What They Say:
The Phoenix Festa has finally started! Ayato and Julis will face the strongest fighters from the other five schools. Of their opponents, Irene Urzaiz from Rewolf Black Academy and the autonomous puppets, AR-D and RM-C, from Arlequint Academy are expected to be the most formidable. After Ayato saves Irene’s sister Priscilla from some Rewolf delinquents, he finds that their first battle will be against these sisters! Can Ayato and Julis defeat Irene who wields the Gravi-Sheath, a powerful Ser=Versta!?
The audio presentation for this release is very solid as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the newly created English language dub, both of which are done in the uncompressed PCM format. The series works a healthy mix of dialogue and action so that it keeps moving and has a life about it and this translates well across the forward soundstage. The powered attacks definitely make an impact with the bass at times and with the flow it across the stage it has a good bit of life. There’s a fair bit of variety to it as well and with some good moments to it in how it unfolds, the high definition audio definitely makes it feel stronger and more connected to what’s happening on screen. When it comes to the dialogue it’s much the same case as it flits about as needed but has a lot of ground moments as well, whether the cast is yelling as they fight or just getting up close and personal. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The six episodes for this release are spread evenly across two discs, giving it plenty of room. Animated by A-1 Pictures, the show definitely has a whole lot to like, especially in its color palette, as it’s vibrant and detailed with what it wants to look like. There are lighter and less detailed moments to be sure in the source but the series wants to look and feel flashy and slick and it pays off well with the backgrounds as well as fluid character designs. The animation comes across in a really clean way with no problems such as artifacts or breakup nor is there any line noise of note. Those that enjoyed the show previously will find exactly the kind of top tier presentation they’d expect here to bring it to life.
The limited edition release is pretty nicely put together, though I do wish once again that it was done with a heavy chipboard box. The cardboard box we get has some appealing artwork as it works off of the Japanese releases, giving us Saya on the front cover here with the blue and white background to give her more color clarity as it stands out – though not as much as some of the online images would make you think! The back panel works a good image of Ayato and Juris together back to back with some upbeat expressions about them that uses greens and whites as its main focus. The wraparound along the bottom covers the technical information on the back while the front breaks out the features and extras plus all the bonus material. Within the box we get two clear Blu-ray cases with the first one holding the two discs while the second is the soundtrack remix CD. Both of these cases are done with just line artwork of a couple of the girls on the front while the rest of it goes very minimal for backgrounds and interiors with a touch of color and text to detail what’s inside. The set comes with a really great selection of slick postcards that uses various pieces of cover artwork but we also get a fantastic forty-page square bound booklet that provides some great full-color material of character designs and backgrounds, world setting material, and a lot more.
The menu for this release works pretty well as we get some of the iconography from the show in the background with the hexagons and the badges, for example. Within that we get some clips playing out that shows off the characters through some decent filters so that it feels slick and active while giving us an idea of what to expect. It’s brightly colored and moves well, making it engaging and interesting without being overwhelming. The navigation strip along the bottom is standard Aniplex fare with the thin strip to hold together the selections in their boxes which are also used in the same way as the pop-up menu. With the font used it can be difficult to read at times, particularly in the submenus with some of the animation from the background coming through, but it’s largely workable.
The extras for this release are familiar for the most part as we get a couple of clean opening and closing pieces that are new to these episodes. We also get the web previews, which are kind of amusing since they show clips from the episode in the background while the rest is done with 3DCG model stuff of one of the characters, which is slick and glossy and very much focused on fanservice.
The opening half of Asterisk War was one that worked decently enough for me in that it laid out the foundations of the concept well enough and introduced the expected range of characters. Conceptually, it’s not bad and has some ideas that can be explored well, presumably more so in the light novels, and the execution was done with a steady and experienced hand. What kept it from stepping out beyond was that it felt like it lacked a certain magic to really set it apart in some way, from the emotional weight that it could apply with the characters or through the quality of the animation. It’s certainly not bad looking but we’ve had such progress with shows over the last few years that something like this feels just a bit average if a little higher at this point. It’s definitely easy on the eyes and the character designs offer plenty when combined with the battling aspect.
While the bulk of this half of the first cour focuses on the whole festa battle element, we do get some good character material prior to that and even some mixed in as one would expect. The carryover from the previous set involves Kirin and Ayato as they form their bond a bit more so that this particular team can grow. The main focus is on Kirin, however, as she realizes through her interactions with him that she can stand on her own and not need her overly controlling and fairly violent uncle to be her guardian in so much of this. This is a good bit of agency for her to take this path and while she does essentially through on with Ayato and this group, she does so with her own free will and with the mindset that she can continue to grow and become a better participant through that and her own motivation. Her uncle has been a negative influence that got her as far as she has, but it’s also fairly limiting. The only downside to this overall arc is that we get time with her and Ayato getting soaked and that means lots of thirteen-year-old Saya in her undergarments looking far too sexualized.
Kirin is also one of the leading players in the sequel “Holiday for Two” episode that we get here as she and Saya go to the indoor park together. Saya is pretty taken with Kirin in her own restrained way and wants to partner with her for what’s to come. The two of them in the park is a lot of fun since Saya is using some of what’s going on here in an effort to get Kirin to not be quite the doormat that she’s been for so long when it comes to others. When another ranked player named Violet gets all holier than thou with her, Kirin’s mindset is that it’s normal because that’s how her uncle talked to her for so long. Having Saya stand up for her and trying to get Kirin to do the same is fun to watch even if it’s outside of Kirin’s comfort zone at the moment and Saya is pushing harder and faster than she should. It makes for some fun action sequences, especially in seeing the way Violet gets smacked pretty hard right from the start, but we also get plenty of fanservice once again since it is a pool episode. This is mixed, of course, since we get the younger and slighter older kids at play here but it’s about par for the course for the series.
For better or worse, the bulk of this set with is involved with the Phoenix Festa and hints that bigger things are coming through it. This covers about four episodes here and the big focus is on a pair of opponents named Priscilla and Irene that have a pretty tight bond that allows them to go the distance through Irene’s life essentially replenishing Priscilla. There’s some time spent showing the pair’s time as war orphans, which is alright when you get down to it, but it’s the kind of forced exposition of opponents to make them sympathetic that’s just that – forced. Sometimes it’s better to avoid going down that expositionary path and just giving us opponents that are trying to win instead of having the viewer trying to sympathize with them, though I know why it’s written this way. The battles between the two sides are good and we see Ayato being forced into really pushing himself here overall but the backstory brought into it from time to time doesn’t do anything to make me engage with the pair more and it just detracts from quality time between the primary characters on “our” side here.
Though there’s a swelling to the series as we get into the Phoenix Festa here, it’s not one that comes across as a really definitive piece overall that would make for an engaging finale for the cour that we get here. I like the show well enough but it’s just coming across as a bit too superficial and not focused on the right characters to really dig into. The concept works right in its own fuzzy way and I actually like both Juris and Ayato as they feel just slightly different from the norm, Juris more so, and if not for the oversexualized aspect of Kirin I’d probably be enjoying her more. Aniplex’s release is, naturally, pretty top notch here as it looks fantastic and sounds great while housed in a pretty appealing set – particularly those postcards and that booklet. Fans of the series are getting a quality release here that will have them feeling like it’s a worthy investment.
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Bonus Previews, Web Previews, #12 Textless Prologue, Textless Ending Version 3
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: November 22nd, 2016
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.