Mahoutsukai no Yome – 10

Lindel sends a selkie along with one of the young dragons (now big enough for a human to ride) to invite Chise to the Land of the Dragons so the “Robin” can have a wand made. For this journey, Elias will stay behind, though Ruth will remain by her side.

Chise’s dragon ride through the wind and clouds is appropriately epic in presentation, with stirring orchestral accompaniment to boot. It’s also nice, for once, to have an episode without any imminent or even perceived threats. There are more sides to Chise’s life than peril…procuring a wand, for instance.

Nevin’s Tree is as big and majestic as ever, and Lindel directs Chise to saw off a piece of it for her wand. Her lack of surefootedness in the tree results in a spill and a demonstration of how crucial it is she have a familiar nearby to, among other things, catch her. Back home, Elias notes how quiet it seems without Chise.

While she’s hardly a Chatty Cathy, she’s a motormouth compared to Silver. Then Elias receives a message via bird-intercom from Adolf Stroud of the College administration, who’d like to learn more about what Elias has in mind for Chise’s future.

That night, Chise arms and hands are covered in scrapes and scratches, which Lindel instantly heals with a touch. As a “bedtime story”, and because Elias hasn’t told her, Lindel regails Chise with the tale of how Lindel met Elias.

Lindel himself didn’t even have a name before his master found him, and Elias has a similar “birth”, one brutally wintry day simply appearing out of seemingly nowhere, nameless, without any memories or idea of what he was. Lindel gave him a place to rest and a meal, but its clear if either of them want any answers, the best bet is to take him to his master.

Lindel finds his master with a sprig of spruce and a red string. When they arrive, when Elias is too big to enter the house, he shrinks himself to child-size. The master, kind and curious, pegs the creature as almost a fairy; as close as one can get, yet still with a bit of human, which pretty much describes the Elias we’ve come to know.

She’d normally chalk his state to the result of a human transformed after abusing black magic, but she keeps her other guess close to her chest. All she can get out of him memory-wise is a color: red. She tells Lindel to take care of him, giving him the name Elias. Lindel is initially hesitant, but when Elias starts to take off (not wanting to be a bother), he agrees, though makes sure to call him his “acquaintance”, not his “apprentice.”

Back in the present, Elias’s bird-call from Adolf is interrupted by Renfred, who warns Elias that he’ll “ruin” Chise if all he does is let her live with him. Everyone from the college to Lindel wants her to spread her wings, but Elias is taking things slow, and Chise, happy simply to be wanted by someone, is being complacent on purpose.

Of course, this episode only provided part of Elias’ past, and we still don’t know exactly who or what he is, particularly before that scene in the forest where he had to fight back wolves. Ultimately, Chise’s future is up to her and no one else, but she’ll need more knowledge before making any concrete plans.

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Mahoutsukai no Yome – 09

After the dispersal of Cartaphilus, life returns mostly to normal for Chise, who enters a nice, steady routine along with her new familiar Ruth. The part that isn’t normal is Elias: he’s confined himself to his room and Chise doesn’t dare enter. Eventually, Silky tires of her standing by Elias’ door and throws her and Ruth out of the front one with spending money.

It’s not long before Chise runs into Angelica, and the two do some sightseeing and shopping around town. Angelica first tells her she needs to learn to rely on people more, but later wonders out loud if she’s being too dependent and fixed on Elias. While Angelica apologizes for saying too much, Chise latches on to her latter point, and turns it into a larger criticism on her own perceived “selfishness” for not wanting to be abandoned.

Obviously, Chise’s being too hard on herself. Considering how much she’s already lost in her sixteen years (and how few years she may have), I’d say she deserves a measure of selfishness. Besides, even as an apprentice she’s touched a number of lives in meaningful ways. She’s a good person becoming a good mage.

As if she heard my words about her, Chise decides to do what she wants, which is storm in Elias’ room and ask him what exactly is going on. The Elias who she meets is even farther from human than usual, and he warns her (with a steady voice that belies his fearsome appearance) he’s having trouble controlling his body. I couldn’t help but think of Howl (of the Moving Castle) when he’s extended himself too far and become beast-like.

Chise was startled initially, but doesn’t remain afraid for long (thinking it’s because she’s cursed). In fact, she spends the night with Elias, during which she dreams of him on top of her turning into her mother, who tells her she should never have given birth to her. How creepy and messed up is that? She wakes up to find Elias gone and a note saying he’ll be back that night.

That’s not sufficient for Chise, who didn’t get all the answers she wanted, and initiates a search for Elias with Ruth. Along the way, they encounter an old man apparently in thrall to a leannan sidhe, a kind of vampire that gives their host talent in exchange for their blood – but she is invisible to him.

The thing is…while Joel Garland is a big reader and occasional writer, he doesn’t have the talent or fame one would expect the Sidhe to give him. Nor does she even take his blood, because he lacks the ambition that is usually the opening her kind uses to gain a host.

