It's the second half of a two-part review with The Asterisk War! Both shows were shown in a similar timeslot on the same day and were... hang on, let me cut-and-paste:
They're light novel adaptations set at Magical Duelling School, like Absolute Duo, The Irregular at Magic High School, etc. The hero is a paragon of humanity whose mild-mannered nature conceals staggering power beyond his peers! All the girls will flock to him (HAREM ALERT, HAREM ALERT), but of course his purity and innocence means he won't lay a finger on them! In reality he only has eyes for one girl, a pink-haired tsundere sword-wielding princess with magical fire powers who tries to kill him in ep.1 because he saw her in her underwear. Another key person in his life is his sister, who's associated with his painful past.
I'm going to be giving away a few spoilers here, by the way. Fairly light-ish relationship ones, but still some of this mega-stupidity demands discussion.
I liked The Asterisk War. Chivalry of a Failed Knight is stronger dramatically, but also broken to the point of absurdity. Much of this comes from the show's protagonist-worship, but it also has a problem with forehead-slapping harem anti-logic and some surreptitiously disturbing attitudes.
Our hero is Ikki Kurogane, a mild-mannered nobody who's secretly AWESOME with added AWESOME on top!!! He's officially the Worst One. He's F-ranked. The world laughs at him. However he's actually super amazingly badass and will never lose a fight against anyone ever. (That last bit isn't actually part of his character description, but you'll get old and grey before this show ever lets him lose.) This ranking system is supposedly a measure of how good you are at magical battles, but Ikki's powers are so amazing that they're officially unmeasurable! Gasp! Audience conclusion: this world runs on stupidity.
Ikki also has no personality. There's a reason for that, mind you. Late on, we learn that it's because of his appalling childhood in which his family tried to break him into a nobody who couldn't achieve anything. They belong in jail. You'll despise them. It's a powerful revelation and you'll understand completely how Ikki turned out that way... but he still doesn't have a personality.
As for his princess, Stella Vermillion, she's the annoying kind of tsundere that makes you want to slap her. She's basically a kind, sympathetic girl. She also gets character development that helps her overcome her worst flaws, although that's a work in progress and she's still a caricature tsundere as late as ep.10. Fundamentally, though, she's the kind of person who couldn't express their true feelings if you put a gun to their head. At her worst, she's incapable of conversation. Ep.5 sees Stella managing to have a blazing row with Ikki (which should be impossible for him) because every word she says is the opposite of what she wants and believes. Stupidity count: 2.
To the show's credit, not only do Ikki and Stella end up together but it doesn't even take them long. They say they love each other. They become boyfriend and girlfriend... and there are still lots of episodes to come! This is admirable. This is harem-busting... or at least it should have been. Alas, it isn't. Stella and Ikki don't tell anyone that they've become an item, so...
(a) other girls will keep glomping on to Ikki in standard harem fashion, to the horror of "Why Don't You Just Tell Everyone You're His Girlfriend You Idiot" Stella. This includes Ikki's sister trying to sleep with him. (I'll return to that.) Stella had no reason in the world not to clear up this ambiguity, but of course she repeatedly goes into tsundere denial when asked whether they're dating. Stupidity count: 3.
(b) someone slimy takes photos of Ikki and Stella kissing in ep.11. These are regarded as a heinous crime and used as evidence against Ikki (eh?), but this would have been a non-issue if our heroes had just told everyone about their relationship. "Yes, she's my girlfriend. We kiss. What about it?"
This is where things get a bit disturbing. Keeping the relationship secret was borderline creepy to begin with, of course. What would you think if someone said they wanted to go out with you, but only if you didn't tell anyone? Quite. However it gets a whole lot worse in a later episode, when Stella plucks up the courage to try to initiate sex and Ikki turns her down. "If I got in that sort of relationship, I couldn't be proud in front of your parents or my family." That's 19th century thinking. It's basically saying that sex is bad in some way and that young people should protect their virtue. I'm not saying that it's unrealistic or out-of-character for Ikki to be saying that, since after all he's deeply damaged. It leaves Stella internalising his rejection as a sign that she's a slut, but having our perfect hero say something that hurtful and damaging could be seen as quite brave storytelling if you choose to believe that the show's doing it deliberately.
