Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Asterisk War: The Academy City on the Water [Limited Edition]
The final round of the Phoenix Festa is about to start, but with Flora still missing, Ayato may not be able to use his best weapon, the Ser=Versta. Can Kirin and Saya rescue her in time for Ayato and Julis to still win the match? Once that's taken care of, it's winter vacation, and Julis invites Ayato, Kirin, Saya, and Claudia to come home with her to Lieseltania at her brother's request. Does he really just want to treat his sister's friends to a vacation? Or could he have other things in mind as the claws of the corporations who run the world come ever closer to Julis?
The Asterisk War has made repeated mention of the corporations that run the world in lieu of governments (the IEF) over the course of its two seasons, but without really digging in too deeply. Now in the final six episodes – and more specifically the last three – it gives us a more solid idea of how far those businesses are willing to go in order to monetize the genestellae. While at times it feels as if the series isn't sure if it wants to tell an epic school battle story or one about a corrupt world where children are forced to fight nearly to their deaths, these concluding episodes generally bring things to a more satisfying level of world building than we've previously seen, even if the ending is very much an advertisement for the light novels, as in, “if you want to know what happens next, read the books!”
The first three episodes, which wrap up the Phoenix Festa arc, retain the series' earlier focus on action and the growing trust between Julis and Ayato. In their final match, the two are up against Arlequint's Camilla and Ernesta, or rather, against their mecha puppets. While I'm still not entirely sold on the fairness of this (although you can't fault Ernesta and Camilla for finding a way to compete without risking life and limb), the real danger here is that with Flora still missing, Ayato's hands are tied: per the kidnappers' orders, if he uses the Ser=Veresta, things will not go well for the girl. There's also the very real risk that he and Julis will be too caught up in looking for Flora that they'll miss the match entirely, which is doubtless another possibility that Dirk and his cronies are betting on. This is without taking into consideration that Julis and Ayato are not each other's sole friends – Kirin, Saya, and Claudia, not to mention Ayato's mysterious roommate Yabuki, are all equally interested both in saving Flora and in the duo's victory. This failure to take the rest of the pair's support system into account serves to highlight the major differences between the heroes and the villains in this series: in the cutthroat world of Asterisk War, there are very few actual friendships that form. Most people are much more concerned with winning in all of its forms, and with the exception of the second Festa, Gryps, which requires people to fight in teams of five, most people are out for themselves. Relationships are based on mutual gain rather than actual friendship, as we've seen repeatedly with the teams from other schools and even foil characters such as McPhail in the first season. The fact that Ayato initially came to Rikka, thus taking advantage of his genestella status, because of his bond with his sister sets him up to be someone who understands the importance of relationships, and that has continued to be part of the heroes' real strength as the series reaches its conclusion.
In the episodes set in Julis' homeland of Lieseltania we get to more fully understand her bonds with others, and why she makes such a good fit for the rest of her group. It had been previously mentioned that Lieseltania was essentially a puppet nation before, created from a defunct Holy Roman principality by the heads of the corporations as their own personal kingdom, but that isn't something that we fully understand until Julis brings her friends there. The reason she's so attached to the orphanage run by the state is more fully explored, as is the fact that the IEF has been culling orphans to use in synthetic genestella experiments. This may be the most important revelation of the series, as it not only explains part of Julis' past, but also shows the depth to which the IEF will sink in order to monetize the genestellae – and how Asterisk schools stand to benefit from that “generosity.” (It was an Arlequint student who was behind the major damage done to Julis' friend.) Julis therefore stands in direct opposition to them, playing a much more dangerous game than her brother, Jolbert, is comfortable playing. To Julis' eyes, her brother is a disinterested, lazy king, willing to be bribed with women and other pleasures while the corporations manipulate his country. As it turns out, he may not be so much disinterested as disheartened and defeated – he sees fighting the IEF as an unwinnable battle and Julis' determination to do so as self-destructive.
Despite this uptick in storytelling, The Asterisk War still suffers from some stale harem factors. Although it is all be settled that Julis is the girl Ayato will eventually end up with (despite her brother's plans, that won't be immediate), Kirin, Saya, and Claudia remain romantic hangers-on, even after Saya makes it clear that she's willing to be his friend rather than his girlfriend. This leads to usual obsession with having the male lead pat them on the heads and jokes about Kirin's and Claudia's breasts, although these are thankfully kept more in the background. (There are also fewer scenes of Ernesta's ridiculously mobile boobs.) Art and animation are largely well done, although Julis' ballgown seems to have been passed down to her from a relative who last wore it in 1987, and there are several awkward upskirt shots of Claudia walking that can't seem to decide how much they want to show, resulting in stiff, unnatural angles and movements. Probably the most glaring (and unintentionally humorous) moment is when Julis introduces Ayato to the mother superior at the orphanage and tells him that the sister was her Strega instructor – “Strega” is Italian for “witch,” and to see the term used in the context of a nun feels a little culturally tone deaf.
Aniplex of America's limited edition release of this final part is on par with its predecessors. The dub is solid, and Sandy Fox's Flora is enough to make watching it worthwhile, as she lacks the screaming fisher cat quality that Chitose Morinaga brings to the character. The six episodes are on two blu ray discs, with a third audio CD of background music included in a separate case, and an included booklet contains character and world-building information that is best read after viewing, as it has a few spoilers. The art cards are some of the nicest, which seems somehow fitting for the final volume. The only on-disc extras are the usual sets of episode previews.
The Asterisk War almost manages to overcome its harem/school battle roots in this finale, without ever quite getting there. To be perfectly frank, it feels as if the story is just heating up as the anime adaptation finishes, so English-language viewers are lucky that the light novels are currently being released by YenOn. This ultimately feels like a series that could have been more than it was. It tried, but in the end was too bogged down by both its own storyline and genre to fully reach its potential.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Dub Flora is much more tolerable than the sub version, Lieseltania arc offers more worldbuilding and character development, better understanding of how entrenched (and potentially evil) the corporations are
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