Instead, she fell for him, years ago, when they met eyes. They meet eyes again, and the Sidhe believes it’s because Chise, a sleigh beggy, is there. She gives Chise a couple of kisses as thanks and asks her to come see Joel again some time, but insists, almost tsundere-like, that she doesn’t actually love the guy, since she can’t give him talent or take his blood.

Chise doesn’t think she can talk of love when all she can think about is herself…but is she really doing that? Does she only worry about Elias because he saved her; because gives her a reason to live; because she benefits?

Ruth finds Elias resting in a pool and Chise races to him, demanding more answers even though she expects only a few mixed with half-truths and deflections. Elias always assumed a minimum of information was needed since she understands and accepts him so quickly.

What he didn’t realize was that Chise cares about him to the extent a note and a little bit of explanation isn’t always going to cut it; she’s going to want more sometimes. Elias, taken aback by her “new faces”, now understands, but still needs more time to recover and gather his thoughts.

Just then, Echo’s familiar appears on behalf of Lindel, to invite Elias and Chise to the Land of the Dragons where he has “business” with her, revealing the setting for Chise’s next adventure.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 08

When Chise goes down, Ulysse fears the worst as he recalls the fate of his sister Isabelle, chased into a street by bullies and killed in a car accident. Isabelle never woke up, but Chise does, could see his thoughts, and tells him she’s okay.

Meanwhile, an enraged Elias in his true(r) form tears the chimera of the ageless sorcerer (whom Elia later calls Cartaphilus) to pieces, while Renfred shoots him in the head, giving everyone a bit of time to rest and Elias to return to a less terrifying (and more importantly, shorter) form.

Cartaphilus heals quickly, however, and summons another chimera: this one with the body of a giant spider and the head of none other than Isabelle, to capture Ulysse.

Chise isn’t having it, using her masses of magical power to summon a swarm of tarantula wasps from the ether; Elias warns her not to mess with the laws of nature in such a way, and manages to hold her back, but she’s super cheesed-off.

A blue flame fairy spirits them away from Carty and the chimera to a safe place, and lends Chise a lump of his coal to calm her racing blood.

When Carty appears once more with his Isabella-headed chimera, Chise forms a pact with Ulysse in a stirring ritual to make him her familiar, whom she renames Ruth. Their hearts, minds, and lives now bound together, Ruth attacks the chimera without reservation, knowing the Isabelle he knew and loved isn’t there and won’t be coming back.

Alice shoots off Cartaphilus’s arm, and with Chise and Ruth now in a familiar pact, decides they’re no longer worth his time, and he apparates away. Being an undying force of nature more than a human or beast, may well return if and when his interest is re-sparked.

But for now the threat has passed, and Elias bids that he, Chise, and Ruth all return home, where Chise will be healed, scolded, and told more about everything that went down, as well as the ins and outs of having a familiar.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 07

This week the sorcerer Renfred and his apprentice are cast in a slightly more sympathetic light, as they are operating under the command of the same ageless sorcerer who led Matthew to murder cats in an attempt to save Mina. Renfred puts keeping Alice safe over resisting the guy, and that seems like a good idea…provided keeping Alice safe is possible.

Meanwhile in the countryside, Chise continues to learn magic from Elias, and even helps out with potions and remedies…though her nightmare ward is brewed with too much magic, making it a sleeping agent. Elias provides Chise with a ring that will absorb some of her deep stores of magic, easing the strain on her body as long as she can remain calm.

Of course, Chise almost constantly finds herself in situations in which it is very difficult to stay calm: news of a “grim” or black dog on church grounds; a corpse that looks decidedly like it was mauled by said dog, and in the cemetery, a creepy multi-legged monster with a face like a fresh-shaven Guy Fawkes mask. She is saved by the black dog, who assumes a human form.

When the man transforms back into a dog and passes out, Chise heals and stays with him. When Alice shows up and demands Chise surrender the dog, Chise uses her failed nightmare ward to knock her out then tie her up.

When Alice comes to, she tells Chise she needs the black dog as “material” for making a chimera, citing these as the “weird brat” sorcerer’s orders. Elias emerges from Chise’s shadow, having gotten the gist of Renfred’s dilemma (along with the reason he lost an arm).

But just then, out of the blue, the weird brat shows up, and attempts to kill Alice. Chise shoves her out of the way and gets impaled by what looks like a spiked vine or giant mantis leg. In either case, it looks like the kind of wound that would be mortal if the person being impaled wasn’t the title of the show.

So yeah, Chise isn’t going to die anytime soon, but she’s certainly in bad shape, and the sight of her getting wounded sends Elias into a rage unlike any we’ve ever seen from him, perhaps revealing a form more indicative of who—or rather what—he truly is, which most certainly isn’t human.

