The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
The Asterisk War
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water ?
Review: In a near-future setting, magical abilities have become enough of a reality that magic academies have been set up to train students in their use, and these students compete against each other for school honor and ranking in events called
Seven Star Fight Festivals Festas. The male protagonist is one such student, who happens to walk fly in innocently on a sexy, pink-haired (literal) princess as she's changing and thus in her undies. She has fire-based powers and is offended enough by the protagonist's actions that she challenges him to a duel, per school rules. But despite her being a highly-ranked student, he's actually able to hold his own. . .
Wait, am I talking about Asterisk War or Chivalry of a Failed Knight here?
I watched these back-to-back while preparing these previews, so I hope you'll forgive the confusion, as so much of the set-up between the two is so redundant. There are, of course, major differences, too; whereas Chivalry is a much more narrowly-focused and intimate tale about its two leads, Asterisk War is more expansive, with MC Ikki interacting with more than one girl in the first episode (the female Student Council President seems especially happy to welcome him to the school, for hidden reasons we will presumably discover later) and picking up a male roommate, too. In this case the protagonist also has ulterior motives for joining this particular school, as his older sister (whom we see in a flashback fight at the very beginning) also went here a few years ago but disappeared mysteriously. The fan service, though still restrained, is also distinctly more pronounced, as the camera definitely likes to ogle and emphasize the President's chest and pulls the more standard “wind up accidentally fondling the main girl while saving her” shtick. Just about everything else about the first episode is also such a cut-and-paste redux of common light novel elements that the particular details in this case don't even matter much; it borrows the Academy City setting from the A Certain Magical Index franchise, for instance, and standoffish princesses with unusual power and hidden motivation who have to be won over by the male lead are hardly fresh characters.
The technical merits on this one do seem to be a little better over Chivalry, and it certainly uses a brighter color scheme, but not to a degree that will distinguish it from what is likely to be its season-long main competition. Which one is more formulaic or provides a more enticing hook is a close call at this point, so for now I am giving them both the same grade (although after watching them both, I am beginning to question whether either deserves even that high due to their striking lack of effort on storytelling and conceptualization). Which one will pull forward as the season progresses? And will it even be worth finding out?
Oh my god, I don't care.
I don't care about the Twelve Cults of students at Prestigious Magic High School Asterisk. I don't care about the generic fire-and-sword-magic based fights between Genestella. I don't care about the secret micronation of Lieseltania and its pink-haired tsundere princess who gets her boobies groped by this year's 23rd plastic whitebread MC-kun. This show is a ransom note cut from every bland light novel in existence and I just. Don't. Care.
Kudos for trying so hard, though! I do appreciate the effort.
The Asterisk War is a handsomely produced show, even if its title unfortunately makes me think of a battle between buttholes. (Too many other anime have used the asterisk symbol for illicit purposes, and my dirty mind is broken.) Up until a couple years ago, A-1 Pictures had never put out an unattractive product, and though they've stumbled as they've grown too large, this show is clearly one of their higher-end projects. The color design in the show is nice, the magical effects (though painfully generic) are rendered beautifully, and the camera is alive and well throughout the show, giving bland exposition some dynamism and even focusing on characters in creative ways to bring out their hidden emotions. Even the sound design in the show is pretty good! I didn't hear that "generic fire noise" (you know the one) even once, and the laser-sword clash sounds were surprisingly varied and visceral too. It's a handsome production, paced well, with some unusually smart direction for a "magic high school" light-novel anime. Heck, I think the screenshot I took is really beautiful, and I wasn't even trying to find the most striking shot in the episode.
The production staff clearly cares about the work they're doing on The Asterisk War, and that's good, because I can't care even the tiniest bit about a story with not even one unique thing to offer its audience. I can't emphasize this enough: if there was even one distinctive quality in this story, I would give it more of a chance. But this is as boilerplate blah as you can get. Maybe there will be a shocking twist in episode 7 that brings everyone back to talk about this show, but if not, I can't recommend this show on any principle apart from its surprisingly graceful production work. From sheer give-a-damn alone, this is probably going to take the prize for best Infinite Stratos-flavored light-novel anime this season.
