Edited by The Davoo
I’d like to invite you all to imagine yourselves in the following scenario:
Some guy you’ve never met before does something that really pisses you off, so you challenge him to a duel in the name of preserving your honor and punishing him. Nothing is really at stake or anything, and the guy doesn’t even seem like a terrible person, but you just gotta fight him for your own reasons. So the two of you trade blows for a couple minutes, and then all of a sudden the guy yells “get down!” and pushes you onto the ground, as an arrow whizzes through the spot where your head was just seconds prior. It takes a moment to process, but you realize that an attempt has just been made on your life, and that your opponent has just saved you. Now, given the situation, which of the following actions do you take?
- Immediately jump to your feet and try to uncover the source of the previous attack; and, if possible, hunt down and put a stop to your assailant.
- Call on the huge crowd of people who have gathered around your fight to identify and attempt to grab the attacker before they escape.
- Immediately try to evacuate the area and to hide somewhere that won’t leave you prone to an incredibly likely second attack, or:
- Realize that your opponent has accidentally groped you and immediately disregard the attack on your life in order to get flustered.
If you chose option number four, then it’s likely that your moral principles have been inverted.
So after Julis is targeted by some attacker off to the side, not a single person does a goddamn thing about it or even addresses it over the course of the entire episode. The crowd just stands around dumbfounded, and the student president comes walking out all nonchalant to cool the heads of the fighters instead of trying to pursue the assailant. The show manages to get away with introducing her this way because we don’t know who she is or what she can do yet, but if you come back to this scene knowing that she’s one of the most powerful fighters in the academy, extremely protective of the academy’s students, and more than capable of hunting down and capturing this very target in a later episode, then this scenario looks amazingly contrived.
It was around this point, when the yellow energy arrow thing hit the ground, that a lot of questions popped into my head about how these powers work exactly. In the opening scene, we saw a lot of dodging and blocking attacks, and we never really saw the attack that ended the battle, but we at least confirmed that these weapons can be used to kill someone. However, when Julis blows up her apartment and then creates a huge explosion right in front of Kirito, it doesn’t cause any harm to him whatsoever. As a genre-savvy anime watcher, I found myself assuming that this show follows some kind of logic where energy and projectile attacks aren’t really all that heavy on damage, whereas close-range bladed attacks are a lot more lethal; not that there’s really any logic behind this, but when you watch enough anime, your brain just kind of accepts it.
So this leads me to the question of whether or not the yellow arrow attack was meant to be lethal, or merely to do damage. After all, we just watched a bunch of projectiles and explosions be completely useless, and those were coming from the fifth most-powerful fighter in the entire school–so unless the assailant is even more powerful than Julis, then there’s no reason to assume that the attack would have done any damage–unless we’re meant to assume that the kind of attacks which Julis used were inherently non-lethal, whereas this type of attack is inherently lethal. See, this is why we need to have some sense of rules or limitations when it comes to random fantastical super powers, so that pedantic assholes like me don’t get hung up on trying to understand what those powers are capable of. Considering that Julis becomes more concerned about her accidental groping than she does about the attack, I can’t help feeling like maybe the attack wasn’t actually supposed to be a big deal in the first place.
So this scene is our first introduction to the girl with the big boobs that I mentioned in part one. Her personality type is Big Boob Girl Personality Type A: the Mysterious and Polite Big Sister. This character always talks in a very polite, yet somewhat airheaded manner, as a blatant way of concealing the fact that they know a lot more than they let on. They always seem to take control of any scene that they’re a part of, and feign ignorance over the fact that the other girls are jealous of their huge boobs. These characters usually have some kind of authoritative position in their school and are able to pull the strings and to create opportunities for the main character in the background. Sometimes this character is the same age as the others, as is the case with Claudia here, but other times they may be a bit older. Whereas Light Novel Girl’s personality is not necessarily beholden to the Main Girl Look, it is extremely rare for the Mysterious and Polite Big Sister to not also be a Big Boob Girl.
