Ikki x Stella is not a good ship

RMEQagyYou’d need to have some pretty low standards to call Rakudai Kishi a quality romance.

The Ikki x Stella romance in Rakudai Kishi is the epitome of “well, that escalated quickly”. Stella agrees to become Ikki’s “slave” in the first chapter of volume 1, she services him in the bath in chapter 2, and they become boyfriend and girlfriend by the end of the first book. People like this. They call it “refreshing”.

I call it bullshit.

I can see how you might call Rakudai’s romance “refreshing” if your only exposure to romance is via harems where nobody gets together. Going by those same standards, 50 Shades of Gray is the greatest love story since Twilight. Even a cursory examination of Rakudai Kishi’s plot should reveal to you that it’s self-indulgent, masturbatory horse excrement, and that Stella is a trophy girlfriend rather than an actual character.

Consider the role that Stella plays in the narrative. She’s introduced as a super powerful A-rank knight and then promptly loses to Ikki. Other than that, she never has any major battles in the first three volumes. She constantly stands aside to let Ikki do the fighting. Some of the situations she gets into are downright exploitative too. In the first volume, she obeys a terrorist’s command to strip, and later on in the same volume she agrees to become a generic villain’s girlfriend if he beats Ikki. In terms of the actual function she plays in the narrative, she’s a damsel in distress more often than not. Her strength exists only to make Ikki look strong in comparison.

ER1HIfIm0qE

“I AM A STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The interactions between Ikki and Stella are painfully cheesy as well. They don’t actually have conversations, they just exchange meaningless romantic platitudes. You might say that this is an accurate portrayal of a young couple, but the story clearly frames their relationship as “THE GREATEST LOVE STORY OF ALL TIME”. (Spoilers: they agree to get married at the end of volume 3 lol.)

I will give Ikki x Stella points for one thing. The story doesn’t shy away from sexuality. I quite like how Stella in particular becomes more open about expressing her sexual desires. It doesn’t make me ship the couple, but it does make me want to read the doujinshis. Comiket can’t come soon enough.

Ikki x Stella is a crapshoot, but you know what is a surprisingly good ship? Alice x Shizuku. Their relationship is understated and touching in its own way. Although Alice self-identifies as female, I think Shizuku is the only person who refers to Alice as female (iirc even the narration uses the masculine pronoun 彼). Shizuku’s comfortable relationship with her “big sister” Alice exists in clear contrast to her obsessive love for her older brother. It’s quite ironic that Shizuku experiences a more genuine kinship with someone unrelated to her through blood, but it just goes to show that relationships are what you make of them.

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Posted on December 19, 2015, in Pairings and Shipping and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Reading through all of this, I find myself in agreement. Granted, I find myself not really changing my mind about them. I’ve never been a hardcore shipper of their ship but I’ve always thought they were cute together and that’s usually all it takes for me to ship a ship. Granted, I am a dirty multi-shipper so whatever pairings seem plausible are ones I ship.

    On the topic of Shizuku and Alice, I’ve been noticing how nice those two’s relationship is and this post only serves to increase the good things I can say about them. If I am to believe what you said (which I am inclined to do so) then Shizuku is literally the only person in the story who took Alice’s declaration of her gender seriously. I am not transgender in any sense of the word and wouldn’t be able to give a good account of the experiences of someone who is, nor am I sure if Alice would use that term to describe herself, but I get the feeling that the lack of acceptance from all but one person sends a possibly unintended but powerful message involving transgender acceptance. It’s probably not powerful enough, though, since it took someone pointing it out for me to really notice it – the fact that it’s in Japanese doesn’t help either.

    I don’t know. It’s food for thought. Not quite sure I have a definitive opinion on this topic anymore…

    • Alice is an interesting case. She seems to accept it when others refer to her as male, or at least doesn’t bother to correct them. I doubt she would use the word transgender to describe herself. But she does seem to have a special relationship with Shizuku based on sisterhood. Spoilers for volume 4: In Alice’s past, she used to know a lot of younger children who referred to her as a “sister”. Now Shizuku is the only person who refers to her as such. So yes, there’s an explicit theme of “acceptance” in their relationship, but it mostly revolves around Shizuku accepting Alice’s past. Any commentary about transgender acceptance is probably unintentional, but you can still read it into the story.

      Personally, if I had to make a wild guess, I would say that being seen as an older sister (with its gendered connotations of being kind and caring) to the person she cares about means more to Alice than the idea of being seen as female by everyone. In my mind, I distinguish between Arisuin (the male) and Alice (the female). Maybe that’s how Alice sees herself too. It’s hard to say.

