Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 18

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This week is—the second semifinal match, the second-to-last of the Phoenix Festa— The winner shall face Allekant’s AL-D and RM-C. The challengers? Ayato and Julis versus the two aces of Galadadworth Academy: Doroteo Lemus and Elliot Forster.

Wait…WHO are these dudes? Never mind; it doesn’t matter.

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That’s right, this match is a gimmie. The show doesn’t even pretend that the outcome is in doubt. If it had, these guys would have been built-up more in past episodes. These guys are comically weaksauce, to the point I hate to think about the chumps who had to lose to them in order for them to advance this far. Sure, Ayato and Julis have a tendency to make even great opponents look silly, but knowing they’d advance to the finals for sure made this whole match a bit perfunctory.

Elliot is very skilled but also very young, and Ayato senses and easily exploits his lightweight resolve, while Julis simply pops off standard attacks of gradually increasing intensity until Doroteo lets himself get roasted inside his suit of armor. Yes, he had a mecha-horse and a long lance, but couldn’t lay a finger on an opponent on foot with a sword.

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Indeed, this is an example of bad seeding. It would have been far more interesting to me if AR-D and RM-C faced off against Ayato and Julis in the semifinal, so that Saya and Kirin could waste these knights and the four friends could face off in the final. What would have been wrong with that?

I don’t know, but for now Saya and Kirin can only stew in the sting of their defeat to an opponent they should never have had to face to begin with (the Festa is clearly rigged to favor Allekant’s puppets), while they search for the kidnapped Flora. Did I mention I don’t much care for Flora, nor do I care for her basically showing up just so that she could get kidnapped?

Well, I don’t, but she’s just a little kid, and clearly important to Julis, so I understand Ayato wanting to go all out to track her down, even meeting all secretively with Irene, who laments she has no hard intel for Ayato (since Dirk never bothered to brief her), but she does manage to narrow his search to Rotlicht with a hunch.

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Meanwhile, Ernesta and Camilla work through the night preparing their puppets for the final with Ayato and Julis. This is the build-up scene (combined with the previous battles and scenes featuring these two) the Galahad guys didn’t get. These are the guys to beat.

In this scene we learn a lot more about these two Allekant scientists, how Camilla’s body was severely damaged in a terrorist attack, and how Ernesta built her half a body, leading Camilla to pledge half her life to Ernesta in return.

We also learn the two have different goals: Camilla wants to develop a universal lux anyone can wield; Ernesta wants no less than to create a new form of sentient artificial life. She’s already on her way, thanks in part to the puppets’ match with Saya and Kirin.

AR-D wants to keep his face scar to remind him of his imperfections; RM-C wants a less embarrasing way to transfer her luxes to AR-D during limit transfer. Ernesta is over the moon by this progress; Camilla is clearly more weary.

As for Ayato, his cover is quickly blown and he gets chased all over Rotlicht by Men In Black, before a gorgeous young woman pops out from behind a column offering safety.

That’s right, it’s yet another girl for Ayato—though at least one who has been foreshadowed not just by the inter-world signage of the show, but by the fact the OP and ED are sung by this girl, the famous idol Sylvia.

I got a kick out of the post-credits preview with an increasingly desperate CG-Claudia trying to impress Ayato with her own singing. Sorry Enfield, I don’t think you’ll feature much next week either!

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 17

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Long story short: Saya and Kirin do not defeat the two Allekant robots Aldy and Rimsy. However, they do put up far more of a fight than any fighters who had challenged them up to that point. That is to say, the robots actually had to fight, rather than just sit back, wait for their opponent to tire, and crush them.

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Make no mistake: Saya and Kirin are crushed. It’s almost cruel after how hard they fight and keep getting back up, but they just don’t have the offensive power to overcome the robots. It makes one wonder why the hell robots can replace humans in the Festa, but it also will make it that much more satisfying when Ayato and Julis defeat them in the final.

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Of course, Ayato and Julis still have to face (I think) the duo from Sir Galahadworth or whatever it’s called, but assuming they win that fight, it may be without Ser Veresta. That’s because someone (cough-cough-DIRK) has taken Flora hostage, and won’t set her free until Ser Veresta has been sealed, which could be a permanent arrangement.

