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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