The first of the three “battle harems” this season comes to a close and we prepare for the 2nd cour.
I’m out of practice with starting these posts out with some clever quips, but I’ll try my best for this one. Better for me to have something half-decent for this one while I work on getting something wordy and clever for the other two. That fact alone should suggest something about this series.
It should go without saying that I’m fairly worn out on these battle harem shows and I only started watching the one’s this season to partake in the community-made challenge, affectionately called The Harem Challenge. So where does Asterisk fall under this? Let’s find out.
Asterisk War takes place in the titular city known as Asterisk where it houses six distinct academies where they pit their students into battle. These students can be identified as the Genestella, semi-supernatural humans with special attributes and they are pitted against each other in regularly held tournaments called Festas while the world watches them for entertainment and more Genestella enroll in the most prestigious schools to prove their pride and supremacy.
I couldn’t tell you how jarred I was with the plot. There was nothing to it. THE ENTIRE SERIES takes place in a literal academy city where TOURNAMENTS are the selling point. Now if they played this off in a rather non-serious, comedic fashion, I would have let this slide. Admittedly, only half of that actually happened, but not in the way that makes this situation any better.
The problem is with this setting is that the plot itself could hardly exist. Rather, the plot itself is forced onto a predictable path of tournament bracket/placement sabotages, assassinations, and the likes. It’s honestly done to death but for a series to outright base an entire series on this idea just baffles me.
The “make it break it” point that makes me judge a series like this fairly usually rests on the shoulders of the main character, and unfortunately for Asterisk, Ayato Amagiri is the weakest link. He has his entire backstory with his sister that is barely explored and he basically becomes a side character when compared to the main female protagonist, Julis Riessfield who’s the character with some actual motivation and Ayato just follows and supports her. As far as side characters go, Saya doesn’t do anything worth mentioning and Kirin becomes the main female protagonist for around 3 episodes before being side-lined. The male characters are absolutely non-existent other than the muscle-head and his lackeys but even then, they job in the tournament. Claudia provides the necessary cock-tease and she gets her only significant scene at the very end.
Unsurprisingly, the side characters were more appealing to me compared to the main cast by the sole factor of not being on screen enough for me to complain about them. Plus they move the plot along so since the scenes they’re actually count for something, that’s actually a plus. The most prominent of the side characters being Dirk, the student council head of another academy who commissions the siblings, Priscilla and Irene in the tournament. Dirk was more interesting than any other male character in the series, but that’s not saying much but I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t want him as the main character instead. Also, that’s another thing I hate about this genre, the student council presidents are the HIGHEST AUTHORITY of their respective academies. That annoys me to no end of this entire idea of student autonomy and the only adult that shows up is visibly horrified when Claudia asserts her “authority” as student council president. Lastly, there were also literal robots that showed up in the tournament who represented two girls from the technological advanced academy, who were relevant for around half an episode too.
In the end, the side characters were more interesting since the main cast of characters really didn’t do that much together. The team dynamic doesn’t exist because the dynamics exist in the duo pairings only and even then, that was boring to watch. But I’ll get into that in the following section.
This is new isn’t it? I made it something of a point in my reviews that I rarely ever care for music and animation but as I watch more and more series, I realize it’s a fair contention to make for any series. Let’s get this out of the way immediately, the Ending song is pretty fantastic. However, the opening is something I’ve heard millions of times before and while the OST was made by Rasmus Faber, I honestly didn’t feel any tracks latch on to me. Probably because of the next point.
The fights in the series are absolutely boring. I accredit this to a number of factors. First off, the art style. A-1 Pictures just has that really smooth and soft look and I honestly don’t think fits the fighting style all that much, especially for such a “sleek” looking series such as this, it’s more fitting that the girls are the main draw to look at but why wouldn’t fights like this happen? Second, the fights themselves, and the contrived reasons of having it in a tournament set up don’t help either. The tournament fights are droll and feature fights against characters who we do not care about at all, and since they’re not our main characters or side characters that appear for more than a minute, it’s obvious who’s going to win. The first “major” fight where Ayato shows off his skills was the most lame fight too, where he just effortlessly cuts down dolls for a few good minutes. None of the fights felt like they had any impact as they were obviously in no real danger given the tournament setting and the most praise-worthy fight was a fight between Kirin and Ayato, and everyone knew how it was going to end anyway.
That’s another issue, the pacing. Asterisk is planned for a 2-cour run and it arguably follows the light novels to a tee but that’s another fault. It fails to trim the fat and get to the important parts and it drags on about uninteresting points and exposition. This is a series you’d be much rather off marathonning instead of watching it week by week, because I honestly forget what happened the previous episode after a week because so little happens over a long span of time.
Finally, the last of my complaints: the dynamic between characters. So with a setting already so contrived like this being the stage for our characters to act in, the series could have bothered to have some interesting performances, the lead being the primary duo of Ayato and Julis. While the harem existed in the sidelines, the whole “duo” dynamic for this portion of the series strictly limited any meaningful relationship between Ayato and Julis. This hilariously gets side-lined with Kirin who takes the main seat for around 3 episodes in the middle of the series so that doesn’t help either. Throw in the fact that they needed to explain Claudia’s deal sometime before the end and the prominence of developing Irene and Priscilla to have earn an ounce of sympathy before the final fight really diluted any sort of chemistry the two had other than the usual fanfare between couples like this.
All in all, Asterisk had pretty characters, sounded half decent but suffered from an ungodly slow pacing that ironically does reflect the light novels, but in a way that suggests that things droll on like this in the books too. If it was a showcase of bad directing in making these smaller scenes feel insignificant then I’ll blame the series itself but it nonetheless doesn’t help in making me want to read ahead in the series. Was it enjoyable? Somewhat, but I feel that its flaws overshadow the things done right but I’m usually the one to think like that anyway. We will see if the series picks itself up from its awfully boring first half when the 2nd cour arrives and if it fixes its pacing issues and if it begins to get interesting, which might be tough to accomplish given that only more tournaments await.
So with that concluded, where does it fall on the scale compared to the 3 Harems this season? So far, it looks like this
X > Asterisk > Y
Y > X > Asterisk
Tune in next time when we found out where X and Y stand and why.