It’s more dirty tricks perpetrated in the shadows, and it’s a shame Flora had to show up at all, only to become a hostage that puts the main duo in a spot, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.but I hope Saya and Kirin, fresh off their devastating loss, can rescue her without Ayato having to sacrifice his Lux.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 14

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I saved this episode for last today because (a.) I wanted to check out the Spring shows premiering today and (b.) with a big battle last week I had a feeling this was going to be a rest episode, and so it was. But it’s because AW has thirteen episodes behind its belt that it can do quieter second episodes like this that focus not so much on the upcoming battle with the Li twins, but on characters and longer-term plotlines.

But man, they really give Flora the floor early on this week, and her sqeaky voice is, to be frank, really frikking annoying. Seriously, if an anime needs a kid voice, they should really just hire Kuno Misaki, who sounds much more like a genuine kid; Flora’s seiyu is just doing a baby voice, and it’s baaad.

That being said, I liked the running idea of Julis’ mischievous brother using Flora as his instrument to indirectly embarrass the princess. As for Flora’s photo of Julis washing her hair, that’s just her own treasured memory…just not one suitable for Ayato to see! All the girls’ knowing looks toward Ayato when Flora brought up “Julis’ rivals” was also funny.

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Just a couple episodes ago, Ayato and Julis were locked in near-mortal combat with the Urzaiz sisters, but they came away from the battle as friends, which is why I so enjoyed Ayato’s nighttime Skype session with Priscilla and Irene. Irene in particular is one very adorable tomboy when she thanks Ayato for saving her life.

Naturally, Ayato says it’s no biggie…but it is, which is why not only is Priscilla want to cook dinner for him again, but Irene is willing to give Ayato all the intelligence he wants regarding her school’s president, Dirk “The Tyrant” Eberwein, including his control over Le Wolfe’s intel org Grimalkin.

In the morning, Ayato’s roommate returns after a long absence (seriously, I barely remember the guy), gives Ayato some advice on the Taoist Li Twins, and even suggests an out-of-the-way cafe for Ayato and Julis to go on their date, though Julis is emphatic that it’s Flora, not her, who requested the get-together.

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Flora presumably has something important she has to ask Ayato, but first Julis spoils her with a big meal and an even bigger parfait, showing her softer, kid-loving side (she’d make a great mom!).

Of course, not only does Flora inadvertently organize an indirect kiss between Ayato and Julis (which only Julis blushes about) but her ‘important questions’ were provided by Julis’ brother, and start with how far she’s gone with Ayato so far.

The fun is broken up by Korona, yet another new doll-like character with a high voice (though less annoying than Flora’s).

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Korona is Dirk’s secretary, and she leads Ayato and Julis (who won’t let Ayato go alone…probably a good call) to a custom Rolls-Royce Phantom limo where Dirk is waiting for them. It comes a slight surprise that Ayato and Dirk have never met, even though the latter has been plotting against the former and his school for some time.

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Too many times an anime cheaps out on car models, but in this case, AW got themselves a bitchin’ CGI Roller, and they aren’t shy about showing it off from several angles both in the sunset and in a tunnel. During the mobile meeting, Dirk takes the measure of Ayato and Julis and agrees to answer a question Ayato has if he’ll return the favor.

With a deal in place, Ayato asks what Dirk knows about his sister Haruka. Dirk knows precious little, but far more than Ayato: the last time he saw Haruka, she was an entrant in a seedy underground fight club for super-rich patrons called the Eclipse Festa, organized by those disillusioned with the ‘kid-glove’ nature of the official festas, but shut down years ago.

Dirk watched Haruka lose her match, but believes she survived (matches ending in a death or two weren’t uncommon). This gives Ayato simultaneous relief and pause. His sister may still be alive, but what state is she in? Dirk has no more answers; only his question, which relates to Madiath Mesa, who Ayato knows as Chairman of the Festa Steering Committee.