No, what disturbs me is my impression that the show approved of those sentiments. The narrative seemed to be agreeing with Ikki. Is this just another expression of the Purity Hero stereotype, in which Ikki must always be whiter than the driven snow? Is it an otaku novelist who's never had sex himself? (An unworthy thought, but one can't help wondering.) Or is it creepy old-fashioned attitudes and/or right-wing conservatism, perhaps linked into the show's samurai-worship? More than one episode is having a wank about noble samurai and the wonderful old-fashioned beauty of being good at killing people with swords. According to ep.7, you can't move if you're not being true to your soul while holding a sword. Or something. Oh, and in ep.2 we learn that Ikki's grandfather led Japan to victory in the last World War. Ahem, cough, choke.
Anyway, let's return to the show's attitude towards sex. Ikki and Stella have been sharing a room since ep.1. The school decreed it. Personally I think the school should be sued for enabling sexual assault, which you'd expect to go up when you have a policy of forcing random teenagers to share a room regardless of gender. However it's not the only anime to do this, so we'll let that pass for now.
However this means that in ep.11, we're looking at a boyfriend and girlfriend who've been cohabiting since the start of term. On school orders. And yet a photo of these two teenagers kissing is enough to get Ikki dragged away and interrogated. Stupidity count: 4. If this anime were a person, it would be locking up its daughters and threatening them with the birch. However at the same time the writer is fine to have Stella angrily offering herself to Ikki sexually in ep.1, giving him a boob massage in the bath in ep.2, etc. after having known him for almost no time at all. The double standards could give you whiplash. It's partly the genre, of course. It's harem nonsense. However the more you think about all this, the worse it gets.
That said, though, the show's broad-minded about other orientations. A man who calls himself Alice is accepted by everyone as female, to the point of being allowed in the women's showers? Everyone's fine with it. Incest? It's actually expected. When Stella hears that Ikki has a sister, she assumes the worst and only lets her guard down on learning that they really are blood-related. However, ahaha, Stella, your genre awareness didn't go far enough! In fairness Shizuka genuinely is funny when in rampant brother-molesting mode, especially while bickering with Stella, but... sigh. The anime industry seems to want to convince us that some deeply scary things are normal.
Besides, those are just the biggest stupidities. We also have fight commentators who'll fill their knickers about someone being undefeated in a knockout tournament. In ep.8, someone recovers from a two-year coma immediately after Ikki avenges them in a sword fight. In ep.9, Stella thinks you can get pregnant from a kiss. In ep.1, Ikki thinks taking off his clothes is the best way of calming down a semi-clad woman who might well be afraid of being sexually assaulted. Ep.4 gives us a journalist who stumbles on a hot story (Ikki and Stella's relationship) and immediately reacts with "won't tell anyone; journalist's pride!" Indeed she doesn't. This counts as yet another plot contortion for the sake of the genre. Stupidity count: 9 (surrendering).
All that said, the show's also very good. When it's not lashing a millstone to its neck, it's a strong and even bold (for its genre) piece of storytelling. It grows beyond its harem beginnings and I suspect a second season would grow still further, growing even further into something that grabs you and makes you want to know what will happen next. The cast develop. Ikki and Stella's relationship isn't just a harem placeholder, but instead goes through stages of growing intimacy and emotional sharing. Ep.5 shows them both tying themselves in knots because they can't talk to each other, although admittedly that's handicapped a bit by Stella's tsundere tendencies making you write her off as an idiot. Nonetheless in principle I like what the show thinks it's doing with that relationship, exploring these two emotionally constricted people who both have crippling problems with acceptance (both of themselves and others).
Meanwhile Shizuku grows into an interesting character and one of the more emotionally resonant cast members. The season contains some excellent stories, e.g. the torn Ayatsuji. I also like a lot of what Ikki has to say, e.g. his rationale for helping others. He starts an unofficial mini-school within the school!
If they made a Season 2, I'd watch it. I'd even be keen. I think the show's got a lot of potential. The characters have depth and powerful motivations, there's a lot of pain in this show and the two main leads in particular are struggling with serious issues. Most of the stupidity is in the earlier episodes (although ep.11, ahem) and it's very possible that the show might be outgrowing all that. Much of it is excellent. However it really is a struggle fighting past all the "Ikki's The Greatest" and "Ikki's So Wonderful" scenes. Ep.5 and the jealous boys' attack could almost be framed in the Louvre as an example of bad anime at its most cringeworthy. In short, the show's both impressive and bloody awful. I enjoyed a lot of this, but for goodness sake don't even consider showing it to normal people. Good grief.