Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Asterisk War
In the future, a strange meteor shower brought new powers to the earth in the form of children who can use magic. Known as “genestella,” many of these children can harness the forces of mana and are called Strega or Dante – essentially battle mages. At the floating academic island popularly called Asterisk for its shape, genestellae go to hone their skills, competing every year in the interscholastic battle known as the Festa. Ayato is new to Asterisk, but he has a fateful encounter with Julis, a hot-headed princess, on his very first day. Could this be the start of the greatest team the Asterisk has seen, or will Julis kill him before they ever get started?
If you've ever read or watched a Magic High School story before, you'll immediately be able to draw parallels to The Asterisk War. That's not because the manga adaptation of Yuu Miyazaki's light novel series isn't good, but rather because it hits on nearly every opening plot point of the genre right off the bat, with virtually no deviation from the basics. This is definitely going to be a case of how well it handles the tropes and standards of its genre rather than a standout story or premise of its own.
That isn't necessarily a fault of the work itself – there are many genres in fiction that rely on strict adherence to conventions rather than plot innovation, and while this introductory volume plays close to those conventions, it does so decently well. The story takes place on a floating island (manmade), which has been given over to academic purposes – the island of Rikka is home to five specialized academies that give it the distinctive shape of an asterisk. Each school on the island is dedicated to teaching and training children known as “genestella,” who are the result of a strange meteor shower that came to Earth, bringing with it the ability to change humans at the genetic level. Genestellae are children who can harness the power of mana, basically mages. In the story's world, they are called “Strega” and “Dante,” the former being Italian for “witch” and the latter…the name of the man who wrote The Inferno. Why they wouldn't use “stregone,” the masculine of “Strega,” is a little confusing, but I'm hoping for an explanation as the series goes forward.
The protagonist of all this is Ayato Amagiri, a recent transfer to Seidoukan Academy, one of the Asterisk's schools. Ayato is looking for information about his missing elder sister, who was rumored to be at Seidoukan years ago. On his first day (first minute, really) at the school, he accidentally walks in on the school's literal princess Julis-Alexia von Riessfeld while she's changing; like all good tsundere, her immediate reaction is to challenge him to a school-sanctioned duel. Since the fighting tournaments known as Festa are so important on Asterisk, all students are allowed to challenge each other in duels as practice, and for Julis, this also provides a chance to recoup her lost honor and modesty. Unfortunately for her, the student council president Claudia steps in to stop it, although not before we see that she may be at risk of losing to the unassuming Ayato.
This is about where your tolerance for this series will be determined. All of the characters introduced thus far are very much the standard types: nice secretly powerful guy, tsundere, childhood friend, busty powerful girl. Julis is such a cookie cutter tsundere that you can practically see the switch flip in her interactions with Ayato when she goes between prickly and sweet, and by the final chapter in the book, his harem is taking a very clear shape. There's a near total lack of innovation to the way the plot and characters are handled, with the added confusion of why Julis would be so furious with Ayato for seeing her in her underwear when her dress is so short that her underpants are continuously on display. (This appears to be because she has eschewed the uniform skirt that the other girls wear in favor of tromping around in just her shirt.) This is a case where fanservice appears to be interfering with the flow of storytelling. Oddly, this only happens with Julis; Claudia's breast-based fanservice works much better. The rest of the art is perhaps best described as “serviceable,” with a decent sense of movement to the action scenes and a nice simplicity to the character designs, but a few glaring issues like the near total lack of backgrounds and the fact that the shading on Ayato's chest makes it look as though he has breasts; I kept having to remind myself that he was male as I was reading.
The Asterisk War's first graphic novel is strictly setup. We are introduced to the world, the main characters, and the fighting objectives as well as Ayato's motives. Whether or not it can break away from the basics of its genre or simply embrace them to tell its story to the fullest remains to be seen, but it's not entirely without promise. If you don't like magic high school stories or harems, I'd wait and see if this will become something more, but if both of those are up your alley, this is worth keeping half an eye on to see how it develops.
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : C-
+ Lays out the plot and character types clearly, cast designs are distinct, a quick read with some decent action
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