With that, Dirk drops Ayato and Julis off, after which Korona mentions Flora to Dirk, who is intrigued, likely because she can be exploited as a liability to Julis if and when the need arises to have leverage over her. Always churning, the Tyrant’s mind.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 12 (Fin)

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AW eschews its OP to allow for some final moments between the Urzaiz sisters and the pair of Ayato and Julis before the big battle, and they were appreciated. This is the final episode for some time, so rushing right into the battle would have seemed too rote. No, this is more than a good-guys/bad-guys battle. Both sides have honorable reasons to fight, and all four are characters I’ve come to like.

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But once those moments are over, AW gets right down to business with a long and epic battle packed with powerful moves and counter-moves. And yet it’s a very personal fight, between pairs of people who could otherwise be friends but for the fact they’re in the way of each others’ goals. I particularly liked Irene shooting down Ayato wondering out loud if she’s “doing this the right way”, i.e. draining her sister dry to keep up.

Ayato and Julis broke bread with these two. They heard the sisters’ story, so Ayato knows why Irene is doing this, and why Priscilla is letting her, and she doesn’t want to hear him questioning her now. This is for all the marbles; no time for half-measures.

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But it becomes clear that Irene’s earnest and pure desire to protect her sister at all costs is being exploited by her Ogre Lux Gravi-sheath, and as the battle progresses it transforms her more and more into an overpowered demon. And yet, a measure of the real Irene remains, trying to hold back so she doesn’t harm the one person she never wants harm to come to. She just needs a little help.

She gets it as the battle comes to a furious climax, with Ayato pulling out all the stops with his dwindling time with Ser Veresta. He wrests Gravi-sheath from the berserk Irene and shatters it, winning the battle. Before being defeated, Irene grasped at the light of his powering up, as if yearning for a source of power less corrupting than the sheath. Well, she won’t have to worry about that now!

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It’s a brilliant victory for Ayato, but it incurs a cost as well. He may not have to suck his sisters’ blood, but the seal his own sister placed on him is activated before he’s able to leave the arena. The cameras capture what happens when he fights for more than five minutes, and all the rival schools lick their chops at the opportunity to fight him. Even knowing this vulnerability, they realize it still won’t be an easy fight…but they’re glad for the opportunity for a proper challenge…and those challenges will come next season.

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By the time Priscilla wakes up, Irene is totally over losing the sheath—shit happens, right? No point crying over spilled milk (or shatted Ogre Luxes). Pris is just glad the weapon that made her sister scary is gone, and Dirk content not to reprimand Irene, though he won’t be paying her debt down any since she lost. That doesn’t matter to Priscilla: from now on, she’s not just going to hang back while her sister protects her; she’s going to become stronger and fight by her side. I hope we get to see that next season, too.

As for Ayato and Julis, when Ayato, barely able to move, still insists he’ll keep his promise to have her back, Julis takes his face in her hands and tells him she’ll have his back too. Like the Urzaiz sisters, the two of them are stronger when both are pulling their weight, and I have no doubt in Julis’ capability to pull hard. Unfortunately their would-be kiss is interrupted when Saya, Kirin, and Claudia enter, but hey, when you have a harem, you gotta make sure the doors are locked!

Finally, in the post-credits teaser (and the show wisely stuck to its “Waiting for the Rain” ED, the best of the Fall), a man picks up Haruka’s bloodied glasses, saying she’s made him fall behind on his plans so far, but now…IT’S TIME. For what, we’ll just have to tune in next season and find out. If it’s lifting the seal she placed on Ayato, well, Ayato may be in for more suffering. He’s never had more people gunning for him, but he’s also never had more people who have his back.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 11

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This week is bookended by scenes between Ayato and the girl in his “harem” (at least the harem expressed in the ED) that he perhaps pays the least attention to and has the least interactions with. Claudia seems to savor her brief moments with him, even as they’re interrupted by the other girls. When he has to go to find a lost Saya (who really should have satnav on her phone), he promises to atone for skipping out on Claudia.

But for the second straight week, on his intended path to Saya and Kirin, he encounters the Urzaiz sisters. This time, Priscilla is on the run from some thugs (of course) and Ayato takes her to a rooftop. He saves her so quickly, she forgets to call off her sister, whom she told she was being attacked, and so comes in ready to rumble with whoever happens to be beside Pris.

