Ayato Amagiri was already worried about having to compete with other super powered students on the school-city of Asterisk, but his first challenge will be contending with one fiery princess.
Rikka, also known as the school-city of “Asterisk”, is home to six academies whose student compete in the super-powered “Festa” to fight for fame and fortune on the world’s biggest stage. Against this backdrop, Ayato Amagiri arrives at Seodoukan Academy at the behest of its student-council president at attend school while secretly looking for his missing sister. On his first day, Ayato tries to return a lost handkerchief but finds that its owner, Princess Julis-Alexia von Reissfeld is a little more than he can handle. Although he soon has a friend in this fiery and powerful girl, Ayato soon finds out that she has more than a few enemies on this politically fraught island.
I tend to go into light novels about magic-powered students with a healthy degree of skepticism, and the plot description for The Asterisk War Vol. 1 certainly had me a little bit concerned going into this volume. The book seemed to confirm my suspicions when the very first scene concerned our main character Ayato happening upon Julis in the midst of her changing, so it was to my surprise that this volume actually turned out to be a fairly enjoyable read as a straight-forward and competently executed take on this particular genre. It’s not original by any stretch of the imagination - its setting, its characters, and its overall structure are all combinations of something that you’ve probably seen before if you’ve watched or read the deluge of magical-school battle stories that have come out in recent years, but what made Asterisk a surprisingly enjoyable read was the way that it provided a solid and uncluttered story with some good action and interesting character development to boot.
I can think of a few light novel series that can be accused having an unfortunately slow start or delaying the action in favour of an early exposition dump, and I was pleased that Asterisk bucked this trend by jumping straight to the action early on as Ayato faced off against Julis in a magical duel as a result of their awkward first meeting. I thought pitting our protagonists against each other in a super-powered action scene was actually a pretty cool way to kick off this story, and I thought this segment succeeded because of the way that it managed to establish their respective characters in the context of this battle while keeping me engaged. That isn’t to say that the character development was particularly nuanced here, but I enjoyed that I quickly had a sense of what the primary personality traits and motivations of each of these characters in a little more of an interesting way than through a simple dump of exposition. This also helped to establish the general mechanics of this magical world in an unobtrusive manner, and in hindsight I’d say that these first 25 or so pages accomplished more than a few other comparable series accomplished in their first 60 in providing with a solid grasp of the world, its characters, and an entertaining battle scene.
After a fast-paced start that got the story going in an enjoyable way, we get a stronger look into the setting of Asterisk in Ayato finding his way through campus as he meets with the student-council president and attends class in scenes interspersed with his interactions with Julis. We get a bit of exposition on the state of the world and the makeup of the island, but this was relatively short and I was pleased that it didn’t feel overly convoluted or forced. The basics gist of it is that there was a cataclysmic global event which gave some of the population super-powers, and Asterisk exists as a place for these students to duke it out for personal and school glory. There’s just enough here to raise some interesting future questions about political makeup of the island, and this complemented the main story effectively as it proceeded. While we do get some of the usual light-novelesque pandering in the context of a few scenes such as those between the student-council president and Ayato, this was generally less present that other light novel series and thankfully didn’t do too much to distract from the main plot.
Much of the plot in The Asterisk War centers around Ayato and Julis’ interactions, and I was pleasantly surprised that these were generally enjoyable. In particular, I thought the two carried this volume surprisingly well as protagonists with regard to the plot, and I enjoyed the way their personalities were slowly revealed quite a bit more than I was expecting. It probably helped that Ayato actually has a tangible personality in contrast to many other light novel protagonists, and I found his motivations for finding his sister and protecting Julis were established credibly throughout several flashback scenes as well as a spirited inner monologue. Similarly, Julis turns out to be more than meets the eye after coming across initially as a straight-laced tsundere, and I liked that we saw her loneliness layered into her general actions as she confronted challengers and threats to her safety with seemingly reckless abandon. The interactions between the two such as a day trip out into the city were enjoyable for the way that there was a tangible sense of an understanding that consistently developing between them throughout the book as a result of them learning more about each other.
The dynamic between Ayato and Julis was developed fairly well throughout this volume, and I also thought that it did a good job providing the basis for the general direction of the plot as the two try to solve the mystery of the attacks on Julis. Once again, I liked that the plot was relatively simple and that Miyazaki didn’t try to do to much here, and I thought that the relative simplicity of the actual mystery was actually complementary to the development of their relationship. I was pleased that this volume didn’t feel the need to tell a convoluted story to justify its existence, and I found myself enjoying simply seeing the dynamic between Julis and Ayato play out in the context of them working to solve this mystery. The entire thing culminates in an enjoyable action scene which was well-written and hit all the right beats without feeling gratuitous, and the unresolved questions created by this story, while unoriginal and less than shocking, made me interested in seeing where this story will go next.
The Asterisk War Vol. 1 is probably a pretty good example of a story that ends up being more than the sum of its constituent parts, and is an excellent example of the virtue of a volume avoiding making itself tedious by trying to simply do too much. The dynamic between Julis and Ayato was enjoyable because of the way that we got to see their respective characters developed over the course of the volume, and I liked that we got a good sense of the motivations driving them as the story proceeded. The setting and the main plotline are established cleanly and clearly, and although I wasn’t amazed with anything I never felt annoyed or confused with any of it. On the whole, The Asterisk War is filled with things you’ve probably seen before, but they actually work surprisingly well here to create a book that is worth the breezy read.
The Asterisk War Vol. 1: Encounter with a Fiery Princess was published by Yen Press on August 30th 2016. Authored by Yuu Miyazaki, the series is currently ongoing and published by ASCII Mediaworks’ Dengeki Bunko imprint. Volume 2 is scheduled to be published in English on December 13th, 2016.
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