Alice to Zouroku – 05

(In an attempt to balance our workloads, I’ve taken over Alice to Zouroku reviewing duties from Preston.)

In this episode apparently brought to you by SNICKERS® (You’re not you when you’re hungry. Eat a SNICKERS®.) Minnie C doesn’t easily give up her captives, so she and Ichijou Shizuku enter a long, sustained battle full of CGI effects that holds together reasonably well, considering the show itself has never striven for ufotable-level precision.

Minnie C puts on a good fight, but Shizuku eventually wears her down due to her superior power: the ability to summon any number of 666 weapons and 13 grimoires from a magical storeroom derived from an anime she used to watch.

That’s not as satisfying a powers-origin story as, say, Minnie C, but the major difference is that Shizuku is fighting for others, while Minnie is only fighting for herself, angry at the world for taking away her darling. When she runs out of energy and Shizuku stands triumphantly over her, I really feel for Minnie C when she apologizes to her husband for continuing to be alive, because she’s completely wrong: her husband wants her to live. That means finding another reason for living beyond being with him.

Meanwhile, the now-freed (and largely static during the battle) Alice celebrates and underscores her and Zouroku’s new freedom by floating with him high up into the sky, something he’s fine with after being cooped up on that container ship so long. He’s also fine that Alice is accepting of his and Sanae’s love and invitation to join their family, no matter what kind of being she truly is.

Minnie C is shipped back to the states, and the organization that employed her and the other ability-users and pursued is dismantled by the police. Alice takes to the granddaughter role with gusto, further charming her new big sister Sanae, who has no end of plans to use Alice’s newly-restored energy to have “fun”, a concept once foreign to Alice.

Shizuku and Ryuu rest easy, knowing all’s well that ends well. Ryuu almost seems to want to will the next crisis into being by wishing another “incident” would come along, but until then, it’s nice to see Alice, Zouroku, and Sanae simply having a normal dinner on a normal night, in the normal lives they hope to maintain even after all that’s come to light.

In fact, this could be the finale to a five-part miniseries, as it leaves me wondering what the show has lined up next.

Alice to Zouroku – 04

Nearly the entirety of this episode is spent in the cramped dark interior of a Hummer in which Minnie C continues to restrain Sana and lectures her about the fact that she’s not human, but rather a random but extremely powerful phenomenon that’s taken the form of a little girl.

Their scenes feel numerous and repetitive, until Sana meets someone who looks like her older self in her subconscious, then musters the energy to transport Zouroku into the car with her and Minnie C.

This occurs after Zouroku makes it clear he not only wants Sana back, but wants to make her a part of his and Sanae’s family. Sanae concurs, but hopes in the future her gramps will be more open and communicative with her and Sana.

When Zouroku is in the Hummer, he wastes no time lecturing Minnie C, who is unquestionably up to some of the “crooked stuff” he hates so much. Minnie can justify her beastly actions all she likes; as far as Zouroku is concerned, Sana is a little girl who doesn’t deserve this treatment…even if she isn’t really a little girl (and the jury is very much still out on that).

When Minnie starts shooting her service pistol, Sana tries to surrender, but Zouroku won’t let her call herself a monster or a waste of time. It’s his choice what he gets himself into, and now that he’s into this, he’s committed to her well-being.

That being said, neither Sana nor Zouroku have the power to oppose Minnie C, which is why seeing Ichijou Shizuku arrive at the scene to rescue them is necessary.

Her appearence in her suit left me doubting she was the same “cosplaying” girl who saved Sana from Minnie in the first ep, but now at least we know she’s a “Cabinet Information Research Office Secret Service agent”, and Ryuu and her superiors are well aware of her abilities.

This episode felt like it dragged the rescue out, and as a result, it was very monologue-heavy. Also, Ryuu’s assurances everything would be fine (which they turned out to be) kinda sapped the tension. I’m glad Sana and Z were rescued, and have a powerful ally who knows how to properly use her powers.

Alice to Zouroku – 03

In the aftermath of Sana’s big pig-conjuring hiccup, she’s loath to come right out and apologize to Zouroku (as any little kid would be), but playing Good Cop Bad Old Man, Ryuu manages to get Sana to wear a tracking device so he and Shizuku can help keep her safe.

He also wants Zouroku to go ahead and adopt Sana, which is a big step, but isn’t necessarily out of the question for the ol’ buzzard. Sana is a highly believable (and adorable) little kid throughout, constantly asking for juice but taking offense when Sanae asks if she needs help in the potty.

Meanwhile, Kitou takes of the kid gloves and sends in Minnie C Tachibana (again) to retrieve Sana. While en route to her mission we learn quite a bit about Minnie that makes her both a more sympathetic character and explains why she’s on the side of the bad guys.

