The Asterisk War Sucks [Part 1]

Watch on Google Drive

Edited by The Davoo

Text version and links:

So the fall 2015 season is already a month and a half underway, and now that I’ve climbed out of my cryo-sleep chamber that beams old GAINAX shows into my head for weeks on end, I guess I’ll give one of those seasonal charts a look. [MAL seasonal chart organized by popularity.]

Alright, we’ve got One Punch Man. This is obviously gonna to be cool as shit. Everyone’s been hyping up the manga for years now, and the main character’s like some weird melon-headed bald superhero dude surrounded by wacky and interesting alien cyborgs and shit. Studio Madhouse is still pretty damn reliable when it comes to action shows, and the director is the same guy who lead Space Dandy under Watanabe’s supervision last year, which was probably the best-looking anime TV series ever made. Definitely gonna watch this one.

Next we’ve got some sequels to shows I didn’t watch, some Silver Links show I don’t care about and… oh, look. An A-1 Pictures show. Judging by this cover art, I’m guessing it’s a light novel adaptation–not that I need to guess since it says so right there.

Now, I realize I’m probably the only weirdo who feels this way, but it’s been over three years since this studio put out a show that I actually liked–a time span in which the studio has released approximately seventeen thousand TV shows–and it happens that Tsuritama was directed by a dude I generally love. Every time they make a show that seems kinda cool at first I end up hating it by the end, and their visual aesthetic drives me up the fucking wall with how unappealing it is.

My gut reaction when I see “A-1 Pictures,” and “light novel,” is to stay the fuck away and never look back–which might seem a little closed-minded and dickish to people who don’t get where I’m coming from. Justifying why I feel these stupid emotions is hard. It’s not the kind of thing I can explain away in one sentence or paragraph or informational video. It’s not just one thing about these shows that rubs me the wrong way; it’s a little bit of everything. So if I’m gonna get to the heart of this, and try to get you to appreciate my big dumb hateboner for this studio, then we’re just gonna have to watch the show together while I bitch about eeeeeeeeverything.

Now before you leave a comment about how I shouldn’t watch a show I don’t like, or about how I’m an asshole for ragging on some show that people love, or whatever other reactionary comment you might be typing up right now, let me set some things straight. First of all, there are reasons to watch something other than enjoyment. In this case, the reason is a combination of intellectual curiosity and a desire to get this off of my chest. Secondly, there are plenty of people who ask me every day to talk more about shows that I don’t like, and who love it when I help them to justify their own negative feelings towards a show–and just as easily as I could’ve decided not to make this video, you could’ve decided not to watch it. And lastly, this is literally my job. I make youtube videos about anime. I don’t do anything else. This is my life.

So, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s head on over to crunchyroll and fire this baby up. If you want to watch along with me, I recommend using this kickass link to sign up for an account; because if you do then crunchyroll will literally give me five dollars. You can tell I’m serious because if I wasn’t then I’d never recommend this show to anyone, ever.

Before we actually click on episode one, let’s take a look at that little poster they’ve got on the side to give us a sense of what this show’s gonna be like. Every single thing about this poster puts me off immediately. We can tell that the main characters are in uniforms since they’ve got the same color scheme and general look, which means that this show takes place in high school. Now, that’s no huge knock on the series, considering that 95% of anime takes place in high school, but it brings along a set of expectations about what the setting and characters are gonna be like.

The uniforms are completely unrealistic and nothing like anything that’d be worn in a real Japanese school, and they’ve got this sort of sleek, almost sci-fi aesthetic to them–which means that this isn’t gonna be just a high school, but a special school for abnormal people. The fact that both characters are holding some kind of spectral-looking weapon means that it’s probably going to be a school where everyone has super powers, and which has some kind of school-sanctioned battling going on for some stupid-ass reason. Every season has at least two shows like this, and the fall season has three which are nearly identical. [Cavalry and 35 Shiken]

Moreover, the girl’s uniform has an unrealistically tight little miniskirt that would break the dress code at any school which actually bothered to have uniforms, along with sexy thigh-high stockings that show off just a few centimeters of flesh which are known as the absolute territory. The idea that she can position her legs like that without the skirt riding straight up and flashing her panties is a fantasy only anime can create, but it puts it in your head that surely, if you watch the show, you’ll be able to see the rest. Her rather large breasts are very pronounced by the way that her chest is pushed out, even though she’s looking at a downward angle; so all of you at home, I’d like you to look down at something while puffing your chest out a little and see how that feels. Anyways, the point is, this is gonna be a fanservice show.

