Monday, October 29, 2018

Nameless Asterism vol. 3 mixes insincere drama with forced comedy (Manga Review)

Tsukasa, Washio, Kotooka
Nameless Asterism is a series with potential, but it can't quite land on a consistent tone. Volume 3 (published in the US by Seven Seas) only adds to the confusion. While not bad by any stretch, it's mostly spinning its wheels through this volume. Those who like the generally moe look of the art, who like cute stories and characters, who like implausible drama without any real stakes, and don't mind a slow pace will be fine. Those looking for some emotional realism and forward progress will be frustrated.

Volume 3 spends most of its time focusing on Subaru, the brother of main character Tsukasa, as he tries to convince another boy not to fall for his twin sister. The majority of the volume thus ignores our three heroines, Tsukasa, Washio, and Kotooka. That's too bad.

Sadly, Kobayashi-sensei is still heavily using Subaru's cross dressing more for comedy and forced misunderstandings than for any meaningful exploration of gender. This volume provides more background on why he cross-dresses and it isn't fulfilling or realistic in the least. I don't need everything to be realistic, but it should have some emotional resonance or rationale. I still find the use of cross-dressing to be a plot device here, not an authentic character trait, that's disappointing.

Further, I didn't want to spend most of the volume on the two male side characters when what I care about is the love triangle of our three female leads, but that's what this volume does. The highlight of the volume for me was seeing Kotooka realize that things can't stand as they are. However, despite one half-hearted attempt to talk to her friends, that doesn't go anywhere (yet?). It ends up being a full volume of nothing actually changing between the three.

I also can't decide if this series is a comedy, a drama, a romance, or some combination. The tone just hasn't settled in over the three volumes. There are funny moments, cute moments, dramatic feelings, looks of longing, but nothing that ties those together as a cohesive narrative voice. 

In other hands, the story of a love triangle, particularly one where A loves B, B loves C, and C loves A could be the source of rich melodrama and ultimate bittersweet endings: as at most, no more than two of the three can be together, if any at all. This is a story I would love to see explored with real emotional veracity. 

However here, I struggle to see how this series could end in a satisfactory way (satisfactory doesn't necessarily mean happy, just plausible and emotionally cohesive). The rapid mix of comedy and longing doesn't seem to suggest a way out that will have resonance. 

As I mentioned before, I'm really afraid the series will end with a non-resolution, like "oh, let's all just be friends" rather than someone actually being hurt. Even having all three realize that middle-school crushes are only that and each meeting someone else in high-school or adulthood would be more realistic. But the comedic undertones suggest it won't be that thoughtful and instead we won't get the bittersweet, or painful, ending we and the characters deserve. However, hope springs eternal and maybe Kobayashi-sensei has something poignant in mind.

The art continues in fairly typical moe-ish style with pretty minimal backgrounds and serviceable, if not exactly my style character designs. I just wasn't thrilled with this volume's lack of plot development and even less happy with its continuing use of a gender non-conforming character as an inauthentic plot device. Subaru is not the mirror for trans/gender-non-conforming people that readers deserve. Haven't we moved beyond using cross-dressing as a plot device to create hijinks? 

I'm giving this a barely 6/10 because its mostly inoffensive and for those who like the overall style of art and story, it'll be fine, but it's just sort of doing its thing passively.



  1. In my opinion, one key point revealed in this volume (chapter 10) is that Subaru's cross-dressing is his attempt to resemble his favorite hero (= his sister), rather than being cute. I understand this as an authentic character trait, not a mere plot device. It is also consistent with him having and wearing hero costumes (chapter 3).
    His strong feelings toward his twin sister, including his fear that she going away from him, is one of the central elements of this manga. I hope you can understand Subaru.

    1. I really appreciate your insight into that. I wonder how much Subaru's choices mirrors what real people might do/feel? That for me is always a tough question when I'm reading manga. Should I expect these stories to mirror real people's motivations and actions or should I take them for what they are within their internal world-view?

      I'm not sure anyone Subaru's age would do what he is doing IRL, so I have trouble finding emotional honesty in those narrative choices. However, maybe some people really do chose to engage in those actions based on those feelings. OR maybe I shouldn't expect manga to be a mirror to real life?

      I honestly struggle with that. As someone who identifies as transfemale, I recognize that I may be more sensitive to gender expressions in manga than other readers. I totally own my own bias and baggage. I worry however, that the average reader, seeing a character like Subaru cross-dressing may overgeneralize his rationale/experience onto the trans community or gender-nonconforming community in general to the detriment of those communities' actual lived realities, motivations, dysphoria, etc... Does a character like Subaru do more harm than good (or vice versa) to that community and their representation in media?

      I truly have no idea the answer to that, so I appreciate you providing a counter point to my concerns! Thanks so much >_<

    2. I think Subaru's behavior/personality is not so ordinary and not many people would act/feel like him. But still he is understandable, or at least I think I can understand him.
      Seeing various fictional characters of various personalities would help us imagine and understand other people in the real life - I hope.


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