Julis is best girl.
Gakusen Toshi Asterisk is the first of three light novel adaptations this season which have been advertised as ‘school battle harems’ – the other two are AntiMagic Academy and Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry. If you want to be pedantic, you could technically include Shinmai Maou no Testament as well, but that’s more like a split-cour of something that aired last year. So anyway – how does one tell the three apart, I hear you cry? The answer is that AntiMagic is by far the best, and the rest are mediocre on a good day.
I’m (mostly) joking.
If nothing else, Asterisk will be a decent adaptation purely because of the sheer amount of money that’s been thrown at this project – the rich bastards at Aniplex are backing A-1 Pictures, who are in charge of production. And it’s not like A-1 was a budget studio to begin with. So for an (admittedly) generic-sounding ‘school battle harem’ like this, the production values that went into this were pretty amazing – the animation, for example, was very, very good. I really loved the hexagons they used to highlight whenever a supernatural power was invoked, and clearly a lot of work was put into the OP. A lot of advertising was done in the run-up to today as well – the end of the episode even directs you to their website for some additional content. The cherry on top is that this, like AntiMagic, will be a two-cour adaptation, possibly split-cour. Why is this a good thing? Many light novel adaptations are one-cour only, and are basically made to sell the source material. Success is measured by whether they can get the novel sales to go up – if they do, then they’ve achieved their objective of drawing attention to the series and there’s no point making a second season. If they don’t, then it must have sold pretty shit as an anime, too, so there’s no point making a second season.
From the perspective of a Western fan (il)legally streaming or downloading Chinese cartoons, this means that we never end up getting to the point where the series is even worth watching – because many entries to the ‘school battle harem’ genre start out really crap at first. A great example is Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance, a light novel series which got exponentially more interesting as it went along, starting with Volume 4. The anime last year was one-cour, and covered up to Volume 3. The anime-only fans who made it to the end (if there even were any) must have been blue-balled quite magnificently.
Asterisk will not have this problem, because for some strange reason it’s been blessed with a large amount of both time and money. It’s not even that good! I mean, it’s okay, but it’s nothing so special to the point that it deserved all that promo material and a cool-sounding English name like ‘The Asterisk War’. But I’ve heard rumours that this adaptation will go up to Volume 8, which is beyond what’s even been translated into English – if not, it’ll definitely get to Volumes 5-6 at least, which means the entire tournament will be animated. A subtle proof of that is how they’ve focused a lot on that handkerchief belonging to Julis and how she’s clearly got a motive for entering the Festa she’s keeping quiet about – those are both anime-only changes, and are supposed to be irrelevant until about Volume 6. It’s the same with Amagiri Haruka, with that opening fight sequence being something I’m not familiar with at all.
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a light novel reader. And as a light novel reader, I thought this first episode was fairly well-done – although I had lots of voices in my head from how I thought the characters would sound like, and it’s now weird because I got a lot of them wrong. Touyama Nao was an odd choice (at first) for Claudia, for example, and Ayato both looks and sounds more like a pansy than I thought he would. But hey, at least it’s not Matsuoka Yoshitsugu, right? Kakuma Ai was wonderful as Julis, though. I do think Julis is best girl, which is strange because I never usually go for the legal wife. I don’t know why, I just think she’s really cute. And I didn’t feel much from the other girls. She is a tsundere, yes, but it’s neither unbearable nor her only trait. She even thanked Ayato graciously before trying to kill him! In a beautifully animated battle scene!
I really like these sorts of settings – where a world-changing event brings about a futuristic environment, and the very structure of society ends up being altered. A new power heads this new society, for example – the Integrated Enterprise Foundation, a conglomerate which is clearly doing some shady stuff if it’s corrupting the records of schoolgirls who used to attend Asterisk. Of course, it’s called Asterisk because there it’s an ‘Academy City’ (just like in Index, except smaller and less developed story-wise) with six schools: Seidoukan, Allekant, Garrardworth, Le Wolfe, Queen Vale and Jie Long. As the OP might have already suggested, those schools are not there just for show – this series is basically a massive tournament arc after all, so all of them become relevant and we get to know characters from schools that are not just Seidoukan.
An issue with both the futuristic setting and the large number of schools is that there’s a lot of exposition needed to bring meaning to things – it’s not Mahouka level or anything, but there’s quite a bit – I thought it was clever for them to have Claudia give a short presentation to both us and Ayato to explain how everything in the world works. It was confusing for them to skip straight into mentioning ‘Ogre Lux’ though, because they didn’t mention what a normal Lux was – it’s basically an energy weapon. An Ogre Lux uses a special type of Mana Dite to power it, an ‘Ulm Mana Dite’. In turn, a Mana Dite is a type of ore that fell to the Earth when the ‘Invertia’ happened – which is the big world-changing event that prompted the creation of people with special powers, the ‘Genestella’. A lot of the names I was familiar with were changed, actually – the terms in the novels included both how the terms were written (in kanji) and pronounced, but they used the former whilst the anime used the latter (e.g. ‘Genestella’ was actually ‘Starpulse Generation’). Others are just bad translations (e.g. ‘Petalblaze Witch’ for Julis became ‘Witch of the Resplendent Flames’) and some are debatable, like ‘Queen Veil’ vs ‘Queen Vale’, and ‘Jie Long’ (unaltered name) vs ‘World Dragon’ (literal translation).
Also, you get any wish you desire if you win the Festa! I guess there really are a lot of similarities between this and Blade Dance. It was a fun first episode though. As for blogging, I’d rather do this instead of Rakudai (they’re on the same day, so picking one over the other is something that has to happen) partly because I know about it and want to see it succeed more, and partly because this just seems like the better show. After trying them both out, that certainly seems to be the case.
Possibility of Watching: Guaranteed
Possibility of Blogging: High