Minnie met and immediately fell in love with and married an American marine, but when he was killed defusing a bomb in Iraq, she was a lost at sea (figuratively). That is, until she was reborn as a Dream of Alice out of a desire to be held in his big hairy arms – the arms we saw in episode one.

We also learn, I believe for the first time, that Sana’s elaborately costumed saviour from that first episode was actually Shizuku; they have the same blue mirror gate, after all. What’s interesting about this is that while Minnie, the Twins, and the Artist are all under the control of the facility, Shizuku is not only free but leads a normal life.

This is probably why despite Sana possessing power many magnitudes higher than she, Shizuku is working to keep Sana free. At her young age, she still has a chance to lead a normal life. But controlling her powers is key.

And what powers. In another flashback we see Kaitou showing Minnie C the “Wonderland” Sana conjured with a thought. Among the Dreams of Alice, Sana is clearly the crown jewel for them, and the facility wants to keep studying her under it’s determined if others can gain the same level of power.

Minnie C is fully on board with this, because if she can attain Sana’s power, she might be able to bring back her husband. That seems like a long shot, but she clearly thinks its worth it and has dedicated her life to that goal, even though Sana’s power specifically does not harm humans…for now.

Minnie C and Shizuku, then are diametrically opposed in their treatment of Sana. Minnie C has absolutely no compulsions about violently restraining Sana and threatening to break her neck. Sana is The Objective, nothing more. For Shizuku, as well as Zouroku and Sanae, Sana is a little girl who deserves better than lab rat status simply because she has supernatural power.

We leave Sana in the firm hands of Minnie’s beloved, and the good guys only have the faintest idea where she might have gone. But Shizuku is flying through the city, hoping she’s going in the right direction, and won’t rest until she’s found and re-rescued. Hopefully she won’t be too late before Minnie C’s obsession allows Sana to be hurt any further.

Alice to Zouroku – 02

Last week Sana met the ‘vinegar’ (Zouroku); this week she meets the ‘honey’, Z’s lovely, kind, and capable granddaughter Sanae, voiced by Toyosaki Aki. Sana is in Defense Mode at first, but Sanae manages to disarm her with a pig puppet, something, incidentally, Leon did to get Matilda’s mind off the trauma she’d just endured.

Sana didn’t witness her family’s murder, but she did witness…something very bad, which is why she had to leave the facility. But outside the facility is extremely hazardous, both in terms of what could happen to Sana and what she could accidentally do to others with powers she’s not 100% in control of.

Still, the Kashimura residence is a great safe house to demonstrate her powers writ small, so to speak, if “writ small’ means conjuring a whole herd of pigs upon seeing Sanae’s puppet, to creating a mammoth pancake when she can’t wait the nebulous “a bit” for seconds.

Sanae gets Sana into more contemporary clothes, fixes her hair by hand, and fills her belly. All the while, Sana inspects the home, which is a stark contrast from the cold, sterile research facility. Also, that big pancake, like any food, required a massive transfer of energy, leaving Sana tuckered-out.

When the research facility comes up in conversation, Sana starts to talk, which is the best way to process what happened, deal with it, and move on. She mentions how everybody was either very professional or very nice, and how she didn’t even know how to communicate before meeting the twins, expanding our knowledge of Sana’s abilities. Interestingly, the memories seem to be narrated in two voices: the young Sana, and an adult Sana voiceover.

When talk of what she found in the deeper levels of the facility (which involved huge crystals and lots of blood), Sanae is there to give her a needed hug. This new place may be ‘weird’, and more cramped and less clean than the facility, but it is where she currently belongs, at least until a proper plan of action can be formulated. Sanae makes sure Sana knows she is safe, and that everything will be okay.

Energized by her meal, her nap, and her hug, Sana is ready to take on the facility now, and when she decides they’ll look for Zouroku, she and Sanae end up teleported to, in quick succession: high over Tokyo, on a tarmac as a plane lands, clinging to a rushing freight train…and Antarctica.

It’s clear, then, that while Sana has immense power to conjure anything and travel anywhere, she’s still a long way from controlling her powers, either their level, or keeping whims from becoming reality. Tackling the facility in this state would be reckless.

In another example of the unpredictability of those powers, Sana and Sanae finally return to Tokyo, it’s to Zouroku’s flower shop, and the pigs come along for the ride, destroying the shop in short order. It’s another blunder, but far better for such blunders to occur in a controlled, safe environment than at the facility where many other ability-users will be deployed against her, even the twins.

Sana still has her ability-using ally whom we caught a glimpse of last week—she said they’d “meet again soon.” But I’m glad Zouroku’s granddaughter has been introduced to smooth Z’s rough edges, and the warm and cozy slice-of-life with Sanae and Sana was appreciated and a nice respite from what is sure to be more action and danger going forward.