  2. Should I wept of joy because a certain someone found his forte?

    Or tears of sorrow because that person found his forte?

    Oh, you have already done some of the more “up and rising” couples (minus Naruto). Maybe some pair really, really old?

    If 50 Grey is the best after Twilight, then Twilight is the best after What?

    • Should I wept of joy because a certain someone found his forte?

      Or tears of sorrow because that person found his forte?

      I have no idea what you mean by this lol

      Oh, you have already done some of the more “up and rising” couples (minus Naruto). Maybe some pair really, really old?

      No chance of this, really. I’m focusing on 2015 for my 12 days posts. Maybe I could write about an old ship afterwards, but I think I’ll be thoroughly burnt out on shipping by then :P

      If 50 Grey is the best after Twilight, then Twilight is the best after What?

      Titanic.

  3. This is a little off-topic, but what do you think about Asterisk Wars and Julis x Ayato? (the LN). I really really liked it. It’s my 2nd favorite now, after Oregairu. And I actually like Julis x Ayato

    • I haven’t watched or read Asterisk Wars so I can’t really say. Sorry!

      • A shame, because it would’ve been a nice contrast. Julis x Ayato and Stella x Ikki start out the same after all: youg man comes to magic school to win its tournament, walks in acccidently on a naked flame wielding red haired tsundere through a misunderstanding, they duel, he wins, stuff happens, they fall in love and actually admit it to each other becoming official couples.

        The difference is that whereas the Rakudai Kishi tournament is a solo affair, in Asterisk Wars it’s a team battle, which means Julis gets to fight next to Ayato and doesn’t have to shuffled off to the sidelines like Stella. That creates an entirely different dynamic between the two of them, making her much less of a damsel in distress than Stella and more of an equal partner.

  4. Your hate for the story is real; me can feel it. xd

  5. Well I have ambiguous feelings about this.
    To be honest, action stories with romance which progress further than first kiss, becoming a pair, (not to mention after awfully long time) are quite a scarce, basically is a single such anime this season if I remember correctly. . So it’s a nice somebody decided to explore that field and I guess that’s also a reason why Rakudai is popular too. It could be done better, for sure, but I just hope more “not shojo action + romance” will appear, it would bring more diversity.

    I don’t really see how stripping scene during terrorist scene is bad though, but that bet indeed was stupid. Silver Link in some places improved source material, like removing that bet. And apparently Stella got nice fights in future.

    So to sum up, author found a nice niche, but it still quite unpolished story, Like Heavy Object.

    Anyway, Akagami is back soon \o/

    • The stripping scene was dumb in the same way that rape scenes in stories are usually dumb. It came off as a really cheap way to show how oh-so-evil the bad guys were. It’s not enough to show the villains taking people hostage, you have to include a drawn-out scene of Stella stripping as well? Give me a break. Instead of establishing the danger the characters were in, it just felt out-of-place and voyeuristic.

      • I agree that those villains were one dimensional and whole case was only drop here to get the plot moving on I agree here. From the other hand, what terrorists wants? To bring fear and to intimidate people. Having machine guns worked on regular people, but not really on Stella. But stripping her quite worked. From that point of view it make some sense other than being some bad taste fanservice. Dunno if was a reason for author, maybe indeed he used it in way you described.

        • From the afterword:

          “First, the fantastic Won-san, who created the illustrations for us. Oh dear, tearing the tights, oh dear, attaching a garter belt to the tights, I wanted to see not just the bra but the panties too, you knooow! I wanted to write the panties too, you knooow! Really, thank you very much for answering my fussy requests (about the Stella strip show illustration and everything else)!”

          …lol

  6. Two doujinshis are available online, but I didn’t like them…

  7. I’ve been putting off reading this because I knew it would hurt and YUP, it burns! I don’t think Cavalry was the best show ever, but I did enjoy it and I found Stella and Ikki to be a cute couple.

    I don’t think there is much of a difference between Ikki X Stella and Kumiko X Reina. >_>

    • Really? I thought there was a world of difference between Ikki x Stella and Kumiko x Reina and the functions their interactions play in their respective narratives. Unless you’re talking about how much you enjoyed watching them personally, in which case that’s far enough to say.

      • No, I mean mechanically. I liked Sound Euphonium overall much more than Calvary, but the two relationships have a lot of mechanical similarities. Keep in mind I was half trolling because Sound Euphonium is a much better show, but I am serious about the similarities. This is going to be a bit long… Sorry in advance.