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Again, however, Priscilla is able to calm Irene, and offers Ayato an invitation to dinner as thanks for his help and for his trouble. Irene angrily complains to the stodgy Le Wolfe’s Dirk Whasisname, who later makes sure via tarot-reading from his aide Corona that the Urzaizs will indeed prevail in the coming battle.

Julis very successfully includes herself in Pris’ invitation, but that turns out to be no problem at all, since neither Pris or Irene are interested in seducing her Ayato, nor are they using the dinner as a ploy to somehow gain intel on their coming matchup. It’s just…a dinner party. And that’s fine!

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Irene even wears a shirt for the occasion! She doesn’t get up, though, and welcomes her guests with a nonchalant “yo”, drawing the ire of her far more mannerly sister. The ice is broken when the food arrives, as Irene loves food, loves Pris, and genuinely appreciates how good a cook her sister is.

Dinner conversation takes a darkish turn when Irene mentions the casino, her primary source of revenue to keep their fam of two afloat. Ayato assumes Festa winnings would be enough, but Dirk garnishes those earnings from her, slowly repaying a huge debt she incurred from him in a time of dire need.

Beholden both to a callous loan shark willing to squeeze her for everything she’s worth, and an Ogre Lux, Gravi-sheath, that transforms her into something even Priscilla fears, if she’s honest, this episode did a nice efficient job of humanizing Ayato and Julis’ next opponents.

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Irene isn’t coy about the mission Dirk has given her, which isn’t to win the Phoenix Festa, but simply to destroy Ayato. He wants to do this sooner rather than later, since he once knew someone else who wielded Ser Veresta. Since the rest of his info on his big sister came from Claudia, I imagine that’s why he wished to meet with her so late at night.

But because he comes on such short notice, Claudia nods off while waiting for him, and her dreams are how her Ogre Lux Pandora take hold of her: she’s experienced death 1,200 times since taking up the weapon, and always a different way. I knew Ayato neglected her, but to know she also suffers this much due to her Ogre Lux – she has even more of my sympathy. Being voiced by Touyama Nao helps, too.

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Claudia only tells Ayato all this because he agrees to be part of her team in the upcoming Gryps Festa. She also gets into how Ogre Luxs, like people, cover the full spectrum of personality traits good to bad.  And one of the worst is Gravi-sheath, which turns Irene into a vicious vampire.

Things seem to be getting worse for her, but what can Irene do? She needs to repay Dirk, and doesn’t believe she can do it without her Lux, even with Pris by her side. In a very nice parting montage that transitions into the ED (which I never ever tire of; it’s so beautiful) we see what’s at stake, from Claudia to Julis and a worried Priscilla to an Irene possessed. Will she have to destroy Ayato, or will another way emerge?

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 10

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Ernesta keeps from Aldy that Rimsy is his limiter, indicating we haven’t seen the limits of his power yet. And while Ayato and Julis walk to Saya and Kirin’s match, they encounter Irene Urzaiz whaling on some nobodies before she turns her attention to Ayato. Her very polite sister Priscilla bails him out this time, but message received: Ayato has yet another powerful opponent gunning for him.

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While I’m sure Saya and Kirin are looking forward to a fight with Allekant’s puppets, this week’s opponents are no sweat, and Ayato and Julis don’t even arrive until the match is long over, when they walk in on a nude Saya is trying in vain to grab a nude Kirin’s boobs.

After another ridiculously quick and easy match against two dolls from Queenvail, Julis (who defeated “Non-Sugar” all by herself) suggests she and Ayato have lunch, then presents the sandwiches she made, then hints at Ayato to reward her fairly by patting her head too, something Ayato didn’t know she wanted.

It’s a cute little scene that underscores how far behind Stella and Ikki these two are in the romance department. Then again every couple has their own pace and rhythms.

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They’re also merely spectators for this week’s main event between Lester and Irene, who we see in action for the first time. Lester and his partner try using the same tired old strategy against Irene: keep moving and wait for her gas-guzzling Ogre Lux to drain her dry.

