In The Asterisk War’s 16h episode, Never Back Down, Li Shenyun and his sister Li Shenhua hurl an almost inexhaustible number of talismans at Julis Riessfeld and Amagiri Ayato, thus spelling doom for countless trees. Ayato takes a trip within himself. Sasamiya Saya and Toudou Kirin surprise their opponents!
Note: There are likely spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched the episode, best stop reading now!
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Ayato tells Julis that he’s awakened. He needs her to keep the Li twins off of him until he can finish powering up. So, while she tries to hold off the arrogant twins who are nonetheless skilled in deception and deceit, he takes a journey within to figure out the lesson his sister Amagiri Haruka taught him and Saya in the last episode. Julis comes out swinging with a flame attack that disrupts the twin’s stealth and destroys the hidden talismans. The twins alternated attacks so that as she focused on one, the other would strike. They forced Julis to reveal one of her strategic secrets, that she can easily withstand her own flames, when she brought down an inferno on herself and Shenhua. In fact, the attack nearly worked, and had Shenyun not protected his sister, she might have been eliminated. He admonished her.
In retaliation, they unleash an attack that binds Julis immobile with talismans. Shenyun begins hurling explosive talismans at her for the sheer enjoyment of seeing her in pain. Even the announcers questions why, if Julis can’t move, the twins don’t just take her badge. The answer? They want to win by beating her into unconsciousness, and they’re using attacks designed to prolong her agony.
As Julis neared the end of her endurance, Ayato grasped a metaphysical key that would remove the time limiter on his power. He slices the talismans that hold her and apologizes for making her wait. He tells her that he’s now at the second level; the seal’s still there, but he can extend his range, so to speak, to about an hour. Given her physical state, she entrusts the rest of the match to him.
As Londeyr (a viewer who lefts comments on Crunchyroll) predicted last week, Ayato uses the technique his sister used against him and Saya. He renders the Li twins’ stealth ability completely useless. He also detected and destroyed all of their hidden talismans.
Ayato’s relentless advance at first unnerved Shenyun, but gathering his courage, he attempted a counter attack. As one might expect from a fully-powered-up Ayato, the attack was a waste of time. As an added bonus, he even pushed Shenhua into one of her own talismans so he could easily slice her badge in two. She accepted her defeat with more grace than I would have expected; the level of power that Ayato displayed seemed to resolve her of any illusion that she had an alternative other than defeat.
In a rage at his sister’s defeat, Shenyun put all of his remaining talismans into a single attack aimed at Julis. Ayato puts forth his power and destroys both the initial attack and its hidden second attack. Julis remains untouched. Ayato, now understandably angry on behalf of Julis, drops his sword, uses his incredible speed to stand right in front of Shenyun, and punches him so hard he crashed through the arena’s barriers.
The match ends with a victory for Julis and Ayato.
After the match, Claudia Enfield visits to congratulate them on the win. She offers to take Ayato back to her place to help him recover; Julis, understandably, objects.
Madiath Mesa receives a report that the ratings are up for this year’s Festa. He notes that Haruka’s younger brother is still in the hunt for first place.
Saya and Kirin prepare for their match against the artificial life forms from the school Arlequint Academy: RM-C and AR-D. In the artificial life forms’ last match, they gave their human opponents a full 60 seconds of free attacks before they responded. They tried to do the same with Saya and Kirin as Flora Klemm, Julis’ maid in waiting, watched from the back row.
Kirin takes on AR-D and shows him how the very assumptions upon which he bases his strategy are flawed: he predicts attacks and protects against them, whereas she, as an experience swordswoman, reads attacks and adjusts in real time. She forces him to defend against her attacks before the 60 seconds has expired, thus forcing him to acknowledge that she’s right and to stop mocking her and Saya.
Saya, in the meantime, didn’t even bother attacking RM-C during the first 60 seconds. In fact, RM-C, observing Kirin’s success, suggested that Saya was the one mocking RM-C! Saya reassures her that no, she just wanted to fight RM-C at full strength instead of during an artificial armistice. RM-C strikes, but Saya transforms into something that looks a lot like an IS unit, and blasts RM-C into the wall.
Saya asks if they can now fight as equals.
A non-corporeal force abducts Flora from the stands.
What I Liked
Haruka’s lesson about people failing when their perspective narrows really hit home for me. I program alot (Java and its technologies and PHP, lately), and I know that if I get too focused, I loose sight of easy and effective solutions. It makes sense to me that the lesson would apply in combat as well. Or so I like to tell myself so I feel a little better about me!
