Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 08

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Saya and Kirin begin training as Festa tag partners, and it doesn’t go so well at first. While both are formidable on their own, when it comes time to work together, they’re not in sync. Saya concludes it’s due to the lack of a strong bond between them, so before any more training, she suggests the two of them socialize, something neither she nor Kirin has much experience with.

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But while they start out sitting rather far away from each other on a bench, they gradually come both metaphorically and physically closer together on that bench, as Saya shows Kirin’s passion for rare weapons (following her down a dark alley full of unsavory gentlemen to get to the shop), and in turn, Saya gives Kirin a swimming lesson, something that’s a bit of a sore subject.

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When Kirin somewhat idiotically slams into the lounging Violet Weisburg, she gets mocked for her lack of swimming ability. With little experience defending her pride, Saya steps in to do it on her behalf. The bold, confident, micro bikini-wearing, 35th-ranked strega Violet (a game Tamura Yukari) is quick to accept an unofficial off-campus duel with the unranked Saya, but Saya hands her ass to her with an enormous railgun.

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As a result of their day of socialization and education about one another, the next time Saya and Kirin train, they’re a lot better; even better than the golden couple of Ayato and Julis. And it all came down to getting to know and respect one another on more than a superficial level. Now they’re not just partners, but friends on first-name terms.

This was a pleasant little episode that didn’t try to do too much on the eve of the Phoenix Festa. It merely strengthened the bonds of two harem members, paving the way for them go far in their competition block. But if Saya wants to face off against Ayato and Julis, and prove to both Julis and Ernesta that she, and her father’s weapons, are the best, it will be a long climb through the brackets.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 07

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The sprawling underground ballast area where Ayato and Kirin fall becomes a crucible in which Kirin makes the crucial move from her uncle’s path to one of her own, encouraged by Ayato to do so with the assurance she won’t be alone on such a path. Considering how decisively he handles the boss dragon (albeit reaching his 5-minute limit), Kirin knows she has an ally who is strong and kind.

What she needs a little help with, which isn’t surprising considering how young and impressionable she is, is realizing her own agency and value as an individual, not as the tool of another. She also decides (due to Ayato’s nervous vacillating) that she might have a chance with Amagiri-senpai, making her an official member of the harem, if she wasn’t already.

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For too long Kirin’s uncle has gotten away with using her guilt, her sense of obligation, his bluster, and the back of his hand to cow Kirin to do his bidding. No longer. In a very simple but elegant scene, she takes one last slap, but blocks his second. She refuses to cut ties to Ayato, and instead looks her uncle in the eyes and cuts ties with him.

She’ll do things her own way from now on. Will costs come with that choice? Of course, not least because her uncle doesn’t really have any other means of advancing in the bureaucracy. He could grow desperate and do something unpredictable. And while some may say Kirin is swapping out her uncle’s influence for Ayato’s, it’s clearly that of the latter who has her own best interests at heart.

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Kirin asks Ayato to a rematch to serve as the first step on her freshly paved path to betterment and happiness. And it’s a very awesome duel at that, with Kirin displaying her usualy mastery of swordsmanship, but Ayato besting her by continually switching up his weapons from sword to spear to daggers, and finally to his bare hands, which she was open for. She’s soundly beaten, but when the match ends she’s smiling ear-to-ear, because it’s her loss, not her uncle’s, and it was also a valuable learning experience.

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After the match, Kirin asks if she can join Ayato, Julis and Saya’s training sessions after all, no longer bound to isolation, which one could argue had stifled her exposure to fighting styles and led to her loss. She’s determined to become stronger so she can save her father. I assume winning a Festa or three would give you enough clout to request sentencing modifications for family members, otherwise, wouldn’t Kirin be better served studying law?

Her uncle shows up one more time, but Kirin doesn’t waver in reiterating she no longer intends to let him use her. She’s also backed up by Ayato, who blocks one of the uncle’s cowardly cheap shots for her, and by Claudia, who promises she won’t take kindly to someone trying to sabotage or corrupt one of her beloved students…and her high-ranking mom will hear of any attempts.

