Review/discussion about: Gakusen Toshi Asterisk
When I went to Disney World – that is the one in Florida (the good one) and not the one in California – for the first time, it was around my birthday. If you do not know, at Disney, they pamper you to no end. They make sure that every move you make and every event you experience fills you with nothing but happiness. It is pretty scary how good they are at keeping you smiling.
So there I was, at Disney World, the happiest place on Earth, and it was my birthday. True to Disney form, they made me happy by giving me a special, green badge to wear. Wearing it around the parks meant skipping the long lines, extra signatures from the characters, and the regular restaurant staff giving me kind words and free desserts. Needless to say, I was a supremely happy kid.
I speak of badges because Gakusen Toshi Asterisk gives badges to its characters, too. (Also, finding a tangentially relevant anecdote was pretty difficult for this one.) But Asterisk could learn a thing or two from Disney about how to make its audience happy.
One of the biggest issues with Asterisk is that the anime does not have an established plot to speak of.
This is a split-cour anime, meaning the second season is realistically the second half, the direct continuation as opposed to a whole new set of ideas. What this means is that a lot of the events revolve around just introducing characters and establishing setting instead of actually having worthwhile events.
For example, Julis gets the first couple of episodes which are shared somewhat with Saya and Claudia. Kirin gets a couple of episodes for herself, too. Then Kirin shares one episode with Saya, and then the last few episodes are (strangely) about two new characters that showed up at the end of the season.
Again, this is all character-oriented material. Nothing that occurs within these separate scenarios – like Julis confronting an evildoer who sent her a letter or Kirin fighting off some monsters with Ayato helping her – affect the larger, overarching narrative.
What is this narrative? A lot of it involves unnecessary sexual, harem-based content. It is almost certain that Julis is the one he will choose in the end, considering their partnership and main character statuses. Meaning, the other characters fawning over Ayato seems rather pointless. Furthermore, any and all advances are met with Ayato being too flustered to do anything or with Ayato too afraid to make a move, highlighting said pointlessness.
The biggest driving force for the narrative is the “Fenix Festa,” a tournament where the best students of the different academies duel one another. The issue here is that the tournament does not start until later on in the season. That is, for roughly three-quarters of the show, the most important driving force is ignored. Yes, the characters are constantly training for the tournament, but it is never a conflict that they have to directly deal with until much later.
Then, once the tournament starts, the anime spends an inordinate amount of time on those aforementioned side characters, Irene and Priscilla. Not only do these side characters come too late into the season but also they divert attention away from Ayato, Julis, and the other characters who are easily more important.
Worse still is the lack of world building. Very little information is given on the different factions throughout the city; only random snippets from conversations or quick rundowns let the audience understand how this society functions. Thus, the different fighters and weapons and groups have no basis and therefore no relevance.
Narrowing the scope, Asterisk still has problems. A number of subplots go unexplained, like the Cat guardians, the backstory about Ayato’s sister, and the behind-the-scenes dealings with Clauida to name a few. The idea is that these separate subplots will be resolved later on in the second half of the anime, but so little was given about them that they feel more like tacked-on inclusions rather than important pieces of the plot.
Even on a thematic level, the anime has trouble. Asterisk focuses on the theme of what it is that motivates people. Or as the characters phrase it, “what it is I’m supposed to do.” Protecting another, upholding tenets, and righting wrongs are all valid motivators, motivators that the different members of the cast hold fast.
However, the extra aspects – namely the comedy and the sex – of Asterisk make it difficult to take its serious thoughts seriously. For example, Ayato (and the audience) seeing Julis and Saya’s undergarments after getting splashed by a fountain is unnecessary. And when Irene sucks blood from Priscilla’s neck, the action can only be described as sensual and thus distracting.
But to be as fair as possible, there is a second half to Asterisk, a half that presumably will sort out all of these narrative conflicts and inherent problems. So even though the show looks rough now, there is still an entire season left to go.
Asterisk’s art and animation is a mixture of both solid and subpar offerings.
The cinematography is often standard, except for rare perspectives such as a shot taken from Ayato’s point-of-view when Julis’s hands are covering his face or when bullets are shown hitting other bullets in slow motion. Lighting likewise remains relatively standard. And the same can be said for the art itself. Locations feel “the same”: an arena for fighting, a nice-looking room, and small parts of the city are as adventurous as the show gets. The lack of diversity can be attributed to the lack of world building – since the anime decided not to flesh out its world, the anime’s art suffers, too.
