Today, September 9th, marks the official second anniversary of this blog, which means that it is finally, finally time. Almost since the beginning there have been series that have dogged my footsteps. Shows that have lingered in the back of my mind, gnawing at my soul, telling me to ‘get over it and review them.” Last year, I finally revisited the infamous Shinmai Maou no Testament, putting to bed the long running joke of my hated (now more of a disgruntled respect) of that series.
However there is another series. One that has not yet been reviewed on this blog, simply because I have deeply personal issues that have prevented me from doing so. Issues that, when I honestly think about them, come off as vapid, silly, and frankly dumb. Yet I knew that if I took this blog to two years, that I would just bite the bullet and do it. And here we are.
Welcome to Shallow Dives in Anime. This is Chivalry of a Failed Knight.
At its core, Chivalry of a Failed Knight is a show with two halves. One of which is exceptionally good, and the other that is slightly above average. We’ll discuss the latter here first, because frankly that is more interesting.
At its core, Failed Knight, and its main lead Ikki Kurogane, ‘The Worst One’ a man who has low magic ability, attempts to walk down the well worn path of an underdog story. It attempts to tell a story about this man, an outcast among his peers, as he rises to the top of his classes and the earns the respect and admiration of his peers. It is something that anime fans need no introduction for. Anyone who has been around a shonen series knows that the underdog story is a well used one. That some of the best moments and series of all time, consist of down-trodden young men striving to become stronger and earn their place; not by their genius, but by good old fashioned hard work. Failed Knight tries to follow in these footsteps, and in some ways it succeeds.
But it is also a show that wants it both ways.
Failed Knight wants to be about Ikki making his way to the top. To be the zero to hero story that viewers know and love. But it also wants to have its main character be the calm and chill badass that so often permeates similar series. It instead wants to skip all of the training, the learning, and the trial and error and just have Ikki be the series version of Rock Lee from Naruto: the guy who may not be able to throw fireballs around, but is really, REALLY good at swinging his sword. The end result is having Ikki almost instantly earn the respect and admiration of his peers in the debut episodes. In fact after his victory over the archetypal scumbag who always looked down upon him. Ikki suddenly becomes the most admired person in school, earning the respect of his peers, dozens of would-be students and the new moniker of ‘Another One.’ And all of this happens the span of about three episodes.
Is it bad? Not really. It doesn’t cripple the series at all But it also shows what remains Failed Knight’s most pressing issue. That it wants to have its cake and eat it too. Simply put, by having Ikki be the calm and collected badass, who can back that up with his skill. It clashes against the story that Failed Knight is trying to tell. It may just be me, someone who has been in this medium for over two decades now, but it shows the level of incompatibly those two story beats have. I’m used to having the underdog being loud-mouthed, slightly full of himself, brimming with confidence, driven by his need to prove himself, and endlessly admirable. While some of those traits are present in Ikki, they are almost completely drowned out by the over-arching obsession of wanting him to be the ‘calm badass.’ By having Ikki wrap up his ‘zero to hero’ story so fast and so early, it left my questioning the entire point of the series. To put it simply, Failed Knight tries to tell the story of Naruto, but wants its lead to be a Sasuke.
And that brings us to the second half of the anime, and the place where Chivalry of a Failed Knight not only steps up, but sets itself apart from all of its peers: The Stella and Ikki romance.
If you take one look at Stella Vermillion, the female lead and love interest of the series. Your first reaction would be “seen it!” Everything about her character, from her design to her mannerisms, to even her powers, are about as ‘off the rack’ as you can get. As original and unique as anime can be sometime, it is also a medium that isn’t immune from sticking to designs and ideas when they are proven success. Stella, from red-hair twin tails, and tsundere personality feels about as ‘factory-made’ as you would expect. It would make you think that her relationship with Ikki would follow all the expected norms as well, except that it doesn’t.
If Failed Knight has one thing going for it, aside from the above average animation and good action scenes. Is that it is a show that deeply, DEEPLY respects the time of the viewer, and that is not seen anywhere more than with this romance. Instead of the traditional will they/won’t they, misunderstandings, and fear of rejection that is so common, we are instead treated to a relationship between two archetypal anime characters that feels almost normal. They get together early, confess that they like each other, and then just start dating. It isn’t saved for the last episode, it isn’t drawn out for drama. Stella and Ikki meet, realize they are attracted to each other, and just decide to start dating. When they have a problem, they talk about it. When they want to kiss, they kiss. When they decided they want to spend the rest of their lives together, they do just that. It is almost shocking at just how forward, how trimmed of the bullshit it is. For a medium that loves to string the viewer along, Failed Knight proudly decides to go “No, I’m not going to waste your time. You know they are going to get together, so let’s get them together.”
Furthermore, Stella’s character and attitudes towards Ikki are refreshing and unique. Instead of Ikki pawing after Stella, it is the other way around. Stella, the well to do princess of the Vermillion Empire is portrayed as girly, open with her feelings, comfortable with her needs, and downright thirsty as fuck for her man. She wants to get intimate, she wants to hold hands, and kiss and be a couple. She admires Ikki’s body, has fantasies of what it would be like, and when the two are stuck in a private moment, is the one who boldly offers herself to him, though understands when he refuses her (and the Light novels do allow their relationship to ‘level up’ shortly after). It this relationship that saves Failed Knight, and sets it above and beyond so many of its peers. In my 20+ years as an anime fan, I have never, EVER seen a series that is as typical as this, approach its romance plot with as much straight forwardness and honesty. It is truly something to admire.
I still have deeply personal issues that hold me back from this show. Reasons that I won’t get into here, because it is not the place for it. Still I am glad that I finally got around to watching this series. Make no mistake,
The Asterisk War, Chivalry of a Failed Knight is at best, an above average series, one that where half of it is genre-defying honest, and the other that is held back by trying to be something it really isn’t. However if someone came to me and asked. “Dewbond, I want to get into anime, and I’ve heard those battle-school shows are really cool, what one would you suggest?” Without question, without hesitation, I would tell them to watch this.
It’s heights are admirable, its flaws noticeable, but not crippling. It is a show that frankly should have gotten more attention that it did, and it was something that I am glad I watched, and even more glad that I can fully put in the rear view mirror.