Both of the character designs are what I would describe as “light novel default characters.” First, let’s take a look at Light Novel Guy. What separates Light Novel Guy from Harem Guy is the pointiness and swooshiness and possibly color of his hair. A typical harem guy or otherwise milquetoast Yuuji Everylead dude has black hair, sort of like a bowl cut or just a drab, boring look to him; and maybe glasses, so that he looks like basically every random fifteen year-old Japanese kid. What separates Light Novel Guy from Yuuji Everylead is that Light Novel Guy is how an edgy, “too cool for school” fifteen year-old Japanese kid sees himself. He stands out from the crowd a little bit, and has a dark, brooding edge to him that let’s you know he’s the most important dude around. He’s just generic enough to project yourself onto, but just stylish enough to look like kind of a badass when the chips are down and there’s an ass to be kicked.

Light Novel Girl, meanwhile, is a more specific package, but with a few more variables. She’s just a bit shorter than Light Novel Guy, and she has very large breasts–but not like crazy large. If she had really huge boobs then she’d be the girl with the big boobs, which is one of the side characters, so it’s important that her boobs be about as large as could be considered reasonably proportioned for her height. She’s got a slender body, but just enough leg that she looks like she could muster up a reasonably strong punt to the groin, and her candy-colored hair falls anywhere from her upper back to just beyond her butt. This is what I call the “main girl look.”

So if their overall designs weren’t generic enough, we can also figure out their equally generic personalities by looking at their weapons. Light Novel Guy’s got this big dumb sword with way too much shit going on, which I guess is meant to look like it’s got a status buff or something, or like it’s poisoned… whatever, it looks like a plastic toy that’s possessed by a ghost. Meanwhile, Light Novel Girl has a shiny pink rapier, and is standing in a comparatively defensive position.

Obviously Light Novel Guy is the type of fighter who’s brash, passionate, and maybe a bit out of control from time to time. He jumps headlong into the action, yells about friendship, and does a lot of damage, in contrast to his typically lackadaisical and confused nature. Meanwhile, Light Novel Girl is more poised and reserved. She takes herself very seriously and is easily embarrassed because she tries to be guarded with her emotions; but since she’s on a crash course with the main character’s crotch just by being in the same show as him, then this is going to manifest itself in what many would describe as the “tsundere” archetype. Light Novel Guy is going to see Light Novel Girl in various stages of undress more than once, and she is not going to be happy about it.

The background is littered with garish effects that I’m not even sure what they’re meant to represent. The fiery orange shit behind Light Novel Girl kind of looks like it’s meant to be in the shape of wings on her back, but then there’s also an errant pool of orange crap behind Light Novel Guy, so it’s hard to say for sure. It doesn’t quite look like an explosion or a fire, so much as just like someone going apeshit with a photoshop tool that makes gradient orange splashes. Behind that is like a bunch of stars and vague sci-fi-ish doodles that once again don’t seem like much of anything. The bottom part has been swallowed by this ugly white goo–which, in fairness, isn’t the designer’s fault–the original image has the Japanese title in one of those snazzy light novel fonts, and I guess someone at Crunchyroll just did a really lazy job of superimposing the English title overtop of it.

Alright enough of this shit, let’s watch the show.

Right off the bat, the first episode opens up with one of my most hated anime tropes: the totally pointless shitty fight with no context. Two characters that I’ve never seen and know nothing about are fighting for reasons that I don’t understand. It seems to be in some kind of underground arena with a rabidly interested crowd, but it’s hard to tell if this is like a sporting event, or a gladiatorial thing, or if the characters are doing this willingly, or even whether or not they’re supposed to end up killing one-another. I mean, one of them does end up dead, but was that because of the nature of the competition, or some kind of accident? There’s just too little to go on.