Thought I deplore the twins’ tactics, they were effective from one perspective: they turned the crowd, announcers, and me (and I suspect, other viewers) completely against the twins. I understand how someone like their fellow Jie Long Seventh Institute students Song and Luo, who based their lives on honor, would hate the Li twins. The twins use deception without a second thought and from that perspective, fight dishonorably. However, deceit in and of itself doesn’t bother me. War is war; fighting is fighting; you do what’s necessary to win (well, without committing a crime against humanity, of course). But when the twins decided to torture Julis when a faster path to victory was available, they crossed the line. I thought the narrative did a good job dramatizing this.
At least Ayato apologized for making Julis wait. It’s not enough in my book, but it’s a start.
Saya opened up about her farther to Kirin. She told Kirin that her father had been in an accident that destroyed most of his body but left his brain intact. Now attached to their home’s computer systems, Saya’s father is free to pursue his research unfettered by the needs of a human body. He focuses on one thing: giving Saya amazing weaponry designed for her and for her alone. That’s why she took such exception to Camilla Pareto’s criticism of her father’s weapons in season 1.
Before Kirin and Saya’s match, Pareto offers her apologies for being so harsh in her criticism of Saya’s father, but she maintains that Saya’s weapons — the weapons her father designed — are unbalanced and dangerous. I thought Pareto showing even a little humility was a great bit of characterization. I also think that Saya considering the exchange as even more motivation was likewise cool.
AR-D responded to Kirin’s attacks with an emotion that almost seemed like delight. Whether emotion or programming, he seemed genuinely excited that Kirin could get past his initial defenses. I found this a welcome change from the Li twin’s arrogance.
I love how both Kirin and Saya teach AR-D and RM-C (respectively) to treat them with respect. Kirin and Saya had clearly done their homework, and they were ready for Arlequint’s contenders. I’m really looking forward to the next episode to see what direction the battle takes.
What I Liked Less
I get he needs time to assimilate what he learned. I get he needs to rely on Julis to buy him that time. But given the cruelty those twins have showed their competition (victims!) in the past, he was asking a lot of Julis! I sincerely hope he makes it up to her somehow.
The Li twins seemed to have an almost inexhaustible supply of talismans. How does that work? Where did they hide them before deploying them? It seemed like a power that was too one-sided, though given the outcome, maybe I’m off base here.
I feel underwhelmed by Ayato’s method of leveling up. It just didn’t feel amazing to to me; and it cost Julis so much pain (with is philosophically unacceptable to me — I think she’s been through quite enough, thank you). Plus, he asked her to step into harm’s way for him. I thought he should have done something else in addition to just punching Shenyun. I’m not sure what; I just know I didn’t feel satisfied.
I take that back. I know what he could have done. You know when Claudia offers to take Ayato back to her place for “hospitality?” Ayato should have gently disengaged her from his arm and said something like, “Claudia, I admit you’re a goddess and we owe our allegiance to you, but Julis just willingly went through utter hell to give me time to power up, so I will spend this time with her.” Julis has earned his attention at the very least, I think.
I liked how Saya opened up to Kirin about how her father had lost most of his body in an accident. The animation seemed to experiment with soft edges during that scene. I liked it! It put the focus on their expressions.
I wonder: I thought the Li twins were sisters; Crunchyroll’s subtitles seemed to support that interpretation. But according to how they dress and the Wikia, Shenyun is Shenhua’s brother. I’ve adjusted my posts about them to reflect this interpretation.
For me, this episode contained two of the least effective moments in both seasons: Ayato unlocking stage 2 of his power, and Ayato not gently telling Claudia that Julis had earned his attention. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy Ayato punching Shenyun through a wall (I did!). I’m not saying that harem scenes are in and of themselves bad. I am saying that Julis went through a lot just to protect Ayato , and I think he owes her.
I really enjoyed seeing Kirin and Saya “renegotiate” their relationship with RM-C and AR-D. I also thought it bordered on noble that Pareto approached Saya. I think it suggests that Pareto and Ernesta Kühne might simply be two students working enthusiastically for their school. Arrogant, sure; insensitive, absolutely! But not inherently cruel. I think they gave us a great contrast to the Li twins.
Other Reviews in the Series
- Season 1, Episode 12: The Gravi-Sheath
- Season 2, Episodes 13 (Divine Revelations) and 14 (Corrupt Ruler)
- Season 2, Episodes 15: Breaking the Memory Barrier
- Season 2, Episode 17: The Tyrant’s Puppet Strings
- Season 2, Episode 18: Scrambling
- Season 2, Episode 19: Battle Song
- Season 2, Episode 20: The Phoenix Showdown
- Season 2, Episode 21: Clinching Victory
- Season 2, Episode 22: Lieseltania
- Season 2, Episode 23: The Lonely Strega
- Season 2, Episode 24: Reunion