Review/discussion about: Gakusen Toshi Asterisk 2nd Season
Screams echoed and metal churned above my head.
I started to panic. We were buckled in, so we couldn’t move. The ride had stopped. The doors to let us out wouldn’t open. And when the lights came on, scary props of all kinds stared back at us. Their creepy eyes and wicked smiles practically laughed at our impending demise.
“They need to get us out of here!” My voice croaked.
Someone, somewhere, listened to my frantic cry. For at that moment, the doors opened and our seatbelts unfastened. I rushed into the hallway, breathing in more so than usual, thankful for my newfound safety.
It’s nearly Halloween, so I figured I would recount a scary event from my life. Gakusen Toshi Asterisk 2nd Season also scared me, but in a completely different way.
Asterisk returns for the continuation to its split-cour. The Phoenix Festa is currently underway, Ayato and his harem fight their battles, and, all the while, trouble brews in the background.
This season is split up into roughly two different arcs. The first nine episodes center on the conclusion to the tournament that began last season as well as other conflicts in-between. The last three episodes center on the group’s visit to Lieseltania, Julis’s home country, that also has its own set of conflicts.
And it’s frightfully weak.
Some positives first, though. Unlike last season, the amount of ecchi scenes that did nothing but detract from the narrative are pretty much gone. A shot of Julis breasts and butt as she’s constricted by ropes of talisman in the middle of a fight or a view of Kirin’s exposed bust in her revealing dress still do not add anything to the show, but, due to more fighting and less downtime, the anime cuts back on these unnecessary inclusions.
It was also nice to see the anime capitalizing on events from its first season. Ayato saved a woman named Irene from losing herself. So, in return, she does her best to relay information to him when he needed it most.
The positives mostly stop there.
One of the more noticeable negatives is the constant reliance on a handicap. For many of the fights, there just-so-happens to be a reason why they cannot go all out from the get-go. Ayato is not allowed to use his main weapon before Flora is saved. Kirin’s leg is damaged. The group must keep their weapons in their rooms rather than bring them to the ball. It happens so much that it feels artificial, as though the anime wants to induce thrills without actually creating them.
There’s also the issue of the fights lacking gravitas. For two reasons. One, who they are fighting matters very little. The twins and the robots do not mean much to Ayato and the others on a relational level. And two, the overall outcome of the matches has low impact. Ayato asks to see his sister and Julis gets a lot of money to give to the orphanage she looks after, but these outcomes are not exactly powerful.
Moving on, improper world-building returns once again. The anime alludes to other groups, areas, and information but does not explicitly explain or explore these avenues. One can surmise the format of the other tournaments, what the different motifs per group are, and even what people do on a recreational basis, but these are superficial traits. I.e., nothing major or in-depth is provided.
Another negative is Sylvia. She is a singer and formidable adversary who helps out Ayato in discovering Flora’s location. But it all lacks cohesion. She appears out of nowhere, happens to have this convenient ability, and, worst of all, she does nothing else following her help (except for a wink during the award ceremony).
Yet Asterisk really shows off its sloppy execution with its last three episodes. The anime had to do something for the final stretch, but, since the Phoenix Festa was its major plotline and hence held its major climax, no matter what was to come after, it would be difficult for it to feel meaningful.
Regardless, it contains a lot of issues.
For instance, the anime does not follow through on Ayato’s sword transformation. During their final fight against the robots, Ayato’s sword changes into a form that supposedly fits him. But during the final three episodes, said transformation no longer exists, losing continuity and even retroactively slandering that happening as little more than a convenience.
These last few episodes also have a similar problem to the earlier fights. Namely, their enemy (the old gentleman) simply does not have a foothold in relation to the characters and the overall direction of the narrative. It also does not help that he doesn’t even battle. He just summons a bunch of beasts. While the beasts are mythological in origin – a cool trait – they’re more flashy than purposeful – a not-so-cool trait.
Another problem is the revelation of Ayato’s sister. Despite all of the build-up the anime had given towards her whereabouts, how much she meant to him, and the general mystery behind her disappearance, she is revealed all willy-nilly to Ayato. It comes off as strange, as though the anime were trying to squeeze in this reveal before the season closed (reinforced by the fact that the show also introduces a new character that had been alluded to recently).