But that fails when she uses gravity magic that renders Randy unconscious, then sucks the blood of her partner Priscilla to regenerate her power and assault Lester into submission. A Vampire Girl with gravity magic? Pretty sweet combo right there that’s sure to cause headaches for our wonder duo.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 09

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Okay, no more messing around: the long-awaited Phoenix Festa is finally upon us; that is, after the introduction of Irene Urzaiz, a student so badass she’s in school prison. The head of the “Steering Committee” also announces the controversial decision to allow contestants to field alternates (AKA puppets), bringing a grin to Ernesta’s face.

Before Ayato and Julis’ first match, a light lunch is indicated, which is provided in the form of various over-sized rice balls made by Kirin with Saya’s help. Saya is able to glom onto Ayato briefly, and even get her head patted by Ayato like Kirin. Julis, however, does not request to have her head patted, and lets the silver and blue have their fun.

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When lunch is over, it’s Showtime, and Julis has Ayato all to herself. I liked how confidently Julis, used to distant adoration, strutted out to the arena, while Ayato was a lot more nervous, and how she actually flaunted that confidence by acknowledging the cheering masses. She is a famous princess, after all.

Going in, Ayato is hyped as the only Rank #1 fighter in the Festa, and he decides to waste no time demonstrating that, breaking out Ser Veresta and putting on a little show of powering up before dispatching the two opponents (who weren’t even introduced) all by himself, with one swipe.

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But it’s not just a convincing win; everything went according to plan. Ayato’s chains were presented as showmanship rather than a hindrance to his abilities, and his battle time limit was kept secret by keeping the battle short, with the assumption that Julis would step in once he can no longer fight.

Julis also makes sure Ayato knows to be evasive to the press lest they give anything away. This isn’t Julis’ first rodeo; she knows ignorance is their best weapon, while any info their opponents glean is ammunition against them.

That brings us to the next battle, one between two Le Wolfe brothers who each look at least 35 years of age (Why?) and the two combat puppets built by Allekant’s Ernesta and Camilla, a male-female pair named “Aldy” and “Rimsy”, whose dynamic and banter resembles that of their human creators.

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Le Wolfe dudes flash their skills with wind magic and marksmanship, but even with one minute period in which the puppets don’t attack, they can’t put a dent in ’em. The minute is up, and it’s Game Over for the over-aged brothers, as expected.

Those puppets will definitely potentially pose a challenge to our Seidokan pals; I’m thinking Kirin and Saya will face them at some point, while Irene Urzaiz is gunning for Ayato, with orders not to necessarily win her match, but simply to destroy him.

In any case, we’ll see if the show takes us to those faced, named challengers or if Ayato & Co. will have to carve their way through more nobodies before they reach the “bosses.”

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 08

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Saya and Kirin begin training as Festa tag partners, and it doesn’t go so well at first. While both are formidable on their own, when it comes time to work together, they’re not in sync. Saya concludes it’s due to the lack of a strong bond between them, so before any more training, she suggests the two of them socialize, something neither she nor Kirin has much experience with.

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But while they start out sitting rather far away from each other on a bench, they gradually come both metaphorically and physically closer together on that bench, as Saya shows Kirin’s passion for rare weapons (following her down a dark alley full of unsavory gentlemen to get to the shop), and in turn, Saya gives Kirin a swimming lesson, something that’s a bit of a sore subject.

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When Kirin somewhat idiotically slams into the lounging Violet Weisburg, she gets mocked for her lack of swimming ability. With little experience defending her pride, Saya steps in to do it on her behalf. The bold, confident, micro bikini-wearing, 35th-ranked strega Violet (a game Tamura Yukari) is quick to accept an unofficial off-campus duel with the unranked Saya, but Saya hands her ass to her with an enormous railgun.

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As a result of their day of socialization and education about one another, the next time Saya and Kirin train, they’re a lot better; even better than the golden couple of Ayato and Julis. And it all came down to getting to know and respect one another on more than a superficial level. Now they’re not just partners, but friends on first-name terms.