At the very least, I can tell I’m supposed to be rooting for the girl, because she actually has a face and a voice. This girl is like ridiculously cute because she wears glasses, so I know she’s an important character on some level, whereas her opponent is a perfectly generic big dude with a mask and no voice whatsoever. Now, I’ve got a theory, based on the way that the mask breaks off at the end of the battle, that this guy wasn’t given a voice because we’re not supposed to know who he is, and if we heard that voice coming out of someone else or saw the actor in the cast list later, then we’d know who the killer was. In any case, the cute little girl seems like the underdog in comparison to the big scary masked guy, so for now she has our allegiance in spite of knowing nothing about either character whatsoever.

Within the first ten seconds of this battle–as in, two seconds after seeing the faces of the competitors for the first time–all of the dramatic stakes in this fight go flying out the window, because the characters transform into a pair of colored lights beaming around at random. Already, the rules and limitations of their abilities have been made irreparably unclear. Like, what the fuck kind of combat scenario comes out looking like a choreographed light show? How far beyond human capability do these powers extend if the characters can move at these ridiculous speeds and, for all we know, turn into laser beams? It’s going to become apparent in a second that these colored lights represent the colors of their weapons–but the fact that in this shot there aren’t even people attached to them makes the entire scene feel like a surreal metaphor for an actual fight.

The next shot is a laughably horrific excuse for fight choreography that tries to cover itself up by happening so fast that you’ll be impressed just because the characters are indeed moving. The guy comes running through the foreground towards the girl, but the sense of space is conveyed so poorly and his weapon is so awkward looking, that it kind of looks like he totally whiffs. We can only really tell that he’s aiming for the girl’s head, because she ducks down to dodge his attack, even though doing so was probably unnecessary. The girl like rocket boosts off to the right, and then swings at the dude, but this time he ducks under it–which was probably unnecessary because the colored light representing the sword’s arc is actually right where his head would be, if not for the fact that it’s in front of him and missed entirely.

So the guy lunges at her, but–wait, what the fuck just happened? Wait, go back and do that frame by frame. So in one frame, we see the girl’s head start to move to the right, and then in the next frame she’s suddenly in a completely different pose and facing the opposite direction. The dude not only laughable misses his attack, but instead of lunging forward, his body apparently moves backwards, and then he jumps over another sword slash that looks like it wasn’t even remotely close to hitting him anyways.

After that, the camera just starts switching characters from foreground to background a bunch of times because as long as things are moving fast they must automatically be exciting, and then we get some more ineffectual stabbing action before the girl goes in with her big yell. Now this moment where the guy knocks the girl’s hand away is pretty alright, as it creates a tension dispersal and represents the changing tide in the battle to his taking control–but it’s just followed by a bunch of other nonsensical disconnected frames.

The whole thing finally wraps up in one of those big all-or-nothing attacks that always makes me wonder why, if the characters could bust out these super moves whenever they wanted to, they decided to save them for the end of the match when they’re already exhausted. There’s a clash of swords, a pan up to the weirdest light fixture ever, a hint at this mystery man’s special powers, and then the girl is dead. From her last words, “I’m sorry, Ayato,” you can pretty easily figure out that this girl is probably the main character’s older sister, because who else would it be? The name has to be the main character’s name, and the only person who’d be around this age and give this much of a shit about him this early into the story would be his sister.

Now, I don’t think it’s impossible to open up on a big, stupid, flashy fight scene and have it be an enticing way to start a show. Obviously any amount of dialog or setting detail which might clue us into the purpose of the fight would go a long way in making it more interesting, or even just if the fighting styles of the characters hinted at what kind of people they were–be that idealistically, or culturally, or just in the way they fight. Both of these characters seem to have the exact same superpower and nearly identical weapons; how boring is that?