Kirin also thanks her uncle for all the good things he did, but because he never did it for her, only himself, he leaves without responding to her heartfelt emotions. She then gets on first-name basis with Ayato (likely annoying Julis) and is later asked by Saya to be her tag partner. All the while, Ernesta and Camilla prepare to take the next step in their grand plan. Even as only semi-bad guys so far, they’re still preferable to Silas.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 06

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In the aftermath of his duel with Toudou Kirin, Ayato is surprised to find Julis mad not because he got into the duel. In fact she would have been disappointed if he hadn’t stepped in to protect her, and she would have done the same thing in his position, even if it mean showing her cards to a crowd. She’s angry because he lost, which means to date, the sixth grader remains unbeaten, despite being neither an Ogre Lux Wielder or Strega. She just uses a regular ol’ katana.

When he goes to get his new academy badge, Ayato finds Claudia in a very skimpy bikini, which probably isn’t an accident. Claudia lays out the deal with Kirin and her uncle: he’s trying to get a seat on the IEF board, while she seems to have her own agenda. She also mentions her mother, who became an IEF member by undergoing invasive psychogical conditioning to eradicate all her personal desires. It’s something Claudia doesn’t seem to happy about.

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Ayato might’ve thought his dealings with Kirin were over when he lost the duel, but he’s sorely mistaken. Kirin is the “little sister/kohai” member of his harem, reporting for duty. While normally shy and withdrawn, Ayato’s chivalry really inspired her, and she brightens up when talk turns to swordsmanship, an interest both of them share.

When he asks her what she’s fighting for, she says to help her father, without getting into more detail. Whatever the particulars, she’s decided it’s a fair trade to be used as a tool by her uncle in exchange to achieve her own dreams. Ayato doesn’t see it as so equitable (what with the slapping and all), but agrees at least to let Kirin join him for his early morning training.

After seeing her home, Ayato is jumped by Saya, who is suspicious of his motives and eager to hear his answer to whether he’ll be her Festa tag partner. He won’t, and the rejection stings, but it’s good to see Ayato isn’t keeping everyone in his harem hanging. There are winners and losers.

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On the Festa front, Julis is the winner. She’s a bit troubled by his early morning “interaction” with Kirin, however innocent it truly is. But when she accidentally orders extremely spicy curry (dang technology!), he agrees to switch with her, an intimate gesture to be sure. That, and his reiterating that they’re partners and have to learn to work and communicate as one, comforts her considerably. It would seem Ayato likes Julis the most, while Kirin is as I said more of a little sister figure.

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In spite of her uncle’s insistence she remain aloof, Kirin can’t quite resist Ayato’s kindness, and when he jokes about holding hands in the fog, she doesn’t hesitate to take his hand, surprising him. The fact she’s more “developed” than most middle schoolers is also a complication. But when Ernesta and Camilla unleash a horde of regenerating, slghtly-cute monsters on the two, the awkwardness shifts to All Business Mode.

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Kirin shows her sensitivity to the waves put out by the monsters and successfully deduces that if you slice them in small enough pieces a core is revealed that prevents further resurrection. But either because they fought in an under-construction zone (how convenient!) or it’s another Allekant experiment/trap, the very ground beneath Ayato crumbles and he starts to fall.

Kirin grabs his hand, saving him, but he ends up dragging her down the abyss with him. So whether he wants it to be so or not, Ayato’s going to be all alone with the smitten Kirin far longer than he expected. Whatever’s at the bottom of that pit, we’re going to see what these two are made of.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 05

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Asterisk War more or less regressed to the mean this week, starting off with an interminable bickering match between the leaders of five of the six schools in Rikka. We get some nice Ayato and Julis time, but it’s all too brief, and replaced by an influx of Allkant interlopers, apparently arranged by Claudia as payment for Allekant’s role in furnishing Silas’ robots.

The designer of those robots is Ernesta Kuhne, who is way over the top and over-rambunctious in all the wrong ways. I usually like Akasaki Chinatsu’s energy, but here she’s just extraneous.