Alice to Zouroku – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Sana, who belongs to a group of supernatural power-wielding humans known as “Dreams of Alice”, has escaped the research facility where she’s been held as long as she can remember.

While being pursued by the facility’s director, armed with other Dreams of Alice, Sana meets Kashimura Zouroku, an elderly florist, who gets caught up in the ensuing chaos.

He eventually agrees to let her stay at his place “for a while” as long as she helps him out and doesn’t use her powers.

A2Z, as I’ll be shortening it to, is a seinen anime, and as such, deals with what could have been a moetastic mess with a clear-eyed sobriety, a deliberate pace, and with a refined attention to detail. Zouroku is truly an Old Man’s Old Man, who wouldn’t be out of place in a show like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, and the way the young Sana instantly starts cramping his old man style is highly believable as well as entertaining.

We’ve seen plenty of “I don’t need this” characters, but Zouroku immediately earns that attitude by having so many years under his belt, and to a degree, having earned the right to live his life the way he wants. If a bunch of magic-using urchins start messing up his Shinjuku, well, he has a problem with that. Of course, once he learns where Sana is from, and how she’s no doubt had to deal with stuff no little kid should, his position softens, without breaking down into 3-gatsu no Lion Gushy Grandpa Mode.

I also liked the application of the magic itself. It’s weird, fun, and creative without getting too whimsical. As soon as we saw Tachibana standing on the palm of a giant hand, I knew we were in for some weird stuff, and her short but exciting dual with Sana’s mysterious benefactor, as well as the Mini car chase with the chain-and-arrow-wielding twins, are very well-directed sequences. The CGI is very much noticeable, but not distractingly so.

What I appreciated was that mundane scenes of Shinjuku are treated with as much care as those action scenes. This may be a first episode and the animation quality may well dip, but for now the world of A2Z is lively and lived-in, avoiding being too flashy, surreal, or stylized. Similarly, the character design is very simple, but effective, calling to mind that of Madoka Magica. A little kiddy, belying its more mature themes.

We don’t know exactly what’s up with Zouroku and his granddaughter, but my take was that she passed away or maybe moved out on bad terms (it’s suggested she’s older than Sana in any case). The sudden appearance of Sana in Zouroku’s life suggests this won’t be a one-sided relationship: both parties will get something out of it.

Sure, at first, that means more trouble for Zouroku, but whether he was planning on it or not, it also afford the opportunity for him to do something more important than a floral arrangement for a yakuza’s girlfriend.

What exactly that is, and whether or not he’ll simply stay out of the way when Sana & Co. go off on each other again, I look forward to finding out. This confident double episode was a surefire way to get me quickly invested.

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 12 (Fin)

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The night before her fight with Ikki, Touka asks Shizuku to ask him to withdraw, a request she never ends up relaying. Touka makes the request out of concern for Ikki’s health after all he’s been through. But even if he doesn’t withdraw, she’s not sure she can be proud of the outcome, since it’s all been fixed by the adults.

But she can only control what she can control, which is having a fight she can be proud of, something Uta is sure Ikki wants as well. There may be one-dimensional adversaries in RKC, but Touka is most certainly not one of them, and no matter what the peripheral circumstances, she wants to fight Ikki.

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It’s nice to see even fleeting doubt in Touka, whom Ikki places on a pedestal as the paragon of self-assuredness and conviction, while he wallows in despair following his father’s quiet but devastating takedown of him. He’s never been lower, not knowing what he can do with his “empty worthless sword.” Never underestimate the power of a father’s candid words to his son.

At the main arena, Ikki’s battle with Touka is the Main Event, with a packed house, helicopters circling, and TV cameras rolling. It’s all been arranged, Gladiator style, to maximize Ikki’s humiliation should he be defeated, which Akaza believes is a foregone conclusion, after the “softening up” they did on him…and the fact if Ikki fails to show up in fifteen minutes, he forfeits.

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But Ikki is on his way, filthy and beaten and exhausted as he is, he still manages to remember his master’s advice: if he’s frustrated about the fact he’s the weakest, hold onto the feeling, since it’s proof he hasn’t given up. He always chose to take those words as the Gospel, and he’s not about to stop now.

Then he faints, but he wakes up to Shizuku smiling above him. She’s not going to tell him to withdraw from the fight; instead, she’s assembled all of the people rooting for him, who put their dreams in his hands. He’s responsible for taking their defeats and going as far as he can, for the sake of those dreams. Oh yeah, and Stella advanced to Seven Stars, so if Ikki wants to keep his promise, he must, too, even if the odds are extremely against him.

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The fight itself? It ends surprisingly quickly. After exchanging their mutual excitement for fighting one another and Ikki vows to “beat her strongest with his strongest”, he casts Itto Shura immediately, but puts everything he has into one swing, while Touka banks everything on her undefeated Raikiri. Like AsteriskRKC breaks out a special animation style for the singular occasion, but its battle is, as I said, far briefer, but still plenty exciting.