I’m not going to get too in-depth about anything here for now, but I’d like you to pay attention to the school badges and how they appear to be holograms which Claudia is able to restore using her own badge. At this point, all of this hologram technology is a bit outside of our comprehension, but later into the show we’ll be looking back on this when things get confusing.
We’ve finally made it to the second half of the first episode, as Claudia takes Ayato on a trip through the school to dump some much-needed exposition on him. In the course of voraciously flirting with him right from the get go, Claudia literally explains to him all of the stuff that I just said about the Mysterious and Polite Big Sister. She explains that she puts on an affable outward appearance in spite of the fact that her inner thoughts are dark and conniving, right after stating that she’s been the student council president for three years and displaying that she has all the power in this school. It’s like she’s reading her own TV Tropes entry, in a way that’s so spot on that I’m left to wonder if this is meant to be self-aware and tongue-in-cheek, or if they really thought that the best way to show us a character’s personality is to have them explain it.
Once the pair makes it into Claudia’s office, she activates what I like to call the Exposition Machine–a holographic projector that allows characters to stand in one place and dump exposition without constraining them to their current location, and allowing for relevant on-screen footage without taking the viewer out of the scene. I can’t help but wonder if the sequence of displays presented by this Exposition Machine are pre-scripted and used more than once, or if Claudia programmed all of this just to teach Ayato about the city, or if it has some kind of AI that reacts to her speech, or if she’s controlling it with a computer chip in her brain, or if it just doesn’t make any logical sense.
Claudia names off each of the six schools of Asterisk City, but a few of the images have been deliberately censored to hide the identities of their schoolmasters for dramatic effect. Now, if they had done this exact same scene without using an Exposition Machine, and were just showing these images to the audience, then this would be understandable–but thanks to the conceit that these images are being projected by a hologram machine, we have to assume that the images contained within that machine have, themselves, been deliberately censored, in-universe. This could conceivably be the case, but it seems both silly and unlikely.
As Claudia explains the concept of festas, a huge hexagon behind her shatters into a bunch of little hexagon displays, which all just have random pictures of swords clashing and other generic depictions of battle going on. Just as these things are meaningless to the viewer and moving around too much to really be taken in, they would probably be just as effective to Ayato; so once again, if the impetus here is to keep the audience engaged by having stuff move around the screen, then I have to wonder if the purpose is the same in the context of the narrative.
The next couple of sentences are where we finally get introduced to the closest things to what might be considered the point of this show. Claudia explains that Asterisk City is basically all about these giant inter-high battles called Festas, which are internationally-viewed events, and she hopes that Ayato will compete in them because their school’s track record has gone downhill.
Ayato, meanwhile, is not particularly interested in that, and asks about whether his sister has attended this school in the past. It’s actually unclear at this point whether Ayato is looking for her, or if he’s looking for information about her, or if he’s aware of the fact that she’s dead. Since we already know that she’s dead, we’re tempted to assume that he knows as well, though it later seems like this isn’t the case; and at the end of the conversation, he claims that he’s not even here to look for her, but just came to this school to search for a purpose. He doesn’t say anything about why he thought that coming here would lead to that purpose, so I guess he’s just following his sister’s footsteps? This also brings up the question of whether anyone else knows that she’s dead, and whether or not they’re hiding this information from him–but for now all of it is pretty unclear.
Processing all of that can wait for now, because shit is about to get stupid. After Ayato asks about his sister, Claudia gets him to look at this weird, glitchy image of what seems to be his sister’s student file. She says that this student entered into the school five years ago, but then she also says that all of the data about her was deleted, and that it’s questionable whether she ever actually did attend the school. Except… all of the data wasn’t deleted, because that right there is, in fact, data, which suggests that she did, in fact attend this school. Why the fuck else would this file exist, and why would it say that she was a student?
Moreover, what in the name of god is up with the file itself? Like, if all of the other data about her was deleted, then how come this one is just fucked up looking? Why does it seem like this image has some kind of glitch or virus, while the rest was totally deleted? Was this image left on purpose in order to create a trail or a clue for someone, or are we meant to assume that this was some kind of botched attempt at file deletion? If it’s the latter, then how in the world did the perpetrator fuck up so badly that they deleted all of the other files, but left the one with her face and name with just a glitchy, fucked-up look to it? Also, am I to believe that in this world where they can turn an entire room into a hologram projector, they don’t have the technology to try and reconstruct this file to look right? This just seems like such a poorly thought-out visual representation of his sister’s lost data that it raises way more questions than it seems like it was intended to.
