The Asterisk War Sucks [Part 7] OR, Building the Worst Protagonist Ever

Edited by The Davoo

It’s time that we address the elephant in the room–the elephant so large that none of us even realized it was standing over us at first; like that scene in that shitty Godzilla movie where the camera pans out and you realize they’re all standing in Godzilla’s footprint.

It’s time for us to look at Ayato Amagiri; yeah, that’s right, I actually learned his full name just for this. Ayato is quite possibly one of, if not THE single worst anime protagonist that I’ve ever seen.

I know, that sounds unbelievable. How, in a world with so many awful protagonists, can this guy be the worst? Well, to clarify, I’m not saying that he’s the most hateable or the worst fit for the story that he’s a part of–rather, I think that he is one of the most incoherently constructed anime characters that I’ve ever thought about. And worse yet, it’s not at all obvious.

At a glance, you could probably name a hundred characters whom Ayato reminds you of. He’s a ridiculously overpowered badass who solves everyone’s problems and gets all the girls, like Kirito and Onii-sama; and he’s a sexless virginal weirdo like 90% of all harem protagonists. But the thing about Ayato is that it’s not so much that he’s just like one of those other characters, as it is that he’s just like ALL of those other characters. Ayato Amagiri is a hideous frankenstein monster of anime protagonists so baffling in his construction that if the creators told me that he was meant to be a parody of the typical light novel protagonist, then I’d be inclined to believe them–and to congratulate them on a job well done. Allow me to examine the patchwork of this monstrosity.

Ayato’s baseline state of being is that he’s tired and bored. He sighs whenever he has to do anything or put up with anyone, and generally seems like he’d rather be taking a nap then doing whatever the show asks of him. This kind of attitude is pretty typical among Light Novel Guys, because it’s a part of the image that the viewer is supposed to project onto–this sort of hipster-y desire to not come off as a try-hard, so that whenever you do something badass, it looks like you did it with no effort and without even really giving a shit.

It’s possible to make a great character following this archetype–Yoshihiro Togashi seems to be a master of it. Yusuke Urameshi was a punk kid who just wanted to relax and take life at his own pace, but the world was constantly asking more of him; and what made him endearing was to watch him mature into someone who gave a shit about the world around him. He learned to become that guy by getting the shit kicked out of him constantly, even in the process of being a badass cool guy. Killua was a ludicrously powerful amoral assassin kid who couldn’t give a shit about anyone except for his friend Gon–but the push and pull of realizing what kind of hardships come with caring about someone brought all sorts of emotions out of him.

Of course, in both of these examples, Togashi came at the characters from the perspective of an older person who can see through all the bullshit that teenagers project about themselves, and both criticize that attitude as well as show how those kids can grow up. The Asterisk War feels like it was actually written by a teenager with no self-awareness, writing a character who somehow manages to be the nicest, most helpful, most powerful, best guy ever, while still maintaining that standoffish, too-cool-to-get-involved attitude most of the time.

Now, if you’ve been watching this show, then describing Ayato as I just have may seem like a mischaracterization. This is a guy whose primary motivation is that he’s searching for a purpose in life; and who finds that purpose in deciding to protect his friend. He leaps into battle for his friends without hesitation and is so dedicated to helping people that he jumped into a girl’s window just to return her dropped handkerchief. He doesn’t seem at all like the standoffish, too cool to care type of guy… right? Well, that’s the issue. He’s not.

For the most part, Ayato’s personality is more akin to a typical shounen protagonist. He’s the type of guy who’s spent most of his life having a strong sense of morality drilled into his head by his older sister. He can’t help himself but to step in and help people with their problems without a second thought, no matter how minor those problems may be. He’s driven by a quest for purpose, and is inspired by the purpose that he sees in the people around him. Everything about his upbringing and personality suggests a person who sees helping others as a part of who he is.

So why is he so bored all the time? Why does he seem to find people so hard to deal with? If he’s all about helping people, then why does helping people seem like such a hassle to him?

This kind of dichotomy is present in a lot of light novel protagonists. Touma from Index is always presented as someone who considers it a hassle to deal with people; but in the end he can’t stand to see them in trouble, so his morals end up tugging at him until he jumps in to help. Kirito was always presented as this sort of amoral misanthrope who didn’t want to help people because he can’t stand the pain of losing them; but for one reason or another he’d end up caring about people and fighting for them.

