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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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 08

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On her way to her father’s former martial arts school, Ayase recounts to Ikki and Stella the story of how he came to end up “mortified” and comatose. His school fell to the whims of Kurashiki Kuraudo. This wasn’t the first school the pointy-toothed punk brought down with his raw brutality.

The last words her father said before he passed out were “I’m Sorry,” but these past two years it’s been Ayase who was sorry she didn’t step in and fight on her father’s behalf, even if it meant she’d have been the one to end up that way. After all, his school is all about pride and protecting.

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Aside from that additional insight into the plight of the Ayatsuji Itto-ryuu School, this episode wastes no time at the pool or in the showers, or even with fighting the front-line grunts in Karaudo’s operation.

Flanked by two tough, lovely young ladies, Ikki marches right into the dojo, challenges Karaudo to a duel for control of the school on Ayase’s behalf, and drops the IDs of the guys whose asses he just beat. We didn’t see that fight, but we didn’t need to. The fight that matters is this one.

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Not needing any further proof he’s worthy of fighting him, Karaudo stands up and summons his sword, Orochimaru (which is the name of a Naruto arch-villain and happens to resemble Renji’s zanpakuto Zabimaru in Bleach, BTW).  It’s a sick-looking blade that can take any form, but more important is just how daggone quick Karaudo is.

While he boasts about how great his sword is, laughs a lot, and bares his silly pointy teeth, Karaudo at least avoids threatening Ayase or Stella, or spewing any other kind of assholish trash talk. This is all about the fight.

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Ikki quickly determines Karaudo’s true weapon against the Last Samurai wasn’t just due to his strength or brutality or swordsmanship, but the ridiculously fast reflexes he was simply born with.

He calls the characteristic (not technique) “Marginal Counter”, and it’s the thing he’s exploited in order to successfully bring down school after school, as if to say “all your technique and practice, all your philosophy and discipline, is nothing compared to my raw talent.” He’s the rare bad guy on shows like this that’s actually justified in his arrogance.

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But while he’s a tough customer, he’s not flawless, and while he probably didn’t expect going into the fight that a stiff like Ikki would survive long enough to discover his weakness (lack of stamina), he expected even less that Ikki would be having as much fun as he did. The two fighters actually reach a kind of understanding with each other in the fight, making a connection through the mutual fun they’re having that would have been impossible with words or other actions.

At the same time, Stella starts to realize that maybe it wasn’t Karaudo alone who brought Ayase’s father’s school down, but the burden Kaito bore as the leader of the school. At his point in his life, he just didn’t have the glint in his eye or the smirk on his face to defeat Karaudo. But Ikki’s a different story.

But once Ikki has dodged and blocked and parried enough of his attacks and gotten him good and winded, Ikki breaks out Ten-i-muho, the finishing move Kaito once tried on him years ago. Karaudo is wounded, admits defeat, and relinquishes the school, but he’s already looking ahead to Seven Stars, where he now knows he can’t let a battle with Ikki go on too long.

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Ayase, meanwhile, who felt so helpless when her father went down, and felt so ashamed when Ikki used Ten-i-Muho so flawlessly, is rebuked by Ikki, who tells her the only reason he was able to use it was because she herself had mastered it so well. He merely stole her skill. She’s a true Ayatsuji Ikki-ryuu successor, and always was, and it’s her duty and honor to re-open the school.

With that, Ikki calls it “Case Closed,” he and Stella hold hands (I loved her line before about Ikki being the “right guy to chase”) until an eavesdropping Alice and Shizuku reveal themselves, sore that they were barely in this “Sword Eater” arc at all. But that was for the best, as it gave Ikki, Stella, and Ayase’s story room to breathe. Speaking of breathing, Ayase’s father eventually wakes up, so happy ending all ’round.

Combined with the cementing of Karaudo’s role as worthy (if uncomplicated) villain, this wasn’t a bad episode of RKC at all.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 07

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Ayatsuji Ayase is lost. To her, reaching and winning the Seven Stars Battle has become everything. In order to beat Ikki, she must cast away her pride, which she deems useless as it has not garnered any positive results. So in a stunning trick, she throws herself off the roof, forcing Ikki to use Itto Shura to save her. Because their battle is in just ten hours, Ikki won’t be able to use his trump card against her.

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Ikki stumbles home and wakes up in the nurse’s office, where we learn why Ayase’s sudden but inevitable betrayal isn’t totally unjustified or evil, but simply misguided. When Karaudo fought her legendary father, he took his ability to hold a sword and left him bedridden for the last two years, while he took everything the Ayatsujis for everything they were worth.

