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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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 03

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The Stella x Ikki romance is humming along so well, Stella judges it time to ask him out on a Saturday date. Unfortunately for her, Shizuku had the same exact idea at the same time, sending a text to her bro as Stella trying to get the words out, which Ikki responds to immediately.

When Shizuku brings her roommate “Alice” (a man who identifies as a maiden), it turns into a group date, with neither Stella nor Shizuku happy about the other being there. Alice briefly flirts with Ikki as a joke, but otherwise isn’t in the running.

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Typical harem date hijinx ensue, from Shizuku holding Ikki’s hand (“normal sibling behavior”), to Shizuku calling out Stella on her self-description as Ikki’s servant when she tries to get closer to him, to Ikki wiping cream off Shizuku’s cheek and eating it, then Stella covering the lower half of her face in cream in order to attract similar treatment (Ikki just gets a towel). From Shizuku’s reaction to Ikki’s cream swipe to Stella’s ham-handed counterattack, it’s clear these two are new to the seduction game. It’s a process!

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But thankfully, the whole episode isn’t just a lightweight date, when the mall they’re in gets taken over by gun-wielding, hostage-taking masked goons working for a Blazer named Bisho. It happens when Ikki and Alice are in the john, and Alice hides them in the shadows using his handy shadow-manipulating device, but Stella and Shizuku are among the hostages.

No matter, they put aside their rivalry and start working to resolve the situation. Shizuku needs Stella to stay put and stay off the radar, but when the tough guys start beating an insolent mother and son, she stands up and uses her power to protect them, blowing her cover.

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When Stella goes head-to-head against Bisho, his “Ring of Judgment” absorbs her strikes and fires them back at her with equal force. But he respects her courage and offers to spare the hostages if she supplicates herself…in the nude.

Not wanting any innocents hurt, she starts to strip, but before she can remove her bra, Shizuku springs into action, having prepared a water-based magical barrier that protects the hostages from bullets and allows Ikki and Alice to take out Bisho, while Stella takes out the henchmen in her undies.

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They do so, and Ikki overcome’s Bisho’s weapon by simply cutting his hand off, and all’s well that ends well, with a somewhat woozy-from-exertion Ikki running to embrace Stella (who is surprised by but also happy with such a affectionate gesture. And he doesn’t hug Shizuku!)

But there’s a baddie hiding amongst the hostages too: a woman who threatens to kill another woman nearby if they don’t stand down. Fortunatly for Ikki & Co., an “ally” appears out of nowhere and basically cleans up the mess they were in, saving everyone.

That “ally”, which I put in quotes because he’s someone who seems to do such things in order to get all the credit and groupies, is Kirihara Shizuya, someone with whom Ikki has a past. Specifically, Ikki “ran away like a coward” rather than do battle with him an unspecified time ago.

Ikki tries to be cordial, but Kirihara’s barbs annoy Stella to no end. Worse, Kirihara gets a new text message: the first opponent he’ll face will be Kirihara. I doubt Ikki will be running away this time, and will have a plan to beat him.

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