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Call me spoiled by the last two episodes, in which Julis did indeed “monopolize” Ayato, to the benefit of the show, I might add. This Julis who butts heads with Saya (absent the last two weeks) just isn’t as interesting. It’s like another girl shows up and a switch is flipped. Fortunately, Lester is with me on this, and slinks away rather than witness any more fighting over Ayato.

That brings us to the introduction of a new main member of Ayato’s harem, judging from the promo art: the petite silver-haired Toudou Kirin. Their first encounter was a bump-and-peek in the hall, but when Ayato sees an adult in a suit strike her, he chivalrously steps in to intervene.

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This doesn’t go well for him, as when he asks the awful man (her uncle) to never hit her again, he agrees, IF he wins a duel. And in that duel, he’ll be fighting…Kirin, his niece. This puts Kirin in the odd position of not having her uncle beat on her if she loses, but losing isn’t an option for her, where every duel in her resume is scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb.

Ayato still has to deal with a limit to how long he can fight with Ser Veresta before he runs out of gas, and the fact that he doesn’t want to hurt Kirin—that’s the whole reason he got involved with her and her uncle in the first place! So it’s a defensive duel in which the clock runs out, Kirin wins, and Ayato is a bit dazed and confused.

What he just did was duel with the top student at his academy, one of the more then twenty students in Rikka Julis said were her equal or better. And while he can’t really be blamed for trying to stop abuse happening right in front of him, he did do exactly what Julis told him not to: get into another pointless public duel that reveals his strengths and weaknesses to all. So yeah, not exactly helping himself out.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 04

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Aha…so the man behind the attacks on Festa participants was…SILAS NORMAN. Wait, who? Julis’ opponent turns out to be Lester’s bowl-cut toady, with Lester himself unaware of the cowardly tactics Silas was implementing (Les is the sort to challenge his opponents face-to-face).

But I’m still grasping for reasons to care about Silas, or why he continually thinks he has the upper hand against Julis and Lester and that they’re DOOMED before his army of slow, lame golems. It’s like Crabbe or Goyle fighting Harry Potter instead of Malfoy, with substandard magic: nothing much other than shrug-worthy.

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He does have on thing on his side: numbers (and the fact Julis tends to block her own field of vision with her huge fiery spells, which…is actually a good point). So when her leg is grazed by a bullet the golems are able to bum rush her. Then Silas reveals he’s a sadist who wanted to “take his time” with Julis, because of course he is and does.

But before he can strike the decisive blow, Julis’ night in school uniform swoops in, halves the golems holding her down, and takes her aside. They then proceed to have a nice casual little chat together while Silas and his golems patiently wait. Again, Silas never struck me as anything resembling a credible threat (the episode refuses to respect him; why should I?), so this isn’t that strange.

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While Julis is initially upset Ayato came and put himself in danger for her sake, he tells her why: being by her side is the purpose he’s chosen, even if he has to do boring stuff like mop up Silas’ sad golem army, which is so easy with the Ser Veresta that he can do it while carrying Julis around.

The reveal that the army is structure like a chess game (Oooh, chess!) adds absolutely nothing to the tension; only the opportunity for Ayato to say “Checkmate!” at some point.

But he doesn’t! Instead, he says “Ripping apart the five viscera and severing the four limbs…Amagiri Shinmei-style, Second Sword: Nine-Fanged Sword!”…Not as cool. Plus, ya said “sword” twice there, brah.

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When Silas limps away on his last functioning golem, Ayato prepares to put Julis down and go after him, but Julis has a better idea: cast a flying spell and pilot Ayato to Silas up in the sky. Finally, after beaing nearly defeated way too easily by Silas, Julis gets to do something besides hang around in Ayato’s arm while he does all the fighting.

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He delivers one more blow, halving Silas’ lifeboat and sending him plummeting to the streets to be arrested by Claudia. (Lester is never seen again, for the record). But Ayato and Julis can’t enjoy the lovely sunset or their victory for long, because an imprisonment spell restraining Ayato’s powers takes effect, making him pass out. It was a spell cast by his sister, perhaps in order to protect him from himself.