Lowering my standards as far as I possibly can with regards to scenes like this, let’s take a look at the nearly identical opening minute and a half of the Black Rock Shooter OVA. Once again, we’ve got a fight between two characters I’ve never seen and who have no dialog, and the scene ends with one of them being killed. Their powers are so over the top that there’s no sense of stakes or limitations, and a lot of it is just aimless sword swinging. But even this scene managed to intrigue me in a couple of ways. The location of the battle is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and gorgeously rendered with excellent cinematography; the characters are both pretty goddamn cool-looking, and some of the animation cuts and fight choreography is downright stellar. Even the way that Black Rock Shooter’s death is represented is a lot more artful and interesting than the spot coloring pool of blood. And let’s address that, too.

When I watched this opening fight from the Asterisk War, I wasn’t sure at first if it was supposed to take place in the past, or if it was colored this way just because the location was supposed to be a dark and dreary place. Black-and-white is like a universal film shorthand for flashbacks, but the scene isn’t actually IN black-and-white–it’s just really heavily desaturated, but not so much that you can’t tell the girl’s hair is supposed to be purple. The laser beams are still bright and colorful, which makes it seem like the location is just a really dark place and the swords are really bright; but then the blood is also really bright, which gives the impression that it was meant to look artsy and cool. It’s like they couldn’t decide between whether they wanted to do like an artsy black and white spot coloring flashback scene, or a more normal-looking fight scene where you can still tell what the characters are supposed to look like and which still has the same general feel as the rest of the show–so they went halfway in both directions and made something that looks like shit.

Now that I’m finally done talking about this stupid fight scene, we can let the camera pan up through all these weirdly esoteric shapes which don’t seem like they’re meant to be literal layers of the building where this fight took place, and then abruptly cut to this screenshot of the Sword Art Online opening theme. This has got to be the laziest possible visual shorthand for vague futurism. It seems at some point that the anime industry collectively decided that the inside of the internet is a stylish color gradient with a bunch of random particle effects and image tabs opened up across an ethereal plane of nothingness.

Years of Hollywood films have conditioned us to associate random photographs of vaguely industrial buildings with exposition about the current state of humanity, and through a handful of helpful photographic screenshots, we learn that something called Invertia drastically changed the world as we know it–apparently by way of a bunch of meteors falling on Tokyo. Continuing the theme of vague futurism, a CG globe with a bunch of random names on it and some weird hexagon with meaningless symbols attached to it apparently are meant to represent the shift in world powers; it looks more like an RPG stat graph. We are told that the Invertia caused a shift in the moral principles of society for some reason, which only informs us that the people of this world should be completely unrelatable to us. This is a very important and accurate detail. I hope you’ve also figured out that the word “invertia” is a not at all clever reference to the idea that this incident inverted the nature of the world as it stood. This will not be relevant later on.

Over the course of the following scene, the narrator informs us that the Invertia led to a new race of people being born with superpowers called the Genestella, and that those people meet in this city called Asterisk in order to fight one-another; but I want to break the rest of this scene down in more depth for what’s happening visually, and I’m out of time in this video. Yes, it took me fifteen minutes to make it two minutes into the first episode. Yes, this is going to be a long ride. Yes, I am a crazy person.

Continued in part two.

3 thoughts on “The Asterisk War Sucks [Part 1]

  1. So after watching this my first thought was “nah, this can’t be THAT bad, im sure it’s just digi and his high standards”. Ten minutes into the first episode I realized the terrible mistake I made. Godspeed digi, may the god of sanity bless your journey,

  2. Yeah, that opening fight scene also rubbed me the wrong way. After seeing the fight I stopped the episode and immediately went to go rewatch the Rainy Devil fight in Bakemonogatari. THAT one was way more engaging.

  3. As much as I feel you’re right about your analysis, I can’t help but point out that making a critical anylisis of any show of that genre is litteraly shooting at the ambulance.

    It’s great if you have fun making these videos and some people have fun watching it. But having someone tell me why a show I already know is bad is indeed bad, I don’t find that very interesting. I prefer hearing about why a show you loved is great instead (your videos on Log Horizon were excellent).

    Although I think I get why you chose to review Asterisk War, as someone who enjoys generic sci-fi/fantasy high-school-battle-harem-anime, I have to point out that Asterisk War is FAR from being the worst the genre has to offer. In my opinion it rather is a decent one.

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