Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Nameless Asterism Vol. 2 inches forward (Manga Review)

Tsukasa Washio Kotooka
With volume 3 coming out in just over a month, I'm finally caught up, having just finished Nameless Asterism Volume 2 by Kina Kobayashi and published by Seven Seas. There will be a lot of spoilers in this review because the plot is pretty simple, so there isn't much to talk about without discussing the basics. Sorry, you were warned.

Nameless Asterism focuses on three middle school girls. Tsukasa is in love with her friend Washio. Washio is in love with their friend Kotooka, and...wait for know where this is going...Kotooka is in love with Tsukasa! By the end of volume 2, Tsukasa knows that Washio likes Kotooka and Kotooka knows Tsukasa likes Washio, but we fail to know if Washio knows who Kotooka likes (and we're sure Tsukasa is too dense to know!). We also have Tsukasa's twin brother who likes to dress like Tsukasa and who is fiercely jealous of the boy who has confessed to Tsukasa. He seems more concerned with his sister growing up and changing and leaving him behind than anything else, but it is still very intense and a bit creepy.

Not a lot happens in this volume other than Tsukasa turning a boy down, Washio getting mad at Tsukasa for trying to help her with Kotooka at the expense of their mutual friendship, and Tsukasa's brother intimating that he's going to keep the other boy away from his sister. I felt like he was hinting that he may cross dress as his sister and "date" the boy to keep him away, but who knows. I certainly hope that doesn't happen. In fact, at one point, I actually through Kobayashi-sensei was setting up the two boys to become a couple (which would be great) and that could still ultimately happen, but it wasn't where this volume went.

The story continues to have no depth of character development, with everything focused on who they like, who they can't tell, and selflessly trying to help the others get closer. The art is simple and cute, and while perhaps befitting a series about middle schoolers, fails to add any drama through visual presentation.

That's ultimately what got me thinking. Maybe I'm not the target audience. Maybe this is geared towards middle and high school students who wouldn't be looking (or at least wouldn't be turned off) by a lack of character development, plot, or substance outside of the romance. Not to say that teens wouldn't like more depth of plot, but just that it might not feel as empty to them as it did me.

I'm also still concerned with the themes and presentation of Tsukasa's brother. Is he gender queer, gender non-conforming, a transfemale, or none of the above? Not that he needs to be labeled, but I would hate for this to be a random character "quirk" rather than a fully explored and realized part of his personality. To be used as a plot device rather than sensitively explored would be a shame. I'm not confident where this is leading.

The overall pace of the story is pretty slow and languid. Even though on the surface the panels move rapidly, the story itself hasn't gone anywhere. Through two volumes, we know about the love triangle, and there is no hint at a resolution or even any forward movement. What would really bum me out is if the series were to conclude without any clarity. Instead, I'm hoping for something more honest and revealing about human nature, some people hurt, some happy, some people together, some people not. Because let's face it, they're middle school children. They probably won't end up as adults with the people they have crushes on in 8th grade.

All that said, this isn't meant to be a dramatic story. It's meant to be cute and sweet and emotionally relatable and it generally accomplishes that. However, it's not super funny, nor super cute, nor deeply plotted, so it comes off as a pleasant way to spend some time, but doesn't rise up as an exemplar for the genre. There also remains something perfunctory about it and yet unsettling in a way I can't entirely pin down, almost like it was a story designed by committee or machine to be pleasing. It hits many of the right notes, but in a clinical way - like the difference between a keyboard and a Steinway, or a sequenced file of a beautiful classical piece and a live performance...

Anyway, Nameless Asterism Volume 2 gets a 6/10. It has room to grow and improve and I hope the creator takes those chances, even if it stays cute and sweet. If you love yuri and need more, go for this volume. If you're more into the quality of art and writing than overall genre, you might have other options for currently published series.


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