Reviewby Theron Martin,
episodes 7-12 streaming
With Lotte unknowingly in danger in Naoya's house in the human world, Naoya has no choice but to go there and convince the petulant princess to return to the Monster Realm. Later, trips to an amusement park and beach result in additional hijinks and a meeting between Queen Mercelida and Lotte, while Asuha helps the nervous Lotte muster up the courage to continue a succubus tradition by performing at an upcoming festival. Lotte's potential love life gets more complicated when a foreign prince bumps into her and becomes obsessively lovestruck at first sight, but that doesn't help Lotte's struggle to overcome her aversion to men and take Naoya in a more official capacity for his harem duties. Time could be running short for that, too, because a looming magical problem with the World Tree could force Naoya and Asuha to return home for good.
Can a series which specifically panders to fans of lolicon content also be sweet, charming, and even gentle in its approach to romantic comedy? Can such a series win over fans who otherwise not look twice at a series which flirts with sexualizing underage girls? Those are questions which, for better or worse, Astarotte's Toy seems determined to answer. In its first half the answers to both questions were “yes,” as aside from the first episode the lolicon elements were minor enough that they could fade into the background and either be overlooked or justified as something else; even Asuha's propensity for “going commando” could be explained away as a cute, if rather odd, affectation, and underage panty shots is nothing remarkable in a country where such things can pop up even in kid-friendly family shows. Those actively seeking lolicon content could still find it, but the show was hardly beating viewers over the head with it.
The second half of the series is a little different. Having a 10-year-old girl run around not wearing panties is one thing, but having said character wear a very short dress and make sexy poses in such a way that her bare butt shows escalates things, as it is hard to explain away as anything but brazen fan service. Having a girl on the border of pubescence fall for an adult as her first love is hardly abnormal, but having the guy in question show even faint signs of reciprocating edges up the creepiness factor, as does the foreign prince who becomes obsessed with Lotte and the servant who keeps trying to push Naoya towards a more physical relationship with Lotte. Granted, Naoya restrains himself pretty well, and granted, we are talking about a fledgling succubus, so a certain amount of moral relativism enters the equation here. Also, the lolicon elements are hardly pervasive; even at their most extreme they are still more a side dish than a main course, and these episodes do feature a fair amount of fan service aimed at those who appreciate more mature bounciness and more frank discussions about adult sex life. The presence of a small but significant lolicon fan base amongst otaku, which the series is clearly trying to entice, hampers any credible claims that the series may make to being an innocent title whose content is getting twisted around by pervy viewers, however.
Even with the edgy content, the series could still get by on its more pervasive sweet and charming side if not for two unrelated problems that its latter half runs into. One is the all-too-common descent into banality (a problem which regularly plagues titles like this) and the other is the series' failure to develop its most potentially interesting elements. The writing tosses out some worthy ideas – hints at the geopolitical structure of the Monster Realm, the potential complications of Asuha's existence and true parentage, the inherent magical connection between succubi and the World Tree – but does not go anywhere with them, instead favoring mundane fare like festivals, beach visits, amusement park visits, a competing love interest, and the predictable late crisis which threatens to separate Lotte and Naoya for good. It does not even do much to give the Monster Realm any kind of distinct flavor, as it is merely just a mix of medieval elements and Japanese traditions with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure. The one place where the series does succeed is in exploring the mother/daughter relationships between Queen Mercelida and both of her daughters, which results in a tender late scene between Mercelida and Asuha that is one of the best moments of the whole series, but even there the story feels like it could have done more.
The artistry, which was the weak point of the first half, does not improve in the second. New characters, such as the dark-skinned prince, his entourage, and older sister, still have generic looks to them; none of these designs would stand out in a crowd, although Lotte's regular costume might. The animation does nothing special through this run, either.
The gentle soundtrack, contrarily, remains the series' strongest production value. It sets the mood well enough that poignant moments are actually possible and remains on an even keel, never descending into exaggerated fits of wackiness even in the sillier moments. It is complemented by some nice voice work, especially in the roles of Lotte and Asuha; say what you will about how Rie Kugiyama is overused in these kinds of roles, but she does an excellent job of giving Lotte a younger sound and distinguishing her from her other prominent tsundere roles, while Yukari “Nanoha” Tamura gives Asuha an enjoyable level of spunk, enthusiasm, and craftiness. Naoya still sounds too feminine, though.
The second half of Astarotte's Toy does not fail to entertain. Despite its other problems, it still is quite funny at times and key emotional moments, such as Mercelida's private moments with her two daughters, are endearing. It is ultimately not anything special, however, and its insistence on continuing to pander to the lolicon fan base is going to harm its appeal and credibility with more mainstream anime fans.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Some good jokes and endearing moments, musical score.
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