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Then there’s the traditional long pause before we know who won, but c’mon, we knew Ikki was going to win, right? …Right? Well, that’s what he does, he wins, in front of a crowd of thousands and an audience of millions around the world. Akaza tries one last-ditch attempt to deprive Ikki of what he is due (and, incidentally, his life as well), but Stella closes on him fast, blast him out of the way, and embraces Ikki before he falls.

He’s able to stay conscious long enough to publically propose marriage to her in front of those cameras, achieving what he had always dreamed to: present Stella as the one he wishes to share his life and soul with, in front of everyone who matters, along with everyone who doesn’t. The display is enough to move Stella’s father to call Ikki’s, insisting they no longer use their children as pawns in their games.

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Touka, who looked pretty rough after the fight, recovers along with Ikki, who regains his freedom and the admiration of his school. Touka names him school flag-bearer for Seven Stars, and wishes him well. No bad feelings here; he really did beat her strongest with his. Of course, even after the tournament, there’s still two more years of school, during which time Shizuku promises to teach Stella how to be the ideal Kurogane bride, having already assessed her fitness to join the family and determined Stella a worthy match for her big bro.

As far as I know, RKC isn’t continuing for a second season like Asterisk, despite the possibilities for further epic battles and romantic progression. That’s a shame, because I thought RKC was the better show. But I’m also not choked up about it, because the show built up the finale well and delivered a solid payoff. It truly reached the greatest heights of chivalry!

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 11

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I don’t believe the first and second halves of an episode of RKC have been as different as the the ones in this week’s outing. Things certainly start out foreboding with Ikki and Stella getting photographed kissing and the director warning him about the Ethics Committee chief Akaza (the gangster in the fedora we’ve seen in the shadows) snooping around, while promising she’ll protect him should the need arise.

But then the episode takes a turn for the lighthearted and fluffy, with Ikki and Stella officially meeting Toudo Touka for the first time, and learning she’s not at all the same person when not in the arena. She’s clumsy and highly susceptible to instances of fanservice, but also friendly, kind, and compassionate.

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To whit, she and the council spend a day with underprivileged children from a local orphanage, and Ikki and Stella are invited along; Stella because she’ll be a hit with the kids, and Ikki…well, Ikki helps out with the cooking. It lets him further observe what a generous and wonderful person Touka is (he also hears about it from the tiny white-haired council member, whose humanity Touka restored in his darkest hour).

To him, Touka’s trump card isn’t her lightning or her ability to essentially read the minds of her opponents. It’s a far less easily quantifiable power to make everyone around her better, and more importantly make them feel like they can be better, than their humble origins. Proving it and inspiring people every day is her source of strength, which makes Ikki ponder what his own source might be.

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And boy, is his strength tested in the second half, when things take such a dark and sinister turn, the very palette of the show dissolves into stark black and white with harsh spot color and the grainy texture of film, complete with multiple title cards documenting the passage of time.

After the newspaper with their kissing photo on it is circulated, Ikki is incarcerated by the Ethics Committee and forced to endure days, then weeks of interrogation before a tribunal led by Akaza (his fathers’ henchman), then locked in a room with no furniture and strange noises coming from the walls. The intent is clear: get Ikki out of the picture.

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On its face, his accusers’ case is ridiculously arbitrary and unsubstantiated; it’s all trumped up rumor and intrigue and public opinion. But that’s exactly what those accusers want, and those who control the levers of power and information have their way with Ikki; he never had a chance.

Back at school, Stella, Shizuku, Alice, and the newspaper girl read about Ikki still wining selection matches in captivity, but the cloud of rumors and looks and laughs and side comments eventually gets to Stella, to the point she wonders if it would be best for Ikki if she broke up with him, blaming herself for his treatment.

At this, Shizuku hits her with a splash of cold ultrapure water, and warns her she won’t forgive her if she betrays Ikki, who decided to willingly face his accusers out of his love of Stella, and his desire to be with her out in the open. Of course, with scandal in the air and the subtle truth of their relationship drowned out by innuendo, that may no longer be possible.

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Even so, Stella realizes she erred in considering a breakup as the solution. Ikki is fighting for her, in the arena and the courtroom, so she sends him a lock of her hair (relayed to him by the blood-puking teacher in a neat bit of guard misdirection) as a symbol of her solidarity in his efforts.

Seeing that Stella is still out there fighting for him and for them as well, he decides to swallow his pride and speak to his father Itsuki one-on-one; a request that is granted despite Akaza’s objections. There, Ikki plays the Good Son and tells him of his exploits and victories at school, hoping it’ll be enough for his dad to finally acknowledge his strength.

