from the old one, but no one else is? It’s a fair question, and Banri doesn’t help matters by bringing up the fact Koko insisted he give up on his past, no sir!

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She thought she had to do that, so that she wouldn’t lose him. She’s feared all along and her new dreams confirm it: that he’ll leave her someday; cut her out like he cut out Linda-senpai. Perhaps we read Koko’s look at Banri in the car all wrong. Maybe she wasn’t mortified by her stupidity, but dejected that even though Banri said he’d stay by her side and keep her awake, in the end he fell asleep, retreating to his past in his dreams. He left her to drive alone.

We’re probably reading too much into that particular scene, but it makes sense that Koko would read too much into everything Banri says and does, knowing his past. An accident changed him forever, and while the car was a close call, she fears the next accident will take him away from her. But she can’t think that way. Even if her fears are as clear and official-looking as the road signs telling her to get out of the car, she should listen to the voice of the one she loves telling her to stay in the car and hang in there, because that’s what he’s going to do no matter what.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Linda and Past Banri sit out this episode. We knew we’d be getting less Linda once Banri cut her off, but we hope to see her again soon. As for Past Banri, well, we were kinda glad he didn’t show his face after all the trouble he caused. That’s right: this was really all his fault. Damn ghost!
  • Our hears sank when Chinami revealed she was bleeding; we assumed the worst and thought she bit her tongue off. Luckily it was just a busted lip.
  • Nana whacks Banri in the head with a baguette and tells him to get the fuck over whatever it is he’s pissed about, because she’s sick of dealing with his drama. Nana is the best.
  • Another lesson Banri (and we) learn: no matter how crazy he (or we) think Koko is, she’s crazier, but so is Banri. Both are wounded souls, but we think they can find comfort and happiness in each other.
  • Banri calling to Koko to resolve her bad dream was a beautiful little closing moment, and sleeping Koko’s little “mm-hmm” was damned adorable.