FA Clash – Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry vs Gakusen Toshi Asterisk
When they first premiered around the same time in 2015, both anime looked like they may as well be blatant copies of one another (actually, there was apparently another one that also released around the exact same time that was incredibly similar, but I missed that one). While they diverged into different enough directions to each be recognized as their own entities, the similarities between the two are still noteworthy. So now we ask the age old question – Who wore it better? Two anime enter, one anime leaves. This is a Flash Anime-tion Clash. Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry versus Gakusen Toshi Asterisk.
(Disclaimer: I am only counting the first season of Gakusen Toshi Asterisk until such as time that Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry gets a follow-up season to compare to it)
On the surface, both anime revolve around incredibly similar external premises. The characters attend schools where the students have superhuman abilities and use them to face one another in duels. In the case of Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry, these are “Blazers,” modern-day magic wielders who can increase their physical abilities, conjure weapons from their very souls, and use mana for a host of other abilities called “Noble Arts,” which let them do things like manipulate elements, turn invisible, etc. Contrast this with the students of Gakusen Toshi Asterisk, where the supernatural abilities of “Genestellars” are almost purely physical, except for in the cases of “Stegras” and “Dantes” who are referred to as “Ability Users” because their powers extend to other things, such as manipulation of fire, by connecting to mana. So which series makes better use of this? Originally I’d intended to give the advantage to Asterisk on this one due to the parallels between their world-building and the structure they’d managed to develop for their system. This, in turn, added to the realization of the world. Buuut after doing a little research and reevaluation, I found that Cavalry has just as much structure (if not more), and it shapes their world just as much. So I suppose I’ll just have to settle for calling this category a Draw.
A protagonist has to protag. And, to be fair, both of the protagonists do a lot of protaging. But which one is better? Well, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry has Kurogane Ikki, the titular “Failed Knight” (if you look at the English title, Chivalry of a Failed Knight). Ikki is, simply put, the underdog. He has a stupidly low magic level, resulting in his F-Ranking, and title of “Worst One.” Despite this, Ikki remains levelheaded, noble, and strong-willed. Not only this, but he manages to stay humble despite his sudden rise in popularity. Gakusen Toshi Asterisk has Amagiri Ayato, who boasts a similar iron will, noble personality, and friendly demeanor. But that is where the similarity ends. In fact, in terms of ability, they’re literally polar opposites. Ayato had so much latent, uncontrollable potential that limiters had to be placed on him. Limiters he has to work on breaking. And, honestly, I have to give the advantage to Cavalry. Simply put, Ikki’s actions spawn from more than his simply being nice. Ikki’s situation throughout life, and his background are far more emphasized than Ayato, whose background is seldom visited beyond his relationship with his sister. Ikki has already been through a fair share of harrowing experiences that molded him as a character, and lead him to reacting the way he does to things. It even works its way into how he fights. Because of his pitiful magic level, he was rejected for most of his life and had to learn on his own. His humble upbringing carved his calmness and humility. That and… for crying out loud, the dude’s just friggin’ cool! Point, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry.
For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it’s a big word for “the second most important person in the story.” Anyway, let’s take a look at our female leads. Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry has Stella Vermillion, while Gakusen Toshi Asterisk has Julis Riessfeld. Both hot-blooded and quick to anger, both coming from noble backgrounds, both armed with fire-type abilties… and that’s about it, really. Much like the protagonists, their counterparts are only all that similar on a surface level. And, in all honesty, both have their strong and weak points. What can be said about Cavalry is that it doesn’t really indulge in “tropes for the sake of tropes.” Stella has a very clear and pronounced background that leads to her character being the way it is in many aspects. She’s always been tremendously revered for her power, and has maintained a high rank throughout her life. But because of her age and family background, she tends to be referred to as a prodigy, and someone with raw talent. However, she greatly dislikes this, and would prefer to be recognized just as much for the skill she’s cultivated throughout her life with hard work and rigorous training. Then there’s Julis, who in contrast to Stella, gets a little more mileage out of the “princess” moniker. By that my meaning she tends to act a bit more like nobility. She’s honorable, well-mannered, and quite proud. Even her motive for joining the Festas is tied to her title, at least tangentially. She’s after the prize money so she can improve the lives of those back in her country. And if I’m honest, Julis simply is the better of the two. Stella occupies much more of a support role, whereas Julis is front and center as a secondary protagonist. Because of this, Stella’s motivation reaches a point where her entire objective begins to revolve around Ikki, and the opportunity to face him at the end of the tournament. Julis, by contrast never loses sight of her initial motivation, and simply adds to it. Don’t get me wrong. Stella is an excellent foil to Ikki. She’s far more supportive, and far more understanding of him and his situation, dominantly because of the similarity between them. But Julis simply does more on her own, and remains fairly consistent throughout. (and yes, I do know that Stella’s prominence gets a bump in volumes of the manga that have yet to be adapted in the anime. This, however, is about the anime, not the manga). I will add, to this, that Julis actually isn’t the subject of nearly as many gratuitous ecchi antics as Stella, which is nice. Especially given its genre, but I’ll come back to that. Point, Gakusen Toshi Asterisk.