        In both shows a super powerful character teams up with a weaker character. In both shows the weaker character is the focus of the story and the stronger character is support. In both shows the stronger character is a goal or trophy as you put it for the weaker character. In both stories their conversations are mostly meaningless entertainment with occasional character facts, It’s admiration and mutual respect that holds their relationships together. In both shows the characters act as a team, but we only see any real conflict for one half of the partnership. They even end in a mechanically similar way. In both shows the weaker character wins their fight and gets to go on to the represent their school on a bigger stage with their partner/team.

        As far as the future of each show goes I think there is probably more hope for Stella to become an interesting character in her own right than there is for Riena. I have a feeling we will find that out the hard way in season two of Sound Euphonium. Stella has more untapped potential as the princess of a foreign power. Reina more or less played her hand in season 1. Anything interesting about Reina in season 2 will need to be established in season 2.

        Of course there is a big difference that I know you care about and that is the way Stella is exploited by her story while Reina has a shining moments of glory, but it isn’t super meaningful for Reina herself. It’s obvious that Reina is the better trumpet player and it’s obvious she is going to win any sort of fair competition. She would lose her role as a goal for Kumiko to live up to if she wasn’t the better trumpet player.

        Thing is I’ve never found external exploitation to be a very meaningful critique for fiction. I tend to think of writing fiction as an art for sadists in a general sense. Anything you can do to make your characters interesting is exploitation. You have to hurt your characters with something or they aren’t interesting. Even Iyashikei follows that rule and isn’t very interesting as a result.(even when those shows are good they are hell to explain to someone else and it’s hard to remember the details of what happened.)

        • In both shows a super powerful character teams up with a weaker character. In both shows the weaker character is the focus of the story and the stronger character is support.

          I read through the entire comment thinking that the “super powerful character” was Ikki and that the “weaker character” was Stella, which just goes to show how arbitrary the power level system is in this series.

          Which is the thing. Even if the story tells us that Stella is stronger, it never actually shows it. When I complain about the so-called exploitative moments, that’s not just me projecting my values onto the series. It means that within the narrative, she ends up serving a different function than Reina does in Eupho, that function being “make Ikki look cooler”. So I can’t see the comparison, except on a superficial level. You even kind of allude to this yourself, when you say that Reina has “played her hand” in season 1. That’s because she played her role as a silent mentor, and Kumiko now shares her outlook. Stella performed no such mentoring in Rakudai Kishi.

          By the way, having read the novels, I will say that in subsequent volumes Stella does get some character development. By that, I mean she gets a training arc. By this stage of the series, it’s pretty blatantly obvious that she’s actually one of the weaker characters overall which is why she needs a powerup lol. So maybe it’s actually the reverse and it’s Ikki who is the “ideal” or “goal”. So why, then, is this overpowered character presented as the underdog for the audience to cheer on? Why is the story presented almost exclusively through his point of view? That’s where your comparison to Kumiko x Reina really falls apart.

          • I haven’t read the novels, I’m not sure how you could see Ikki as the more powerful character from the anime alone. The anime repeatedly tells us that Stella is a badass and it does show her fighting. She always wins easily with one exception. The whole story revolves around Ikki being the underdog while Stella is one of the top powers at the school. Yeah, you can argue show and don’t tell. I know and fully acknowledge that Sound Euphonium is a better show. Show and don’t tell is relevant to the quality of a story. It doesn’t really effect the facts behind characters and their relationships unless those things are inconsistent, just how we the reader/viewer experience it. All I am suggesting is that Stella and Reina are mechanically similar in their relationship to their partner. I still think they are. If you tell me that the overall presentation of Sound Eupohinium is more entertaining then I’m inclined to agree.

            I know what you mean about arbitrary power levels in anime and I’ve certainly seen plenty of them, but Calvary makes a bit more sense and deserves a bit more credit than that, at least for what was shown in the anime. They split the power into two categories in Calvary. There is magic and martial ability. Ikki has terrible magic, but strong martial ability with an OP gimmick. Stella has amazing magic and strong martial ability. It’s fairly consistent. No one needs to pull out an arbitrary power up. Creative use of magical mechanics is so much more fun than what an arbitrary anime power up usually looks like. I was able to guess how Ikki was going to win his final duel(and many of the other duels as well) based off what I knew of how magic and ability works in universe. That is enough for me to say that the power isn’t arbitrary. There is a system and so far the story sticks to it.

            I’m not really surprised to hear that Ikki becomes the trophy/goal when Stella takes the stage. That is more or less what I would expect to happen because that is how this author wrote Ikki as a protagonist. Kind of like how everyone is in love with Asuna when she becomes the protagonist of Mother Rosario, or how everyone is a badass in their own right when they take the stage in Durarara. Ikki is shown growing throughout the anime. I see no reason to look at it as if Stella is always weaker. Especially when I consider that it is the opposite of what the show itself tells us about Stella.

