The Asterisk War: The Way of the Sword

By Yuu Miyazaki and okiura. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Haydn Trowell.

There is not usually much continuity between reviews of different series on my site: these are meant to stand alone. That said, as I read The Asterisk War’s 11th volume, a series derided by many as being cookie-cutter and plot-by-numbers, filled with harem heroines getting jealous, cool girls with swords, and a lead who seems to be putting all issues of romance aside till he solves the big problems, it was hard not to compare this with the 13th Strike the Blood, which I’d read right before it. Heck, they even both have the exact same number of fanfics on AO3. Five. I was somewhat grumpy with the StB volume, which I felt fell back into its old patterns (admittedly on purpose). This volume of Asterisk War, which is a “between arcs” volume with no tournaments, should in theory be even more by the numbers – and it is. Despite that, I found myself enjoying it a lot more. I’m not entirely sure why this is, though.

Kirin was on the cover of the 10th volume, so she’s not on this one, which is a shame, as this is absolutely her book through and through. She invites the rest of the group to her family house for the break, but all of them have other plans, which devastates her, as she’s that sort of person. That said, Ayato is quick enough to realize this, and asks if she wouldn’t mind going to HIS house, mostly as he wants to avoid being alone with his father. Kirin learns about Ayato’s family and past, and yearns to help him get closer to his parents. Things are slightly happier at her house, and Ayato naturally comes with her in return, as she has a full family once more – her father is out of prison due to her wish. But will she have to drop out of school to take over the family? And will she manage to confess to Ayato?

Again, every single plot beat you see here can be read a mile away, both on Kirin’s end, and also with Ayato, who also has to deal with the larger plot (his sister being revived, and also his late mother, whose secret identity the reader learns about here). And it probably helps that I haven’t read or seen Chivalry of a Failed Knight, the series everyone negatively compares Asterisk War to, unlike Strike the Blood, where I am familiar with Index. I think the main reason I enjoy this series more is that, despite both having complicated plots, the Asterisk War characters grow and develop emotionally in satisfying ways that have little to nothing to do with the fact that they love Ayato. Yes, Kirin wants to get strong so that she can stand by Ayato’s side, but her arc is also satisfying for her standing up to her family and inspiring Ayato to do the same, even if he can’t quite make up with his stern but awkward father. Julis and Claudia also get mini-arcs in this book that help develop their own plotlines and character, neither of which have anything to do with Ayato.

Asterisk War may be cookie-cutter and written to order, but its characters have a depth I just don’t really see from Kojou and Yukina. If you want to read a predictable light novel series that Western fans tend to dislike, this is definitely the one to pick.

The Asterisk War: Conquering Dragons and Knights

By Yuu Miyazaki and okiura. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Haydn Trowell.

Even if you hadn’t already figured out what the result of the Gryps competition, the subtitle of the volume may clue you in. Our heroes this time take on Jie Long’s Dragon Warriors, a team seemingly set up to look like they stepped off the screen of a videogame. The winner of that battle goes on to face Saint Gallardsworth’s team of Arthurian types, though I’m honestly not sure if Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table ever had an obvious princess-curled tsundere quite like Laetitia. Things are not helped by the events in the previous volume, which have left most of Team Enfield feeling particularly exhausted. Of course, this is exactly the time when a typical cliched shonen series would have its cast each reach the next level, pull new abilities out of their asses, and go on to crush the competition by virtue of being really, really shonen about it. And never let it be said that Asterisk War does not go for the easy answer, as this is exactly what happens.

Kirin has the cover image this time around, and while the author apologizes in the afterword for sidelining her from the final fight, I have a feeling that was meant to be partly ironic, as the fight against Jie Long is Kirin’s finest hour to date. Honestly, I was expecting Ayato to pull things off again, but to be fair, he was needed for the next fight along, and Kirin had not had a spotlight in some time, so it’s justified. Much as it’s talked about in terms of being able to see the way the fighter’s prana is behaving, her new ability essentially boils down to “can predict moves better”, which is fine. No one cries out for gritty realism in a magical academy fighting manga – at least I hope they don’t. Instead you ask for cool, and that’s what we get here… at the cost of Kirin being bedridden for the rest of the book. And possible getting yelled at by her family, there’s a cliffhanger involved.

