Edited by The Davoo
Throughout the next three-episode arc, it rapidly becomes apparent that nothing is going to happen in the Asterisk War. Not to say that I necessarily require a moving and complex plot from my anime, given that I’ve enjoyed other, similar light novel adaptations in the past; but considering the dearth of likable characters and interesting ideas in this one, it’s here that I truly understood that I was watching a flatline 1/10 TV series. I even bumped my score for SAO up to a 1.5, because at least that show could imaginably be salvaged. This one just has nothing going for it.
I could easily break these three episodes down in the same detail that I did the first four, but I’d honestly just be treading water. It’s all the same logical fallacies, overly convenient plot setups, bland characterization, godawful fight choreography, forced fanservice, and general bullshit that you’ve gotten used to by now. With all the materials I’ve given you so far, you could probably watch these episodes and write my analysis in your own head. We don’t need five more minutes of me pointing out how the badge that Claudia gives Ayato in episode six is apparently a physical object, even though they were holograms that she could restore with her own badge in episode one–but I had to at least mention that since I set it up in part three.
Instead of going in on every little thing that this arc fucks up, I’m just gonna focus on tackling the big central issue of the show’s new character: Toudou Kirin. And in fairness, I’m not even necessarily going to complain about the character herself, because compared to everyone else in the story she’s a hell of a lot more coherent–and pretty goddamn adorable to boot. Rather, my qualm in this case is about how the show handles and presents this character in just about the most sexist way imaginable. Yep, we’re going there.
Obviously sexism is a pretty fucking controversial topic, especially here on youtube; and I’d like to make it clear that I don’t associate myself with or take kindly to being labelled as a part of any side in the greater cultural debate on the subject. I will also argue that providing an analysis via the lens of feminist theory is not the same thing as being a member of an unbelievably poorly defined group known as feminists. A feminist analysis of something does not mean a feminist analyzing something, but rather analyzing something via the lens of feminist theory. If you wanna know more, just do your fucking research; my point is that you could write a textbook chapter on feminist theory using this arc; so I’m about to go balls-deep into this bitch.
As is the case for most of the important characters in this show, our first encounter with Kirin primarily serves to establish that she is indeed a Cute Girl. Ayato bumps into her in a hallway and knocks her over, and it’s kind of suggested that he sees her panties, though it’s confusing because we don’t actually see them. I wonder if this might’ve been a censored cut which would originally have panned up, but we won’t know until the DVDs come out and I don’t care that much. The camera makes sure that in case we didn’t already notice, she also has really huge tits; and then we listen to her high-pitched, breathy, squeaky voice, and the fact that she childishly ends all of her sentences with “desu.” She seems to be very clumsy and has a twig stuck in her hair–which Ayato points out, sending her into a little cuteness frenzy before some old guy calls her away.
The next time that we see Kirin is right after said old guy has just slapped the living shit out of her; and he’s about to go in for round two before Ayato swoops in and stops his hand, stating that he doesn’t approve of raising a hand to a girl. Turns out the old guy is Kirin’s uncle, and he tries to justify his girl-beating under the logic that this kind of abuse wouldn’t mean anything to the powerful Genestella children. Ayato continues on the defensive, barring his hand in front of Kirin in an odd gesture that both seems to be guarding her while also telling her to stay back while he takes care of this. After some back and forth, the uncle forces Kirin to challenge Ayato, on the basis that if Ayato wins then he will stop abusing Kirin. Kirin herself claims that she doesn’t care what happens to her and asks Ayato to back out, but he refuses. So they get into a big dumb fight, and Ayato just barely loses–though it’s sort of suggested that his loss was partly attributed to underestimating his opponent, and to forgetting that his goal in the match is to protect his badge.
At the start of episode six, we learn that Kirin seems to have some kind of goal which requires her to become the number one fighter at the school, and that her uncle has convinced her that she can only reach this goal by following his strict instruction. Later, Julis expresses her pride in Ayato for his decision to help Kirin, and how she would’ve done the same, and we learn that Kirin is only thirteen years old–which is probably two years younger than the main characters. This comes as a surprise to Ayato on account of her huge tits.
Claudia later explains that Kirin’s uncle is apparently trying to use Kirin as a way of advancing through the school’s parent company and becoming an executive. We’ll just ignore the complete lack of a logical thread connecting those two things. She goes on to say that he probably won’t be able to make it far anyways, because those driven by self-interest can never make it to the higher ranks of the company, which are populated by people who’ve undergone several layers of psychological reprogramming to remove their personal desires. I’m not totally sure how that makes sense for this kind of hyper-capitalist system, but we’ll leave that where it lies.
