The Asterisk War: The Phoenix War Dance

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

The Asterisk War, quality of writing or no, has a tendency to be overly cliched. Sometimes, in fact, it’s so cliched it actually throws me off my game and surprises me. We’re introduced to a pair of sisters here, who end up fighting Ayato and Julis towards the end of the book. Given that we first meet the older sister literally chained up in a subbasement, I expected her to be the barely controllable psycho one gets chained up in subbasements. As it turns out, she loves to fight, but is far nicer than it would seem (though she was right to ditch the weapon trying to overpower her mind). As for the younger sister, I naturally expected her to show that the sweet girl act was a facade, and that she was really the evil one and the brains of the outfit. Hope. She’s just as sweet as she seems, and is there to cook and be rescued. You can second guess yourself on how cliched this book can be.

This is not to say I did not enjoy the book – I did. It’s as deep as a puddle, but that’s not what I’m looking for. Actually, the one time I think that the book really succeeded in creeping me out was when Claudia (who gets the cover art this time) explains the price she pays for the ability to use her weapons, and what it does to almost everyone who isn’t her. One wonders just how much of the flirty yet manipulative student council president is an act – though probably not much, I’ve already learned my lesson on second guessing myself. As for the rest of the harem, Julis is tsundere, though as always it’s a mild case; Saya is cool and seemingly stoic, and Kirin is shy, and they all still like Ayato a lot. I suspect we can also add Priscilla by the end of this book. Ayato is, of course, completely unnoticing, not getting at all why the girls want him to rub their head.

As you may have gathered, we’ve entered the tournament arc part of the story, and it appears it’s going to last more than one book. This allows us to see Ayato and Julis curbstomp a few opponents into the ground, as we know that they’re going to make it close to the finals as, well, they’re the heroes. In fact, given Julis’ wish, I suspect they pretty much have to win. Not so for Saya and Kirin, and I was pleased to see that they also live to fight another novel. Of the new characters, easily the most memorable – even more than the sisters who are the focus of the book – are the two AI robots, who seem deliberately written to be cartoon cliches. In fact, their interaction reminded me a lot of The Poet and Sickle from the later Baccano books, though thankfully Ardy does not speak nearly as floridly as the Poet. They to pummel their way through the contest, and I suspect we’ll get a confrontation between them and our heroes soon.

To sum up, this book is much like the last two books – hilariously unoriginal and yet fun to read in spite of that. It’s the perfect book to take on a vacation – just be aware the books are short, you’ll likely need to take something else as well.

The Asterisk War: Awakening of Silver Beauty

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

In general, I try to give light novels full reviews on my site, as I’m sure regular readers have noticed. In fact, it’s almost become a light novel review site with manga interruptions. Most of the time this is very easy, as the average light novel has about 3-4 manga volumes worth of content, and so it’s easy to find things to say. Sometimes, though, you need to reach. Not because a title is poor – believe me, I have things to say about titles I don’t like. But sometimes there’s just not a lot of “there” there, if you know what I mean. I enjoyed the second volume of Asterisk War just as much as the first. It’s an easy read with likeable characters and cool action. And it is setting up future plotlines and investing in depth of backstory. Despite all this, however, the series FEELS very slight.

There’s a new cast member as well, and she gets the cover. She is, of course, a very obvious “harem manga” type, as are all the girls in this so far. This is the shy, polite girl who’s to repressed and reserved to really stand on her own but is finally able to do so with the help of our hero. And it also helps that Kirin is absolutely deadly with a sword – in fact, she’s so good she doesn’t even use a lightsaber… erm, excuse me, Orga Lux… but instead uses a katana. And she still manages to mop the floor with everyone, including our hero. Unfortunately, she’s also from an abusive family AND has a tragic past. Needless to say, she fits right in here. Oh yes, and in case you were worried, he manages to beat her by the end of the book. No fears, the guy is still the best in the series.

We also meet several other characters who are introduced in order to use as antagonists in future volumes. We get the childlike yet manipulative mad scientist girl and her more stoic partner. We also see the class presidents of almost all the other schools (one is out touring her new album and can’t join them), which helps to show off how each of the schools differ from each other, and also to emphasize why, if you’re interesting in following a standard light novel protagonist, Claudia’s school is clearly the one to choose. Claudia continues to be one of the best parts of the book – I always enjoy manipulative ojou-types who don’t bother to hide they’re doing it, and I’m sure if this series ever crossed over with Irregular at Magic High School that she and Mayumi would be polite at each other in the best way.

So it’s a good series. You’ll enjoy reading it. It just lacks that certain oomph that puts it over the top that other light novel series have. But I’d certainly recommend it as a read – probably on a beach for vacation, it’s about that type of a series.

The Asterisk War: Encounter with a Fiery Princess

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

There’s a moment about two-thirds of the way through this novel where the hero and heroine are viewing the city, and she asks to eat at a fast food place. He is somewhat startled by this, as he’s discovered that she’s the princess of a European nation and expected her to only want to go to high-class restaurants. Eventually we do get an explanation for why she prefers to eat there, but her initial response to him is simply that this is fine, right? And that’s sort of how I feel about The Asterisk War. It’s not original by any means. In fact, that’s an understatement. It is so unoriginal that it may actually leech cliches from the books on your shelves that surround it (Go reread them – are they filled with twists?). That said, sometimes you want a burger and fries. And The Asterisk War is very good fast food, which I’d be happy to eat if I’m in a rush.

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I will try to describe the plot without just linking to various TV Tropes pages. Our hero is Ayato, a young man who’s just arrived at a prestigious magic academy, one of six schools in the shape of an asterisk that fight each other (hence the name of the series). Supposedly he’s a perfectly normal student with a bit of sword training. In reality, of course, his true power has been sealed by his sister, who is currently missing and whose footsteps he is trying to trace. He has an unfortunate first encounter (if you guessed “saw half-naked”, you get no points as it was too obvious) with our heroine, Julis, who seems like the standard angry tsundere (she wields massive fire powers, because of course she does) but in reality is just bad at dealing with people and somewhat lonely. As Ayato learns about the school, running into a) the buxom and teasing Student Council President who has big plans for him, and b) his childhood friend, a sleepy and emotionless young girl who nevertheless carries a somewhat obvious torch for him, Julis deals with the fact that someone is trying to kill, or at least disable, her before the Big Competition that no doubt will serve as the plot of future books.

Now, if you’ve been keeping score, try to add up the number of other manga, anime, and light novels that the above description sounded like or reminded you of. If you got under ten, you weren’t trying hard enough. (I’m honestly amazed there wasn’t incestual subtext – clearly the author didn’t try hard enough.) But for all my snark, I actually enjoyed this quite a bit. The hero is likeable and strong without being overpowerful, and reacts to half-naked women like a normal teenage boy and not a manga cliche. Julis starts off over the top, but it takes less than half a volume for us to realize that she’s not going to be another tsundere – well, except when the fanservice or comedy requires it, then of course she will be. I’m also very fond of Saya, less because of good writing and more because I simply like that type of character. Same with Claudia.

So there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. But the fanservice is light compared to other series, the plot twists are predictable but not irritating, and most of the cast is quite likeable. It’s fast food, but it’s filled with stuff you always enjoyed growing up. I’m perfectly happy to take it in and see what happens next. (Also, Chivalry of a Failed Knight doesn’t have its book licensed yet, so schtum.)