Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water [Limited Edition]
After befriending Ayato, Kirin finds herself in the position to finally buck her uncle's harsh control, and that freedom also allows her to find herself both a partner for the Phoenix Festa and a friend group. She agrees to team up with Saya after a duel with Ayato that also relieves her of the title of Seidoukan's number one, giving her even more freedom. But now the Phoenix Festa is about to begin, and there's something shady going on. Should Arlequint be allowed to use their automatons to fight their battles? What is Rewolf up to? And can Ayato and Julis really keep the limitations place upon him by his sister a secret?
The second half of The Asterisk War's first season is both an improvement on its first and more of the same. In part this is achieved by focusing a little less on series male protagonist Ayato in favor of Kirin, the younger girl introduced towards the end of the first blu ray set. When we met Kirin, she was under the power of her greedy uncle, who was using her to gain fame and fortune in the corporations that govern the story's world. After meeting Ayato and his group of friends, however, she begins to understand that this is not the way her life has to be and that after her uncle's abuse of her, she doesn't owe him anything. Her repudiation of him is one of the stronger, albeit quieter, character moments in these six episodes – by finally standing up to him, she allows herself to begin to develop as a person, to have friends, and even to let others make a move on her behalf that actually has Kirin's welfare at heart; Claudia's chastising of Kirin's uncle is one of the busty blonde's best scenes and reminds us that there's more to her than her predatory advances on Ayato.
The increasing harem quality of the show does stand to become a detraction for those in this more for the fighting and political elements. While it is mostly kept to a minimum, Saya, Kirin, and Claudia all risk losing their hard-won character development any time all three of them, and Julis, are in the same room as Ayato, with their cliché attempts at winning his heart (food-based, mostly) being played for comedy in a way that stopped being funny many series ago. Their fixation with him patting them on the head is also troublingly infantilizing (or perhaps canine-izing? It's a very doglike behavior.), and in the case of Julis and Claudia, it feels out of character. (Kirin gets a pass because she's known so little positive physical attention since her father was jailed.) Oddly enough, however, fanservice is rarely a component of the harem aspects of the series. Most of the time the show is very careful not to show more of Julis than it needs to, and the shower scene involving Kirin and Saya is totally nonsexual in its nudity, even if the irritating “glowing steam” form of censorship is in play. Most of the sexual fanservice belongs to the side characters, and, even more bizarrely, the blondes – Violet, a minor character from Queenvail Girls' Academy, shows the most skin, with even Claudia being very toned down from the first half of the series.
As with the first half, there's a distinct feeling that elements of the story are being rushed quite a bit from the original novel(s) comprising this part of the story. This is most egregious in the jump from the preliminaries to the finals of the Festa, and is borne out by the fact that the included booklet has much more information on the protagonists' opponents than is merited, or even required, by their very brief screen time. The information in the booklet also indicates a much deeper backstory for Dirk of Rewolf than the show gives him – despite his appearance and in-story actions, he's clearly someone invested in helping others (albeit possibly for his own gain) and has all the earmarks of a potential future ally for Ayato and Julis, especially given his actions towards the Urzaiz sisters, who make their entrance on the scene in this set. Irene, the elder of the two, stands to be a very important character in the history of what happened to Ayato's older sister, as she is an example of what an Ogre Lux can do to the person who wields it. In Irene's case, her Ogre Lux, Gravi-Sheath, has actually altered her physical body and personality to better mesh with it (we see a similar issue with Claudia), warping her need to save her sister Priscilla from the definitely shady motivations of Arlequint into something dangerous. It is worth mentioning that this also explains her outfit, which I would otherwise damn as ludicrous fanservice – we see in her flashback that that's not her ordinary style, but rather a facet of what the Ogre Lux has done to her personality.
Despite Rewolf's backing of Irene, Arlequint remains the clear villain of the story. That the group running the Festa appears totally willing to allow them to cheat (or at least take actions that I feel are unfair) would seem to put them in league with whatever corporations are exploiting the Genestellae for their own profit – a group that proclaims the gladiatorial battling of children to be “the greatest amusement in the world” clearly cannot be trusted. The fact that the other schools are willing to go to almost any length to defeat Seidoukan (not Ayato or Julis specifically, it should be mentioned, except in the case of Rewolf) is also a red flag, although whether that flag turns out to be a herring remains to be seen.
The six episodes on these two blu ray discs do plenty of setting up for season two, and there isn't really a firm conclusion, unless you count the fight between Ayato/Julis and Irene/Priscilla. Unlike with some of Aniplex of America's other releases, the on-disc extras are minimal, with previews and clean opening and closings being the extent of it. The dub and sub tracks are both strong, with new addition Erica Mendez doing a particularly good job as Irene, as well as the uncredited actor for the owner of the seedy gun shop in episode eight. Kirin can still get annoying with her squeaking breathiness, but that's an issue no matter the language.
All in all, The Asterisk War's first season stops rather than concluding, but since season two exists, that's a minor annoyance. Some of its story elements get in the way of the narrative and others are clearly glossed over in the name of time, but this is still a decently solid magic high school story. If you want the full picture, you'll have to read the novels, but if you're just looking for a fighting romp with some sinister undertones, this set definitely offers that.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Some intriguing hints about Ayato's sister and the nature of Ogre Luxes, Kirin and Saya get some good character development, soundtrack CD makes for better listening than the first with some softer pieces
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