In The Lonely Strega, the 23rd episode in The Asterisk War, Jolbert Riessfeld makes a touching, unselfish request and a plaintive, selfish request; Julis Riessfeld runs into an old friend whose personality has taken a turn for the worse; Amagiri Ayato goes up against his most powerful foe to date; and Claudia Enfield gets to go on the attack!
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What Happened (Spoiler Free)
Jolbert tells Ayato, Julis, and friends that their attacker last night at the ball was named Gustave Malraux (Marlow). The police offer to protect them, but they turn down the offer, since they’re more than capable of taking care of themselves and (likely) because they didn’t want the police to be harmed. Jolbert asks that Ayato and Julis stay behind, and what he asks of Ayato shocks him — and outrages Julis. She storms out.
Ayato finds her at the orphanage that she has worked so hard to save. From behind the fence, he watches as she plays in the snow with the children. He gets to meet Sister Theresa, Julis’ Strega mentor, and learns that the girl who had sewn Julis’ precious handkerchief had been gentle and had loved greenhouses. Julis excuses herself, still unable to bear the emotional pain at the memory of the men taking her friend away to turn her into a fighter. As they’re walking through the snow, a limousine drives past with the last person Julis expects to see. They finally chase her down to a burned out homestead, where the Julis tells Ayato to stay out of the fight as she attacks.
The rest of this review may have spoilers, so please be careful!
Jolbert tells Ayato and friends that the man who attacked them last night at the ball was Gustave Malraux (Marlow). He is less a terrorist and more a hired gun; his motivations are financial. The police want to put all of them under protection, but they decline. As they file out, Jolbert asks Ayato and Julis to stay behind. Now that she’s won the Phoenix Festa, the Integrated Enterprise Foundation has taken an interest in her. So, Jolbert asks if Ayato will marry her to keep her from ending up a puppet like Jolbert. If they don’t get married, Jolbert’s afraid the Integrated Enterprise Foundation will choose a husband for her.
Of course, she’s both indignant with him at being so blunt and furious that his fears are well-founded. She’s surprised when Ayato declines, at least for now, on the grounds that he refuses to become the mechanism to bind her freedom.
Then Jolbert asks if the two of them would reconsider participating in the Gryps Festa. He’s afraid that if she and Ayato end up on the winning team, their popularity will sky-rocket and his role will be diminished. In that case, he’s afraid the Integrated Enterprise Foundation will likely replace him with Julis on the throne. He’s up-front and honest about it. When Julis declines and storms out, Jolbert gives Ayato another reason he doesn’t want to see Julis ascend to the throne: she’ll try to help her people, the the Integrated Enterprise Foundation won’t allow that. She’ll just end up suffering. Jolbert tells Ayato to look for Julis at the orphanage, which is where she always goes when she’s upset.
As Ayato runs to the orphanage, Claudia completes an audio-only phone call with Yabuki Eishirou, and he agrees to do what she’s asked. Claudia is still visibly troubled.
As expected, Ayato finds Julis at the orphanage. She’s in the middle of a good-natured snow ball fight with the kids, who obviously adore her. When they see Ayato peeking around the corner, the mob him. Sister Theresa, director for the orphanage, asks Ayato and Julis to tea. Some of the younger sisters grew up with Julis, and they happily chat until Theresa waves them away. Ayato learns that there are four Genestella (Theresa and three other sisters) at the orphanage; they teach the children self defense. Theresa was Julis’ Strega mentor.
Ayato asks about the greenhouse he sees outside the window, and Theresa said it was the favorite of one of the girls who used to live there. Julis excuses herself to get some air. When Ayato catches up to her, she apologizes. Everything seems to be hitting her at once. She knows her brother cares about her; she knows how lucky she is; she knows she can’t help her country the way she’d like to. And though she’s financially provide for the orphanage through her Phoenix Festa winnings, she’s now set her sights higher: she wants to purge her country of patterns of influence that create orphanages and injustices in the first place. As she tells this to Ayato, she remembers her best friend, Orphelia Landlufen, the girl who had made Julis’ handkerchief, being led away by unsavory men from the orphanage to become one of their fighters.
At that moment, a limousine carrying Orphelia Landlufen drives by.
Julis is astounded. Though she and Ayato can’t keep up with it on foot, she has an idea where it was headed. The two of them arrive at a burned out house. Orphelia, wearing a school uniform from Rewolf Black Institute, is waiting there for Julis. Orphelia wants nothing to do with Julis; Julis wants her to abandon the world Rewolf Black Institute has thrust her into and come back with her. Telling Ayato to stay out of it, Julis attacks. Orphelia unleashes a power whose scope shocks even Ayato. Using hands created out of miasma, Orphelia easily deflects even Julis’ most powerful attacks. Ayato’s very concerned at how much prana (energy) that Orphelia seems to have at her disposal. Her counter attack knocks Julis unconscious. Ayato barely catchers her before she smashes into the ground. A purple energy that Ayato recognizes as the miasma of Erenshkigal eats away at her life energy.
Ayato asks Orphelia to stand down; she’s already won. She says she can’t stop the wheels of fate once they start turning and that he should flee. Of course, he’s unwilling to leave Julis, so he draws Ser-Veresta. He withstands the first attack, but as he backs away with Julis, he runs into a trap made of Orphelia’s colorless, odorless miasma. He can’t move.
