The Asterisk War: Resurgence of Savagery

By Yuu Miyazaki and okiura. Released in Japan by MF Bunko J. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Haydn Trowell.

Sometimes I jinx myself. Last time I was happily going on about how Asterisk War may have been cliched but hit all the right notes and was really fun to read. So it’s no surprise that here I am, reading the 12th volume, and finding things that I’m dissatisfied with. This is the last ‘setup’ volume before the next battle, the Lindvolus, and so the author is dragging the characters to where they need to be. For Ayato, who isn’t taking part in the battle (after all, it’s Julis who needs to win it), this will involve getting threatened and blackmailed. For the rest of the cast, it will involve learning about the new Big Bad and what he’s trying to do… well, actually, no one is quite sure what he is trying to do. For Orphelia, it’s starting to look like all she’ll be getting is a merciful death. And for Julis, who likely will have to administer that death, this volume is basically terrible, and it’s no surprise that she ends it distancing herself from her friends.

Firstly, Haruka is awake, and actually fulfilling a plot function, which is nice. Less nice is that the plot function she is filling is damsel in distress, though she has more agency than most of those. She’s up and telling people about the bad guy (her real father), and the scenes where she trains Ayato to realize why he’s still coming up short in controlling his powers are quite good. But the blackmail scene, where Ayato is threatened by revealing that Haruka essentially has a bomb next to her heart that will go off if Ayato doesn’t obey orders, feels like a cliche in the bad way, which Asterisk War doesn’t normally do. In addition, while I enjoyed the flashbacks to bad guy’s school years and him meeting a mysterious student with great powers (who seems very familiar), we only get one chapter of it, and it felt a bit out of place towards the start of the book.

There’s no additional confessions in the Ayatobowl sweepstakes, though his sister is happy he has so many girls after him. Instead, everyone is training for the Lindvolus, which promises to be at least the next three books, so we’d better get ready. We get a look at some of the other participants, some of whom we’ve seen before, and some of whom are new characters. Which is good, because this is a series with a tiny cast that absolutely needed more new characters. Yes, I’m joking. Actually, a lot of these little scenes were quite good, and were probably the parts of the book I enjoyed the most. But in the end the main thing this book was after was the break Julis, and also to drive her away from her friends, and it succeeded admirably. Which is fine, but a little depressing. I like Julis.

Next volume opens the tournament, so expect our heroes to be beating on a lot of supposedly strong folks who will nevertheless be sacrificed to the plot. Asterisk War continues to be a light breezy read that loves its cliches. For good and ill.

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.