Review/discussion about: Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry
Holding the door open for others. Pulling the chair out for your date. Saying “please” and “thank you.” Common actions that you (hopefully) do for others. A code of conduct that the Medieval knights originally created.
I am talking about chivalry. I am talking about chivalry because I am talking about Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry. (Yes, “cavalry” and not “chivalry.”)
I try to be as courteous as possible to others, and I do not usually get bothered when others are not. Except for one example: holding doors. More specifically, when I am behind someone and he or she walks through a door in front of me, and he or she does not look back to try and keep the door open, I get slightly irked. No doubt trivial, but I cannot help it.
In Cavalry, holding doors open for others is not a motif. Still, the anime keeps its own doors open for others to witness just how strong it happens to be.
Cavalry’s tale is one that has been told many a time in the medium. Ikki, a “loser” compared to his peers, is looking to prove himself in a high-school battle royal. Perhaps obviously, it turns out he is not a loser but actually the strongest dude ever. But rather than having himself a harem (the usual direction), the narrative takes a different route: he forms a romantic relationship with Stella, the (albeit stereotypical) tsundere, fire-based transfer student.
This romance is primarily what the events of Cavalry revolve around. Their initial duel. The arrival of Ikki’s sister. The hostage situation. The start of the tournament. And the public pool trip. For approximately five episodes, the anime slowly builds up the romance into not just a believable connection but also a natural one.
Simultaneously, the anime interlaces these episodes with other welcome additions. The introduction of characters, building the world (the system, the society, and so on), and various battles are included alongside the romance, giving the audience even more out of the narrative.
All the while, Cavalry has relevant sexual and comedic content. For example, Stella wanting to wash Ikki in the bathroom is sensual and funny, but it also serves as more romance. And Shizuku straddling Ikki and slowly inching her face towards his face is (again) not just sensual and funny but also demonstrative for how she generally acts and where her scenes proceed.
Where Cavalry dips slightly is in the middle set of episodes. The romance-driven narrative does continue. Ayase’s arrival sparks jealousy in Stella, getting her worried that Ikki may be taken from her. The thigh-touching scene was a tad unnecessary, but the intimate moment Ikki and Stella share that night quells her “insecure” feeling and makes her trust Ayase.
The problem is that these episodes are too much of an aside. Ayase receives attention and therefore development, but these events and even Ayase herself are barely referenced again and hardly impact the overarching plot. Hence, they come off as pointless despite the continued exploration of the romance.
Thankfully, Cavalry finishes as strong as it possibly could. Episode nine and ten serve two purposes. The first purpose is to (once again) continue the romance. The vacation gives Ikki and Stella time alone, but it is the sultry scene in the cabin that foreshadows what is to come. The second purpose is to get the final villain ready. Todo’s power is proven twice over – taking out the rock golems and defeating Shizuku – setting up the stakes for the final battle.
The last two episodes, however, steal the show from itself in stunning fashion. The events of episode eleven happen the way they do because Ikki wants to prove how much “he cares about the relationship” he has with Stella. (The anime’s words courtesy of Shizuku.)
But more than this, the episode builds up so much tension. So much drama. So much emotion. The events may be laid on thick – Ikki’s conversation with his father, literally being put in isolation for days on end – but they instill that sense of unfairness to the max. As a result, the audience is pumped and furious and ready.
This is all expertly executed. But the mastery occurs in episode twelve. Ikki battling through a figurative snowstorm, subsequently full-circle framing the narrative, is nice. Everyone arriving outside to support him one last time before the final fight is nice, too.
But these moments are not what do it; it is the final fight itself that does.
The audience expects this to be an amazing fight with swords flashing and bodies flying and techniques flurrying. But no. Instead, the entire fight is condensed into a single second. It cannot be said enough how absolutely satisfying that one second is. All of that tension and drama and emotion that had been built up for an episode and a half? How all the unfairness was stockpiled onto Ikki? Gone. In the span of a miniscule moment, Calvary brings euphoric relief.
