I was astonished. I knew this was a hentai in a fantasy setting, starring gladiators. I was expecting something pretty grim and unlikeable, probably with disturbing sex scenes and lots of killing.
In fact, though, it's full of surprises and rather sweet.
Firstly, the gladiatorial arena is like pro wrestling. "Here we go! Can 'Hurricane' Duranta defeat Liguceun The Barbarian?" Answer: well, yes, unless she does a whoopsie and forgets the script.
"What's the point in YOU winning!? Our plans and the performance are all messed up now."
"I apologize, it was due to my shortcomings."
"I already know it's hard to make it look flashy since Duranta is so weak. That's what you were supposed to cover for as the heel!"
No one's blaming anyone, though. It's just one of those things. She calls him "Ligu-sensei" and their rehearsals together are a mutual appreciation society. Unfortunately, though, the royal family believe the fantasy.
"Let's give our gentle little Duranta some motivation to be more bloodthirsty. I put an aphrodisiac in Liguceun's food. To be despoiled by the man you despise should be the ultimate humiliation for a woman. Do you understand, Liguceun? Rape Duranta."
What her Royal Highness doesn't know, though, is that Duranta's overjoyed. She admires and respects Liguceun and she'll be taking the opportunity to continue this unexpected intimacy in private afterwards. Again, though, they've got a facade to keep up. It's got to look non-consensual for the three creepy ladies of the court who are watching Liguceun's performance and offering criticism.
That was cool. The episode's repeatedly subverting expectations (both as hentai and more generally as a fantasy story in this setting) and doing interesting things with theme.
Thematically strong, but I was disappointed.
It's about deception, layers of identity and the ugly results of stripping them away. Duranta doesn't know that Liguceun's also banging the troupe leader. No one knows that a princess is fighting in the arena. Even the princesses themselves don't know the truth about each other (and possibly about themselves), although you'd think Luna's personality should have been obvious to all and sundry. In ep.3, her sister's willing to do anything to hide the ugly truth from her. Not long afterwards, Luna's telling Liguceun to use that sister as a flesh toilet. Luna enjoys people's despair. By the end, she's calling herself a sow, masturbating at the thought of being despised and scolding Liguceun for not violating her quickly enough.
What's disappointing is the lack of story flow. Duranta appears briefly at the end of ep.2 to discover the hard way that she's been betrayed, then doesn't appear in eps.3-4. I'd liked Duranta. I'd wanted to follow her story. Similarly, that troupe leader gets shoved offscreen when the princesses become the focus.
It's a good series. I respect it. However the only episode I enjoyed was ep.1.