Claudia goes on to explain that there’s an incredibly powerful sword at this school which, in spite of never having been officially checked out, has a bunch of recorded combat data from around the same time that his sister attended the school, meaning that there’s a possible connection between them. If you’re thinking right now that you didn’t actually realize that this is what Claudia was trying to say here, then don’t worry, because you’re not alone. The first couple of times I watched this scene, I got so lost amid all the made-up technical jargon that I just kind of zoned out until the conversation was over. It was only after realizing that I had no idea why the conversation went from the sister to the sword that I watched it again and fully processed the information. I mean, I got that she was basically saying that they have the sister’s sword, and therefore Ayato was probably going to end up using it, but I sort of lost the logical thread of the conversation.
Now, once again, it’s probably apparent that I’m not going to say a lot of good things about this show–why would you want me to, anyways?–but I will say that I think that the music is actually pretty good. It’s not enough to salvage the mind-numbing script, and I don’t know if I’d listen to it independently, but it would’ve been a fitting backdrop to a much better show. Weirdly enough, the soundtrack was composed by a Swedish electronic and jazz musician named Rasmus Faber, who leads a band called Platina Jazz that’s done five albums worth of anime theme song covers, and has a channel on youtube with them playing a lot of them live. This guy’s entire career is more interesting than anything that actually happens in this show, and he seems to have some pretty excellent taste in anime theme songs, so maybe go check out his channel.
Getting back to the show, Claudia hands Ayato a weapon that looks and sounds like a plastic toy. Seriously, I can’t be the only one who giggles a little every time someone grabs a weapon in this show and the sound effects are totally plasticky. I just can’t shake the impression that all the characters are swinging around Power Rangers toys.
Claudia wraps up the conversation by flirting some more and saying some mysterious stuff about how she’s glad they’ve finally met. Using my magical future-sight which has already watched seven episodes of this nonsense and still has no idea what the connection between these two actually is, I think it’s pretty safe to say that their history mostly exists as an excuse for this girl to come with a pre-packaged interest in the main character and to be on his side from the very beginning for the sake of narrative convenience.
Alright, it’s time for Inaho’s requisite classroom introduction. Those of you who don’t know a lot about anime or Japanese culture may be wondering why his teacher is carrying a baseball bat full of nails. This weapon is an old-school staple of the high school delinquent punk, and anyone who carries one most likely has a bad attitude. It’s not uncommon in shows like this for the main characters’ teacher to have some kind of quirky personality and to show up at random times in the story as a minor support character; but in the seven episodes of this show that are out so far, I don’t remember this teacher having more than four lines of dialog in total. I have to imagine that they gave her the baseball bat in her first appearance so that the viewer would know off the bat *caugh* that she’s supposed to be a yankee type character; but considering how totally irrelevant that is to the rest of the story, I’m not even sure why they bothered giving her any gimmick at all.
Gee, I wonder how many of these classmates are going to be relevant to the story–could it be the only two people in the room with brightly-colored hair?? Naturally, the only open seat just happens to be next to the girl that Ayato was fighting with this morning, so now their mutually flustered encounters may continue. You might be thinking, but wait! The window seat is open too, and isn’t that usually where the main character sits?? –but we’ll get back to that in episode two.
After class is over, Julis determines that she is currently in Kirito’s debt, and offers to do him one favor in exchange for him saving her life. I’m tempted to say that this is important, since the entire next couple of episodes are going to revolve around that favor, but I honestly can’t bring myself to say that any of this shit is important when nothing in this show fucking matters at all.