Alone, broke, and harboring that “worthless pride”, Ayatsuji is no longer a swordswoman so much as a wounded, desperate beast who has been backed into a corner. It doesn’t excuse her actions, but it does make them understandable. But Ikki won’t let her reach the point of no return. He’ll face her in the selection match, Shura or no Shura.

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Ayase is incredibly confident, but there’s the sense that her hardscrabble “evil” armor is as delicate as an eggshell, just waiting to be cracked so a redemption omelette can be made. But her battle with Ikki is nothing short of thrilling and brutal. She certainly has the weapon of a villain, as her Hizume ignoble art is able to recreated every previous sword slash on the field of battle, as well as open small wounds on Ikki wider for maximum blood loss and pain.

And while this Ayase character is extremely different from the one we met last week, that’s just because she hadn’t born her wounded, desperate, relentless side. She makes it clear she harbors no particular ill will toward Ikki, but he’s an obstacle she must cut down.

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The color commentary clashes with the serious tone of the battle, but there’s no levity in the reactions of Alice, Shizuku, or Stella. Stella in particular looks troubled that her lover is getting so torn up, but there’s also the sense she knows something the others don’t; a plan of Ikki’s she hopes goes smoothly. That plan is revealed in the turning point of the battle, when Ayase’s coup-de-grace is barely blocked by Ikki’s “irregular guarding” technique.

Ikki tells Ayase she’s not fighting like the girl he sparred with. She’s ignoring his instructions and even what she already knew. Her mind is so consumed with convincing herself and everyone else that she’s a revenge-seeking dark angel of evil, she can’t actually fight properly. Her conflicted mind is at odds with her pure soul, where the love and pride of her father and his sword school endures.

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Before the battle, Ikki reported Ayase’s foul play, which was enough to disqualify Ayase and hand victory to Ikki without stepping foot in the arena. But Ikki doesn’t want that, because he wants to prove to himself and to Ayase that Ayase isn’t completely lost, and that there’s another way to get what she wants.

He cracks her evil armor by forcing her into submission, using the Fourth Secret Sword, Shinkiro to create an illusion of himself that she cuts, then drains her energy so she can no longer fight. His latest lesson to his pupil is that if those with nothing lose the pride in their swords, their swords will disappear. No sword, no win. She concedes defeat.

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But that’s not the end. She may feel the damage she did to her friendship is too severe to repair, but she clearly doesn’t know Ikki well enough. He offers not only forgiveness to someone who lost her way but was able to come back, but offers to help her get back what she lost, without sacrificing friends or pride.

Free of her evil villain act, when Ayase sees the callouses on Ikki’s hand, she sees her father’s hand reaching out. She asks Ikki for help, and Ikki is glad to offer it. Ideals that don’t produce results aren’t meaningless, as results ill-gained by casting them away will crumble to dust, leaving nothing.

Things might have gone far worse had Ayase not reached out to her swordsman brethren last week, but she did, and it made all the difference in the world.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 06

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Perhaps energized by their new status as lovers, Stella and Ikki dispatch their opponents with ease in their respective selection matches. Stella still has to deal with Shizuku glomming onto Ikki, and Ikki has yet to set his sister straight (perhaps because he doesn’t realize the extent to which she likes him), but there’s a new problem: Ikki has a stalker girl!

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Thankfully, she’s not a stalker, she’s just bad at looking at or talking to men. She’s Ayatsuji Ayase, the daughter of a famous swordsman who Ikki worships and whos style he knows of. Ayase has a good reason for coming to Ikki: having seen what he can do in the matches, she wants to train with him to get her out of her rut. If this sounds a lot like Kirin and Ayato training in Gakusen Toshi Asterisk, well, I’m with you in my continued astonishment by how often the shows echo one another.

In this case, since Ayase is older and a third-year, she’s not the Little Sister-type like Kirin, but rather the (slightly) Older Woman-type. Despite her mentioning her discomfort with men, Ikki gets right down to business putting his hands up and down her legs in order to adjust her stance. Stella and Shizuku are mortified, Ayase is embarrased and beet-red, but Ikki is very clinical about the whole thing, and doesn’t once express arousal by what he’s doing.

And dagnabbit, his adjustments pay instant dividends for Ayase’s fighting style. Her attempts to exactly copy her father, someone of the opposite sex, was what was holding her back. She needs to capitalize on the strengths her female body to improve.