VISUALS & ACTION
I’ve said, before, that anime is a highly visual medium. In a culture where presentation is king, you’d better impress with the artwork and animation. Cavalry and Asterisk each possess very distinct visual styles from one another. You look at one, and there’s just no way you’re going to mistake it for the other. What I’ve noticed is that Cavalry‘s style is more crisp and the color palette is harsher, with a lot of stark contrasts. Asterisk, meanwhile, has a lighter color palette and a very smooth style and more seamless. It also uses CG more liberally… in fact I don’t think Cavalry uses it at all, that I can remember. But really? That doesn’t make much difference, here, because Cavalry earns the point in this category. The visual style, aside from just popping off of the screen more, better lends itself to some truly dynamic motion. When someone takes a hit, you feel them take that hit. When someone’s moving at mach speed, you feel them rush by you. The action in Cavalry is just such a visceral experience, made no less impactful than by the fact that these people are actually beating the absolute crap out of one another. There’s blood. People are sent to hospital beds after these fights. And not only that, but pretty much every duel in Cavalry simply aspires to be even more epic than the last, it seems. Furthermore, each duel is made that much better with some truly epic character moments on top of the beauty of the visuals. Asterisk’s action sequences aren’t “bad” per se, but they largely lack the same sense of motion and weight that Cavalry’s have. And when you delve into Ikki’s character, you really understand why. Cavalry is a series that needs to have epic fights in order to work. Asterisk, on the other hand, doesn’t emphasize the fighting quite as much. So really, this was a point Cavalry was destined to claim from jump. Point, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry.
All right, here’s where things start to really diverge, and hard. Yes, both series are Rom/Coms. However, they’re two different types of Rom/Coms. Cavalry is a straight up Romance with Comedic elements. Ikki has one romantic interest in Stella (okay, there’s another one, but it’s one-sided and kinda creepy, so we’ll just not bring that up), and the humor is derived from the interactions between the two of them (or anyone Stella perceives as being a rival for Ikki’s affections). Meanwhile, Asterisk… is a Harem Comedy. Complete with four ladies all fawning over Ayato. So let’s delve into this a little bit. Start with the “Rom” part of “Rom/Com.” In Cavalry‘s case, the attraction’s entirely mutual, and their reasons for it are expressed and explored on numerous occasions, and are in fact supported by their actions – supporting one another, bickering over things that are silly in retrospect, etcetera. Simply put, Ikki and Stella are into each other because for all their differences (their temperaments just being the easiest to bring up), they’re incredibly alike. They understand one another, and either one makes the other better through their differences. Meanwhile, the various ladies of Asterisk like Ayato because… I dunno. He’s charming, or something. I can understand it in Kirin’s case. He actively helped her with something. But honestly I even struggle to figure out why Julis would care about him in any capacity beyond “Friend and Partner.” What I’m saying is the characters of Asterisk generally seem to lack the same sort of chemistry in that regard. Now, yes, Cavalry moves this element along fast. And I mean really fast, as opposed to taking its time. However, there is the factor in the passage of in-series time. Cavalry at the very least seems to take take place over a longer period of time than Asterisk does, so it isn’t quite so jarring. And even if it does progress a little on the fast side, at the very least the series takes enough time to help us understand why it’s going the way it is at all. But when we take a look at the “Com” part of “Rom/Com” and… really, they’re about even. While both series, at times, fall back on ecchi antics to the point of gratuity, Asterisk does it less often despite being very much more situated in the space to do so. And that much was refreshing and amusing… but. Comma. There’s a bit of a formula to this. You see, while Asterisk delivered more comedy, and managed it more consistently, Cavalry‘s comedy hit harder whenever it did step away from all the ecchi junk. So in the end it’s just a matter of how you like your laughter (and your level of tolerance for ecchi, of course). Are you more into consistent chuckles or infrequent, hearty guffaws? Personally, I don’t really care, as long as I get to laugh. So with the two pretty much level with one another on the comedy, we go back to the “Rom” part, and… advantage, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry.