He then wakes up in the lap of Julis, who is totally okay with having his head in her lap. What ultimately saves this episode from sixdom is the fact that the whole battle with Silas was a kind of audition for Ayato, to prove to Julis once more that even if she thinks she can go it alone, he’s going to be there for her. It wasn’t the toughest battle, but then again, Julis did end up restrained and almost taken out.

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So when Ayato requests to be her partner in the Festa, she eventually agrees, trying and failing to hide her blushing happiness the whole time. It’s all very nice. But more importantly, these two lovebirds are still chess pieces for someone, and that someone is Claudia.

While I don’t think she’s evil or anything, she is ruthless in getting her way, which means ensuring Ayato and Julis become a powerful pair who will go far in the Festa, as well as handing a viciously bloodied Silas off  to her “Shadow Stars” for further interrogation (i.e. torture). I almost feel bad for poor old Silas OH WAIT NO I DON’T.

Finally, Silas was only ever a pawn himself, for the rival school Allekant, a confident, scheming representative of which we meet for the first time, watching Claudia on surveillance video. Clearly, Silas wasn’t her only piece on the board.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 03

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Don’t look now, but despite the lack of asterisks or wars, The Asterisk War is not only eminently watchable, but getting better with each passing episode. We pick up at Ayato’s evening rendezvous with Claudia in her sumptuous Page One chambers. But it’s nothing so course as a liason, nor has Claudia tricked Ayato; she has a job for him. There’s someone out there injuring Festa participants, and Julis is their next target. Because he’s developed such a good rapport with her, Claudia is depending on him to keep an eye on her, should she come under ambush.

Speaking of ambushes, Claudia offers a sexy reward for his service, but which also serves her own desire to see the look on Ayato’s face when she offers it. Claudia was probably expecting Ayato to flee from her advanced advances, as the young lad probably doesn’t know the first thing to do with such a beauty as herself. Yet in her comments about him not paying attention to her (or at least the attention she wants) there’s a tinge of jealousy. She wishes she had a guy who cares about her the way Ayato seems to care about Julis.

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The next morning, Ayato does know what to do when he sees Julis’ out-on-the-town clothes, which she claims she just “threw together”: compliment them. Good Ayato! They proceed to have a lovely date that gives the two a chance to bond more, and for Ayato to prove he’s as tough as Julis thought (staring down the still-ridiculous Lester at “WCDONAID”) but also labeling him “unfathomable.” Um, I think that’s Ayato’s line for you, highness!

What the date mercifully lacks is unfortunate trip-and-fall accidental groping silliness, or overt tsunderity on Julis’ part (no running away in tears or embarrassment, either). Instead, there’s a lot of smiles shared between the two, suggesting Julis isn’t so quick to deny actually she’s enjoying herself on this mission to repay her debt, and Ayato is obviously not going to complain about hanging out with a beautiful princess. She even wipes ketchup off his face without blushing.

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The highlight of the date has to be at the end, when they witness a rival school brawl that the sharp Julis quickly sees is actually another ambush. Her line about going to “grilling them for answers” and Ayato’s game reply, “keep it to medium rare or so” is a wonderfully dorky buddy action movie exchange, but it shows how far the two have come in just a few days of interaction.

Julis deals with the thugs without any trouble, but spots cloaked figures in the woods and goes after them, alone. Ayato, naturally, follows her, becomes another one of their targets, but eventually forces their retreat without a head-on confrontation, with the parties obviously loath to reveal who they are. Ayato is fine except for a ripped shirt, but Julis thought his participation in the chase was “a bit careless.” Again, that’s Ayato’s line!

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That night, it’s Julis’ turn to invite Ayato to sneak into her chambers from the window, and when she tells him they’re going to “get it over with” and orders him to “remove his clothes”, well, Ayato’s mind understandably races. No worries, Julis simply wants to mend his shirt with her sewing skills. Get your head out of the gutter, Ayato!

