The Asterisk War Sucks [Part 5]

Edited by The Davoo

Text version:

Episode two is really when it sinks in that The Asterisk War is fucking boring. Sure, the first episode was boring too, but for a lot of more technical reasons that have to do with pacing and craftsmanship. It tried and failed to lure the audience in with a bunch of fanservice and flashy action sequences, and then remembered that it had to actually explain the setting and dumped a shitton of exposition on us all at once. But episode two is where it starts to become apparent that even if we did have context into who all of these characters were and what they were trying to do from the beginning, then it wouldn’t have mattered cause they’re all fucking boring.

I’m not even gonna talk about this scene where Julis explains that she has no friends and then flirts with the main guy like a fucking idiot. Who cares? This entire three-minute scene only serves to clue us in that Julis and Ayato are going to end up becoming a pair when they go to the Festa. The setup is basically beating us over the head with it, yet somehow doesn’t call attention to it, as if anyone is going to wonder whom Julis could possibly end up having as a partner. This whole show is just a wink and a nod away from being a shitty parody of itself.

Not long after we see Julis laughing at Ayato, and he says how he’s surprised at her for laughing, she then responds to his greeting at school and everyone loses their shit. I explained this in the last video, but it’s really difficult to care about the idea that Julis is changing into a decent person when we didn’t really know shit about her in the first place and we never got to see what she was like in class outside of what we were told during the exposition. Then Saya wakes up.

So remember when Ayato didn’t sit in the window seat, and it was like, whoa! He’s not in the window seat! Well, that’s because they had a more insidious plan in mind–the whole “surrounded on all sides by relevant characters” plan. The window seat just happens to be occupied by the other character with candy-colored hair, and she just happens to be Ayato’s childhood friend for no adequately explained reason. How long ago was she his friend? What kind of friend? Where? Were either of them broken up about it when Saya moved away? Saya doesn’t seem to react all that much when she notices Ayato, but like five minutes later she’s apparently in love with him to the point that she fights over him. Again, it’s hard to believe that this show isn’t some kind of shitty meta-commentary like Saekano.

Saya says that she has her own motivations for coming to the school besides that her father asked her to; but they’re a secret, just like every other potentially interesting fact about any of the characters. You know, typically, when you want the audience to get interested in a character, you start by letting us understand their motivations and personality so that we get invested, and then when you put them into dangerous situations wherein their careers and lives are at stake; then we feel tense and excited. Teasing us that there’s a possibility that maybe one day the character will reveal themselves to be interesting only means that the show’s gonna be fucking boring until then.

When asked about her absence the previous day, Saya explains that she overslept. I guarantee you that we will never actually see her miss another day of class in the entire series. I say this because I’m less convinced that she missed class because she’s the kind of character that would sleep through class regularly, and more convinced that the writers didn’t want to introduce her during the first episode when they were busy setting up the other characters and needed an excuse for why she wasn’t there during the previous classroom scene. Yeah, that’s right–the writers are using the character’s excuse for why they missed school as their own excuse for why the character missed school. If that ain’t meta, I don’t know what is.

Y’know, I usually love these kinds of deadpan characters, and I appreciate Shiori Izawa’s vocal performance, but Saya just is not all that endearing. For a deadpan character, she’s not that deadpan, and for a memetic comedy character, she’s not that cute or funny. I can’t stand the way the gradients in her hair look, or the random mish-mash of colors in her accesories. So her hairpiece is yellow, but the cuffs and undershirt are pink; and she’s also got a tie? I feel like the pink or the yellow would’ve worked with her blue hair individually, but all together it’s kind of a clusterfuck, and the pink undershirt just looks terrible in general. Not to mention that all of it clashes with the bright green line in the middle of the uniform. I should’ve asked this back when Classmate Guy was introduced, but why the hell is the dress code so flexible in this school anyways? What’s the point of having uniforms if you can just change the uniform? Ever since Hibike Euphonium, my tolerance for this shit has been rapidly decreasing. [Use scene in Eupho ep 1 where teacher makes girls roll down their skirts.]

After class is over, Julis gets ready to take Ayato on a tour of the school and town that I didn’t talk about before because it was boring, and then everyone just stands around in the classroom forever while the girls act like a bunch of catty, flirty bitches. That’s not me being misogynistic, it’s just how the show treats its female characters–a bunch of catty, flirty bitches who’ve got nothing better to do in their life then fight over who gets to serve some shitty, boring guy. If this is supposed to be an escapist fantasy or something, then I really wanna know what guy’s fantasy is to constantly be fought over by a bunch of annoying, boring dumbasses.

