A few years ago, The Asterisk War aired and left a pretty negative impression on the anime community. It was just another generic magic high school anime with a bland protagonist and a harem. There was an immense amount of hatred that only seemed to grow over time, to the point where it seems most people agree it’s garbage.
When I first watched it, I didn’t agree with the statement at all. It had it’s fair share of issues for sure, but it also had some notable strengths. Recently, I just rewatched the anime, and my opinion on that hasn’t changed. The Asterisk War is more than just your average high school anime with fights.
One of the main reasons this anime has such a negative impression is due to tropes and fanservice. I’m not gonna pretend like this show is free of negative tropes that tend to plague these types of shows. They are there. But they aren’t there to the extent that it hurts the show.
Overused tropes and fanservice is not the focus on the show. The show really excels at extensive worldbuilding, having an interesting story, and delving into it’s main cast.
The anime takes place on an island with multiple academies of superpowered students that fight for the entertainment of the masses. It’s more than just a silly excuse to create another magic high school anime. This all plays into the show’s worldbuilding. There are many organizations with various levels of hierarchical power. They all have there own interests and motives that concern more than what meets the eye. And within these organizations, there are individual characters with their own set of interests.
All of this combined makes for a very interesting story, with more and more layers revealed to it’s plot the farther you watch. There are plenty of mysteries to be solved, such as there whereabouts of Ayato’s sister or Julis’ backstory. And with every question answered, more are asked, always leaving new and interesting subplots to be resolved, and slowly revealing more of the bigger picture, whether corporate or political.
It’s because of this that it’s somewhat upsetting that this anime never got a third season, because there is so much more I want to know, and I’m heavily considering reading the light novel.
Another aspect of this anime that truly makes it stand out are its characters. Its characters are highly criticized for falling into generic archetypes. Archetypes on their own aren’t bad, but sticking to a common set of tropes without managing to delve into the characters or show what makes them unique is a problem.
The Asterisk War doesn’t really have this problem. The characters are more than their archetypes. Julis is more than your typical tsundere character. She is a tough as nails, highly driven and capable woman who has ambitious, admirable, and believable motives. She does have her tsundere moments, but that is just her exterior. Underneath that exterior is a nuanced character full of meaningful characterization and character development. By the third episode, she had more meaningful characterization than most characters in her position have by the end of their show.
This applies to other characters too, such as Saya and Kirin with their motivations concerning their father. This even applies to a lesser extent to some of the side characters such as Irene and Ernesta. This even assists the worldbuilding of the anime, as it shows that this world is inhabited by complex people with their own motivations. It makes it feel like everyone matters, no matter how small their role.
As an anime focused on battles, it absolutely succeeds at including a tournament. It’s isn’t just a tournament for the sake of having cool battles. It’s an integral part of the plot. The anime manages to make the tournament exciting both for reasons within and outside of the tournament.
There is always something going on in the background, so you need to pay attention to more than just the fights. The fights themselves are fantastic, with a real focus on strategy and making full use of their powers. The anime never gets too absurd with it’s abilities. There are some minor breaches of logic here and there, but it never goes so overboard that it’s obnoxious. There is minimal plot armor and fights logically make sense the vast majority of the time.
The tournament the anime adapted up to focuses on 2 v 2 battles. The battles make use of the chemistry between partners, and that chemistry shows in how they strategize and combine attacks. Each team has a different way of making use of the team format, making each fight feel unique and exciting. It was especially exciting seeing Ayato and Julis’ teamwork on display.
While not exclusive to this anime, the production values are quite fantastic, and add a lot to a show with a lot of battles. Fights overall had great animation and visual effects, even a few experimental shots which looked cool. The soundtrack was simply phenomenal, with many tracks that got me hyped for the battles.
This anime’s focus on extensive worldbuilding and characterization truly showed that this anime wasn’t just another magic high school show, but an anime in which it’s story stands out completely on it’s own. It felt less like a generic anime and more something like A Certain Magical Index, which is one of my favorites. Even the subtitle of the show is “Academy City on the Water”, so I’m wondering if this anime took more inspiration from Index than it did most generic magic high school anime.
I’m not gonna pretend like this anime doesn’t have it’s issues. Even if it’s not the focus, the tropes are still there. While not a painfully awful character, Ayato is somewhat bland and boring compared to the rest of the cast, and falls in line with your typical protagonist for these types of anime. He has some unique aspects to him but it’s nothing exceptional. There is some fanservice and a harem is most certainly there. Even in spite of that, the characters are able to mesh together so well, as opposed to being bland archetypes who’s sole purpose is to gain relevance through their relationship with the protagonist. These character excel outside of their relationship to Ayato, and build genuine relationships among themselves.
It feels like these tropes are here as a matter of “necessity”, as opposed to a desire to use them as the main draw of the show. To put it simply, the tropes are designed around the plot, as opposed to the plot being designed around the tropes.
One thing I do appreciate it that this makes the show feel honest. Too often these days, it feels like anime try to “subvert” tropes to convince the audience it’s unique. I put “subvert” in quotes because they aren’t truly subverting anything. They make a superficial change to a trope to make it seem more unique, even if in execution it really is only a superficial difference. It’s the main reason why I feel Chivalry of a Failed Knight had a much better reception than The Asterisk War at the start, despite being worse in just about every way, with a mountain of poor writing problems.
Instead of “subverting” these tropes, The Asterisk War embraces these tropes, fully aware of their issues, and tries to craft an interesting story and interesting characters in spite of that. It’s why I have no qualms recommending this anime to people even outside of the niche of “generic magic high school anime”. This anime excels on it’s own merits, and fans of action and good worldbuilding should find a satisfying product in The Asterisk War.
The Asterisk War isn’t a groundbreaking anime by any means, but it’s certainly not the generic trash dump it’s made out to be. There is a lot to like about it, and I wish there was more people who could understand that too. If you also liked the Asterisk War, tell me what you liked about it, I would love to know.
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to watch The Asterisk War, it’s streaming on Crunchyroll in sub, and Hulu in dub. I rewatched it in dub and it was a top notch dub so I’d suggest that if you are able and are a fan of dubs.