That night, Kirin shows up at the boys’ dorm to visit Ayato and to thank him for what he did before in defending her. In response to this, Ayato walks over and pats her on the head like a child. The duo goes out for a walk, whereupon Kirin talks a bit about her strict father and his training. Then, in one of the only flashes of actually decent characterization in the entire series, Kirin and Ayato spend a moment fanboying over one-another’s fighting styles. This is the first time that I ever actually felt like Ayato fights out of some modicum of interest in the technique; and Kirin’s passionate analysis of Ayato’s fighting style is probably the outright best dialog in the show. She goes on to describe that her interest in kenjitsu comes from seeing herself as a clutz and a coward, but also as someone who can be of some use to others with a sword in her hand.
While the camera fixates on her bouncing breasts, Kirin describes how her ultimate goal is to save her father, and how her uncle has shown her the path towards achieving this goal; therefore she is willing to put up with his racism and abuse in order to further her own advancement. She then asks Ayato about his training, and the two of them become training buddies–and at this moment, it’s suggested with some definitiveness that Kirin has already fallen in love with him.
Ayato and Kirin begin training regularly, with some flirty moments interspersed in there, and then one morning they get attacked by some tech from a rival school. Kirin figures out how to kill the monsters, but then they destroy the ground and she tries to catch Ayato from falling, only to get dragged into the abyss along with him.
Down in the water, Kirin clings to Ayato’s torso as she is apparently unable to swim. Once again, Ayato finds himself fighting with a girl in one arm, and then moments later creates a platform for her to stand on while he takes care of the bad guy. By making his sword longer. So the duo ends up in their underwear, and Kirin explains her backstory, with her father having killed a guy who was mugging them in self-defence, and being sent to prison anyways because of the racism against Genestella. Seems unreasonable, given that they actually knew for a fact that he was acting to save lives against a criminal, but whatever. Kirin blames herself because she knows that even as an eight year-old she could’ve beaten the criminal, and now she’s fighting to try and buy her father’s way out of a decades-long prison sentence. She also reveals that she enjoys the way Ayato pats her on the head because her father used to do so in the same way.
Kirin explains that her uncle came and showed her the way to save her father, and that this brought her to Asterisk city–but then Ayato tells her that she’s wrong, and that this isn’t the path that she chose on her own; and that if she keeps following this path, then she’s going to hit a brick wall. For now, we’ll leave aside how none of that actually means anything. Kirin cries that she can’t do anything on her own, so Ayato pats her head, and tells her that she’s not alone because she at least has him–so long as it’s a path that she’s chosen herself. Then he sees her naked.
After they get rescued, Kirin’s uncle demands that she not talk to Ayato anymore and slaps her around a bit, but then she decides she’s not interested in doing things his way anymore, parrots what Ayato told her before, and walks away. Kirin challenges Ayato to another big stupid duel as a way of taking her “first true step” or whatever, and this time Ayato changes up his tactics and handily beats her. And when I say, “handily,” I mean he palm-slaps her titty for the victory.
Afterwards, Kirin joins what is rapidly starting to look like a spurned women’s club in the making, and then her uncle comes in to get all pissy with her. She deflects his hand once, but then seems ready to take his next punch for some reason before Ayato jumps in to stop it and to talk about how Kirin is already taking her first steps. After her uncle shouts that he’ll blackmail her by uncovering her father’s deeds, Claudia exerts her influence over him to basically tell him not to fuck with her school’s assets. I’m not sure why she couldn’t have exerted this authority in the first place to stop his abuse, but I guess she had to catch him in a trap or… something; I’m not sure. Kirin expresses her gratitude to her uncle for getting her this far, and then Ayato pats her on the head again and they flirt some more, bringing her arc to a close.
What bothers me about the entire presentation of character that I just described is the disconnect between what the series is actually showing us, and what the rhetoric of the series is trying to suggest–as well as the only reasons which I can imagine for writing the story this way.
Despite all of Ayato’s preaching about the importance of choosing your own path, Kirin doesn’t really make any decisions for herself in this story. All she does is go from doing what one older guy tells her to, to doing what another older guy tells her to. When Kirin claims that she can’t do anything on her own, it’s not like Ayato tells her to find strength in herself–in fact, he pretty much just tells her to rely on him instead of on her uncle. I don’t think we can really call it a meaningful choice that she decided to follow the guy who doesn’t treat her like shit instead of the guy who regularly beats her. She only joined Ayato at the point when she realized that she could rely on him just as easily as she could rely on her uncle–and she even admitted that she only reached this position by way of her uncle’s influence.
