Hoshitori is a contest at Tenchi Academy where teams of sword fighting girls fight other teams of girls for money and other prizes. Its name (星奪り) literally means "star taking". The majority of sword bearing students at the school participate in it, and the Hoshitori often becomes not only a way to make money, but a method of settling arguments or getting revenge.
SISTER IN ARMS PAIRS
Pair of girls who participate in the Hoshitori are called shinyuu (sisters in arms in the American version). To become a pair, two girls exchange their pair rings. In this pair, one girl is the 天(Ten) (Heaven sword) and one is the 地 (Chi) (Earth sword). Heaven swords take on an offensive position, working to hit their opponent’s shoulder mounted star with their blade. The Earth sword takes on a more defensive position, trying to prevent their partner’s star from being hit. The two work together to hit the other pair’s Heaven star and win the match.
The process of hitting someone’s star is called “stealing their star”. A person is only considered as having their star stolen when it is specifically the star that has been hit, and only if the star has been struck by the right person (Heaven for a Heaven star, Earth for a Shadow star). There is also a buzzer inside the star that must go off. If these things haven’t happened, the match goes on. (Be aware that these rules change when someone is dueling to be dean of the academy)
Pairs can also split up. When this happens, they are known as lone wolves, and can pair up with other partner-less people. If lone wolves are caught up in the Hoshitori, other pairs are allowed to duel them. If a lone wolf wins, they do not get any money or points. If they lose, they will still lose their star and points. Given these unfavorable conditions, the majority of sword bearers pair up.
Sessions of the Hoshitori typically occur once every few days, and there has never been a week in between. The Hoshitori begins when a large bell is rung, usually by Miyamoto Shizuku, but not always. Once this bell rings, sister in arms pairs are free to immediately go out to the courtyards to fight, even if they are in the middle of a lesson. From then on the bell will ring five times, once every three minutes. A match must be won inside that time limit- once the fifth bell rings, the Hoshitori is stopped no matter what, and any unfinished battle is considered a draw. Once again, these are simply the rules for the regular Hoshitori. In the case of a one-on-one match, or when dueling for the top seat, there are no bells- participants simply fight until one side has its Heaven star stolen. Bells are also used as terms to express time inside the Hoshitori (Ex. “They’ve been fighting for three bells now!”).
When starting out, a sword bearer receives their sword, a pair ring, and a box containing five stars, each worth four points. If someone steals a star, they gain four points- if they lose a star, they lose four points (in a regular match). If a sword bearer loses all of their points, they lose their status as a sword bearer and must become a regular student. However, if they manage to gain points, they will move up in rank. It takes twenty regular wins in the Hoshitori (equivalent to eighty points) to advance in rank. The points of individual pairs in each rank are displayed in order from highest to lowest on bulletin boards around the classroom buildings.
When two people pair up as sisters in arms, they combine their number of stars and split that number down the middle- that is the pair’s number of stars. A similar thing happens when a pair splits up- the pair’s number of stars is split down the middle, and each person takes half. Their ranks drop or remain static as is fit for the number of stars that a pair or individual has.
The ranks in order from lowest to highest are D, C, B, A, Special A, and S. Usually, a pair of one rank can only fight someone else of their rank. Sometimes these rules change, though, such as on a Double-up Day. Ranks A and Special-A each have special areas where they duel, ones off limits to people below their rank. Being Rank A and above also grants the special privilege of allowing one to change the shape, size, or style of their sword, allowing for many more sword fighting techniques and many more types of battles.
The higher up someone’s rank is, the tougher their battles will be, but the more money they’ll be able to get. When a sister in arms pair starts out, each regular Hoshitori win gives them ¥50,000, and each advancement in rank is worth a hefty ¥1,000,000. With this much money floating around, it’s easy to see why people would be drawn to the Hoshitori. Unlike losing points, you do not lose money if your star is stolen, but you still don’t gain any.
THE REVENGE CLAUSE
Another important element is the revenge clause, which states that, should someone lose all of their stars, they may be granted a chance by the dean to try and win some back, thus retaining their status as sword bearers. However, for each match you fight under the revenge clause, you must forfeit any monetary prizes for that match. Sometimes people will not be allowed to use the revenge clause, particularly if they are the initiator of a one-on-one match in which they lose all of their stars (in the case of Kibi Momoka).
Despite the complicated explanation here, the Hoshitori actually doesn’t have that many rules governing fighting itself. You can play it clean or dirty, and even smuggle in secret weapons if you’ve applied for it or you’ve been given permission. There are accounts of sabotage by people outside of a battle, since the security governing what somebody’s actually holding in their hand is very lax. All of these things make the Hoshitori a daring and dangerous competition. Swords are broken in the middle of matches, as are bones, and we find that when you get down to bloodlust and the nitty gritty, the people who judge the Hoshitori really don’t have that much power.
The famous lines of two judges:
Judge 1: “Shouldn’t we stop them?”
Judge 2: “Nah… I have a feeling that if we tried to stop them now, we’d get ourselves killed.”
Then there’s the undeniable fact that the rules are liable to minor change whenever an idea pops into Hitsugi’s head.