The Winter 2020 Anime Preview Guide
Asteroid in Love
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Asteroid in Love ?
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These days, every season is bound to have at least one or two “Cute Girls With A Very Specific Hobby Hang Out Together” shows, and Winter 2020 is no exception. This year's inaugural addition to this slice-of-life subgenre also adds a healthy dollop of cute romance between its two protagonists, and the show seems to be fairly front-and-center in its enthusiastic pairing of a same-sex couple, which is always nice to see. Already, if you're a fan of low-key yuri romance or hobbyist sitcoms, Asteroid in Love is probably going to be on your radar for show to watch.
Personally, I thought it was alright enough, though I was surprised at its emphasis on general sitcom and romance shenanigans over the specific “astrology/geology” hobbyist materials. Usually, shows like these are more than happy to cater to the specific niche that is interested in whatever particular hobby or academic interest is being focused on, but it feels very much like a backdrop here. Sure, Mira and Ao have a friendship/possible romantic connection that is entirely predicated on their childhood promise to discover and name an asteroid together, but Asteroid in Love feels much more interested in the fact that both girls are two dorks who get all red and giggly just texting each other for the first time in years. The other girls they form a hybrid club with are equally goofy kids, and though their interests are more geological than star bound, much of their material in this premiere is about the trials and tribulations of starting high school, making new friends, and figuring out the minutiae of running a club together.
So in short, Asteroid in Love is very sweet, but maybe a little to vaguely defined for its own good. I'm a sucker for the cheesy, awkward interactions between Ao and Mira as they navigate their rekindled friendship/crushes, for example, but I really don't care about all of the club stuff. Likewise, an astronomy aficionado that wants to see their favorite subject matter explored by some adorable cartoon characters might also be disappointed in how little time the show with “Asteroid” in its title spends on big space rocks, and the like. Still, while I don't make a habit of casually watching slice-of-life shows like this in general, I could see myself revisiting Asteroid in Love every few weeks, if only to see whether any of the cutesy romance fluff has gone anywhere fun.
Last year director Daisuke Hiramaki helmed the series WATATEN!: an Angel Flew Down to Me, a cutesy title which was mostly panned in our Preview Guide and flirted uncomfortably close to creepy territory (though from what I saw of the series, it never actually crossed over). I don't see his newest offering here having that problem in the slightest. In fact, if anything this is about as pure a representation of what Cute Girls Do Cute Things series are in current anime times as you're likely to see.
Really, the CGDCT aspect seeps into absolutely every pore of the offering. Character designs are a pretty standard distribution for a series of this type, and they are every bit of charmingly cute as might be expected without being outlandish. With no action element, particular attention is paid to each girl's body language and cutesy quirks, some of which are standard fun little behaviors (the best friend who delights in the weird stuff that Mira does or the situations she ends up in) and others of which seem like they're trying too hard (the blond girl in particular). As a result, this is a very appealing-looking series.
Each of the girl's actions are also soft and inoffensive; even when getting earnest, they never come across as negative. But the quality set-up here wouldn't work if there was at least a little more to the story here. Mira's discovery that Ao is not only in her new school but also actually a girl is a bigger twist than these kind of series normally have and creates an interesting situation: if Mira had any romantic inclinations towards Ao as a boy, will they carry over now that she knows Ao is a girl, or will they just remain friends? Nothing in the first episode explicitly screams “yuri” but the door is certainly open for it and the title does seem to refer to Ao. Even without the pairing being romantic (yet), their nighttime conversations over the phone as they simultaneously stargaze are still a neat affirmation of their renewed relationship and overlapping interests.
Nothing about the first episode suggests much of a plot, either, but series like this don't need one. A good foundation has been laid here for all manner of activities by the girls, and the potential relationship aspect allows for a bit more meat than these series normally have. Most importantly, there is a bit stronger sense of sincerity here. I doubt I'll follow this one, but relative to its genre it shows a lot of potential.
Clocking in as the first traditional slice of life property of the season, Asteroid in Love is a fairly representative example of the genre, focusing on the exploits of a combined geology-slash-astronomy club. But while it may feel pretty familiar in terms of structure, execution is basically everything when it comes to shows like this—and so far, Asteroid in Love is executing with some solid flair.
Doga Kobo's reputation has diminished somewhat lately, but they've been traditionally renowned for adapting exactly Asteroid in Love's style of slice of life story, often specifically from the pages of Manga Time Kirara. The studio's specialty is fluid, buoyant character animation, and Asteroid in Love possesses that in spades. Our introduction to heroines Mira and Ao is elevated through constant embellishments of flavorful, convincing character movement, and this episode's best gags rely heavily on the characters' expressive body language. I felt this premiere's oddly saturated lighting was a bit distracting, and the background designs are significantly less impressive than the character acting, but the excellent character animation still made for a visually impressive premiere.
In narrative terms, Asteroid in Love sticks fairly closely to the after-school club drama template, though with its own unique quirks. I found the episode's portrayal of Ao's social anxiety pretty convincing, and furthermore appreciated how Ao and Mira's prior relationship gave this episode a sense of forward momentum that similar shows often lack. That said, the majority of the jokes in this episode felt too half-baked to be genuinely funny; as is often the case in these shows, they exist more to establish texture and relationships than to actually make the audience laugh. And while I felt this episode had more momentum than many of its genre compatriots, that's not really saying much; the strong character acting helped, but I still found myself checking how many minutes were left when the characters started brainstorming club activities.
On the whole, Asteroid in Love stuck too close to its well-worn genre grooves to really keep my interest, but if you're a fan of this sort of slice of life production, it seems like a fine example of the form. It's well-animated and warmhearted, and those are perfectly fine things to be.
While it's too early in the season to be making “if you're looking for” statements, I still feel safe saying that Asteroid in Love may be the sweet F/F love story to watch. It's already showing a lot of promising charm in its two main characters, Ao and Mira, who aren't letting a separation of roughly ten years and a misgendering stop them from being equally thrilled to see each other again, and easily the best part of this episode is watching their comfortable bond solidify with gratifying swiftness. There's no awkward angst or upset that Mira thought young Ao was a boy; they've just missed each other and are really glad they've met again. That Mira is better at showing it, or at least more comfortable with grandiose statements and expressions of emotion, doesn't instantly make her annoying, and neither does Ao's more uncomfortable approach to friendship make her appear cold. Since those are both stereotypes that can rear their ugly heads in these situations, that's no small thing, and there's just something charming about watching them chat on the phone about stars and planets.
Of course, Ao and Mira aren't the only two characters in the show, and that is where I feel this starts to slide into standard “cute girls in a school club” fare. The newly merged clubs, once Astronomy and Geology and now Earth Sciences, are having some growing pains, as the older students have some quibbles with how each club has done things in the past. (The “sexy planetarium” from last year's school festival is an amusing bone of contention.) These girls are more tropey than the main two, especially the head of the geology side, and while they haven't crossed any serious annoying lines in this episode, that does feel very possible going forward. The same goes for the club advisor, Endō.-sensei, who seems much more invested in having a barbecue than anything actually related to science. Mira's childhood friend Suzu also treads close to the line with her need to hunt down and hurt any boy Mira's interested in (girls are fine, apparently), but she's saved by the frank and kind way she discusses things with Ao, who is feeling a little out of her element.
Although the art isn't anything all that thrilling (the stars on the sailor suit collars are cute, though), this is still just very soft and pleasant to watch. If it can maintain the focus on Mira's and Ao's budding relationship, this has some real potential, and it's definitely worth another episode or two to see where this is going.
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