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 – 13

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Asterisk doesn’t waste too much time getting back into the swing of things: Ayato and Julis’ next win puts them in the quarterfinals. Of course, now Ayato’s secret isn’t a secret anymore; both the physical strain of his trump card and its time limit are common knowledge among the rival schools, including Jie Long, the one that fields their latest pair of opponents, Luo and Song.

Jie Long’s pint-sized prez is excited about Ayato despite learning his potential weaknesses, to the point she warns her two students, the arrogant, smirking Li twins, that Luo and Song may not make it to the next round.

For what it’s worth, Luo and Song are neither arrogant nor smirking, but honorable fighters who lament before the match begins that they can’t fight Ayato at 100%.

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The primary draw of this show (unlike RKC, which had a far better central romance) is the matches, and this latest one doesn’t disappoint, with Julis cleveing the stage in half to split Luo and Song apart so they can’t collaborate on attacks or gang up on Ayato.

It’s still a tough fight, however, so Julis executes stage two of her strategy (the firewall was stage one): suddenly switching places with Ayato without warning, throwing the opponents timing off.

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Ayato and Julis strike fast and defeat Song and Luo, who are gracious in defeat but are still compelled to warn them later that the same tricks won’t work on the Li twins, Shenyun and Shenhua.

Song and Luo respect that Ayato and Julis treat their opponents as equals, but the Li twinslook down on everyone and pull out all the dirty tricks they can to stay a step ahead. It’s no surprise that Luo and Song are from the school of wood—rigid and unbending—while the Li twins are from the school of water—flexible and slippery.

Ayato and Julis’ next match will be one of only three matches left to decide the winner. With so many episodes, I, like Julis, wonder what Ayato wants to get out of this, though she appreciates him fighting for her. His sister, for instance, is someone who’s been on the sidelines/in the shadows all this time, and is likely not really dead, so I would think she’ll come into play at some point this season.

As for the introduction of Flora…I wasn’t aware the show was starved for another cute moe character, but…sigh…here we are. That being said, like the battle and Ayato and Julis’ increasingly mature relationship, the Rasmus Faber soundtrack—including the pumping new OP and ED—continues to impress.

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