Introduction: Dewbond versus Chivalry of a Failed Knight
For the longest time, Dewbond refused to watch Chivalry of a Failed Knight. This was confusing to me. Based on a careful analysis of the kinds of series Dewbond watched (okay, I’ve read his reviews — that counts, doesn’t it?), this show should have been right in his strike zone!
So, I was really excited when he finally watched it and published his review. I thought his review did a great job of laying out what was good and bad about the series.
But I was even more psyched when he asked to write a collaboration review with me! Dewbond will be in plain text; I’m in bold. Please join us as we review Chivalry of a Failed Knight!
- There will be spoilers
- We’re taking a more mature look at the series than you usually see on my site; viewer discretion is advised
Chivalry of a Failed Knight: Lots to Talk About
A short while ago, I finally followed through with my pledge to watch the anime Chivalry of a Failed Knight. It was a series that had dogged my footsteps ever since I started blogging about anime. Overall, I walked away from the series thinking it was solid, but also something that wanted it both ways. There is plenty to talk about though, and there frankly is no one better than Crow from Crow’s Anime World, a fellow blogger who has sung the praises of Failed Knight for some time.
I am happy to welcome Crow to this collaboration post and to this discussion on Chivalry of a Failed Knight. Crow, it’s great to see you. To start this off, why don’t you tell me how you came across the series we are talking about today?
Even by the midpoint of the first episode, it was clear that the series was going to be at least a lot of fun to look at. Capture from the Hulu stream.
Hi, Dewbond! Thanks for the introduction! I think I watched the series when it first aired, starting back in October 2015. Interestingly, it aired at the same time as The Asterisk War, which you humorously pointed out in your April Fools’ day post. Both were series I wasn’t sure I’d keep watching. In the case of Chivalry, one of the last scenes, when Stella, herself a powerful knight, was recovering from losing to Ikki, sold me. What struck me was how mature she was in defeat. She didn’t whine or complain. Instead, she asked the Director what was really going on. She’d just faced Ikki in combat, and she knew he couldn’t be as weak as everyone claimed.
Taking the Dive (Shallow, That Is)
What made you finally decide to watch it?
Failed Knight was a show that I had come across and watched a few scenes, including the ending, many years ago. As I said in my post, I have deeply personal reasons that prevented me from watching the show (that I won’t get into here), and I just kept putting it off. However, like with Shinmai Maou before it, it was something that always lingered in my mind. Hell, it was getting to the point of annoyance. So, I finally just decided that if I kept the blog going for two years, I’d bite the bullet and just watch it.
I am glad I did, because it allowed me to watch something that, like I said before, has some incredible highs, and some frustrating lows. We may disagree, but I am looking forward to that back and forth. I think it would be best to divide our conversation into two major categories, both of which I think sum up the good and bad of the series: The Ikki and Stella romance, and the general plot of the show. Which one do you want to do first?
Let’s start on a down note so we can end on a high note. Like you said, I think we may disagree to an extent on this, but I read your review of the series, and I think you make a good case. Would you like to summarize what you disliked?
I think the Director shared Dewbond’s opinion of “worst one.” She had a hard time explaining it, too! Capture from the Hulu stream.
Chivalry of a Failed Knight: The Bad
Not Quite the Worst
Like I said in my post on the series, when it comes to the overall story of Failed Knight, I see it as a show that wants it both ways. It WANTS to be a series about a man going from zero to a hero, who climbs up to the top through only his own hands and hard work, not because he won the genetic lottery. However it ALSO wants to be a story about an absolute badass wrecking the floor with everyone he sees right from the start. To that end, we have Ikki Kurogane, who feels like a character who wants to have his cake and eat it too.
Instead of a 12 episode journey where we see Ikki crawl and struggle to his final triumph, Ikki’s entire journey to earn the respect of his peers and be a blazer is wrapped up in the first three episodes of the season. By that point he has a mass of would-be followers, the affection of Stella, and the respect of many of his school peers. He has nothing left to prove, which leaves Ikki just spinning his wheels in this area of the story for the remainder of the run. And then this culminates in the final climax of the story: his fight with Tokha.