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Ayase is amazed by her improvement and ebullient in her gratitude, to the point of possibly coming off as romantically interested in Ikki, despite him having no idea or desire for such a thing. Stella asks Shizuku if she’s okay with this, but it’s a question that could just as easily be asked of her. That’s when Shizuku states that as long as the person Ikki is with makes him happy and never betrays him, she’ll be okay with it.

Of course, Shizuku’s not talking about Ayase, but Stella. Only problem is, Shizuku still thinks she’s the best woman for the job, despite being his sister. Ikki, however, is a lot more certain. He touched Ayase as a doctor or therapist would; that’s it. Stella is the only girl he likes. And if she wants his hand and a kiss in the middle of the night, she—and only she—gets them. And she’d probably get more, if she asked.

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With that fact reiterated, Stella joins Ikki in training Ayase, who treats them to dinner to thank them. That’s when the subject of why she needs to get stronger and become a Seven Star finalist. One big reason might be the guy who walks into the restaurant (Wagnaria?) with his entourage of floozies and toadies: Karaudo, who picks on Ayase, then bashes Ikki’s head with a bottle and spits in his face when Ikki comes to her defense.

Stella wants to jack Karaudo up, but Ikki stops her, and does nothing to retaliate himself, leaving Karaudo free to take off with his posse in a cloud of insults at what a cowardly punk he is. But even if Ikki wanted to fight back, to do so would probably get him expelled, so he endures. I mean, his life isn’t all that bad; he has a badass live-in girlfriend, a cute sister, and a beautiful training partner. And Alice! Enduring a little bullying is a small price to pay, right?

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A couple of student council members were watching the whole thing, just waiting for Ikki to make a move, then commending him for not. The whole incident leads Ikki and Stella to want to know what’s going on with Ayase and those douchebags. But before she can tell them, she and Ikki get simultaneous texts: they’ll be fighting each other in the next selection match. That’s…unlucky.

Now Ikki is in a tough spot: he promised he’d help Ayase become stronger, but Ayase only wants to become stronger to progress in the Seven Star Battle; if he beats her, it will ruin her. But he also promised Stella they’d be the last two fighters standing, and that promise must take precedence.

After briefly consulting with Alice (a nice scene between the two that shows how good an adviser Alice is with everyone, not just Shizuku), Ikki decides to accept Ayase’s ominous rooftop invitation, where she stands wearing a kimono and an enigmatic grin. If her goals are as important as they seem to be, and Ikki is in her way, this could be the beginning of the end of their friendship, which despite having just begun this week, still feels like a loss I’d lament.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 05

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RKC is full of surprises. I never thought I’d be awarding two nines in a row to it, but it showed this week, categorically, that the excellent handling of Stella and Ikki’s confession wasn’t a fluke; that wonderful romance is here to stay, and there’s lots of room to grow.

But there were sure to be bumps in the road, and the first is that they’ve been lovers for two weeks…but haven’t done anything. That seems to bother Stella more than Ikki, but as we eventually find out, that’s not the case at all. It’s another common romantic convention: both lovers waiting for the other to start something and getting frustrated by it. Yet it’s another convention RKC picks up and runs with, showing how potent and relatable idea it can be.

While they’ve been lovers doing nothing for two weeks, Ikki has only risen in school standing, no longer the Worst One, but “Another One” (that’s not really his nickname, is it?). The girls swarm around him wanting lessons in swordsmanship; a group of guys gets jealous, but he beats them so easily they become his loyal students, a nice change of pace from the typical “you’ll regret this!” storming off that even the reporter mentions.

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The group of students he’s teaching keep growing along with his popularity, and while Stella is probably proud of him and admiring of his generosity, there’s no doubt she’s getting nudged out of chunks of time he could be with her.

Also Shizuku, as it turns out, hasn’t quite given up on him, or at least intends to make life difficult for Stella if she fails to assert herself. I particularly liked Shizuku’s ear-to-ear grin as Stella must follow through and chug her two bottles of Pocari Sweat.

Another great moment was when Alice lent Stell a game whose protagonist looks and sounds very similar, if not identical, minus the glasses, to Ikki. Her “illicit” vicarious play hearkens back to that great scene where she can’t help but touch Ikki’s chest while he’s sleeping.

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When Ikki takes his class to the pool, he invites Stella along. When she angrily wonders why he doesn’t want to teach her, he gives a very good explanation that not only appeases but flatters her: her ability is beyond anything can teach her, that his style would undermine her strengths, and he wants her, over any other, to continue to go beyond his imagination.