The whole package simply has too many weaknesses for any of its strengths to support.
To Asterisk’s credit, the animation for its fight scenes are consistent. Julis’s giant fireballs, Kirin’s swordplay, and Says’s laser guns provide different levels of movement and moments of action. The same goes for their foes. The robot hurling his massive hammer. One of the twins using talismans. The hydra whirling its heads around. The animation is neither nuanced nor notable, but it at least remains passable throughout the season.
Similarly, the inclusion of CG models does not take away from the show’s action or art in general. It is mostly there for more complex scenarios – such as RM-C squaring off against Saya or a cascade of glass-like confetti – and they are detailed at not clunky in their movements.
Expectedly, the art continues to be more or less the same as it was with the first season. To this end, the it is once again not very impressive. A lot of the season takes place within the arena and nearby facilities – both of which are rather plain in detail. The futuristic city and the trip to the rustic country of Liseltania switches up the backgrounds, but that’s all they do.
Lighting and cinematography are at least looked at, such as with the shadow assassin and with the fights being depicted clearly. Yet to reiterate at this point, the anime does not do anything special here.
The character designs follow the same course. Their color symbolism persists – Julis’s pink for her fiery personality, Saya’s blue for her cooled behavior, etc. – as do their all-white outfits with magenta coloring. And the girls do don some fancy dresses for that ball. Again, though, their designs are not captivating or gross. They are simply meager for what they are.
This season, the characters of Asterisk still do not have much strength.
Ayato does unlock some of the chains that bound him mentally, meaning he does, however slightly, develop as a character. Granted, this “development” entails nothing more than him standing still and thinking very hard, but he at least no longer has to worry (now for up to an hour) about using the extent of his power.
Julis surprisingly doesn’t progress her relationship much with Ayato – even when she is asked directly by her brother. Nevertheless, the anime demonstrates a more caring side to her personality. She cares for Flora, her country, and the orphanage she had grown up with. She always talked about these separate parts of her life, but, this season, the audience actually gets to see her care for them explicitly.
Saya’s angle this season focuses on proving the strength of her father’s technology, and she does so through her fight against RM-C. To be fair, this conflict is arguably minor when considering the bigger picture, but she at least has her own plotline that she contends with.
The same cannot be said of Kirin, for she does not receive much attention during this season besides the occasional words on wanting to grow as a swordsman or the oft cute moment she takes part in. Although, being fair once more, she had her time and development last season, so it’s acceptable (to some extent) that she is not given as much focus this time around.
However, Claudia does not deserve this exception. For much of this season, and as it was with last season, she is barely around in terms of character focus. And when she is (namely in the last three episodes), the show’s constant dancing around her conflict in an attempt to maintain the mystery of it all prevents whatever mommy-daddy issues she may or may not be having from gaining any purposeful traction.
Ignoring Claudia and Kirin’s characters, it is clear that the cast do not receive a lot in the way of attention. Mostly because the anime was more concerned with the fights themselves rather than character exploration.
On one level, that makes sense. At its core, Asterisk is an action-heavy anime with dashes of ecchi and comedy mixed in. In other words, it is somewhat unfair to expect anything more. On another level, this season is the “second” season (for this split-cour). At this point, Asterisk needs to do more than just less-than-par development or extra characterization.
Which is unfortunate since the anime had those more personal moments. Saya crying on the rooftops from being frustrated with their tournament performance or Julis trying her hardest to save her “long-lost” childhood friend are nice examples that back up this statement. But these scenes are either not around enough or not looked at beyond what they mean on the surface.
Regardless, the anime does manage to hold a consistent theme throughout its run. Namely, leaning on others.
Many of the characters highlight this idea well enough. Julis leans on Ayato to help her succeed in the Pheonix Festa. Ayato leans on Saya when he needs encouragement. Saya leans on Kirin for support in her quest to showcase her father’s tech.