A Swing and a Miss
Now this fight SHOULD be a drawn out, bare-knuckle brawl, where Ikki throws everything he can at Tohka, clawing together a victory, and earning his place. But it’s not, instead Ikki shows up and completely one-shots her, the undefeated ace of the school. It is anti-climatic, out of nowhere, (but not out of Ikki’s skillset) and frankly goes in the face of established tropes and expectations of this story.
Now, let me be clear here. There is nothing wrong with that in concept. Playing with well-worn genre archetypes, and having a spin on things is what keeps stuff like this fresh. Especially in anime where authors love to keep going back to familiar wells. But Failed Knight’s attempt to straddle two vastly differing story ideas does not help the series at all. Ikki cannot be the quiet calculating badass AND the plucky underdog with a handicap that the story wants him to be. It leaves the central plot feeling like it’s being pulled in two different directions, and it becomes hard to ignore because it gets wrapped up so quickly.
Stella, one of the premiere knights of her generation, had to go all out — and she couldn’t touch Ikki. Obviously, “worst” doesn’t refer to his combat capabilities. Capture from the Hulu stream.
Now there are ways I think it could have worked, but we’ll get into that later. Crow, you’ve always held a torch for this series. What are your thoughts on the Ikki storyline?
A Fair Assessment
I can’t fault your analysis overall. But I saw Ikki’s struggle through a slightly different lens — and to be candid, it’s not a lens entirely of the narrative’s own making.
The hints are there. Maybe it’d be more clear to say the skeleton of the plot was there, but I don’t think it was well-developed. I didn’t see the struggle as Ikki against the school. I saw the struggle as Ikki against the establishment, backed by his myoptic father. Shizuku gave us the clearest insights into that world. Ikki’s father absolutely hated him. I never felt like I knew why, despite his father saying reasons. But that hatred bled into the social establishment, and that affected Ikki’s chances at school and beyond. That world’s main antagonist was Mamoru Akaza and his vendetta against Ikki.
So from my perspective, Ikki’s conflict was with his dad and the social order his dad promoted. It’s precisely there I’d say the show stumbled. If it had developed that aspect more clearly, there’s a chance the conflict would have been more clear and its resolution more satisfying.
Ikki’s Rough Home Life
However, without that development, the beats pertaining to that conflict seemed to stumble. Well, they actually did stumble, but in my mind, I bolstered those parts of the plot, primarily on the strength of Shizuku’s conviction to support her brother.
Okay, I know this is anime, but still… On the other hand, Shizuku’s motives were noble. Capture from the Hulu stream.
I think that is a fair assessment to make. Yes, it is clear that Ikki is a guy who got a really raw deal at home, who was taken in by his grandfather and worked his ass off to become strong just with his own hands. But that just isn’t reflected in the student body, where 75% of the story takes place. Considering his father never really shows up, and they never have a conversation, it’s all just implied, I have to ask: What are you trying to prove, Ikki?
Is it that you’re strong? We know you are, Stella knows you are, hell the entire student body after those three episodes worships the ground you walk on. Your sister is in love with you. You manage to get the girl, the respect, and the power you’ve wanted so quickly, that I really have to ask. Who cares what your dad thinks?
It’s that disconnect I think, between what the author wants to tell us, and what is actually on screen (and paper), that hinders the story. Hell it betrays the very title of the show. Ikki is no failed knight, he’s just a dude who had a handicap and fixed it. Hell, they should call the story Chivalry of a Dude who fixed everything with a Training Montage.
It’s Not All Bad
Yet all that being said. What we get with Ikki’s story is never truly bad. It doesn’t take away from the series great animation, tightly told story, well done characters, and exceptionally honest romance. And I won’t lie that it felt good in that final moment to see Ikki hold up the flag, knowing that he has earned the respect of his peers. I just wish he was a little less Sasuke, and bit more Naruto.
But that’s just me, what are your thoughts?
By the time we get to episode 4, it’s pretty clear that Ikki is a dreadnaught. His reputation and family situation were his only real weaknesses. Capture from the Hulu stream.