But the fact of the matter is, nothing continues to happen, and Stella is forced into the background as he teaches the others. The reporter puts two and two together, threatens to ask Ikki out, then gets Stella to let slip they’re lovers going nowhere. The reporter’s advice is simple: be forceful and tell him what you want. But of course, it’s not that simple.

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The reporter’s talk with Stella mirrors Alice’s talk with Shizuku, and in this case Alice has valuable insight into the male mind, since he shares their biology, if not that identity. The episode cleverly cuts between the two discussions, Archer-style. It’s also notable that Alice, hardly a conservative, doesn’t think Shizuku’s love for her brother is necessarily wrong, and that she shouldn’t accept defeat just yet.

Still, that’s because Alice is rooting for her beloved friend and roommate. In reality, Ikki is very much in love with Stella, and vice-versa. When the two come together, Ikki starts to talk in a way that Stella interprets as a break-up. The two have their first lovers’ quarrel, and it’s a damn fine one, with the two of them belting out increasingly reasonable things even as they get unreasonably upset with one another.

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Brass tacks: Ikki didn’t make the first move because he was worried she’d think he was a dirty man; Stella didn’t because she was worried he’d think she was a slut. They’re both wrong; both want the other to make a move. So they agree to say the thing they want to do right there and then, and it’s the same thing: kiss. Ikki makes it clear he wants her to ask him for a kiss when she wants one; Stella lets him know she only likes it when one guy looks at her in a naughty way: him.

Having cleared a common hurdle at the start of relationships when the two parties are still feeling each other’s patterns and ways of doing things out, they confidently hold hands on the bus ride home, each knowing a lot more what the other expects, and likely feeling foolish for ever worrying about it. Some tough battles with the Evil Student Council executives lay ahead for both of these lovers, but they won’t have to worry about what the other wants anymore.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 04

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Stella’s first battle is over before it begins, when her lower-ranked opponent forfeits out of a desire not to be hurt too badly. When she checks in on Ikki, he’s studying tape on his opponent, Kirihara Shizuya, and his “Area Invisible” technique that’s such a mismatch against Ikki’s swords skills. He seems focused and committed, and promises her he won’t lose. And Stella, having come off an easy victory, having lost to him herself, and used to Ikki acting tough and cool, believes him, without suspecting anything amiss.

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Alice is different. Her woman’s intuition, if you will, senses something is off with Ikki on this particular momentous, high-pressure occasion. She learns about how years ago there was a conspiracy to get Ikki expelled for some petty infraction, and how Shizuya attacked him brutally, but Ikki wouldn’t fight back no matter what, worried (rightly so) that he’d be kicked out for it.

Alice comes to the conclusion Ikki is so used to being downtrodden, both physically and mentally, by those who see themselves as better than him, that he’s developed a hard skin that prevents him from hearing the “screaming in his heart”—that release valve everyone has.

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Now that he has to either win the Seven Star Battle or be expelled, that pent-up anguish has a profound effect on Ikki, such that he does not strike the moment that gives him the best chance at victory: before Shizuya activates Area Invisible. He can’t, says Alice: he’s too damned nervous down there.

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And so, Shizuya, who is perfectly confident in his ability to hide and attack from the shadows like a hunter or assassin, has his way with Ikki, riddling him full of arrows. Ikki collapses in a pool of his own bloood, Shizuya mocks him, the crowd starts laughing and mocking and chanting “Worst One” and it’s almost a nightmare come true for Ikki, until a fed-up Stella stands up and tells the crowd to shut the hell up, and tells Ikki to stop looking pathetic and get up.

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So he gets up. He puts his cool face back on. He can, because Stella’s loud public words of encouragement wash away the nerves. He calms down, then uses his trump card and steals the “logic” of Shizuya’s ability, so he can see right through it every time. Shizuya is able to switch from tactic to tactic, but ultimately they’re all part-and-parcel of his ability, leaving nothing with which he can hold Ikki back other than cowering and crying “uncle.” Ikki spares his life (by one millimeter!) and wins. Then he passes out.

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When he comes to, he’s in the hospital, a dozing, drooling Stella by his bedside, his sister crying into Alice’s shoulder outside because it’s not to be for her. And since he has her alone, Ikki, who won his battle thanks to Stella, confesses to her, and expresses how important she is to him.

Her lovely dere response includes a closed-eyes first kiss and a small nod indicating she feels the same way about him. Then Ikki draws her into a big warm hug (bawww) and promises he’ll one she’ll face in the Seven Star final. You don’t get that a lot in anime these days: a couple working towards facing off against each other in the final battle. I like it!

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