Yet the show continues to deliver satisfaction. Ikki wins it all, the bad guy is wrecked by Stella, and the two announce their betrothal to each other (the aforementioned foreshadowing followed through), capping off the entire season on as high of a note as it possibly could. Thus, the ending ends up being one of the strongest in recent memory.
After all of these episodes, what is it that Cavalry is trying to tell its audience? What story did it create? What messages did it try to impart?
The answer is in the narrative: love. Love motivates people. Love for a lover motivates that person to always be there for the other, to always do whatever he or she can for the other. But it is not just love between lovers. It may be love for a friend that motivates someone to reach out a hand. Or it may be love for a sibling that motivates someone to give it their all. Love is this weird and amazing and unique emotion that motivates people in ways they never thought possible.
And, as Cavalry shows time and again, love can always be relied on.
Calvary generally sticks to drab colors. This includes both its art and its character designs. The former is usually dark greens, whites, and blues, and the latter is usually browns, blacks, and purples. In tandem, they keep the anime grounded, realistic in its presentation.
Speaking more on the art, the static setting unfortunately keeps the backgrounds boring to look at. This boringness is caused by the buildings, rooms, and recreational areas missing extensive details. As for the character designs, the only two that (literally) stand out are Stella’s and Shizuku’s. Stella’s tsundere-symbolizing hair, sexy figure, and different outfits give her an edge over the others. Shizuku’s icy-symbolizing hair, cute looks, and different outfits give her an edge over the others, too.
Lighting is similar to the coloring. Except for a few instances, like a sunset on the hill, a hot summer day, or the different battles, Cavalry keeps its lights low-key. This has the double effect of keeping the anime more serious and highlighting those moments when shining does make an appearance.
Where Cavalry shines brightest is with its cinematography and animation. Most of the time, the anime does not do anything too fancy. Up-close lips forming words, focus on the lewd, bouncing breasts, and shots of closing fans and floating petals are quite standard. The exception is episode eleven: The grainy effect and black-and-white depiction amplified the downcast feelings.
The battle scenes, however, step it up and then some. While Ikki is in the vast majority of the battles, each one involves a vast array of abilities. As such, Calvary employs a myriad of different camera techniques and perspectives. One example is a top-down view of Ikki falling into a stream of bullets that changes into a view that follows him in a circular pattern. Another example is Todo using her “Raikiri” that simultaneously shatters the black bars used for the wide-screen view.
But, perhaps obviously, the best example is the final fight. The harsh wind, the lightning effects, the slow-motion; the intense expressions, the draining color, the bloodshot eyeball; the floating blood, the back-and-forth camera, and the minimally drawn “extreme moment.” The entire scene does not last long, but it is unquestionably captivating.
Arguably the worst character writing-wise is Stella. In the beginning, the anime reveals bits of her past. Within, the audience learns (albeit heavy-handedly) how she had only been looked as strong for her inherent talent. Nobody would take into consideration the hard work and dedication she put into training and getting better. Ikki is the first one to notice this, and his noticing is the catalyst for her romantic feelings towards him.
Unfortunately, beyond the first episode, her character is placed almost exclusively on the wayside. Most of the events have her in a secondary role: supporting Ikki, quarreling with Shizuku, and so on. Because of this, she very rarely directly affects the outcomes of the events and comes off as too passive despite her importance.
Cavalry instead uses Stella for sexual purposes. Indeed, some are admittedly obtuse. Her leaving the shower and losing her towel and her getting forced to remove her clothing in a mall sexualize her more than necessary. However, the majority of her sexual scenes are designed around her romance with Ikki. Straddling Ikki in bed, bathing him with her breasts, and asking him to sleep with her is sexual but purposeful since it highlights how deeply she cares for Ikki.
And it is not out of character. The only other time where she receives heavy focus is episode five. This episode is all about Stella and her “naughty” feelings. Obviously they are not naughty; they are natural. She did not know that, so she, with Ikki, comes to understand that what she felt and what she wanted is absolutely normal for someone in a romantic relationship.
