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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”