Congratulations, The Asterisk War. You won the booby prize. I can now proceed to forget you ever existed.
Asterisk War is the first of three super-powered high school shows airing this season and manages to jump through every mediocre hoop this sub-genre has established. The episode opens with protagonist Ayato returning a lost hankie only to get an eyeful of his school's hot-headed “princess” Julis getting dressed. She turns her rage onto the “peeper” by unleashing a giant fireball and challenging the the new transfer student to a duel. See, the students in Asterisk City's schools are Genestella and have all developed superpowers of sorts that are now used in student vs. student battles, similar to sporting events.
The battles are fought with glowing swords, except for the small percentage of students who have legit witch-like powers, like shooting fire from their hands. Julis is one of these. She has some deep-seated emotional motivation behind her shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach, invariably tied to that handkerchief she carries around.
Ayato isn't interested in that though. He's looking for his missing older sister. The episode sets up this mystery but also conveniently solves it between the episode opener and class prez Claudia Enfield having access to any and all administrative information, including garbled data. I thought the show would send Ayato to uncover this information as the series went on, probably while battling opponents from the other five schools, but I don't think it'll be difficult if the other characters can seemingly read his mind.
“I'm trying to find what happened to my sister.”
“Here's some partially deleted data from an unnamed girl that disappeared five years ago that's obviously her. And all the info on the weapon she checked out.”
Looks like Ayato's already halfway there.
There's a lot more technical jargon, specifically about weapons classification, who can check out what weapons, and the ranking system but it honestly just runs together between the buxom class president's absurdly suggestive behavior.
A weak mystery could be overlooked if the battles are fun and engaging. Unfortunately, Ayato's skirmish with Julis is hardly impressive. There's a lot of pretty fire missiles flying at him, which he dodges well enough. A more dynamic camera, perspective shots, or better choreography would at least create an engaging spectacle here for what's supposed to be an action romantic-comedy.
The Asterisk War fulfills every checklist I've come to expect from magical high school light novel adaptations. It offers nothing unique. If you aren't sick of these futuristic settings filled with expected character types fighting with glowing laser swords, then here's another one. Fans who have already consumed this exact same show in different packaging more than five times this year are better off waiting for something better.
Here's the plot, stop me if you've heard this one: superpowered teens called the Genestella fight for glory in battle tournaments called Festa in the magic high school known as the Asterisk.
This episode opens with Main Character-kun Ayato returning an errant handkerchief to the conveniently open window of pink-haired spitfire mage girl Julis, who's in the middle of dressing. Based on the way this is shot, he sits on the window and she stares at him slack-jawed in her underwear, apparently in shock, for a full 20 seconds before yelling at him to turn around. They just stand there staring at eachother for nearly half a minute. I timed it out. Go stare at something for 20 seconds. Note how long that is. It's an eternity. If you accidentally walk in on someone getting dressed and you stand there and stare at them for a full 20 seconds before reacting, you're basically committing their body to memory, not shielding your eyes out of respect. It's almost like these kids know they're in a magic high school show with mild fanservice, so they just kinda stand there and stare at eachother, as if to say “well, this show needs fanservice, and even though 2 human beings would never react to eachother this way, here you go”. Weird.
Anyway. So Julis challenges Ayato to a duel, which is all flashy spell effects and naturally Julis’ super-powered fire magic doesn't do jack to Ayato (“what is this special young man's special power??”) so the battle ends (and he landed on her boob! He touched her boob! Oh my god!) and then Ayato is off to attend an exposition dump courtesy of Claudia, another figure in Ayato's blossoming magic high school harem (this one is blonde with enormous boobs). She helpfully explains the entire setup for this show, and then we're off to the races.