This theme is even seen between AR-D and RM-C, between Camilla and Ernesta, and between Nicolas and Gustave. Indeed, given the tournament’s format – two people work together against another similar duo – the notion of leaning on others, be it during times of need or just in general, gives the characters even more thematic presence.
However, the best character for this interpretation is Claudia. For she does not lean on anybody; she almost exclusively carries her problems all by herself.
As a result, she’s clearly in a distressed, unwelcomed emotional state, leaving her relationships with the others on the weaker side. That is, her not leaning others clearly puts her worse off, adding another layer to the aforementioned theme. (In fact, one could argue that her clingy nature with Ayato stems from the forced distance she appears to put between her and everyone else.)
Even if the theme itself is not explored outright, it’s still a nice theme to see. Nonetheless, it’s not enough to keep the characters from ending up at the lower side of the execution spectrum.
The highlight of the opening track is the singing. The shifts to a higher pitch, the different speeds, and the evident passion in the vocals (especially right near the end) give the song more clout than it may otherwise have. As for the rest of the OP, it contains a lot of drums, techno beats, and other flairs – like a quick music drop in the middle and jarring sound-effects here and there – that help to make the piece, once again, more noteworthy.
The ending track creates a more grounded atmosphere. A steady beat and leveled singing keeps the piece from becoming overbearing, and, even when the second half picks up the tempo slightly, it still maintains a feeling of simplicity through catchiness, some onomatopoeia, and light piano work.
The other tracks in the original soundtrack are not exactly notable. Orchestras for the triumphant moments, techno beats for the various fights, and a combined piano-and-violin piece for those sweeter scenes fit the show but are not standout in any particular fashion.
Lastly, voice-acting performances remain more or less the same from the previous season to this season with one (negative) difference: Flora. Chitose Morinaga as Flora, while certainly reaching a high pitch, uses a voice that is quite grating, often distracting, to listen to.
In an anime like this one, I get a lot entertainment from the romance. The show is considered a harem anime, so it is perhaps obvious that such romantic happenings will occur.
And they did.
Julis getting flustered when Ayato ate from the same spoon as she did seconds before (the famous indirect kiss). Claudia wanting to take Ayato to her room to help him unwind. Kirin requesting to lock arms with Ayato (and Saya joining in soon after to do the same). Julis, Saya, and Kirin all perking up at the mention of being called “rivals” in regards to Ayato.
Small scenes, but romance even of this minimal level makes me a very happy person.
Granted, I wish it was around more, but, to reiterate an earlier point I made, the anime focused more on its action in almost all cases. For much of it, I was not too impressed. The robots mega hammer, the knight duo, and the miasma girl did not make for interesting fights.
However, some of the action could be quite fun to watch at times. Ayato punching the one twin into unconsciousness with one strike, Julis literally cooking her opponent, and Sylvia kicking a dude with unbelievable force were cool moments.
But if I had to pick between the action and the romance, I would choose the romance any day of the week.
Admittedly, though, Julis refusing to go further with the romance was frustrating to see. She was still pushing back on the idea that she has feelings for Ayato even after everything they have done together. There’s also Claudia never getting the opportunity to progress her relationship with Ayato, too. And Saya and Kirin curling up on his bed, while cute, does not give their romantic prospects much hope.
Even so, I would still like to see more from the series. If only to eventually see a total conclusion to this entire tale (since I’ve invested all of this time into it already).
Gakusen Toshi Asterisk 2nd Season unfortunately fails to be a solid continuation. The animation and the music have their own strengths, but the story is a mess and the characters are not given enough individual focus. It’s a malfunctioned amusement park ride too scary for Halloween to handle.
Story: Terrible, non-meaningful fights, lame plot choices, and a botched final stretch leave the narrative hurting for much of its run
Animation: Fine, okay actual animation, okay artistic direction, and okay character designs
Characters: Bad, Ayato, Julis, and Saya grow minimally as characters, Claudia’s entire arc is handled poorly, but their theme of leaning on others for aid is prevalent
Sound: Fine, okay OP, okay ED, okay OST, okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, some romance and cool action segments exist, but some frustrating romantic decisions and uninteresting action also exist
Final Score: 3/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3