            When I said that Reina played her hand I meant to imply that she spent her potential and that her role was more or less completed in the part of the story we got to see in the anime. The way I look at it It’s all a matter of potential. Stella has plenty left to explore about her character based off what we already know about her, Reina doesn’t.

            Calling Reina a silent mentor just seems like romanticizing her to me. I’m totally cool with that, but I still think both characters are mechanically similar in their relationship to their partner and overall role in the story. At least in their role that is shown in the anime. I expect there will be no comparison between Reina and Stella in the future of each story. I’ll also say my comparison is only meant to hold up between the two anime. I’ll guess at what is coming next, but I haven’t read ahead on either series.

            Ultimately, I’m pointing out that a Porsche and a ford pick up are both cars and both burn the same gas. The Porsche is still way cooler and it’s engine is almost certainly more advanced.

            • First off, Happy New Year! Hope you have a good one!

              As for this particular discussion, I suppose I could keep beating a dead horse forever when it comes to “show versus tell”, but since you’re interested in talking about the intentions of each story, I’ll meet you on that level.

              I would argue that the intention behind Ikki and Stella’s relationship is that they have an equal relationship and that they are both powerful but in different ways. Ikki’s strength is just not recognised by the school’s official power system. Their clash in the first chapter (or first episode of the anime, take your pick) quite clearly shows that they already have similar attitudes about hard work and effort. So the intent of the scene is to show that they are not actually that different at heart.

              This is in contrast to the setup behind Kumiko and Reina’s relationship. Not only is it established that Reina is the better musician, the very first scene in the anime shows the difference in their values. Kumiko is shown to be confused about why Reina is upset about losing.

              Ikki doesn’t change his basic outlook as a result of interacting with Stella. Kumiko, however, does change her outlook as a result of interacting with Reina. That’s why I perceive their relationships as mechanically different.

          • Happy New Year!

            I think I understand show versus tell. I value it as well. I can probably guess where you would go with that. Thing is, Stella’s strength is shown and it backs up what we are told about her. That demonstration just isn’t super exciting or immediately relevant to the events of the story other than to tell us that Stella is kicking ass as time is progressing. It is still an established part of the story.

            I’m not really interested in intent so much as function, but you make a good point. Ikki doesn’t change his core values because of Stella. I think that is because the focus of the story is different. Ikki is fighting for recognition. Kumiko is fighting against her own apathy. The motivations behind the characters are different. Stella does take on a similar function toward the end of the anime when Ikki questions his will to keep fighting. She gives him some of her hair to remind him of her determination and his promise.

            Hrmm… What Ikki gets out of the relationship with Stella is emotional support, but I don’t think that is without value.(says the person who almost never relies on anyone for emotional support…) It’s cute, damn it! I like Stella for the same reason I’d like someone who helped my grandmother carry something heavy. I’ve never understood why that kind of support sets people off when it comes from a sexy waifu. It feels like something similar to discrimination. That feeling isn’t developed well enough to be something I can argue, but maybe you can see where I am coming from?

            I guess the question becomes is Reina a better support for Kumiko than Stella is for Ikki? I’m not sure. Kumiko x Reina is a more interesting story than Ikki x Stella, I’ll give you that. I still say their relationships are functionally similar. Kumiko needs to find herself from the start of the story. Ikki has to lose himself before he needs to find himself. Kumiko gets more out of the deal than Ikki does. That said, I think the growth of Ikki and Kumiko says far more about Ikki and Kumiko than it does Stella or Reina.
            Ultimately I think it’s not so much that Stella is a lesser support than Reina and instead that Kumiko is a more interesting character than Ikki.

            On the flip side, I can see where you are coming from and I’m more or less splitting hairs at this point. Kumiko is more interesting, therefore Reina is also more interesting. Just the idea that Kumiko gets more out of the deal than Ikki does is a good argument for their relationship.

            I guess the best argument I can make for Stella’s role in her story is that she isn’t important enough to shoulder the blame you place on her for the bad relationship between Ikki and Stella. We’d probably both prefer that she was important enough for it. I think Reina has the same problem, but I’ll drop that for now. I’m fairly confident that the problem with Kumiko and Reina will be apparent in season 2 unless the story mixes things up dramatically. It’s a situation where I’d like to be wrong.

            On another note, I have a lot of fun debating this kind of thing. Thanks for entertaining my silly ideas. :)

  1. Pingback: Funomena Picks: Best of Anime 2015 | Part II – ATMA & Funomena

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