But with these characters, we at least understood that their morality is some kind of struggle which doesn’t come innately to them. Each of these characters would rather be doing something else, but they get dragged into these situations by circumstance. Ayato is presented as though the same thing is true for him as well, but his personality and goals are totally at ends with that. His main motivation literally is to protect people, and nothing about him would suggest that he’s anything less than a kindhearted, morally upstanding person–except for that fact that it also seems like doing anything is a huge pain in the ass to him.

That’s what I mean when I say that Ayato is a frankenstein monster of light novel characters. He is somehow at once the big, valiant hero who wants to fight for a purpose and protect the people he cares about, while also being the jaded asshole who’d rather do anything other than fight or care.

Another thing which Ayato has in common with his genre contemporaries is that he’s ludicrously overpowered in comparison to everyone else in the show. We’re not just talking about a guy who wins every fight that he gets into–we’re talking about a guy who completely overwhelms most of his opponents–many of whom are established as the most powerful fighters in the city–even with severe limitations holding him back.

In Ayato’s introductory scene, he makes the fifth-strongest fighter at his school look like a chump, by easily deflecting all of her attacks and then saving her from an assassin. In episode four, said fighter is pinned by another student whom, by the show’s logic, ought to have been much weaker than her, but nevermind that; Ayato shows up and defeats him without taking a scratch, and spends the entire battle carrying Julis in one of his arms. Yeah, that shit happens. In episode five, he loses to the most powerful fighter in the school because he gets distracted and forgets the rules of battle; so in episode seven he defeats her and takes her place as the number one. At least that fight seemed like it took a little bit of effort–but at this point, Ayato is proven both the strongest fighter at his school, and, by that logic, probably one of the top ten fighters in the city.

Bear in mind that all of this is Ayato’s baseline power level. This guy hasn’t spent any time beefing up or training or anything–no one at this school was competition for him in the first place. In episode two he tames the most powerful weapon that the school possesses without breaking a sweat. In preparation for the Festa, it seems more like he’s training Julis to try and catch up to him, more so than actually training himself to get better.

But Ayato’s power does come with a catch, as we learn in episode four. Apparently, his older sister has put some kind of curse on him that limits his supposedly uncontrollable powers; and when he goes too far beyond those limits, then it causes him to crash in a painful burst. Allow me to detail all of the reasons that this is the worst excuse for a power limitation I’ve ever heard.

  1. Ayato doesn’t even lose control of his powers when unleashing them. It’s possible that maybe his sister had intended to remove these limitations once he was old enough to master his powers; but either way, there is currently no consequence for using them.
  2. The problem that comes from using this power only appears after it’s already been used. Ayato can potentially defeat any opponent using this power, and it will only affect him once the battle is over, at an indeterminate time.
  3. The very first time that we’re introduced to this limitation is after Ayato has already exceeded it. He says that he’s never been able to use the power for as long as he did in that first battle, meaning that the limitation is flexible and can be broken to fit the situation.
  4. Likewise, the source of power is so ill-defined that it could potentially grow infinitely. We have no reason to believe that Ayato can’t just continually unleash more and more power to match the situation based on how motivated he is or whatever.

Ayato’s limitation barely even qualifies as a limitation; if anything, it seems to suggest that he can be as powerful as he needs to be at any given time, so he’ll always be able to turn the tide in any battle with the odds against him. Moreover, he barely even needs this power in the first place to conquer most of his opponents. It would be laughable to consider that Ayato may ever be in danger during any of his encounters unless he had to fight someone with the same powers that he has–and even then, it’s hard to imagine that anyone relevant will ever be in danger in this show.

Now, I don’t doubt that these limitations are going to come into play in future battles to try and add to the tension–in fact, I’ve read some spoilers, so I know that to be true–and by the time this video comes out, it will probably already be true in the anime. My point is more that this is how Ayato is established–as someone so much more powerful than everyone else that even his limitations are suggestive of even larger capabilities. And going by the spoilers I’ve read, his power level is only going to get even more utterly insane as the series continues. This character takes the wish-fulfillment aspects of the light novel protagonist to a far-away extreme–which is why he only gets weirder when we start looking at his sex life.

There seems to be a trend in light novels lately of filling the main character’s harem with girls who would otherwise be the strongest characters in the story, if not for the main guy. The wish fulfillment aspect of this is obvious–you get to date all of the hottest, coolest, most powerful women around, while still outdoing all of them and keeping your position as an alpha dude. At the end of the day, when the chips are down, you get to swoop in and save the girls like the big hero that you are, but you don’t have to feel bad about being attracted to a damsel in distress, because she could totally kick anyone’s ass on a good day. It’s all about striking that balance between having so-called “strong female characters,” while also promoting the male power fantasy that young guys who watch this stuff are looking for.

Naturally, all of the relevant female characters are attracted to Ayato–in this case, usually for no reason whatsoever. It’s almost creepy the way this show just takes for granted that any woman with a speaking role would have to be a part of the main character’s harem without even really convincing us of why any of them would care about him beforehand. Nevertheless, you could reasonably make the case for why these girls might fall for him–and given the type of show that this is, it would hardly be shocking that they do; but that’s not the part that makes him weird.

The weird part, rather, is how Ayato keeps his distance from these girls. Once again, it’s something that the show takes for granted because it’s a common trope in anime that the main characters remain virginal weirdos for the majority of the series; but the way that this show presents this aspect of the relationships is what makes it come across as strange. To explain what I mean, I present this scene from the start of episode three.

Claudia calls Ayato up to her room in the middle of the night, and deliberately times it so that she’s just gotten out of the shower when he enters. After several minutes of Claudia showing off her body and Ayato clearly checking her out, Claudia outright comes onto him, basically propositioning him for sex and placing his hand on her breast. Ayato… runs away.

Now, I am not going to deny the possibility that perhaps Ayato is uncomfortable with the idea of sex, or even that he’s just not ready for that kind of contact. I’m not necessarily saying that any of this behavior is unreasonable, or even that it’s out of character. I just don’t quite get it.

Ayato is an unstoppably badass fighter. He’s confident, somewhat outgoing, and has no trouble talking to people he’s never met, including women. He’s not awkward in the slightest for the most part, and he seems to get along with all of the girls just fine. He’s clearly attracted to all of them, and gets flustered when he sees them naked–but it seems like he gets that way out of something like a moral obligation; like, when he catches them undressed or soaking wet, he feels bad that he saw them in a compromising way without their permission.

But then we come to this scene, where Claudia is clearly coming onto him and basically asking him to do something. Even if Ayato wasn’t interested in doing anything with her, it would’ve been reasonable to at least say something or to talk about it–but instead he just runs away all flustered, like he saw something he shouldn’t have. If I were Claudia, I’d probably feel insulted after this guy just checked me out for three minutes and then took off without saying a word. I’ve thought long and hard about why the character would be written this way, and I think I kind of understand.

See, when I was thirteen–a time during which I probably would’ve enjoyed a show like this–I was old enough to know that I found women attractive, but I hadn’t quite yet gotten my head around the concept of sex. I still felt like it was some sort of adult thing that I wasn’t supposed to know about, even as I vaguely understood that it was something which I wanted. Since that was the age I was when I first got big into anime, I can actually remember things like how I was always afraid to buy anime with full frontal nudity in it because I was ashamed of it, even though I was always checking out the cute girls in the shows that I did watch. Around that time when I was acclimating to the idea of sexuality, I think I would’ve totally been into a show like this where the sexual content is evident, yet kind of immature and childish. I might not have been able to relate to a hero who actually had sex, but I could project myself onto one who was surrounded by it.

It’s because of that experience that I understand why Ayato ran away from Claudia’s sexual advancements. It really has nothing to do with what makes sense for the characters, and everything to do with what works for the audience. The kind of kid who looks for the sort of wish fulfillment that this show provides is probably pretty young, and probably a virgin. In spite of their desire to be an all-powerful badass and the object of affection for a bunch beautiful women, the idea of what they’d actually do in a moment of intimacy is still alien to them.

What makes this particular scene so weird, though, is that something like this even happened in this way in a show of this nature. Sure, harem characters find themselves in sexual situations all the time, but there’s usually some kind of reason–however stupid–for why the situation doesn’t amount to anything. Usually, it’s because the girl is embarrassed. Sometimes, it’s because the guy is outright not interested in the girl, or because her personality is really extreme and the situation has gotten out of hand. Sometimes, there’s like a rule in place that prohibits the characters from going any further. Sometimes, there’s one girl that the main character is most attracted to or otherwise has to answer to, or he likes all of the girls and is afraid of choosing one of them.

This scene with Ayato running from Claudia doesn’t have any logical thread to it. Ayato hasn’t shown any affection for any of the girls yet; and as far as we know, he’s not particularly interested in any one of them over the others. There isn’t any circumstance for why he wouldn’t be able to do anything with her, and it even seems like he’s attracted to her physically. Her personality isn’t very extreme, and she certainly isn’t embarrassed about it–so what is he running from?

Again, I’m not saying that it’s totally unreasonable to make this a part of his character; but what I got out of this scene was not that Amagiri Ayato is afraid of sex. What I got out of it is that this is what’s expected to happen in a harem show. It’s been so normalized that the fanservice scenes in a series like this won’t lead to anything that we’re not even expected to question it when the main character runs out on a sexual advance. It’s just how these things work.

Once again, this is what I mean when I say that Ayato is a frankenstein monster of generic anime protagonists. His character isn’t constructed in a way that logically fits together; he’s just a random combination of everything that these kinds of characters are known for. He’s a cosmic badass, but he’s also a shy virgin. He’s the nicest person in the world, but he’s too cool to care about anything. He’s all of the wish fulfillment tropes that every other character embodies, all rolled up into one guy that no one can actually relate to. Even Kirito–a character that I’ve been ragging on constantly for the past year and a half–was consistent enough to help out only when he felt like had to, and to have sex with the girl who climbed into his bed. This Ayato guy is so confusing that I can’t even imagine what he’d be like if I threw him into another situation. Would he run away from Julis if she came onto him like that? I honestly have no idea.

There’s a line in episode three where Julis says to Ayato, “you’re unfathomable, aren’t you?” –and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I would honestly be willing to accept that to some extent, Ayato was designed to be that way. For being the main character of the story, the show tries its damndest to make him seem mysterious, and to disclose as little as it can about his past–though it kind of does that with everyone. Enough of the characters seem to regard him as something different that I can’t help wondering if he’s supposed to just be this huge weirdo. I’m a lot more inclined to believe that he’s meant to be someone for young guys who are both morally upright but also want to be seen as giant badasses to project themselves onto; but this is one character who’s managed to stump me so hard that I’m willing to listen to some creative intent if I can get it.

Of course, even if I did accept that Ayato’s weirdness was intentional, it wouldn’t stop him from being totally unlikable, or make this show any less of a slog to watch. I’ve still got plenty of little details to dissect about the coming episodes, so the videos must go on!

Continued in part eight.

3 thoughts on “The Asterisk War Sucks [Part 7] OR, Building the Worst Protagonist Ever

  1. Hello. You were wondering about why harem leads in general don’t have sex with the female characters. The reason is quite simple. The otaku morons and degenerates who drool over shows like this are also the guys who cuss out women like Aya Hirano far daring to have sex. These sick people are so twisted as to imagine that those female characters must be virgins in order for them to get a chance at marrying them. Nobody can touch my waifu. The only purpose for shows like this and their light novels is to exploit the sickness of these people for every single drop of money they can get. The main guy is built to pander to the self image of those guys, but he can’t have sex with the girls because then they wouldn’t be virgins anymore. Yeah, it’s trite, stupid, sexist and imbecilic but that’s what otaku’ want, perfect virgin waifu material so they can pretend not to be complete genetic dead ends.

  2. “Once again, this is what I mean when I say that Ayato is a frankenstein monster of generic anime protagonists. His character isn’t constructed in a way that logically fits together; he’s just a random combination of everything that these kinds of characters are known for.”

    I think this sort of thing is just what happens when dababase consumption goes wrong. A negative side effect of a relatively newly appeared consumption trend in modern Japanese Otaku culture.

    P.S. Database consumption is a term coined by Azuma Hiroki, a Japanese cultural critic.
    Here is a brief exposition of the term by the translator of the book by Azuma Hiroki, “Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals”.

    “… a model of the “database animal” as a new type of consumer in the postmodern information era, arguing that, rather than reading the stories in a “human” mode of consumption that longs for the existence of and searches for deeper meaning, the cravings of “animalized” otaku are satiated by classifying the characters from such stories according to their traits and anonymously creating databases that catalog, store, and display the results. In turn, the database provides a space where users can search for the traits they desire and find new characters and stories that might appeal to them.”

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