Ikki comes to understand this too, but, contrary to Stella, he goes through a lot more – as he should, considering he is literally the main protagonist. Ikki’s whole shtick is how much he is “inferior.” Because of this, his family disowned him and he had no friends to speak of. He is alone, and he is lonely.
Despite being ostracized, Ikki did not let it get to him. Instead, he channels this inferiority of his to become the knight everyone said he could not be. He trained by himself. He honed his skills. And he bided his time. When Stella shows up, his life finally starts to improve. She becomes his girlfriend. Shizuku, his sister, arrives as well. And along the way, Ikki makes friends with countless other people while also demonstrating his latent potential.
At times, the writing surrounding his character can be a bit too obtuse – one too many long-winded explanations (telling over showing). And while he continually deals with conflict, his character rarely extends beyond being a super-nice dude, helping others with their problems.
Even so, what Ikki represents, what he exemplifies is the notion of perseverance. The idea that, even when the odds are seemingly insurmountable, it is not worth giving up. He may get flustered before his fight with Kirihara. He may be forced to abandon his friendship with Ayase. And he may have been heartbroken after his talk with his father. Still, he persists, and the story explains how: the love he had from the people around him.
The other characters, while obviously not to the same level, channel this theme too. Stella perseveres to keep her promise with Ikki. Shizuku perseveres to support her brother. Ayase perseveres to uphold the tenets of her father. For all of them, including Ikki, there are highs and lows, wins and losses. And for all of them, what matters most is trying to persevere. Because then, and only then, can one become “strong.” Strong of body, strong of mind, and strong of spirit – as Ikki may put it, persevering is the only way to “sharpen” one’s soul.
Speaking more about side characters like Ayase and Shizuku, they have strengths of their own. Ayase gets a considerable amount of attention. She represents the lengths people will go to get what they want and how people should not be afraid to ask for help. Shizuku represents that, sometimes, there are limitations to what people can do and who people can be.
The best side character – and arguably the best character in the entire anime – is one that is not even designated as such. Alice, Shizuku’s roommate, is a part of the main gang, but he never takes the spotlight from them. Instead, he, like his “Hermit of Darkness” device alludes to, acts like a shadow: He is always around watching but not doing much.
Only until he needs to step in to provide words of wisdom. For Alice, his best trait is how he is the lens that the audience uses to view the characters in a new light. Be it words of encouragement or digging deeper into their thoughts, Alice always shows up to support his friends (most often Ikki and Shizuku) when they need it most, giving the audience a new glimpse of those he helps.
As for the antagonists, they tend to be one-offs. Bishou is the random bad guy that exists for less than half an episode. Kirihara is the comically cruel villain who bullied Ikki in the past. Kuraudo, the “Sword Eater,” is Ikki’s biggest rival. Mamoru is the tyrant who practically broke Ikki. And Todo is the kind yet formidable student council president.
Besides Todo, the anime does not go into much depth with the antagonists. Surprisingly, having many antagonists works in the context of the show: Cavalry is a tournament-style anime, so constantly switching between foes only makes sense.
Overall, given its length and its scope, Cavalry did more than all right with its cast.
The opening track, the effects, and the original soundtrack are the best parts of the music within Cavalry.
Starting with the OP, the trumpets elevate that triumphant feeling, matching the same feeling that permeates the anime. The vocalist does not have a lot of range, but his way of singing – skipping and lingering with the lyrics – fits nicely alongside the dropping effects and quick beat. The English lyrics are admittedly silly – “It’s time to take a top” – but the rest of the OP still manages to exude a strange brand of cool.
Furthermore, playing the OP during the final fight against Todo was fantastic. Using it enhanced the scene beyond where it already reached.
Besides the silly “Let’s Go Ahead” announcement, the effects during the fights are also top-notch. Arrows shooting, swords colliding, and water flowing, plus a myriad of other effects, turn the battles into spectacles that the hears cannot help but listen to.
