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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