We then go up against Team Lancelot, though not before we see Ayato meet a mysterious masked man who professes to be the one who put his sister in her coma. He’s a trickster mentor of the finest water, and his presence (and assistant) seems to hint that Ayato’s story will be tied up with Sylvie’s again pretty soon. That said, the best part of this second half was seeing Ernest finally give in and embrace his inner selfish asshole. His weapon involves being pure, noble and chivalrous, but doing so was clearly pressuring him in ways that were obvious to see. It was one of those things where the reader, who knows his character type, was waiting for the other shoe to drop. He also becomes far more interesting, even though it may be Percival who we follow going forward. (Sorry, Laetitia, you have “always a side character” written all over you.

In addition to Kirin’s family cliffhanger, we also get Ayato getting a call from his father right at the end. Still, despite that, I suspect that the next volume will be a lighter, breezier one to help relax after this arc. If you’re enjoying this beach read of a light novel, this is an excellent pickup.

The Asterisk War: Whispers of a Long Farewell

By Yuu Miyazaki and okiura. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Haydn Trowell.

Last time Saya stole Claudia’s thunder a bit, but in this volume Claudia definitely takes the spotlight: this is her book, and we get glimpses of her childhood, how she’s been changed and affected by wielding the Pan-Dora, and just what her REAL wish it, as everyone agrees it can’t simply be “I want an interview with a known political prisoner”. In fact, it’s a lot more close to home than that, and a lot darker. That said, in amongst the darkness we do get some good fights, as Ayato finally has to face off against his roommate, who turns out to be from a family of ninjas, to the surprise of absolutely no one. And of course the other girls are somewhat stunned at Saya admitting her feelings directly to Ayato, and are wondering what comes next, though honestly, knowing how harem titles work, they should not be surprised the answer is “not much.”

I did give Saya credit for confessing last time, but it’s hard to take “you don’t have to answer me right away” as anything more than backing away at the last minute. That said, that’s more on the author than on Saya herself, and she’s right that she doesn’t want to affect the Gryps team while they’re still competing. Julis and Kirin are both providing what little humor is in this volume with their reactions, which are pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Additional lightness is provided by Laetitia, Claudia’s childhood friend and “rival”, the sort of rival that you always see in these sorts of things, who is constantly talking about defeating Claudia one day but in reality is caring and worried. Just because I really enjoy each new volume of Asterisk War does not mean it isn’t hitting each cliche with perfect precision.

The bulk of the book stems from Claudia’s somewhat open declaration of war last book, and the Powers That Be deciding that things are so dangerous now that assassinating her in a very obvious way is actually the lesser of two evils. Fortunately, she’s clever and able to avoid getting killed right up till Ayato can show up. Unfortunately, Ayato is related to her REAL wish, and to his horror, it’s a bit of a death wish. As I said before, given what Claudia endures is using her Orga Lux, it’s unsurprising that she’s gotten somewhat jaded and tired – she’s seen being killed by the entire cast, including Julis, Kirin AND Saya. But not Ayato, and this leads to the second confession of the book. I’ll be honest, I did briefly wonder if the author had the stones to kill Claudia off. But honestly, having her survive was not only the more cliched (and thus Asterisk War) option, but it allows for a really lovely it where Ayato asks what she plans to do now, and she literally has no idea – she hadn’t imagined surviving.

I’m not sure how her newly “repaired” relationship with her mother and the rest of the PtB will go, but I do know that the next book will have the next tournament bout, and it’s not good news for our heroes – Claudia and Ayato are very depleted on resources. Are they really going to lose? OK, probably not. But Asterisk War remains good frothy fun, with some really good character development this time around as well.