So, when I first heard that A-1, the animation studio who brought us the Sword Art Online anime was going to be adapting The Asterisk War, and when I saw the early previews, I was very excited. I wasn't actually familiar with the source material, but being a massive fan of the studio's previous work, and drawn in by the epic scale of the previews, I was pretty freaking excited for this show... and boy, was I let down.
As always, SPOILER WARNING.
So, our story is set some time in the future after an undescribed event occurred on Earth which led to humanity splitting into 2 subspecies: the supernaturally gifted Genestella (which includes all of the series's main characters), and regular humans.
The series is set in the floating city of Asterisk, where high school students from the city's six schools are allowed to fight in a tournament called the Phoenix Festa, in which pairs of students use their abilities, combined with magically enhanced semi-sentient weapons called ogre-luxes, to destroy the badges worn on the uniforms of members of the other teams. Our main character, the bland-looking Ayato, who is very combat proficient, but kinda lacking in a distinct personality, forms an initially uneasy alliance (which becomes a close friendship with possible romantic implications) with European princess Julis, with the pair trying to win the competition to raise money to save an orphanage.
Now, really the problems begin pretty early on. I'm not going to complain about the fact that the anime is set in a high school, as it often works well as a setting for teenage characters. What I am going to complain about is how every character in the series is a trope that we've seen a million times in highschool-set anime shows: there's the tired, shy one who's secretly a badass, there's the nosy, fun-loving school photographer, there's the female student council president with blonde hair (probably the most overused of all highschool anime character cliches), and so on. There just aren't any characters who stand out as unique or memorable.
But the problem isn't really the blandness of the characters, it's the way that just about every female character is needlessly sexualised, an this is made even worse by the way that they even go to extremes in terms of focusing to objectify the character of Kirin... who's supposed to be 13 freaking years old!
So, if the apparent pedophilia of the art directors isn't enough to put you off, don't worry, it gets worse from there.
Ayato's entire motivations make no sense: he enrolls in the same school his sister was at when she went missing, and his goal is just to "figure out what he wants to do with his life"!? Seriously? There is no human alive who would go to that school after losing their sister WITHOUT having the primary intention of finding out what happened to their sister, but this isn't all that much of a concern for Ayato for some reason.
The show also utilises "anime boob humour" as I call it, with a scene in which the main character accidentally squeezes the boob of the female lead. Classy animators, real classy.
Don't get me wrong, a lot of the action scenes in this show are pretty exciting, but there's often just not enough context given. For example, the way that the schools rank the positions of their students' skills is never explained and seems ridiculous, as losing just one duel as rank #1 will somehow make you "unranked" (lose your entire ranking), but beating one high ranked player will beef you up significantly. There's no real explanation for how this scoring system works. Oh, and another thing. It's never explained if any characters die during the duels in the series, both within and outside the Phoenix Festa.
For example, in the one of the first duels of the Festa, one of the AI puppets smashed into a student's head with a giant mallet, and it was never directly stated if the student survived the wound, but this was treated no differently by the audience and commentators to any other defeat. Similarly, there's a scene in which Kirin gets Saya (no boobs girl) to teach her to swim, before crashing into a (very sexualised, thong-bikini wearing) girl named Violet, who challenges her to a duel, then about a minute later says that she refuses to accept Kirin's girl’s challenge, when SHE was the one who challenged Kirin! Were the writers paying any attention at all to which character they gave which dialogue to?
Anyway, Violet ends up duelling Saya, who uses a gun-based lux weapon to throw Violet to the end of the pool, where she gets knocked against the wall unconscious, and is last seen floating away with her head underneath the water:
Seriously, that's the last we see of her. It's played as a joke, not really brought up again, and we never see her get rescued. I'm sorry, but to me seeing a girl unconscious with her head in the water is not funny, it's freaking horrifying especially given that they didn't bother to let us know whether she drowned or not!
This show is filled with moments like that, too many to mention, and another bizarre problem is that they've made every single major female character in the series a love interest for Ayato. Every. Single. One.
Another scene that irritated me a lot is when Kirin’s uncle says he’ll stop beating her is Ayato beats Kirin in a duel. How stupid is that? Kirin would obviously fight deliberately badly so that her uncle didn’t hurt her anymore! But for some reason, she goes all out. This entire concept is ridiculous! Even though her uncle is only a regular human, it would have made a lot more sense for him to have fought Ayato. And yes, I know that a reason for this is given, and I know that she stands up to her uncle eventually, but everything about this scene just didn't sit right with me as occurring in a realisitic way.
Oh, and I think I mentioned this earlier, but every single female character has a crush on Ayato. What the hell is that about? Is he really THAT attractive? Heck, the character of Claudia seems to spend half her time tryong to get him to sleep with her.
Every character in the series is a cliche that I've seen a million times, the story gets worryingly close to "harem" story many times, female characters are objectified left-right-and-centre, nothing about the story is original, the whole "compatibility" thing for ogre luxes seems to be taken directly out of Code Geass (as does the design for one of the major "puppets" in the series), and then there' the city design:
Oh boy, was that a let down. Sure, it was shiny and well-drawn, but we know from shows like Sword Art Online that these artists and animators have such potential for creativity and creating some gorgeous settings that looking at what they gave us in this series just came across as boring.
And the worst part of all this is the airships which are shown a few times in the background of the city. Anime shows like Last Exile and Trinity Blood have given us some of the best fictional airship designs that I have ever seen. I love airships, and I love steampunk. My favourite novel series, Mortal Engines, is full of airships and traction cities. So what are the levels of creativity that these artists put into the airships in this show? They are really bland designs that have just been painted white (apologies that I don't have a picture, trying to search for about 3 scenes each of which lasted about 1 second at most in a series with 12 episodes thus far is very difficult. When I review the second half of the series I promise that I'll include a screenshot).
With that said, the lack of any creativity in the airships pretty much sums up the whole show. There's a lot of other stuff in this show that I could talk about, but I'm not going to, because I just don't want to talk about this show anymore, and I don't really have time.
You have been reading Addicted To Animation Reviews with Dan King
My next review will be of Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya.