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Edited by The Davoo
Alrighty; at this point, I think we’ve all got a pretty firm grasp on the broad strokes of what’s wrong with this show, as well as a lot of its typical methods of fucking up. Generic and boring characters, a nonsensical setting and worthless storyline, badly directed fight scenes full of weak effects animation, and the worst versions of any tropes that it tosses into the mix; but I don’t think it’s fair for us to simply call it here, because The Asterisk War is kinda worse than that. Another way of putting it is that most of what we’ve covered so far were probably issues with the source material just as much as with its adaptation, and were things which could’ve been a problem with any number of shows.
What I’d like to get into now is more of the issues that I have with the way that this series was adapted, focusing most strongly on its lack of attention to detail. After all, this is a huge part of the problem I that have with this studio in particular–the way that so many of their shows seem to have so little thought put into their presentation, leaving us with a product that would probably have looked better in our imaginations while reading a book.
After some recap footage at the start of episode three, which they hope you won’t mind as long as there’s a couple new angles on Claudia’s naked body, Claudia explains to Ayato how Seidoukan academy basically follows Kill la Kill rules; the higher a fighter’s rank, the more spacious their accommodations. It doesn’t seem like this counts for much, though, because it’s not like the weaker students are living in the slums–the entire city is pristine and beautiful. We never get more than a glimpse of what Ayato’s room looks like as a new student anyways, and at worst it seems like he just shares a college dorm-style room with Classmate Guy. Big deal.
Claudia launches into some boring exposition about how the dumbass student council is only just now realizing that the four students who have already been attacked and had to bow out of the Festa were probably connected. I guess I can’t blame them for failing to realize the importance of these events, considering that they happened to four perfectly generic students. If I were picturing this scene in my head, I’d probably have gone with some people who actually look like they could compete in the Festa; but what do I know about character design?
Funnily enough, this scene actually does try to use its details to set us up for guessing who the assailant is. We find out that Big Dumb Guy and one of his lackeys are suspected in the case, but the other lackey is conspicuously not implicated. The only reason it doesn’t work is that who the fuck cares? These dudes have been on screen like once so far and left no impact whatsoever. You could hardly be expected to have remembered that these characters existed if you were watching this show weekly and this scene came up. Besides, this is the first time that we’ve spent more than twenty seconds even addressing the whole assault subplot–so you may as well have forgotten about that, too. The first time I watched these four episodes, I would never have imagined that this was actually the central plot of the entire arc.
So after Ayato pussies out on getting some pussy, we finally cut to the start of his date with Julis to show him around the town. I feel I should mention right now that Saya will not make any appearance in this episode or the next; so it was super necessary to spend the majority of the last episode on her introduction instead of fleshing out this whole assassination plot more.
Julis shows up in this white gown with a yellow trim, which I actually think is pretty damn cute–but what the hell is up with the parasol? Does Julis really seem like the kind of girl who’d carry a thing like that around all day just to match her outfit? I know they’re trying to do that thing where she’s actually got a secret girly side in contrast with her confrontational nature, but I can’t help finding this a little bit excessive.
I’m also wondering what season it’s supposed to be here. Julis has on long sleeves and stockings, which would make it seem maybe a bit chilly; but the bright sunlight and the parasol would imply that it’s pretty hot outside. Ayato is wearing a short-sleeve button-up over a baseball-cut shirt, which could pretty much mean any weather; and all of the pedestrians are dressed at random. I know this sounds like a particularly pedantic complaint, but if there’s one thing that most anime do exceptionally well, even in less-detailed productions, it’s making sure to dress their characters for the season. It’s almost weirdly prevalent.
It’s kind of depressing how little effort the anime staff put into making Asterisk City feel like a unique location. I’ve mentioned before how after showing the main stage where all the Festas take place, Julis talks about how the city is full of little stages; but we never see any of them. If people are constantly fighting in the streets like Julis says they are, then it seems like the obvious way to handle this tour would’ve been to have fights breaking out all over the place as they walked around town–or at least to show some in the background. Hell, I’d accept a little montage of panning shots of some of the other stages; anything other than mentioning the only thing that sets this city apart and then failing to show it.
The one pervasive detail throughout this scene is the use of holographic billboards, which were shown in the cityscape shots of the first episode as well; and which feature a hodgepodge of text in different languages. I get that this is supposed to evoke how all of the world’s countries have fused into one, but it’s such an uncreative representation of that concept. Apparently, none of the world’s cultures or languages have been changed at all in the past hundred years of cataclysm and restructuring, nor has the way that they advertise in the big city. Having spent a month in the Manila metropolitan area, I can tell you that a lot of big cities have billboards in many different languages already anyways–and a hell of a lot more of them then what’s present here.
I noticed in one shot there’s like a holographic stop sign that says “stop” in both Japanese and in English, but the way it’s laid out is weird as hell. The Japanese characters say “to ma re” in hiragana, which means “stop,” but then at the bottom is also the kanji for “to.” I looked up what Japanese stop signs look like, and they’ve all got that kanji as the “to” in “tomare,” so I’m not sure why this sign includes both the hiragana at the top and the kanji at the bottom. I know this doesn’t really matter, but the point I’m making is that even the details which they did include don’t seem to make a lot of sense or add anything to the setting. I don’t even want to imagine how this complicated-ass stoplight is supposed to make more sense than the ones we already have.
Our duo stops for a bite at WcDonald’s and orders a WcDouble Dose of Cliches. First of all, WcDonald’s is one of the most commonly-used parody names for a major business in anime, and it barely even makes sense in this context where McDonald’s should probably either be out of business, or changed into something radically different by this point. Secondly, the whole joke about how rich girls are fascinated with fast food has gotten old. It was funny when K-On did it six years ago, but the returns have rapidly diminished. I’m willing to give the show some credit for this not being Julis’ first time at a fast food place, and for her criticizing Ayato’s assumption that princesses wouldn’t be into fast food, but I don’t think being a little tongue in cheek about it alleviates the fact that I’ve been here a number of times by now.
Ayato broaches the topic of the attacks on Juils’ life, and she responds essentially that she will not allow herself to give in to terrorism. She then starts prattling on about how she’s going to forge her own path and about how her will belongs to her alone, and it’s at this point that I feel the need to dive into this show’s confusing politics.
Looking at the broad strokes of what Asterisk City stands for, it seems to operate under a sort of hardcore capitalist mindset. The idea is that your quality of life will be determined by your functionality in society. The strongest fighters get the biggest houses and the chance at untold wealth, and they’re handed this power by the corporations that run the place. Any semblance of government that exists on this island seems to be operated by those corporations; and everyone who lives there does so by deciding to work within this system to achieve their goals.
Julis seems to be intended to function as the viewer’s moral compass through which to navigate this city’s way of life–but trying to follow her line of thinking has gotten me lost.
Near as I can tell, Julis has a pretty capitalist mindset herself, with a hard dose of libertarian ideals sprinkled on for good measure. She doesn’t want the government–i.e. the school–interfering with her business, and she holds her own autonomy in very high regard. She comes to this island in the hopes of fulfilling her personal goal, which is to make a lot of money and put it into the orphanage that her friends come from; and to accomplish this, she’s fought in countless battles and maintained a stubborn pride about her status.
And yet, in spite of the fact that Julis has chosen to operate within this capitalist system and to harbor a capitalist mindset, she apparently hates this city and considers it a greedy hive of scum and villainy. She criticizes the fact that money is what drives society, and seems upset that the greedy people of this world aren’t, say, putting money into that orphanage; even though she herself seems to have a libertarian, fight-my-own-battles-myself mindset.
It’s a little confusing when a character denounces money in one sentence, and then says that she’s fighting for money in the next; and talks about how she’s the master of her own destiny, while also lamenting that the world doesn’t seem to care about impoverished people. If this show were smart enough to recognize this duality and to paint to her as like a hardcore socialist who feels that she has no other way to fight but then to do so within this capitalist system, then maybe she could be made interesting; but honestly, it would take a lot of effort.
Luckily, there was another show that put in such an effort, and it was called Kill la Kill. In that show, one of the main characters created a hardcore Randian objectivist society wherein the living conditions of the populace were REALLY determined by the fighting capabilities of teenagers; and where she was trying to raise a team of elite fighters using the same system as the force which she was attempting to rebel against. In the end she realized the flaws in her ideology, and how you can’t be anti-something while also embodying that something, and joins the side of a sort of a non-partisan coalition of the people. It’s a good show, go watch it.
So anyways, there’s a really poorly animated scene where they argue with the big dude–his name is Lester, by the way–and then some flirting, Julis calls Ayato unfathomable, and then they stumble upon this fight in the woods. Apparently the idea here is that these guys are pretending to fight so that they can surround their target and then attack, but it doesn’t look like that’s what happens at all. This is one of those things that probably made sense in the light novels where you could try to imagine how it works in your head, but the adaptation does such a shitty job of presenting it that the entire idea looks stupid; not that it matters, because Julis destroys them all in one second off-screen. Again, I’m left to wonder why these rival schools keep hiring assassins with such comparatively pathetic power levels.
After Julis interrogates this mohawk guy for a second, the guy spots the person who hired him sulking around in the woods, and Julis recklessly runs in after him. For someone who was able to identify that she was being lead into a trap mere moments earlier, you’d think she’d give some pause to consider why the enemy might lead her into a dark, wooded area–but nope, she goes off Naruto-running into the woods without a second thought.
So Julis invites Ayato into her room later that night, and she tells him very matter-of-factly to remove his clothes. It takes her a moment to realize why he’s flustered at this, and she tells him to get his head out of the gutter. Apparently in her mind it’s totally reasonable that if someone invited you into their room at night and told you to take your clothes off without any given reason as to their intent, you would assume that they wanted to stitch up the holes in your shirt and not that they wanted to see you naked. This is a conversation between characters whom we are meant to believe are human beings.
It turns out that Julis is adept at sewing, which is yet another attempt to show off her secret girly side–a trope which seems to be coming into common practice, thinking back to how Asuna turned out to be a great cook in Sword Art Online. I must admit I’m a little… torn over this type of characterization. On the one hand, I’m all for the idea of girl characters who can be tough and cool and not have to fit into feminine stereotypes, yet also don’t have to reject the idea of femininity altogether and can have decidedly effeminate hobbies. On the other hand, I know that the real intention here is to make her seem like better wife material. It’s a “defrosting the ice queen” scenario, where the main character’s reward for being such a good guy and getting past the girl’s thorny outer layer is that he gets to see the cute, girly side that she reserves for those closest to her. This is one of those weird scenarios where I feel like I could enjoy the character and their personality on their own; but in the context of being a character in a show of this nature and knowing why they’ve been written this way, it only comes off as annoying.
So while Julis is sewing up, Ayato looks around and spots this picture of her with her friends. Now, tell me: was I the only one who immediately thought the instant I saw this picture for the first time that the girl who’s on her left is obviously going to show up later and be a major character? You know, on account of her being the only one who doesn’t have one of the generic hair colors? Now in fairness, at this point I didn’t know about Kirin yet, so I thought that this girl was probably going to be the purple-haired girl from the ending theme–but nonetheless, I’ve seen it labelled as a spoiler somewhere that one of her childhood friends was going to show up later in the series; guys, it’s not hard to tell that anyone with a second’s worth of thought put into their design is going to be important later.
I’ve already talked about Julis’ motivations, backstory, and confusing ideals, so we’ll just skip over all that stuff and head for the end of the episode. Julis gets a letter of challenge from her assailant and Naruto-runs directly into an obvious death-trap, and Ayato jumps off a building; the end.
So episode four starts with Julis arriving at the worst-looking building in the city, and, plot twist, the henchman guy was actually the bad guy. Revealing his true face causes his entire head to transform and grow larger, somehow making him even more generic than before. It turns out that Julis had discovered who the attacker was based on his dialog from episode three; but since her conjecture was based on information that we didn’t have, we probably would’ve never figured this out ourselves. They could’ve probably set this up in such a way that we really end up suspecting this dude if they’d given him like one minute of screen time by now, but as it stands his reveal is greeted with a sort of ineffectual, “oh. really now.”
So this suddenly over-the-top evil guy reveals that his plan is to have Julis back out of the Festa by targeting Ayato. Hearing this, I would’ve assumed that he meant that he had like a sniper with a bead on Ayato right now; but Julis responds that, “all I have to do is stop you right here.” And, uh… I guess she’s right? Like, what was his plan exactly if it came to this–just to fight her and win? In that case, couldn’t he have just done that any time? He seems to think he could beat Ayato too, so back there in the forest, why didn’t he just wipe them both out?
Oh, and Lester is here somehow. Where did he come from? Apparently he was told that Julis had accepted his duel; so was the plan here to have Lester and Julis fight? Then why did Silas reveal himself? If he planned to reveal himself, why did he invite Lester? Apparently it was because he intends to frame Lester for taking out Julis. So why did he invite him to come before Julis would be dead? Is he confident he can take out both of them? This is getting weird.
So it turns out that the perfectly generic cloaked dudes who attacked Julis were actually some robot things that Silas controls. I guess their, uh, skin was attached to those robes or something.
A big dumb fight scene breaks out, and Silas summons 128 robots. I only counted around eighty at most, but who cares. Lester gets shitcanned by a bunch of robots, and then Julis blows them all away with a big fire dragon. She then fights some off with her sword, but gets caught by one and trapped by a bunch of gunners–so she brings her dragon back around and tries to use it as a shield. So this dragon attack is still active, but instead of using it to just mow down all of the attacking robots like she did five seconds ago, she tries to use it as a shield, which doesn’t even slightly work. Surely she ought to know better.
Because of a tiny flesh wound on her thigh, Julis is then easily immobilized by way of a couple of the robots which she was just taking out with attacks such as a kick to the face, grabbing her by the arms and pinning her against a pillar. In another reveal that means nothing to the audience, Julis figures out which school this guy is working for, which sets up that we’ll need to look out for that school’s name from now on. Just, you know, not for the entire next arc.
Ayato finally makes his showstopping entrance, easily laying waste to the robots which grabbed Julis and then carrying her up through a hole in the ceiling. Please keep in mind that not only did all of the robots descend from this hole in the first place, but that we’re going to see them all jump back up through it in a bit–and yet, for some reason, Julis and Ayato are able to carry out an entire minute of conversation in the time that it takes for Silas to pursue them up through the hole. He even asks, “are you done talking?” as if he was giving them breathing room on purpose.
Ayato releases his savage force, and then another big stupid fight breaks out. At some random point amid all the chaos, Ayato determines that there’s apparently 6 types of robots which can be active at once, and that only 16 units out of those are able to move at a time; which apparently is Silas attempting to evoke chess; like, in literally no fashion whatsoever besides how many types of pieces there are and how many of them can move. Is Silas even evoking chess deliberately, because that seems like it’s more of a limitation than an intentional pattern of attack.
And of course, absolutely none of what Ayato says is communicated visually at all. If they wanted to clue the viewer into the idea that there were six different robot types, they probably shouldn’t have segmented them distinctly into eight platoons. After all, the rules of chess are not that there’s eight types of pieces, but you can only move six of them at a time. There’s also nothing about moving all sixteen pieces at once. And, you know, nothing about it resembles this at all.
Let’s just pretend we slept through the rest of this fight–oh hey! It’s the orange wings from the cover art that we talked about in part one! Except, totally different-looking! Cool! Ayato gets a big headache, and him and julis hook up on the backdrop of pretty colors, and Claudia turns out to have heterochromia and says some mysterious stuff, and Classmate Guy is there, and that’s it! That’s the end! I’m done! The first arc is over! I can move on and talk about new things! Like… the second arc! Or the third arc! Hell, the whole first season is done already! Did you know they’re making a second one? Yeah man, we’ve still got all kinds of work to do! I can talk about that other show that’s just like this one; or we can look at some other A1 shows. The Perfect Insider just wrapped up and I haven’t even watched that yet. The future is full of so much potential!
Continued in part nine.
OH WAIT I FORGOT ABOUT THE NEXT EPISODE PREVIEWS, OH MY GOD THEY’RE SO WEIRD, WHY WOULD THEY MAKE HER LOOK LIKE THAT, JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE FUCK WERE THEY THINKING, WHY WOULD ANYONE THINK THIS WAS OKAY?!