Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water [Limited Edition]
The Phoenix Festa is in full swing, with Julis and Ayato going up against ever-stronger opponents. Now that Ayato's secret has been exposed, the two will have to work even harder to overcome the seal his sister placed on him if they want to keep winning. When not on the arena floor, Ayato finds himself trying to decide what he wants to do in order to find Haruka – and if he even really wants to know the truth. But as things heat up, that may be the least of his worries. It looks like staying in one piece, away from the intrigues of the Asterisk's dark underbelly may be more than he and Julis can handle.
Occasionally, I have to wonder if anyone in this series know what the word “fair” means? Granted, that's likely a purposeful question, since the series follows the grand old tradition of dystopian young adult fiction by pitting teens against each other in a spectator sport. The Asterisk War's version of this is the Festa system, a rotating series of gladiatorial bouts where students from the five schools on Rikka fight to determine a champion—and perhaps drum up some revenue for their corporate sponsors, the conglomerates who have taken the place of government. So perhaps the more questionable actions within the fights, such as the use of “puppets” (basically robots) or invisibility powers are intended to point out that this is a free-for-all between children for the delectation of an audience. After all, if we accept the premise of the Festa with no issue, we aren't as likely to see the rot lurking just beneath its surface.
Part of that rot is the existence of an underground Festa, the Eclipse Festa. Ayato and Julis learn of its existence when they track down Dirk of Rewolfe and try to get information from him about Ayato's missing sister. He tells them that in the Eclipse Festa, the rules about not killing each other are suspended, and while he doesn't think that Haruka lost her life there, he does know that she was severely wounded. Not only does this revelation put a name on the seedy underbelly of the Festa system, it also brings up the question of why Haruka would have fought in Eclipse in the first place. From Ayato's memories, she seems only dedicated and honorable, so presumably she had an undercover reason for going. What was she keeping from her brother besides his powers? It seems almost certain that the two are related, something Ayato doesn't seem to have considered. But as Ayato goes deeper into the darkness, he and Julis are forced to question what might really be going on at the other schools. (Seidoukan seems remarkably corruption-free at this point.) This comes to a head at the end of this set, when Julis's friend from the orphanage she sponsors comes to Asterisk to watch her compete. Flora, an elementary-age girl who's being trained to work as a maid in the palace (because the show apparently needed a maid), becomes a target when her close relationship with Julis is revealed. That the other schools would use a child in an effort to rig the Festa in their favor speaks volumes about their methods.
It does, however, have the benefit of solidifying a unity between our main group of five. When the news about Flora comes in, Kirin, Saya, and Claudia immediately volunteer to jump into action. We learn how Camilla and Ernesta came to be partners, and it's not so much that they get along as a sense of obligation on Camilla's part. The only other truly close pairs we've seen have been siblings – the Li twins and the Urzaiz sisters. That there's an honest-to-god friend group at Seidoukan says a lot about its atmosphere compared to the other schools, but it also implies a difference in our heroes. They want to win, but this goal isn't all-consuming for them. They'll put something or someone else before victory.
When it focuses on these issues, The Asterisk War is a pretty good show. Unfortunately, it feels the need to throw in some of the harem genre conventions that really don't need to be there. Julis's evolving character from stereotypical tsundere to a more realized person is one thing, but the story doesn't need the plot trap of Saya, Julis, and Kirin all being in love with a totally oblivious Ayato, nor was the whole “indirect kiss” scene at the café necessary, although it did form a nice contrast with the fact that Ayato and his roommate were sharing a bottle of tea moments before with no problem. Likewise, the flapping boobs (they've gone beyond bouncing) just feel silly when you have action scenes like Julis and Ayato's fight against the Li twins, which does an excellent job showcasing their teamwork while also coming to an immensely satisfying conclusion. When it isn't hidden by flashy effects, the fight choreography is interesting and really doesn't need fanservice distractions.
The dub and sub casts of the show feel mostly balanced, but the one voice that may send even sub fans screaming for the dub is Chitose Morinaga's Flora, which has all the charm of nails on a chalkboard. Sandy Fox's dub version, while still high-pitched, is much more palatable. The animation shows an increased but still fairly minor use of CG during battle scenes, along with a tendency to obscure action with overlays of characters' powers. When there's no fighting, the camera loves Julis's backside, but great care is taken to avoid actual panty shots. As always, the set comes with three discs in a nice box (six episodes across two discs and a soundtrack), along with a booklet and art postcards. It's not quite enough for the asking price, especially since on-disc extras are limited to previews and clean songs, but it is attractive.
The Asterisk War is one of those shows that slots firmly into the “mediocre” category. It isn't bad by any means, and it has some exciting fights and interesting plot developments, but it also feels the need to shoehorn in genre tropes (harem and dystopian YA fiction) that distract from the plot, and keeping track of all its characters can be a chore. As far as magic high school stories go, this is fun – but it doesn't get beyond that.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Reveal of Haruka's whereabouts opens interesting possibilities, real sense of the characters working together as a team, some nice fight choreography
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