Julis exiting the scene activates Classmate Guy to make first contact with the main character. If you know anything at all about high school anime, then you’re probably familiar with Classmate Guy–every high school anime protagonist has at least one or two of them around. They usually exist for the sole purpose of providing exposition about the popular female characters, being the butt of comic relief, and/or declaring their jealousy over how much female attention the main character gets. They’ve usually got brown hair and barely stand out from the rest of their classmates, and are given some kind of dumb, unmemorable name that will never ever stick with you–and you’ll probably forget that they exist most of the time until they randomly show up. This particular Classmate Guy falls under the Newspaper Club archetype–a person who is obsessed with everything going on in the school and is therefore more informed than anyone else about what’s going on behind the scenes. This is one of the more powerful forms of Classmate Guy, and this particular one has some tricks up his sleeves, but we’ll get back to that when it’s more relevant in a later episode.
Classmate Guy basically explains all the shit that we already figured out about Light Novel Girl just from looking at the promo art. She’s very proud, very guarded with her emotions, beats a lot of people up, yeah we got it. This is also where we learn one of Ayato’s stupid personality quirks, which is that because he’s had it so drilled into his head that he needs to return anything which he borrows, he memorized the voice of the person who threw him a sword to battle Julis with, and is therefore able to return the weapon to Classmate Guy. Every Light Novel Guy has at least one trait of this nature–a predisposition to being a nice guy which reaches the level of superhuman capability, which is part of what makes them come off as such caring and kind-hearted people to all of the girls in the story. ‘Cause you know, the nice guys get all the action in these shows.
The conversation is interrupted by the shouts of Big Dumb Looking-Guy, who’s pissed off at Julis and demanding a rematch. You can tell this guy isn’t someone you wanna root for because he’s got a couple of ugly lackeys following him around and he looks like a muscle-headed brute–but you can also tell that he’s probably going to come back in future episodes and possibly end up joining the main character’s team because his character design is a little too unique to be just a one-off villain. Believe me, if the fact that only the important characters have any effort put into their designs has not been made apparent already, it will become so later on.
Classmate Guy excitedly describes this situation as a “big scoop,” and then materializes a holographic lens in front of his eyeball. Previously, during the buildup to the fight between Julis and Ayato, there was also a guy recording that fight in a holographic window–but in that case we could see the image on the display, whereas this time it seems to be a lens through which Classmate Guy is recording this.
What I’m trying to wrap my head around is the logic by which a hologram is needed for use as a lens. Again, the hologram technology in this show is never really explained, and it seems as though it mostly manifests itself by way of characters generating browser windows with their minds. Specific images can be conjured up instantly without any verbal or physical input, meaning that the students’ control over holograms is purely psychic. It still isn’t really clear if these holograms are controlled by the students’ Genestella powers, of if they’ve all go microchips in their brains and the entire world is full of projection materials or something; but the point is that whatever they’re using to manipulate these holograms is controlled by their brains.
If that’s the case, then the students should be able to record information just by using their eyeballs. I mean, not only would a hologram not be able to contain any technology, as the technology would be the thing projecting the hologram–nor would it be able to store any data, as the data would also be stored within the actual technology–but it doesn’t even make sense for the hologram to provide any augmentation. If the hologram is supposed to allow him to zoom in or something, and that technology comes from within his brain, then he should just be able to zoom in using his eyeballs. At least with the little holo-screen thing I could understand it being like a viewfinder or something for the student to confirm what their eyeball-recording looks like, but this whole hololens things comes off as totally pointless and ill-considered.
Classmate Guy sheds some light on the school’s battle ranking system, and how the strongest fighters are known as Page Ones, but we’ll talk more about that later on. After some back and forth with Big Dumb-Looking Guy, Julis makes her bold proclamation that she has a goal which she is dedicated to pursuing, and which she is going to win the Festa in order to accomplish, which seems to spark some interest in our protagonist. Well, at least we know that ONE of these characters has an actual motivation and some stake in the narrative… we just don’t know what it is yet or any of the consequences for failure.
We did it everyone! We finished watching the first episode of the Asterisk War! And it only took nearly three times the actual length of the episode to do so! I mean, technically I haven’t even talked about the opening video, which plays at the end of the episode, or the song that goes along with it, or the next episode previews…. so I guess our work is cut out for us.
Continued in part four.