Just as Orphelia was about to destroy both of them, Gustave Malraux arrives and asks if she wouldn’t mind leaving them to him. He gets paid by the kill, and if Orphelia kills them, he wouldn’t get paid. At the same time, Dirk Eberwein calls Orphelia and asks where she was; she’s not supposed to leave his lab. She powers down (apparently able to stop the wheels of fate after all) and tells Gustave to do whatever he likes with them.
Gustave summons two creatures: a three-headed hell hound named Cerberus and a two-headed hell hound named Orthrus. As weakened as he is, Ayato is barely able to kill Orthrus when Cerberus pounces. He covers Julis and braces himself.
Green and red streaks decapitate all three of Cerberus’ heads. Claudia arrives and tells Gustave she’d be happy to have it out with him here and now. He withdraws. Ayato collapses beside Julis.
What I Liked
I thought it was a nice gesture for Ayato and the team to turn down police protection. They knew the police would just have gotten injured.
I was surprised that Jolbert showed such political astuteness; I’m also surprised he showed such (apparently) genuine affection for Julis. When he suggested she and Ayato get married, he seemed to really want to help her. I don’t even think he undid that goodwill by asking she not participate in the Gryps Festa. He was honest about his reasons to Julis, and he revealed yet another level of concern for Julis when she left and he was alone talking to Ayato. He projects a lackadaisical personality, but I wonder if he’s really shrewd and just making the best of the situation?
Seeing Julis smiling and playing with the children was a reminder that while she’s gruff to most people, inside she’s really quiet and gentle. Her situation just doesn’t let her express that part of herself very often. The world of Asterisk War is bright a shiny on the outside, but like the microcosm of Lieseltania, it hides deeper injustices. It must be hard on someone like Julis.
When Julis storms off during tea-time with Theresa, I started to think that she was really emotional this episode. When Ayato caught up with her, I actually laughed out loud when she apologized and said, “I seem to be rather unstable today.” As long as the character knows she’s acting out of character, it’s cool!
Having won the Phoenix Festa, Julis donated the funds to the orphanage, and now they’re on sound financial footing for the foreseeable future. Her next goal is to do something similar for her whole country. Not the world; just her little part of it. I was relieved that she didn’t declare her intent to take on the whole Integrated Enterprise Foundation. At this stage, that would have been wildly unrealistic (though maybe fun to watch as a fantasy — but as a fantasy so divorced from reality to be perhaps better classified as a fairy tale).
Julis and Ayato are both lying unconscious after Gustave leaves. Who does Claudia worry about? Whose name does she call? Ayato’s, of course! She’s nothing if not consistent. I keep telling myself she cared — at least a little — for Julis, too.
What I Liked Less
Was it my imagination, or did the camera spend a disproportionate amount of time on Julis’ thighs? Obviously, I’m not opposed to occasional suggestive shots, but like in my review of the recent Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, excessive use of such camera angles can detract from the scene’s drama. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive (it’s possible!), but once the trend starts, it really irritates me.
In Julis’ memory, the men leading Orphelia away were either the children of Gru from Despicable Me or had some really interesting physical proportions.
I am not a fan of coincidence as a main plot driver. Above, I mentioned how I laughed out loud when Julis seemed to anticipate my ire at her storming off multiple times in this episode. When Orphelia Landlufen’s limousine drove past Julis and Ayato, I groaned out loud. Couldn’t they have come up with a better way for Julis to learn her old friend was in town? Or was this, maybe, a setup — not coincidence at all, but a planned encounter? I’m hoping it’s the latter, because if it were actually a coincidence, I’d be sorely disappointed.
And as the limo drove by, we get another shot of Julis’ thighs.
How did Claudia find Ayato and Julis in the middle of nowhere? Maybe we’ll find out later, but her appearing at just the right time seemed like another irritating coincidence. Maybe she has a way to track Gustave?
According to Claudia in the teaser for the next episode, the next episode’s the last. I haven’t heard that they’re planning for a third season. So why are they establish so many plot threads? There’s a lot of interesting stuff here: the Integrated Enterprise Foundation’s machinations, Claudia’s unknown plans and the enemies it provokes, Orphelia’s astounding levels of power and apparent hatred for Julis, and Jolbert’s attempts to help Julis could be the foundation for another season or two. I’d hate to see a rushed resolution of these plot lines. So honestly, I have no idea what to think about the next episode. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see!
On a more positive note, I like Julis’ realistic approach to helping her kingdom. First, she focused her plans on the orphanage. She had to execute her plan over years, but after finding friends like Ayato, Saya, and Kirin, she succeeded. Now, she sets her sights on the next logical target: her kingdom. Apparently, the purse for the Gryps Festa is huge, and she hopes to leverage it and the fame she’d earn to free her kingdom from the clutches of the Integrated Enterprise Foundation — or at least weaken its grip to the point where she can push justice down through the social strata. Seeing how open and cheerful she was with the children in this episode, it’s easy to see the emotional cost she’s incurred with her fight. Away from the kids, she can be short tempered and aristocratic. At least, she was before she met Ayato and friends. They’ve helped her learn there are still some people she can trust.
Seeing Julis grow has been an enjoyable aspect of this series. I hope we get a third season to see what she’s capable of.
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 16: Never Back Down
- 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 24: Reunion