Well, it took more than a single training montage! Because of his reputation prior to entering school, the three episodes you referenced were tough on him. Equality true, by the end of those three episodes, his school challenges were basically over. So I think we’re both talking about the same failure, just different aspects of it.
It didn’t affect how much I like the series, because I often overlook weak aspects of series that I otherwise enjoy. Some people have willing suspension of disbelief. I have a power-assist version of that!
Chivalry of a Failed Knight: The Really Good
Ikki and Stella’s Superlative Romance
Now that we have the negative aspect behind us, what did you think was distinctive about the Ikki and Stella romance? What made it stick out to you?
The Ikki and Stella romance is not only what saves Failed Knight, but what makes it stand out.
Let’s be honest here. Stella Vermillion is pretty much ‘off the rack’ as you can get when it comes to her character. She is from appearance, THE tsundere archetype. The personality, the twin tails, the red hair, the busty figure. That archetype has been used over and over, and over, AND over again so many times, that it’s almost comical how much she fits the bill. However, Failed Knight does something that makes it work: it doesn’t waste your time.
Stella liked Ikki. Stella didn’t like Shizuku kissing Ikki — in public or otherwise! No hemming or hawing around. She was upfront about how she felt from the beginning! Capture from the Hulu stream.
Instead of a long drawn out, will they, won’t they romance, filled with drama for the sake of drama. Stella’s just straight up all about Ikki. From almost the moment they clash blades, she’s got the hots for him, and Ikki isn’t oblivious to it, he is attracted to her. So they just get together, almost right off the bat. It is as normal as an anime relationship can be. When they have misunderstandings or fights, they talk it out. Want to be intimate? They get intimate! When they decide they want to spend the rest of their lives together, they do.
Ikki and Stella’s Honest Romance
There is no bullshit, no grandiose schemes, no plot contrivances to keep them apart, no promises to get stronger, or prove themselves, no pride or hubris to get in their way. Stella and Ikki just date and be together.
That is breathtakingly refreshing, astonishingly so. We all love the classic anime romances, but there are times when it can be a bit grating (hello, Inuyasha), and it feels like the stories are just spinning their wheels, or too afraid to change the status quo. Failed Knight makes their relationship the status quo, and then tells the story around it. It isn’t the end focus, or the overall goal, just a part of the lives of these two characters, as it should be.
What are your thoughts about it?
I think her interest started when Ikki defeated her. She realized he had real skills. She’d never really experienced anything like that. Remember when she came back to their room after she got out of the hospital? As you said, she was all about getting to know him. Stella projected a lady-like, prim public persona. But she literally climbed on top of a sleeping Ikki just to get a better look!
She might have felt embarrassed, but it didn’t even slow her down. Stella saw, Stella liked, and Stella sat on Ikki. And this is still in the first episode! Capture from the Hulu stream.
Stella’s Honest Affection
I had to respect her bold resolve.
Then came the little steps, like her sharing her water bottle with him, her hilarious attempt to get him to take the “small” bit of whipped cream off her face, right up to where they more or less confirm they should stay together in episode 5, where they have one of the most realistic couple’s argument that I’ve seen in anime.
Picking up on your idea that the show doesn’t waste our time, the focus is then on how they intend to stay together in an environment where Ikki’s father, at least, wants him on the sidelines.
One of the scenes I liked the best came towards the end. Ikki basically said no to becoming more intimate with Stella, but for the right reasons, in episode 9. Too often I’ve seen characters react melodramatically — the woman feels hurt or the man feels affronted. In this case, Stella got where he was coming from. Again, going back to your point about Stella as a generic character in design but acting more interesting as the show played out: I liked seeing not only how much they liked each other, but how much they respected each other.
Ikki and Stella’s Mutual Respect
There is indeed a layer of respect and honesty shown that isn’t really done in any other animes. Their heart to heart in Episode 9, when Stella gives him the green light for sex is, as if you said, a great example. When Ikki turns her down, it’s not because he doesn’t want to, or finds her unattractive, it’s just that he wants to make sure they are both ready. Stella gets this, and respect him for it, even when she’s thirsty as fuck for him. And thankfully the relationship does get consummated in the light novels, so we aren’t just stuck in perpetual blue-balls.