Asterisk also likes to use CG for many of its effects. The materialization of guns, the smaller particles, and the robots that Ernesta developed are a few examples where CG makes an appearance. The CG is not groundbreaking, but it is used in such a way that the scenes and effects are bolstered, not hampered, by its inclusion.
Bolstering occurs with the actual animation as well, remaining at an above average level throughout the season. Hair swaying and faces contorting are present as well as other nuanced effects such as sparkling eyes and moving limbs. The animation even keeps up during the numerous duels: swords swing, flames bloom, and characters run. Even Ayato’s abilities – which more often than not devolve into a quick cut of him flashing across the screen – have their moments, like when he grapples Kirin or when he uses a massive attack in the final battle.
As for the character designs, their inclusion of color symbolism is nice to see. Julis’s pink symbolizes hotness, Kirin’s lavender symbolizes sweetness, Saya’s blue symbolizes calmness, Claudia’s yellow symbolizes happiness, and Ayato’s purple symbolizes respectfulness.
But the colors are, unfortunately, all that distinguish them. Their hair is not gaudy and their eyes are pretty, yet they each wear more or less the same school outfit. And since they rarely switch out of their school outfits, they look less like their own characters and more like a specific color moving around on the screen.
Asterisk has a fair amount of problems with its cast, problems caused by the anime splitting itself up. Still, the cast partially holds its own.
On a thematic level, they represent the idea that everyone fights for someone. Ayato fights for Julis. Julis fights for the kids in the orphanage. And Kirin and Saya fight for their respective fathers. Claudia may be fighting for Ayato, but technically the audience does not know quite yet where her true thoughts lay. (Hopefully the second season will clear this confusion up.)
Regardless, it is this need to protect another that pushes the characters forward. They take action not for themselves but for the person (or people) they hold dear. This theme is not explored outright, but having this commonality exist between each member of the cast proves that they were given at least a modicum of attention.
Moving to an individual basis, perhaps it is best to start with the best. The strongest character of Asterisk is Kirin and rightly so – she was given three whole episodes to flesh out her character. She starts out in a rough spot: Her menacing uncle physically abuses her and, for some reason unbeknownst to the audience, she accepts said abuse. Ayato fights for her honor, but he surprisingly loses.
But that is not the end for Kirin. She speaks with Ayato afterwards, expressing how grateful she is to have Ayato even attempt to stick up for her. The two quickly become friends (Kirin seems to have a crush on the boy), and their morning practices become a ritual.
It is not until Kirin and Ayato are attacked by a bunch of regenerating dragons (and while half naked) that she recounts her reason for suffering under her uncle. She has been, for years now, fighting to prove the innocence of her father who was accused unjustly. Ayato hears her words, encouraging her to take her own path.
She agrees, confronting her uncle and getting (backhand) slapped in the process. But she does not waver. Instead, she decides to fight Ayato once more, losing but realizing that this new path – her path – is the one that she wants to follow. And when her uncle confronts her again, Kirin sees that just because she has taken a path of her own volition that does not mean that she will be left to fight by her lonesome.
This whole character arc for Kirin is technically small, but she goes from introducing her traits, to dealing with her conflict, and then finally wrapping up said conflict, developing her character as best as the show could with the time constraints and the size of the cast. The rest of the cast, however, is not as lucky as Kirin.
Julis is next on the totem pole. She pushes others away, believing that she can and should fight using only her own strength. When Ayato arrives, she comes to understand the value of camaraderie, placing her trust in the boy who vows to help her. She has a backstory with an orphanage that has yet to be used directly (hopefully in the second season), yet the biggest mistake is the part of her past relating to a girl named Elenshquigall Ophélia (what a name) shown for not even five seconds before it is brushed over. (Again, hopefully the second season addresses this tidbit.)
Next would be Saya. She is aimless to the point of getting lost while out and about, she is evidently in love with Ayato, and she is a fan of saying “Kaboom” nonchalantly. Her listlessness only drops whenever the subject of her father is brought up. He was ostracized by his peers for his unorthodox methods in gun creation. She is mostly there for comedic relief, but she does form a connection with Kirin. For now, as a main-but-really-a-side character, Saya does what she has to; her time will come later on.
At the bottom of the totem pole rests both Ayato and Claudia. Ayato suffers from being a self-insert character: he is incredibly powerful, he is surrounded by beautiful women, and he is just the nicest guy ever. To be fair, his power is more a curse than a blessing since it hurts him and saps his strength. As for why this is, it has yet to be explained (more next-season knowledge). And as such, Ayato’s character remains relatively static throughout the season.