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Then the final hammer is brought down: his father has always acknowledged him, but only as a mediocre talent not deserving of instruction, who would only create a mediocre result. If he were to succeed, it would create hope in others who aren’t optimally skilled, putting strain on his organization. His father has the opposite aim of Touka: to keep those who are low low, “in their rightful place.” He considers Ikki one of those people who aren’t worth his time, effort, or love.

It’s a devastating blow to Ikki, who thought, perhaps unreasonably, that his father still had a loving bone in his body for him, but no. Further more, that Touka, who works to lift people up rather than let them keep being trampled on? She will be Ikki’s opponent in his 20th and final selection match. Akaza says if he wins, all charges will be dropped.

I know what my first reaction to this was: Maybe Touka will let him win? But I only thought that a viable possibility for a moment; there’s no way Touka would throw a duel. Still, if one is to believe Ikki’s dad, that Shizuku is the superior talent in their family, and she couldn’t come close to defeating Touka, what hope does Ikki have, who still doesn’t know his source of strength (maybe Stella, buddy?) and has just been crushed by his “father?”

First Half:
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Second Half:
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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 10

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There are no further developments in Ikki and Stella’s sex life this week, as Todou Touka’s brisk and powerful introduction late last week segues into her battle against Shizuku, who has worked to become strong so that she can provide all the love for Ikki the rest of the Kuroganes refuse to provide. While she doesn’t have to worry about Touka’s opposing element (due to her ability to produce ultrapure water), this will still be her toughest opponent yet, and she’s at least somewhat nervous.

I do like how Stella reaches out to Shizuku and the two don’t snipe at all, but simply have a normal conversation. Stella’s concern on Ikki’s behalf is acknowledged by Shizuku, rather than shunned. But Shizuku thinks Ikki is worried because she’s not strong enough and might hurt herself. This battle is the ultimate opportunity to show him the full measure of the strength and resolve she’s amassed for him.

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After a lot of keeping their distance and waiting for the other to strike, Shizuku finally starts with a ranged attack, and both battle and episode take on a furious pace, as befits such a high-level battle. The crowd is immediately impressed with the magical skill on display and how evenly matched Shizuku and Touka seem to be. Even when we think Touka lands a killing blow, it’s only a “water shadow.”

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But Touka draws first blood, and then uses the mysterious art of Nukiashi to “hide under” Shizuku’s unconscious, making her miss her movements, like a slight of hand. This gets Shizuku into dire straights, but like she did with Ikki, Stella manages to snap her out of it by cheering her on. Unlike Ikki, Shizuku doesn’t like “that woman” cheering for her one bit, but is thankful to have been roused from her temporary funk.

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From there, the battle is taken up a notch, with the names of moves being announced but no more time to explain what they are. The battle proceeds to show, not tell, and it shows a lot. The battle’s second act is tremendously awesome, but it ultimately ends how I thought it would, with Shizuku drawing too close to Touka and falling for her trump card, Raikiri, a move that has yet to be overcome. The final moments of the battle take on a very cinematic quality, complete with letterboxing and subtler lighting.

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The immense, fog-shrouded winter wonderland Shizuku created is dissolved in an instant, and Shizuku falls, but not because she tried a reckless suicide move in a last-ditch effort to defeat Touka. Ikki saw that Shizuku made the best move she could have made…it just wasn’t enough. Which means in all likelihood that unless Touka had a particularly unlucky day, Shizuku was never going to be able to beat her.

Shizuku is very sore about it when she wakes up in the hospital, unable to face Ikki and wanting to simply be alone. Only Alice remains, to give her the hug she knows she needs, so she can drop the armor and let everything out she was repressing in order to act cool for her brother and Stella. And as Alice tells her, it doesn’t matter whether she lost the battle: her brother watched every minute with pride and love.

Shizuku may not know it yet, but proved all she needed to prove to him in that battle. And that turns out to be not much, because even if she was a terrible fighter, or a complete weakling, Ikki would still love her. That’s what real family is.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 09

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In addition to getting a win and advancing due to Ayase’s forfeiture, Ikki also gets a week off with Stella at a mountain hotel. Thankfully, we’re well past the point that one or the other must use this golden opportunity to confess their love—they’re already lovers. Rather, it’s more an opportunity for the two to see just how much trouble they can get into, and find out what kind of lovers they’re going to be.

Alas, it also turns out the director tricked them; at least part of their “vacation” consists of helping the Student Council clean the hotel. I maintain the Student Council are all a bunch of shallow cliches with silly exaggerated designs, but it’s good to know they’re not really evil, and as a group bouncing off one another, they’re fun enough.

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…Just not as fun as watching Stella and Ikki when no one else is around. Stella wants to go see a gorgeous waterfall an hour’s walk away, but she didn’t eat enough in the morning, gets tired and weak, and eventually shows symptoms of a cold. Then it starts to rain, and Ikki postpones the waterfall trip and seeks out shelter. Almost too conveniently, they find a clean, unoccupied cabin with a hearth.

Soaking wet and coming down with a fever, the best thing for Stella is to get her clothes off so she can get warm and dry. Ikki knows it’s probably embarassing, so he strips first. It’s a kind and very Ikki gesture, and reminds Stella how they met, with him seeing “everything” right from the start. She doesn’t look on that day with scorn, but with a smile.

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In the firelight, with Stella sweating and breathing heavily, there’s no way to make this situation not incredibly sexy for both parties. Ikki attempts to keep things “businesslike”, but after unclasping her stockings and bra, Ikki pitches a tent; one that Stella not only notices, but is happy she excites him so, especially when he’s exciting her so much. After a pause that lasts seemingly forever during which only the fire snaps and pops, Stella finally puts the question to Ikki: “Do you wanna do it with me?”

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But that doesn’t lead to any slow dissolves, tasteful panning, or overdramatic score drowning out sex noises. In fact, Ikki is taken aback, asking if she’s sure what she’s saying. Without skipping a beat, Stella looks seriously and calmly at Ikki and says she does; she wants him, he wants her, and if he wants, they can have each other right here and now. Stella may be the instigator by posing the question, but she understands the choice of whether to proceed belongs to both of them.

Ikki says no, but it’s not because he doesn’t want to. For one thing, she’s exhausted and needs to rest, but beyond that, Ikki is thinking about their future—both their futures, not just his. Even if you don’t quite agree with Ikki’s somewhat conservative views on the matter, you can still understand his decision as part in parcel of the careful life he has to lead, whether it’s not getting into useless fights, or not risking getting the girl he loves pregnant in a fit of passion just because all the circumstances align.

It’s not that Stella isn’t being clear-headed, or Ikki is being a prude. It’s somewhere in between, which makes it a far more interesting situation. Stella isn’t just disappointed Ikki turned her down this time; she’s also happy he’s so serious about their relationship. This isn’t just a fling for him. She also surprises herself again with her “naughtiness”, though I sensed more acceptance of, rather than shame about, that side of her.

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In any case, they got as close as you could physically and emotionally get to going all the way, and you have to tip your hat to RKC for going there and not giving us easy or one-dimensional answers or resolutions. And from a practical perspective, it’s good they didn’t get into it, because they would have been rudely (and probably painfully) interrupted by a giant stone golem smashing the cabin.

Again, RKC and Asterisk echo one another when this attacking monster splits into several smaller versions of itself when Ikki cuts it, meaning a central controlling element must be taken out to stop it from reviving. Ikki isn’t able to find it, and nearly loses Stella while fighting when the Student Council shows up to rescue them. A very discreet Student Council that doesn’t ask too many questions about why Stella is in such as state of undress and whatnot!

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Even the council finds their backs up against the wall, until their long-talked-about but previously unseen president arrives and takes the golem—and his controller, many miles away—down with authority. The glasses-wearing, twin-braid redhead is named Toudou Touka (not to be confused with Asterisk’s Toudou Kirin), and she makes an immediate impression as a capable badass who naturally was one of the final four in the last Seven Star. Heck, her attacks even dissolve the letterboxingin a subtle visual breaking of the fourth wall.

As for the gangster-type guy who arranged the golem attack, I don’t much care for him at all, but wonder if he’s specifically after Ikki on behalf of the Kuroganes, or more interesting working against them (and the Kurogane clan having to put on a front of loathing to protect Ikki all this time)

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Mercifully, Shizuku isn’t quite obsessive enough to have snuck on the bus with Stella and Ikki and stalked them on their trip (though it would have been somewhat interesting if she had been the one to save them from the golem, I don’t think she could have handled peeking through the window as the lovers stripped and sweated). Instead, she goes home to her big, cold sad room in the big, cold, sad Kurogane Manor, where she’s summoned by her big, cold, sad father.

Her dad claims to want to know how Shizuku is doing, so had her mother write a letter to her on his behalf. In addition to being insulted by being tricked into coming, Shizuku is pissed that her father won’t even speak of Ikki, even though like her he’s won twelve matches in a row without a loss.

He’s quick to express his pride in her, but not Ikki, so she rejects his pride, along with whatever excuses he has for treating her brother like garbage for so long. (Of course, if there is a good reason Ikki’s family does that, which Shizuku isn’t aware of, it would be nice to hear about it.)

This is actually Shizuku at her best, “behind enemy lines”, where the enemy is the entire rest of her family who treat Ikki like an inconvenient eyesore, and taking the fight to that enemy. If they’re not going to treat Ikki like they treat her, she’d rather they treat her like Ikki, and go to the devil while they’re at it. Going home made Shizuku mad, which is why its such perfect timing that her next match will be against Toudou Touka, in a battle of water vs. lighting.

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