This was a pleasant little episode that didn’t try to do too much on the eve of the Phoenix Festa. It merely strengthened the bonds of two harem members, paving the way for them go far in their competition block. But if Saya wants to face off against Ayato and Julis, and prove to both Julis and Ernesta that she, and her father’s weapons, are the best, it will be a long climb through the brackets.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 07

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The sprawling underground ballast area where Ayato and Kirin fall becomes a crucible in which Kirin makes the crucial move from her uncle’s path to one of her own, encouraged by Ayato to do so with the assurance she won’t be alone on such a path. Considering how decisively he handles the boss dragon (albeit reaching his 5-minute limit), Kirin knows she has an ally who is strong and kind.

What she needs a little help with, which isn’t surprising considering how young and impressionable she is, is realizing her own agency and value as an individual, not as the tool of another. She also decides (due to Ayato’s nervous vacillating) that she might have a chance with Amagiri-senpai, making her an official member of the harem, if she wasn’t already.

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For too long Kirin’s uncle has gotten away with using her guilt, her sense of obligation, his bluster, and the back of his hand to cow Kirin to do his bidding. No longer. In a very simple but elegant scene, she takes one last slap, but blocks his second. She refuses to cut ties to Ayato, and instead looks her uncle in the eyes and cuts ties with him.

She’ll do things her own way from now on. Will costs come with that choice? Of course, not least because her uncle doesn’t really have any other means of advancing in the bureaucracy. He could grow desperate and do something unpredictable. And while some may say Kirin is swapping out her uncle’s influence for Ayato’s, it’s clearly that of the latter who has her own best interests at heart.

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Kirin asks Ayato to a rematch to serve as the first step on her freshly paved path to betterment and happiness. And it’s a very awesome duel at that, with Kirin displaying her usualy mastery of swordsmanship, but Ayato besting her by continually switching up his weapons from sword to spear to daggers, and finally to his bare hands, which she was open for. She’s soundly beaten, but when the match ends she’s smiling ear-to-ear, because it’s her loss, not her uncle’s, and it was also a valuable learning experience.

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After the match, Kirin asks if she can join Ayato, Julis and Saya’s training sessions after all, no longer bound to isolation, which one could argue had stifled her exposure to fighting styles and led to her loss. She’s determined to become stronger so she can save her father. I assume winning a Festa or three would give you enough clout to request sentencing modifications for family members, otherwise, wouldn’t Kirin be better served studying law?

Her uncle shows up one more time, but Kirin doesn’t waver in reiterating she no longer intends to let him use her. She’s also backed up by Ayato, who blocks one of the uncle’s cowardly cheap shots for her, and by Claudia, who promises she won’t take kindly to someone trying to sabotage or corrupt one of her beloved students…and her high-ranking mom will hear of any attempts.

Kirin also thanks her uncle for all the good things he did, but because he never did it for her, only himself, he leaves without responding to her heartfelt emotions. She then gets on first-name basis with Ayato (likely annoying Julis) and is later asked by Saya to be her tag partner. All the while, Ernesta and Camilla prepare to take the next step in their grand plan. Even as only semi-bad guys so far, they’re still preferable to Silas.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 06

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In the aftermath of his duel with Toudou Kirin, Ayato is surprised to find Julis mad not because he got into the duel. In fact she would have been disappointed if he hadn’t stepped in to protect her, and she would have done the same thing in his position, even if it mean showing her cards to a crowd. She’s angry because he lost, which means to date, the sixth grader remains unbeaten, despite being neither an Ogre Lux Wielder or Strega. She just uses a regular ol’ katana.

When he goes to get his new academy badge, Ayato finds Claudia in a very skimpy bikini, which probably isn’t an accident. Claudia lays out the deal with Kirin and her uncle: he’s trying to get a seat on the IEF board, while she seems to have her own agenda. She also mentions her mother, who became an IEF member by undergoing invasive psychogical conditioning to eradicate all her personal desires. It’s something Claudia doesn’t seem to happy about.

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Ayato might’ve thought his dealings with Kirin were over when he lost the duel, but he’s sorely mistaken. Kirin is the “little sister/kohai” member of his harem, reporting for duty. While normally shy and withdrawn, Ayato’s chivalry really inspired her, and she brightens up when talk turns to swordsmanship, an interest both of them share.