Then there’s this very nice scene with Ayato patiently waiting as Julis sews away, and he notices a photo of her with her friends from her home country. Julis then gives away more of her backstory then she probably thought she would that night, explaining to Ayato how she was once a palace-escaping tomboy who ended up in trouble in a dark alley. She was saved by a group of other young girls (girl power) who lived at a nun-run orphanage (more girl power). She became fast friends with the girls, without telling them who she really was (though not ruling out that the nuns knew).

The orphanage has since fallen on hard times, and since she’s unable to secure funds for a “money-losing welfare program” with her name (her royal family is only a puppet regime of the Integrated Empire), she’ll make the necessary money with her own power, in this “vulgar, insignificant city” that also happens to be the one place anyone can get what they desire.

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Claudia is here to restore the academy to greatness. Julis is here to save her friends’ orphanage. So…what’s Ayato here to do? He hasn’t been quite sure of that…until the end of the episode, when he says “good morning” to Julis, but she’s distracted by a suspicious letter and soon runs off on her own again. With her debt to him officially repaid, has she reverted to treating him aloofly like everyone else, not wanting a friend?

Claudia doesn’t think so; on the contrary. Julis is leaving Ayato out of whatever she’s running to not because she doesn’t trust him, but because she’s trying to “protect what’s in her hands.” Ayato can now count himself as one of those things. But he gets a say too, and it finally occurs to him why he’s here: to protect her right back.

Claudia tosses him Ser Veresta and he rushes out after Julis. She’ll probably protest his presence, but she can’t simply lock up otherwise capable people she cares about for their protection, when they can be of much more help by her side. Like post-credits CGI Claudia, I’m looking forward to seeing how far Ayato and the Ser Veresta go.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 02

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Asterisk War took a page from its cross-town rival Rakudai Kishi by wasting no time infusing its characters with more depth and nuance. That included another piece of Ayato’s past puzzle with his big sister telling him to temper his immense power and vowing to protect him, and reaching Détente with Princess Julis, whose sharp edges are smoothed considerably this week. 

While haughty and dismissive in the first episode, here she’s reasonable and not totally opposed to friendship with Ayato, who after all just saved her from an unwanted confrontation with Lester (who, alas, remains a meatheaded moron).

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Julis also—seemingly reluctantly, but actually not—agrees to take Ayato on a tour to repay her debt to him, as well as show him around the city. She even replies to his Good Morning in class, which surprises the rest of the class.

Julis is on Ayato’s immediate right, but he learns to his left is Sasamiya Saya, his childhood friend and daughter of a weapons inventor. And what a great school: not only can students pull guns on other students without anyone blinking, but teachers can hit students for being late due to oversleep! Fantasy indeed.

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And it’s in this classroom that it’s confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that yup, this is going to be a harem. Saya senses Julis’ conflicted will and offers to show Ayato around for her, but of course Julis actually does want to show him around, so the two start clashing immediately. The Asuka/Rei resemblance of the two, both visually and personality-wise, did not go unnoticed.

Then Claudia and her boobs show up, and Julis and Saya instantly form a smaller-boobed alliance, refusing to give Ayato up and deciding it better for the two of them to show him around together. Claudia withdraws, promising she’ll get Ayato to herself eventually. How nice it is to be wanted!

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When she gets Julis to admit she was in a duel with Ayato,  Saya is dubious, because even someone of Julis’ level would have their ass handed to them by the Ayato she knows. This is a nice callback to the flashback in the cold open, in which Ayato easily defeats a bunch of bigger, older students for his sister’s sake, but goes too far.

Julis resents Saya claiming the two of them are on an equal level, and a duel between them almost breaks out until there’s another glowing-arrow attempt on Julis’ life, and the two work together to blast the masked culprits, with Saya revealing her ginormous weapon.

And because the culprits were hiding in a fountain, and the fountain is destroyed, the girls get soaked to the bone, revealing their bra, or in Saya’s case, lack of bra, just as Ayato returns. Fortunately, he receives no physical punishment, as he’s able to avert his eyes in time.

