Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Tsukasa Shiratori is a middle school student with a secret: she has a crush on one of her two best friends, Nadeshiko Washio. She knows nothing will come of it, but she's still shocked to find out that Washio has a crush on the third girl in their friend group, Kotooka. She's still struggling with what to do and how to handle things when a boy from her twin brother's school confesses to her out of the blue. Washio and Kotooka both pressure her to at least give the boy a chance, her brother wants her to have nothing to do with the guy, and Tsukasa is feeling torn from all sides. Shouldn't love be easier than this?
Nameless Asterism's synopsis might make you think that it's a melodrama of the highest order. And maybe it is, on paper – after all, it has more love geometry than titles that wear that as a badge of pride. But it isn't really melodramatic once you get into how the story and its conflicting emotions actually play out, and Kina Kobayashi shows a clear understanding of the fact that what seems ridiculous in hindsight at the time is actually of the utmost importance. That holds especially true for middle school, when everyone is just starting to figure out the differences between what they're “supposed to do” and what it is they actually might want to do, or who they want to be. It really does mark the start of the changeover from childhood to young adulthood, and that's what Nameless Asterism's first two volumes really capture.
The story primarily follows Tsukasa Shiratori, a seventh grader who has a crush on one of her best friends. That crush, real though it is, doesn't seem particularly sexual or even romantic – mostly because Tsukasa isn't at a point in her life when she really understands what those things are. All she knows is that she wants to be with Washio in a different way than with her other friends, but she's also terrified to make any real changes to the status quo, not just because she doesn't want to screw up the friend dynamic, but because she's not quite sure what that would mean for herself. Washio, on the other hand, has a much more romantic/sexual crush on the third girl in their circle, Kotooka – Tsukasa finds out about Washio's feelings when she sees her trying to kiss a sleeping Kotooka. Although Tsukasa is upset by this, she's also creeped out by it, because Washio is not only breaking a social rule (don't kiss unconscious people), but she's also demonstrating a very real difference between her feelings and Tsukasa's.
This difference isn't just that she has romantic feelings for someone else. It also is about how Washio is more ready for a physical component to a relationship, something that Kotooka, who is something of a serial dater, also demonstrates. This puts Tsukasa in the position of being the “least mature” member of the friend group, at least in the way thirteen-year-olds count these things. That means that when a boy from Tsukasa's twin brother Subaru's school suddenly asks her out in front of Washio and Kotooka, she's immediately bombarded with pressure from friends who think that she should be overjoyed.
It's worth mentioning at this point that although Tsukasa has that crush on Washio, it doesn't quite count as yuri at this point. That certainly may turn out to be the case later on, because Tsukasa is really only flattered at Asakura's interest because everyone keeps insisting that she is, but right now it feels more likely that Tsukasa just isn't actually ready for any kind of romantic attachment. If you've ever been in the uncomfortable position of not being interested in romance while your well-meaning friends try to force you into one you'll immediately recognize what's happening to Tsukasa; likewise, if you've ever been afraid to lose a sibling or friend who might be growing up faster than you, you'll understand where Tsukasa's brother Subaru is coming from. These very real feelings and recognizable situations are ultimately what saves Nameless Asterism from melodrama, grounding it in the reality that middle school is an emotionally fraught time.
This is not to say that the series doesn't still have its fun with the conventions of teen fiction. There's a very high possibility that Subaru, who dresses up like his sister from time to time to feel closer to her, is about to do something incredibly stupid and harmful involving Asakura, and the likelihood that Tsukasa, Washio, and Kotooka are going to be able to continue in their easy friendship for much longer is slim. None of this stems from deliberate cruelties (well, maybe Subaru if he does what I think he will), but rather from fear and anxiety that things will change – a surefire way to ensure that those changes not only happen, but are hurried along. Reading this after middle school gives it a bit of a feeling of creeping terror as you watch the characters make poor choices, but that's part of the fun of reading the books.
With its non-fussy art and a good amount of development for Tsukasa, Subaru, and Kotooka, Nameless Asterism is off to a good start. It isn't the series to pick up if you're looking specifically for a yuri title (although that may change later on), but it is one that really understands its characters and setting. Right now these kids are still searching for who they'll be and what shape they'll ultimately choose – and that makes their particular asterism (group of stars) nameless indeed…for now.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Good understanding of middle schoolers and subtle character development, art is simple but pleasant
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