When he asks her what she’s fighting for, she says to help her father, without getting into more detail. Whatever the particulars, she’s decided it’s a fair trade to be used as a tool by her uncle in exchange to achieve her own dreams. Ayato doesn’t see it as so equitable (what with the slapping and all), but agrees at least to let Kirin join him for his early morning training.

After seeing her home, Ayato is jumped by Saya, who is suspicious of his motives and eager to hear his answer to whether he’ll be her Festa tag partner. He won’t, and the rejection stings, but it’s good to see Ayato isn’t keeping everyone in his harem hanging. There are winners and losers.

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On the Festa front, Julis is the winner. She’s a bit troubled by his early morning “interaction” with Kirin, however innocent it truly is. But when she accidentally orders extremely spicy curry (dang technology!), he agrees to switch with her, an intimate gesture to be sure. That, and his reiterating that they’re partners and have to learn to work and communicate as one, comforts her considerably. It would seem Ayato likes Julis the most, while Kirin is as I said more of a little sister figure.

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In spite of her uncle’s insistence she remain aloof, Kirin can’t quite resist Ayato’s kindness, and when he jokes about holding hands in the fog, she doesn’t hesitate to take his hand, surprising him. The fact she’s more “developed” than most middle schoolers is also a complication. But when Ernesta and Camilla unleash a horde of regenerating, slghtly-cute monsters on the two, the awkwardness shifts to All Business Mode.

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Kirin shows her sensitivity to the waves put out by the monsters and successfully deduces that if you slice them in small enough pieces a core is revealed that prevents further resurrection. But either because they fought in an under-construction zone (how convenient!) or it’s another Allekant experiment/trap, the very ground beneath Ayato crumbles and he starts to fall.

Kirin grabs his hand, saving him, but he ends up dragging her down the abyss with him. So whether he wants it to be so or not, Ayato’s going to be all alone with the smitten Kirin far longer than he expected. Whatever’s at the bottom of that pit, we’re going to see what these two are made of.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 05

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Asterisk War more or less regressed to the mean this week, starting off with an interminable bickering match between the leaders of five of the six schools in Rikka. We get some nice Ayato and Julis time, but it’s all too brief, and replaced by an influx of Allkant interlopers, apparently arranged by Claudia as payment for Allekant’s role in furnishing Silas’ robots.

The designer of those robots is Ernesta Kuhne, who is way over the top and over-rambunctious in all the wrong ways. I usually like Akasaki Chinatsu’s energy, but here she’s just extraneous.

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Call me spoiled by the last two episodes, in which Julis did indeed “monopolize” Ayato, to the benefit of the show, I might add. This Julis who butts heads with Saya (absent the last two weeks) just isn’t as interesting. It’s like another girl shows up and a switch is flipped. Fortunately, Lester is with me on this, and slinks away rather than witness any more fighting over Ayato.

That brings us to the introduction of a new main member of Ayato’s harem, judging from the promo art: the petite silver-haired Toudou Kirin. Their first encounter was a bump-and-peek in the hall, but when Ayato sees an adult in a suit strike her, he chivalrously steps in to intervene.

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This doesn’t go well for him, as when he asks the awful man (her uncle) to never hit her again, he agrees, IF he wins a duel. And in that duel, he’ll be fighting…Kirin, his niece. This puts Kirin in the odd position of not having her uncle beat on her if she loses, but losing isn’t an option for her, where every duel in her resume is scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb.

Ayato still has to deal with a limit to how long he can fight with Ser Veresta before he runs out of gas, and the fact that he doesn’t want to hurt Kirin—that’s the whole reason he got involved with her and her uncle in the first place! So it’s a defensive duel in which the clock runs out, Kirin wins, and Ayato is a bit dazed and confused.

What he just did was duel with the top student at his academy, one of the more then twenty students in Rikka Julis said were her equal or better. And while he can’t really be blamed for trying to stop abuse happening right in front of him, he did do exactly what Julis told him not to: get into another pointless public duel that reveals his strengths and weaknesses to all. So yeah, not exactly helping himself out.

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