Claudia is, surprisingly, the worst of the bunch. About halfway through the season, she, like Julis, very briefly mentions a trouble she is carrying: Her mother in the Integrated Enterprise Foundation is apparently someone who has no “irrational sense of self-interest” and has no “personal desires.” And, like Julis, this trouble is forgotten about entirely. It is not until the end of the season when she reveals her first important trait: Her weapon, Pan-Dora, forces her to view her “eventual death,” indicating her immense mental fortitude. The rest of the time, Claudia is relegated to sexual relief and not much more.
Collectively, and given that this is a split-cour anime, Asterisk did not create a strong group of characters, but it did not create a weak group of characters either.
The ending track is undoubtedly the best part of the anime. It starts off slow and soft, lulling the listener into a peaceful mood. The piano and violins are gentle and beautiful, boosting the peacefulness further. But the track does not keep this tone for long; the halfway marker transitions the track into techno land. Here, the space-like effects fall more in-line with Asterisk’s futuristic motif. All the while, the vocalist uses nothing but English lyrics, giving the track a unique feel. Overall, the ED is a powerhouse that should not go unheard.
The opening track is nowhere near the strength of the ED, but it does deserve some credit. The OP sticks more to the techno and space-like effects that the ED adopted, and it is certainly more intense, contrasting well with the ED. The track itself is nothing special, however, since it is a lot of beats and instruments crammed together. At the minimum, the vocalist sings wonderfully in terms of range and emotion, keeping the OP from being completely forgettable.
The rest of the original soundtrack is akin to the OP in that many of the tracks are fine for what they are but not much more. Flutes and bongos fill the slice-of-life moments. Dubstep and fast tracks make up the action-heavy moments. And a melancholic and mysterious piano track accompanies the equally sad and ominous moments. This last track is the only one that particularly stands out.
As far as voice acting performances are concerned, they are about average in their execution. Ari Ozawa as Kirin gives the young girl quite the cute voice, but the voice is almost too high-pitched. Ai Kakuma as Julis gives the short-tempered girl a fiery disposition. And Nao Touyama as Claudia provides a mature, sexy voice that is nice on the ears. And a (negative) shout out to Yuuko Gotou for using an annoying voice as an announcer for Kirin and Saya’s duel, hurting their whole scene.
Despite the problems I have with the anime, I still find it pretty fun at times.
Especially all of the romance asides. Kirin sidling closer to Ayato when she realizes she still has a shot. Saya calling Ernesta a “thieving cat” when Ernesta pecked Ayato’s cheek with a kiss. And Julis acting like the stereotypical tsundere on a consistent basis. Then there is Claudia whose sexually aggressive nature is always a treat.
I really do not care for the battles, though. Not too much is at stake and Ayato (inevitably) always wins. I would much rather the anime stick to the previous material: flirting, blushing, and romancing. Even then, there are certain moments – like Ayato and Julis’s first match where he falls on her and grabs her breast (way too overdone by now) and Kirin and Saya taking a shower after their match (not very tactful) – that I can do without.
Thinking on it more, I like all of the members of the cast besides Ayato. The girls are some combination of cute, sexy, and funny. Kirin is beyond adorable, Saya is hilarious in her unemotional responses, and Julis wanting to get her head rubbed because the other girls got the same treatment is amazing. Of course, Claudia in nothing but a bathrobe or a bathing suit is more than welcomed. Ayato, however, is just not interesting. Obviously that is the point, but I wish he had more of a personality besides “that super-nice dude.”
Gakusen Toshi Asterisk is a split-cour anime that stumbles from the get-go. The narrative has major issues, and while the characters, the visuals, and the music avoid similar mistakes, they are not without their own. Disney levels of happiness are impossible to reach, but hopefully the second half of the show can give its audience their very own green, happy-birthday badge.
Story: Bad, lack of a driving force, improper world building, and thematic troubles each harm the narrative, but the knowledge that a second half is on the horizon helps to explain some of the misgivings
Animation: Fine, average art, cinematography, and lighting, with nice CG, above average actual animation, and okay character designs
Characters: Fine, besides Kirin, the rest of the cast is either just primed for the second half or just not focused on enough
Sound: Fine, okay OP, good ED, okay OST, about average VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, Claudia, Kirin, Saya, and Julis are fun, but Ayato is lame and the battles are lamer
Final Score: 4/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3