So why did I give The Asterisk War, yet another entry in the stunningly long list of painfully generic magic high school shows, a passing grade? Well, it's important to recognize when even something that's splashing around in genre waters this tepid and overused is trying harder than usual, and at least when it comes to pacing and aesthetics, The Asterisk War gets a few things right. The story and characters are not interesting at all – they're all cardboard cutouts with generic anime personalities, but the story moves along briskly enough to where I wasn't bored. While there's a little fanservice, that isn't the point of the show; it's chiefly interested in Julis, and while she's just your average hotheaded, strong-willed combat queen, at least they're trying to build a character and it isn't just a bunch of people standing around talking about how totally amazing the show's boring-ass main character is, which is how this usually goes.
Chiefly, though, the only thing worth praising about The Asterisk War that doesn't come with a huge dumptruck full of caveats (“it's just another one of these but it seems slightly less painfully generic and uninspired than usual” isn't high praise) is the animation and the color design, which are both really top-notch. There's some really carefully considered character acting in this thing, and the fight scenes are pretty dynamic and really well-choreographed. I like the look of it, too; although the costumes and character designs are as rote as can be, the color choices are pretty and compliment the art style. It isn't anything particularly special, but honestly, usually these shows are a combination of awful paint-by-numbers screenwriting AND junky, rushed animation, and even if you're only getting one of those things right, it's still worth calling out. This looks like a pretty OK example of a genre that has been beaten into a fine slurry, buried underground, dug up again, reanimated, beaten back into a slurry, buried even deeper underground, resurrected once more, then this time beaten into a loose paste, then shot into space and somehow brought back yet again. If you just have to watch another magic high school show, it seems like you could do a lot worse than The Asterisk War. In fact, due to the sheer number of shows exactly like this one, I think you have somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,985 other, worse options than The Asterisk War.
As has become tradition, each new season of anime brings with it a changing of the guard. One season's “boy goes to a magical school and meets cute girls” light novel adaptation hangs up its coat and scabbard, and the next season's contender strides out of the gate, promising a new and slightly different twist on this apparently infinitely bankable formula. Following in the footsteps of Absolute Duo, Sky Wizards Academy, and many other shows before it, The Asterisk War introduces us to Ayato Amagiri, a new student at a prestigious dueling academy. In Asterisk War's future world, super-powered students known as Genestella duel against each other in gladiatorial competitions known as Festa; and on his first day, Ayato finds himself caught in a duel with the pink-haired, hot-headed Julis-Alexia von Reissfeld, who seems determined to burn Ayato to a crisp.
I joke about the predictability of This Exact Show appearing every single season, but I actually enjoyed The Asterisk War's first episode, and felt it demonstrated a variety of ways strong execution can elevate a show over the base variables of this particular genre. For one thing, this episode moves very well. It opens with a mysterious duel ending in the apparent death of an unknown girl, and from there quickly progresses to the second duel between Ayato and Julis. Both of these duels are exciting visual setpieces, demonstrating energetic direction, strong visual effects for the various attacks, and very consistent animation. Beyond the base appeal of these action scenes, Asterisk War also takes care to present consistent narrative hooks throughout this episode. It opens with one mysterious duel, introduces a possible assassination plot at the end of the second one, and then swiftly sets up three more possible points of interest: the coming gladiatorial championship, Ayato's search for his missing sister, and an ambiguous bond he might share with Claudia, the student council president. The Asterisk War's first episode is packed with both immediate setpieces and points of intrigue to keep you watching.
It's not all great, of course. Most of the characters here fall into familiar archetypes, though Claudia at least seems to combine both Ojou-sama and Prankster personalities. There's also all the tired fanservice bits you'd expect from one of these shows - Ayato's duel with Julis is prompted by him walking in on her changing (fresh!), and ends with him groping her boob. These scenes are fortunately not really reveled in by the characters (they don't linger on “whoaaa what a wacky situation!” reactions), but still place the show squarely in a specific lame tradition. This episode is also burdened with the requisite too-much-exposition of fantasy light novels, though the staff here does an admirable job of trying to either integrate the original series’ apparent word salad into coherent conversations or liven it up through interesting visual execution.
Overall, The Asterisk War comes off as about as good as this kind of show can be, and far better than I normally expect from the genre. This first episode isn't incredible, but it's well executed on both the visual and narrative sides, and offers plenty of reasons to keep watching. If it can keep this up, it'll probably be a good time.
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