So then Julis gives Ayato and Saya the tour of the school, and all I could think was: why the fuck do I have to see this? None of these locations seem like they’re going to be relevant at all in the future, and the way the scene is edited doesn’t give any sense of where they are in relation to one-another anyways. I get that this scene is mostly played up as a joke, since Saya ends up being the one who’s impressed with all of the faculties and the joke is that she would’ve made a really shitty tour guide to begin with; but imagine how easy it would’ve been to make this scene more interesting. This show takes place in a futuristic sci-fi world, and they decided to show us a fucking cafeteria. Why not have her show him the training facility which we’ll be seeing them use in episode five, or the room with all the scientists and the weapons and shit which comes up later in this very episode? Anything would’ve been more interesting than three boring-ass locations as the set up to some dumbass joke that means nothing for the plot of the episode. Ayato just fucks off afterwards to get drinks and none of it mattered at all.

While Ayato is away, Julis and Saya get back to arguing over who his dick belongs to, and Saya drops some hints that Ayato is supposed to be crazy strong, if we hadn’t realized already. Then the pair gets attacked by the yellow arrow assailant again, and this time we see that it’s… a guy in a fucking hood.

You wanna know what’s the number one fastest way to eliminate all tension during an action scene involving the main characters of a show? Have their opponent look as unthinkably generic as humanly possible, to the point that they don’t even register as a character. Julis tosses a couple of fire spears at him, and then Saya blows up the entire area with her giant gun, and the scene just ends. No seriously, the camera just never cuts back to the opponent. Did he die? Did he run away? It doesn’t seem to matter either way because Saya instantly challenges Julis to continue their spat from before. No one tries to figure out what just happened, or to maybe run away and tell someone about it or something–they just fucking stand there until Ayato gets back and they realize that their clothes are wet. Once again, the show uses fanservice as like one of those red lasers from Men In Black and everyone forgets what just happened.

Luckily, the following scene finally decides that they’ve gone way too long without addressing this whole assassination bullshit, and we learn that the school has indeed begun looking into it; however, Julis has stubbornly declared that there is no need for an investigation or for bodyguards. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Julis is completely fucking retarded. When Ayato asks Claudia why Julis is so fucking retarded, Claudia gives some bullshit esoteric explanation about how she’s afraid that what she has might slip through her fingers.

Do these people not grasp that in a situation like this, Julis shouldn’t even be allowed to decide whether or not there’s an investigation? This is a series of criminal attacks threatening a member of their student body–the campus police force should be massively patrolling the entire campus and opening the biggest fucking investigation possible–because whether this selfish bitch likes it or not, there’s no way of knowing that she’s the only person being targeted, or that other students won’t be caught in the crossfire of the next attack. Even if it was just a matter of Julis vs. the attacker, the fact that their battles result in massive property damage to the school should be grounds for an investigation. And what about Saya? She was right there during the last attack, shouldn’t she get a say in whether there’s an investigation? Does she get a bodyguard? This show is starting to give me brain cancer.

The rest of the episode tells the story of how Kirito finally gets his real sword; by way of some kind of Evangelion-meets-the-sword-in-the-stone situation. Basically, every weapon has a percentage of compatibility with its user, and if that percentage is more than eighty, then they get to use the weapon. The muscle-headed guy tries to take the mystery sword that Ayato’s sister used, and while it’s obvious that he’s not going to be compatible with it, the cheese factor is turned up to maximum when his compatibility drops to a negative percentage and the sword tries to attack him.

Luckily, our hero is able to effortlessly take hold of the sword and achieve a 97% compatability with it. May I remind you that this is supposed to be like the strongest weapon that they have–so not only is Ayato supposedly a strong enough fighter that Saya thinks he would’ve mopped the floor with Julis no problem, but now he possesses the strongest weapon that we’ve even heard of so far. Because who needs narrative stakes, am I right? I’m half-expecting to find out later that his sister’s soul is actually inside of the sword somehow, and if that turns out to be the case, then I sincerely hope that this video gets released before then. I promise I wrote this when there were only seven episodes out, you just have to take my word for it.

The episode finally ends on some fanservice teasing where Ayato comes to Claudia’s room while she’s finishing up a shower; but we’ll have more to say about that next time. For now, we’ve finally made it to the end of this boring ass episode. And what have we learned?

That Julis is changing into a better person and falling for Ayato? We pretty much figured that out from the beginning. That Ayato is going to be using his sister’s sword from now on? We knew that would happen as soon as we heard about the sword. That Saya exists? Who cares, she’s completely irrelevant to the story and could’ve been introduced at any time and it wouldn’t have made a difference. We didn’t learn anything else about Julis’ attackers–and in fact Julis herself seems to be actively trying to prevent anyone from learning anything new. All that really happened for most of the episode is that characters stood around flirting and bickering. What a great show, totally earning that 7.3 MAL score.