Also (and as if more needs to be said about it at this point), the final fight deserves extra credit: Ikki’s blood vessel’s pumping, his and Todo’s auras radiating, and the wind building perfected the scene that much more.
Then there is the OST. The tracks mostly exist to ramp up the battles with lots of pianos, drums, and violins. The instruments are accompanied by resounding choirs as well halts in the music that increase adrenaline. Outside of the battles, Cavalry goes softer with more pianos, acoustic guitars, and bass guitars that contrast with the other tracks and keep the mood happy. And it even includes a piano, instrumental arrangement of the OP that is quite peaceful, rounding out the OST.
Voice acting performances for the anime are a toss-up that generally lean more positive than negative.
On the one hand, Shizuka Ishigami’s voice for Stella was cute and, more importantly, sultry, seductive in its delivery. Nao Touyama as Shizuku gave the adorable sister a cute yet stern way of speaking. And Yoshitsugu Matsuoka as Kirihara made his character into both the bully and the crybaby that he was.
On the other hand, Yuu Kobayashi’s voice for Ayase ranges from shy to nice to evil to sad, but it does not fit the character all that well. Shintaro Asanuma as Alice uses an effeminate voice that fits, but he does not demonstrate range. And Ryota Osaka as Ikki does nothing special, but, given the character’s self-insert status, it works.
Lastly, and arguably the biggest blemish on Cavalry, is the ending track. The ED comes off as an almost haunting composition that one would hear at a masquerade ball in olden times. This tone is weird because the anime’s mood does not match whatsoever. The vocalist does what she can, but the mixture of instruments and the all-over-the-place lyrics do not mesh well together.
Have I made it clear yet that I love that final fight?
Because I love that final fight. I watched it again a few times in order to analyze it here, and each time I was still impressed. Ikki and Todo simultaneously saying their internal monologue is yet another factor that makes the final fight nothing short of incredible.
The other fights were also awesome. My next favorite is Shizuku versus Todo because of the length and the cool (pun intended) and electric (pun intended) abilities. Ikki versus Kirihara was fun, too, just to watch that smug dude get what he deserved.
There was more to this anime than just the fights, though. Stella being so sexy and cute all of the time was more than welcome. And if you know me, then you know that the romantic developments made my heart skip more than a few beats. Stella’s and Ikki’s initial confession, their “fight” at the pool (this one was priceless), and their hand holding at night were each heartwarming and precious moments that made me stupidly giddy.
I also found Shizuku to be a pretty fun character. Her cuteness around Alice made me smile. (They need to end up together; I am shipping them.) Her bold advances towards Ikki were eyebrow raising. And her banter with Stella – like in episode two where the music cuts away to make room for their insults and in episode six where Shizuku’s comedic portrait pushes Stella’s comedic portrait to the side of the screen – was hilarious.
Even the other, lesser parts were entertaining. The running gag with Yuuri, the blood-barfing teacher. Nene, the short, carefree “instructor,” always abandoning her commentary post and getting teased by Kurono, the Director. Ikki saying his two signature lines: “With my strongest…” and “Itto Shura!” (His use of it in the final fight was just way too cool.)
It goes without saying that I was entertained from start to finish.
Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry may be another high-school-magical-tournament-ecchi anime, but it is more than that. The story is focused. The characters are purposeful. And the visuals, music, and entertainment have their own, respective strengths. Basically, chivalry or no, this anime definitely deserves to be treated courteously.
Story: Good, a romantically-driven narrative that starts strong, dips slightly in the middle, and ends superbly
Animation: Good, the artistic direction is interesting for the fights, with okay character designs and backgrounds
Characters: Good, while Stella is too passive as a character, Ikki, Alice, and the others have clout, with everyone involved in the theme on perseverance
Sound: Good, good OP, bad ED, nice effects, nice OST, generally above average VA performances
Enjoyment: Great, amazing romance, awesome action, and a lot of laughs
Final Score: 8/10
Thank you for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3