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Cut to the next day, when Ayato joins Saya at the Ogre Lux facility to find the weapon best suited for him. Ayato has his eyes on Ser Veresta, which was apparently his sister’s Lux, which Lester also happens to be interested in. However, the sword immediately rejects Les, who gets no higher than a 32% compatibility rating that drops into negative territory when he tries to force the issue.

All the while, Ayato is startled by the feeling of chains tightening all around him. Ser Veresta has its eyes on him, proceeds to come at him with deadly intent. And thankfully, they got something other than canned Star Wars lightsaber sounds for Veresta.

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After dancing with it for a while, Ayato stands firm and waits for it to shoot at him from behind, whereupon he grabs it and thrusts it into the ground, taming it and earning a 97% compatibility rating in the process. Claudia is duly impressed, but not altogether surprised, as she was hoping Ayato would be useful to her plans to restore the Seidokan to greatness.

She seemingly rewards Ayato by inviting him to her apartments later that night, and naturally, Ayato comes in through the window just as Claudia is getting out of the shower. Far from outraged, Claudia seems charmed by Ayato’s choice and time of entry.

Speaking of charmed, the theme song that plays the episode out was the biggest surprise of all this week: a hauntingly beautiful piece called “Waiting for the rain”, composed by Swede Rasmus Faber with captivating vocals by Sakamoto Maaya. This wasn’t a bad episode, but I’d be tempted to keep watching Asterisk War just to see and hear its wonderful ED!

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 01 (First Impressions)

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I claimed this show because its genres included comedy, but what ended up being most comical was how slavishly shows like this hew to an exacting formula of predetermined variables. Dark prologue that sets the stakes, check. Narration full of proprietary jargon like “Invertia” and “Genestella”, check. Drab transfer student who immediately gets into trouble with a stuck-up girl, check. Inadvertent peeping, overkill response, good deeds, boob grabs, checkity check check check.

But hey, this stuff obviously sells, it would be going away anytime soon, and I knew pretty much instantly what I was getting into and still watched through to the end, so let’s table the bigger questions like “should shows like this exist” and dive right in.

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Well, that was an unexpected disrobing! Protag Amagiri Ayato’s introduction to Julis-Alexia von Riessfelt (She’s a real princess, not just a pretend one! Monarchies make a comeback in the future!) is a bit rough, but there are clear transactions that are made.

First, he retrieves her beloved handkerchief in good faith, and when she punishes him for peeping and he proves he can hold his own against the fifth-strongest student at Seidoukan Academy. Then he commits another good deed by saving her from a third-party projectile. It’s understandable Julis would go tsundere on him. He’s helped her out at least twice, but the collateral peeping and touching spoil the goodwill.

Class Prez/Rep Claudia Enfield plays a different game with Ayato than the very direct Julis. She’s more about facades and jokes and lies hiding dark thoughts and schemes, and is very upfront about that. She gets Ayato to reveal he may be here to find out what happened to his big sister Haruka (the bleeding girl in the prologue), but he later sidesteps larger motivations and simply says he’s here to find out what he should do with himself.

He’s clearly a capable fighter judging from his duel with Julis, which makes him a potentially valuable resource for Claudia, whose academy hasn’t been doing well in the interschool competitions of late.

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Finally, Ayato takes his seat beside Julis, in class, and seated just behind him is his roommate and designated friend, Yabuki, whose membership in the newspaper club gives him more leeway in explaining to Ayato what’s going on with Julis, who apparently bears a burden and remains aloof in order to insulate others from that burden.

That doesn’t stop objectively weaker (if physically more imposing) challengers from demanding duels with her, as three-shirt-sizes-too-small Lester MacPhail does. Les is also at Seidoukan for some important reason (I’m guessing family pride or security) but wrongly thinks Julis is just doing this for fun.

So there are a growing number of different dynamics set up here, punctuated with well-tread ecchi elements and told in the almost tiresomely familiar language of Magic Schoolese. It’s serviceably watchable, but offers absolutely nothing new, which means if something more inspiring or creative comes along, then Goodbye Asterisk City.

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