Since we’re already familiar with the surface plot of these two, qualifying for a greater tournament, I’ll just jump immediately to the ulterior motives of the two leads. The plot reason for Ikki’s participation is plainly his promise with Stella to meet her again on the battlefield. That’s… that’s pretty much it. Meanwhile, Ayato is participating in order to uncover the truth about what happened to his sister. Meanwhile shady forces are working to prevent his advancement, lest their control over events be rattled and the truth revealed. So yeah. I’m pretty sure the point, in this one, obviously goes to Asterisk. And that was bound to be the case. Asterisk set up a far more complex world, with a much more involved backstory and everything. By contrast, Cavalry is more interested in the here-and-now narrative. As such, there’s not much intrigue to be found in it. Point, Gakusen Toshi Asterisk.
Plot is the sequence of events. Story is the development and realization of character. It is, to me, the most important category of any series. If your characters aren’t up to snuff, you’re in trouble. Even a fundamentally intriguing character, however, can experience trouble if they just remain stagnant or if nothing is every truly explored. And with that in mind I can honestly say this point goes to… Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry. And here’s why. Asterisk does have a nice ensemble of characters. However, throughout season 1 of the anime, there’s remarkably little to any of them. Ayato hardly develops, and barely anything revealed about him is a character development, so much as a plot thread tied to his past. Julis has a leg up on him in that regard, opening up a bit, coming to trust and, in fact, rely on Ayato more… but Ikki’s story is just more fascinating. It has more weight. More emotional impact. Ayato barely changes at all. Meanwhile those last couple episodes of Cavalry really help to illustrate just how far Ikki has come, and just what those around him drive him to accomplish. Compare this to Ayato whose final fight is honestly far less personal, and far more heavily reliant on his sword literally being semi-sentient and deciding to help him out. At least that’s the best I can assume is what happened. And it only did that, as far as I can tell, because he’s “nice.” The boy didn’t go through nearly the same degree of trials and tribulations. And Julis’s own development only went so far. Ikki is a mediocre man who regularly challenged geniuses, and therefor had to become a demon. But in the end, when a demon wouldn’t do, he was forced to become a devil. Point, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry.
This is a fairly simple category. I have no writerly commentary on this, and no philosophical input. This is literally all about what sounds better to me. And if I’m honest, neither series wowed me in this department. As far as the openings and endings are concerned, I didn’t really care for either ending. I do, however, like Asterisk‘s opening a tad bit more. It also makes for a much better “final fight” track than Cavalry‘s did. Though I will say that the piano redux of Cavalry‘s opening theme which, as far as I can tell, only played right after the final fight, was beautiful. That said, point, Gakusen Toshi Asterisk.
CAST & ACTING
Well. It all comes down to this. When you adapt anything, you just have to pray for the right cast to really give your story life. So which cast of voice talent brought out the characters the absolute best? By the by, I’m only referring to the subbed versions, here. Nothing against dubs. I generally just prefer the subbed versions. Japanese is a pretty language to me, and I welcome any opportunity to hear it. That and Asterisk is the only one that presently even has a dub. Cavalry‘s is coming, though! And speaking of Cavalry, that’s where I have to drop this point. The cast of Cavalry honestly just did a better job of bringing out the full range of emotion that these characters go through. And, really, that’s at least partially owed to the fact that Cavalry is just a more emotionally invested story. It takes itself more seriously, so characters can have those moments that let the actors flex their dramatic muscles on top of the humorous ones. By contrast, I pretty much never got the impression that the cast of Asterisk was having to leaving the basic range of their characters’ archetypes much, if at all. And that’s unfortunate. Point, Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s decided. We reviewed both series based on nine criteria, and the clear victor, with a whopping total of six points is… Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry! Congratulate our victor, folks!
Ya know what, though? I still enjoyed Asterisk. And I’ll probably hop onto the second season soon, since I’m not caught up. I think it’s a perfectly watchable series. If anything this is an example of that old adage – don’t judge a book by its cover. These are two series that, on their surface, are so similar, it’s uncanny how they came from two different studios at literally the same time. But despite their similarities, they’re both different enough as to be enjoyable on their own merits. So even if I do personally prefer Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry, I’d still recommend checking out Gakusen Toshi Asterisk. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see something I didn’t.
With all that said and done, folks, that’s all for this inaugural installment of Flash Anime-tion Clash! Thanks for reading.
Keep up the awesome, and take care