By the time we got to episode 9, Stella said “Yes.” Ikki said “Not now.” And they both understood the other. Capture from the Hulu stream.
You are right that in perhaps another show, that might have caused a rift, or argument to keep things going. But Failed Knight doesn’t bother. These are two people who just sit down and talk it out, and where entertainment so often throws in drama to keep plots interesting, it was a breath of fresh air.
Stella and Ikki’s romance is what puts Failed Knight on the map for me, and what really makes it stand out for other “off the rack” battle school animes that have come before and after it. I am shocked that it hasn’t been talked about more, because I think it would have been (and should be) held up as an example that you can actually have people be normal, and still have it compelling.
But Wait, There’s More!
Chivalry of a Failed Knight’s Animation
Well, we both talked about it in our reviews! But other than that, I really can’t remember any other reviews or posts about the topic. Those posts are as rare as an authentic romance! I mean, even in series that I thoroughly enjoyed like Toradora, I had to git my teeth through certain scenes that only existed to keep Ryuuji and Taiga apart.
So, aside from the shaky “worst” label and the romance, is there anything else you think worth highlighting in the show?
I would say that Failed Knight has a solid budget, and its fights, while nothing special, are well done and animated. The supporting cast is nothing special, but they also don’t take up too much of the story. I was quite fond of the friendship between Ikki’s sister and roommate, who seemed to really step into the shoes that Ikki left behind. Tohka I thought was quite good as well, being the best in the school, but also humble, clumsy and wanting to fight Ikki on fair terms, but also takes her loss with pride and honor.
From the first time we saw Tohka fight, it was clear she was an absolute monster. Yet at the same time, she was one of the most accessible and kind people you’d ever meet. Capture from the Hulu stream.
Chivalry of a Failed Knight’s Top-Notch Fan Service
The fanservice is also not bad. Stella is absolutely gorgeous, and the rest of the girls are nothing to scoff at. I do like how they put Ikki on the spotlight too, and Stella being so horny for him is great comedy. Aside from that though, there isn’t really much I need to say. Before we get into final thoughts, do you have anything to add Crow?
I think you had it covered! About the fanservice: One scene stuck in my mind because Ikki honestly did something as a teacher, but it really embarrassed both he and the student. In episode 6, Ikki needed to adjust Ayase Ayatsuji’s stance. They were both horribly embarrassed, and Stella and Shizuku objected strongly. He physically grasped her thigh to change its rotation. I thought it was a really sexy scene on one hand, and completely plausible on the other. He even asked permission! So not only was the show’s romance presented in a more plausible way. So was its fanservice.
Yeah, the fanservice in the show was pretty good, though I’ll probably never get over the fact that Shizuku out and out frenches her blood-related brother in front of dozens of other students, and no one bats an eye. I mean, shouldn’t that have tanked both of their reputations? Well anime is gonna be anime I suppose.
Stella certainly objected! Though Kagami Kusakabe seemed more intrigued than scandalized…
It was funny, it was sexy, and it advanced the plot. No, not that plot… Capture from the Hulu stream.
Chivalry of a Failed Knight Worked
I think that brings us to the end of our discussion, so why don’t we wrap up with our final thoughts on the series Crow? What are yours?
I’m glad you finally got to watch the show! I’m always glad to find someone else who appreciates the show’s finer points like its welcome portrayal of Ikki and Stella’s romance. It’s too bad that it stumbled just a bit on its thematic structure, or maybe it’s world-building — or both. But that didn’t bother me much at all.
If I can sum up the series, it would be like this. If someone came to me and said: “Dewbond, I wanna watch a battle-school anime, what do you suggest?” Without question, without hesitation, it would be Chivalry of a Failed Knight. It’s a show with great production values, solid enough action, and probably one of the best romances for a show of its type. It’s flaws are there, but I think to many, it won’t matter that much. This is a good show, straight up, and frankly I am surprised that it wasn’t blessed with a second season. Regardless of that fact, this is something that has earned my respect, even if I am happy I never have to go back to it.
Thanks so much for hosting this discussion Crow. I hope we can do something like this again!