Why did they waste a pretty decent ending theme on a show like this? Written by Rasmus Faber and sung by Maaya Sakamoto? These are people who you typically find working with fucking Yoko Kanno, generating some of the most legendary singles in anime song history. You really wanna slap that kind of thing on a generic shitpile like The Asterisk War? I mean, the opening theme wasn’t bad either, but at least it was every bit as generic and interchangeable as everything else in the show. You might as well be consistent with stuff like this.

Y’know, looking back on this episode, it really starts to sink in just how cynical and halfhearted this entire production feels. Like how it really does read like they’re just throwing action scenes in for the sake of having them, and then using fanservice to sweep under the rug how totally incomprehensible those scenes actually are. Maybe I’m so inclined to believe that Saya’s like some kind of weirdly botched attempt at making a deadpan character because everything else is so weirdly botched in the same kind of way.

It’s like the show just takes it for granted that you get where it’s coming from. Julis and Ayato are given exactly three encounters before the one in which Julis starts fighting over him–the accidental pervert scene resulting in a duel, the scene where they met in class, and then the scene where he talks to her after dealing with the muscle guy. In all of these encounters, Julis is continually abrasive and argumentative with him, but immediately won over by his kind demeanor. Then, one scene later, she’s doing her makeup in preparation for showing him around the school, and then gets into a territorial argument over him with her classmates–one of whom we learn is in love with him at that exact moment, and the other who started flirting the instant she met him.

Think about that. Julis is the only one with any kind of explicit moment in which she develops an attraction to the main character; and half of our understanding that she’s fallen from him comes from our genre-savvy awareness that she’s a tsundere. This show starts having its girls argue over the main guy before even bothering to explain the fact that any of them are in love with him, or why that might be the case. It’s just taken as a matter of fact–they’re girls, they have speaking lines, and they’re in a light novel adaptation, what else could they be there for?

Every scene feels like it’s just ticking off a box on a checklist. Introduce concept that Festa has to be done in pairs–check. Introduce love triangle–check. Action scene–check. Actually calling attention to the only apparent overarching plot thread–check. (Note: that’s calling attention to, not actually progressing). Getting the main character his weapon and proving he’s a badass–check. Tits–check.

Each sequence begins and ends either by just cutting in and out at random, or by Claudia telling Ayato where to go. Enemies just disappear when the fighting is over; Claudia walks Ayato to the sword room and then calls him to her room later that night; and the scene at the start of the episode is delivered as a flashback during Ayato’s morning jog, just so they’d be able to cut in and out of it without worrying about how to organically transition from the end of the last episode. This is why I tend to think of A-1 Pictures as the McDonald’s of anime studios–because a lot of their shows feel like they were put together on an assembly line.

I don’t know how bad the original light novels for this series were, and I don’t know how much the staff is to blame for failing to change it. Both of the directors have been involved in shows I kind of like, such as Saki and A-Channel–but one of them was also the guy who directed Dragonaut ~the resonance, which was the seasonal laughingstock of fall 2007–so make of that what you will.

Honestly, though, it’s hard for me to blame anyone when I look at something like this. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone here didn’t know exactly what they were making. They just did it cause it’s their job. Because for some reason, this kind of shit has a market–and by god, they’re going to cater to it. I’m sure that some of the people working on this show are really passionately giving it their all; but I also like to think that for some of them, knowing that this monster they’ve created is actually pretty successful is as depressing to them as it is to me.

Continued in part six.

2 thoughts on “The Asterisk War Sucks [Part 5]

  1. What I think the problem is both the original source isn’t that great to begin with and the adaptation was made to be generic enough to reach the most target audience. I say this because this is what was done to Anti-magic School (Mari was simply…. too generic in the anime).
    But from what I heard, Asterisk war is driven by action, so perhaps in the original LN, the characters were shallow to begin with.
    And since it was action driven, the anime failed too much. (I say this but I actually watched the whole thing)
    It’s worth mentioning is that we had Rakudai Kishi on the same season, and since both settings are remarkable similar (too much actually) of course we would compare. And Rakudai, while has it’s cliches, it try to make those in their own.

    One thing. I found this blog recently, and haven’t seen all your reviews, so I’d like to ask what do you think about Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, since it was done by A-1 Pictures as well.

  2. I don’t know if you’ll read this Digibro but this is Yasutake Nagisa from Youtube. I watched one of your videos in the past where you said back then you wanted to become a director. From watching your videos, from you exhibiting your extensive knowledge on anime and culture, to your personality and downright funny, informative, and entertaining commentary, I think you should reconsider becoming a director. To tell you the truth, to date I’ve watched your analytical diatribe video on Sword Art Online 20+ times, it is always funny (Downright funny!), informative, and it goes to show that if you were to create a series better than SAO, you could. In fact, watching SAO inspired the story that I want to create (classified) that was also inspired by Log Horizon. Long post short, I hope you reconsider becoming a director, because you have the fanbase, the potential, the vision, and the talent to become one. I’m sure a lot of your fans feel the exact same way.

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