Kirin clings to Ayato because he reminds her of her father, whom she clearly admires deeply given that her entire life is dedicated to practicing his brand of swordplay and to eventually rescuing him from his wrongful imprisonment. And you know, if Kirin was really just supposed to be this younger, more childish character who was looking for the guidance of a parental figure and found it in Ayato, then I don’t think this would bother me so much; but the fact is that the story also tries to present her as a sexually mature adult who is capable of making her own decisions. It pushes her as a viable candidate for Ayato’s affection, showcasing a mutual physical attraction between them, while sexually objectifying her for the sake of the audience.
It doesn’t so much bother me that Kirin is only thirteen years old; because, for one thing, this is a cartoon; and, for another thing, different cultures have their own ideas about what it means to be mature, and at what age maturity can be achieved. Regardless of what number is tacked onto her, it’s clear that Kirin has reached sexual maturity on a physical level, and that most of the characters in this story, despite being around fifteen years old, are given the agency and decision-making powers of adults.
However, this isn’t really the case with Kirin. She didn’t come to Asterisk to find herself like Ayato did, or completely of her own accord like Julis did; she came here because her uncle told her to–and she only left her uncle’s guidance because Ayato told her to. I know that the narrative is trying to suggest that her decision to challenge Ayato was her first step towards becoming her own person; but all she’s really doing is clinging to his coattails and following along with his group of friends. What exactly was she going to do if these other characters weren’t there to guide her? What if Saya hadn’t taken interest in her and decided to team up with her for the Festa? By episode eight, she’s pretty much made it all the way to just following Saya’s lead now.
The reason that Kirin’s arc is written the way that it is, is so that Ayato–and, by extension, the audience–can have it both ways. We get to play the role of the paternal guardian to our daughter, slash little sister, slash underclassman, while also being able to look at her sexually under the assurance that she’s totally an adult who’s making her own decisions. Nevermind that we’re the ones making her decisions and fighting her battles for her, and that we completely treat her as though she were a child. We just want to have our cake and eat it too.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking right now: why does any of this matter? Who cares?! It’s just a cartoon! The whole point of it is to act as wish-fulfillment for thirteen year-old boys who don’t know any better. It’s an escapist fantasy. It’s not supposed to be realistic. It’s just meant to appeal to a fetish. And I agree: you are absolutely, one-hundred percent correct.
It doesn’t matter. I don’t even really care. The fact of the matter is that I shouldn’t even be watching this show. I saw the writing on the wall as early as the seasonal chart that this show was clearly not meant for me. I’m not supposed to be here. But I am here. Why?
Well, mostly because way back in the summer season, I made a video about how I dropped like a million summer shows that a lot of people enjoyed, and I got a ton of responses asking why I didn’t like those shows, or why I didn’t give them a chance, or telling me that I should make more videos about why I drop the shows that I do. In response to this, I thought it might be interesting if I took a few shows that I would’ve immediately dropped, and decided to give them that mythical chance. I decided to see what would happen if I actually kept going to see what I’ve been missing by dropping these shows so early on, and then to present to my audience what my experience was in doing so, and sort of allow them to experience the show like I do.
And this is where it’s taken us. We’ve made it seven episodes into the Asterisk War, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I kind of hated the second arc because I was kind of bothered by how the entire appeal of it was meant to be its hilariously sexist portrayal of its new character.
You know, I actually really like Kirin’s character design. I even kind of like her voice. If you made a show with this exact same character, but instead made her into a strong-willed, twenty-something year-old firebrand with the personality of a leader, then I’d probably be sitting here making a video about how Kirin is mai waifu. It’s just a matter of personal taste, really. I’m just not into this whole clingy little girl with no personality or initiative thing.
Can you imagine actually dating Kirin, and how incredibly boring she would probably turn out to be once the sex got old? I guess maybe if you got into swords with her you’d have enough to talk about–maybe get some decent sparring in while you’re still young; could be a fling for a couple of years. Once you save her father though, I wonder if she’s gonna go back to school and learn how to do something more useful, or if she’s gonna try and milk that swordfighting skill for all it’s worth. She’s gotta get old some day. I’m certainly getting there.
But that’s what this anime is about. It’s about immortalizing this idea; this girl who will only ever be thirteen, and only ever be your little sister slash daughteru slash kouhai, who will only ever look up to you and secretly want to ride your crotch, and who you’ll only ever get to actually make it with once the inevitable doujins come out. This is the fantasy that they’re selling–and it just doesn’t really resonate with me. I’m just not buying it. I’m just not interested.
Continued in part eleven.