Nanashi no Asterism (ななしのアステリズム, Nameless Asterism) is a manga by Kobayashi Kina (小林キナ) that is…strange. It’s…not exactly a romance, although it deals a lot with love. It’s more like an exploration of the concept of relationships between boys and girls, girls and girls, and boys and boys during their teenage years. So, it’s a friendship/yuri/shounen ai manga. Also features crossdressing, and a love triangle (note: there are more characters than these three, so don’t get any early ideas in your head). Oh, love triangles… So many kinds of love triangles…
So, from those two pages up there I’m sure you can guess which kind this is. The usual love triangle follows the “Dense Harem Protagonist Syndrome” model, eventually becoming either “The Interloper” or “The Third Wheel” (not pictured). I think “The Interloper” is the kind I tend to despise the most, although High Score Girl follows it, since it almost always feels entirely irritating. But then, “DEATH.“, the next most common scenario, in which a group of three have affections that are entirely counterproductive. Add to that a friendship between the three, and you have a drama-fueled mess, i.e. Nanashi no Asterism.
So, do I like this manga? Of course, because I only review ones that I do, but that said I have a number of issues with it. Really…Really this is a strange one, and given that the series seems to have been cancelled and is thus nearly over (the next raw chapter that comes out after this writing will be the last) I find that I’m not sure how I feel about it on the whole.
So, not much setup required for review. There are three best friends in middle school: Tsukasa Shiratori (surprisingly tomboyish protagonist), Nadeshiko Washio (surprisingly cute, handsome and desired love interest), and Mikage Kotooka ([omitted] and desired love interest’s desired love interest). Not sure how obvious it is for most, but I immediately pegged Kotooka for “likes Tsukasa”, despite eh…
So that’s the basic dynamic. The series also has a strong focus on “secrets”. Sure, the series opens with telling you that Tsukasa has a secret, but you might write that off as fanciful writing (I did). Truly, though, there are many secrets at play here. Of course, I won’t go into all of them, I’ll just say I admired the “twists” we got here and there, which would cast past actions, words, and scenes in entirely different light. Even up to the latest chapters, we gain knowledge of such secrets. Technically, Kotooka’s love is a secret until the end of volume 1, but I need to “out” that to really talk about the manga and besides, it’s hinted at up until it becomes dreadfully obvious. Kotooka, like her or not, is pretty much the core of this series as far as I’m concerned (for the record, I like her, but…well, later).
Next we have the source of the “crossdressing” in this manga, Tsukasa’s twin brother Subaru. Subaru is as cute as he is awful, and comprises eh…roughly a third if not a half of the series’ narrative/thematic focus. Early on, it seems pretty obvious that he isn’t crossdressing because he likes cute clothes or wants to be “a girl”. Something more subtle: it’s said he has a sister complex (toward Tsukasa), but you should note while reading that it’s specifically said “society would say [he has] a sister complex”. There’s more to this boy than generic “sibling lust”.
Subaru also adds the “shounen ai” angle. This is much more subtle than the “yuri” angle, and mostly focuses on “friendship”, but trust me: it’s definitely there. This brings us to the last major character of the series, Kyousuke Asakura (the boy in glasses above, the other boy is Subaru).
At the end of chapter 2, Asakura does something that I hate: he throws a curve-ball at the main character of a yuri series by confessing to her out of nowhere. I would not blame you for wanting to stop here, because as far as I know with near 100% reliability this is a turn of events that simply results in a very, very annoying spat of drama, even if the boy ends up being nice and not just confessing for a punishment game, or to gain access to the MC’s more beautiful love interest. In the case of Nanashi no Asterism… well, a few things, I guess.
Firstly, although I’ve noticed harping on angst or drama directed toward this series, I have totally seen worse. Honestly, I think that Nanashi no Asterism holds back a lot of the time, and what problems the cast has are…mostly completely acceptable. There’s also the fact that Nanashi no Asterism has a lot of humor. In fact, you could easily call it a comedy series. Seriously, it might just be the case that lighthearted moments and times it tries to make you laugh outnumber introspective angsting moments. So, on that note, I was a bit perplexed by how the cast took Asakura’s sudden confession.
For the most part, they were very silly. I was disarmed.
Of course, I was still apprehensive the whole time, but eventually Asakura made his case and I thought “Oh…okay, fine”. I still dislike that his approach was a sudden confession, given he doesn’t even go to Tsukasa’s school and I’m never a fan of “let’s go out!” when the previous statement was “nice to meet you!”, but his reasons for falling for Tsukasa are good. At the time, though, I was also still suspicious of him, and even now I think that ultimately I struggle with how I feel about Asakura’s character. He’s basically “perfect”, and unlike Sekine from Sekine-kun no Koi he’s not also horribly flawed. It’s hinted that he has a past of not being a perfect, totally handsome guy, and the series makes it clear that it’s aware of how ridiculous he is (good-looking, friendly to a fault, forgiving, understanding, smart, helpful, determined), but he is what he is, and I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m glad that over time he starts being paired with Subaru rather than Tsukasa, although there’s basically…a whole damn mess of complications with that plotline. I will say, some consider Subaru and Asakura’s subplot to be the highlight of the series, and I can even understand that, though I just think of it as very good.
So, what’s the main plot like?
Well if you aren’t dense, and you’re taking what I’ve already said into consideration, you should be able to take the hint from this page.
Although Nanashi no Asterism is a love triangle series, the real source of tension is not the basic “we all like the wrong person”. Rather, the there are two different sources. One is the aspect of friendship, and how getting into any romantic relationships might ruin that. The other is Kotooka, who is a firmly closeted lesbian.
Due to several reasoned and justifiable concerns, although Kotooka loves Tsukasa and seems to have been aware of her inclinations longer than the other characters (Tsukasa and Washio “unlocked” yuri at the start of their middle school years), she actively shuts down these feelings and seeks out normal relationships. You might hate to hear it, but it is true that heterosexual relationships are normal, insofar as they are commonly accepted in society, most people are straight, and our biology means man x woman is natural. I’d say man x man and woman x woman are another sort of natural, but you can’t make babies that way (at least not easily, I think). Though I still don’t completely get all of her reasons, it’s obvious that Kotooka is aware that she is “strange”, so she wants to stop that. She also doesn’t want her friendships to be ruined. She wants to “fix” herself, and wants her friends to be “fixed” as well. Although Tsukasa learns that Washio likes Kotooka in chapter one, the two of them have few problems harboring their feelings. Kotooka has a load of problems, and her “practical above all else” mindset means that in order to achieve the “best” ending for the three main characters (\straight, not gay friendship/) she will do some…well, frankly horrible things. I imagine there are many people who hate Kotooka and would call her a bitch. Well, she kind of is, honestly.
I actually thought “I want Tsukasa and Kotooka to end up together at the end of this” at once. Kotooka was described as a close friend, but she claimed to like dudes, and for most of volume 1 more focus is given to Washio than her. I noticed. I noticed and thought, “yeah, there’s a lot to this girl”. Turned out to be more than I expected, and I continued to think it’d be best if her affections were answered, though not to spoil anything…even though the series is ending with the next raw chapter, I don’t really know what’s going to happen. All I know is that Kotooka was suppressing her own love out of obvious self hate, which sucks. On top of that, she’s dishonest to herself despite acting very confident (a simple example is although she’s one of the more pushing factors for her friends getting boyfriends, she’s obviously the most concerned about how Tsukasa will answer Asakura (secretly, she’d be relieved if he was rejected)). I don’t think she’s completely wrong to be worried about persecution, drama, fallings out, and so on, because that’s a realistic, bitter perspective that you don’t fully see in a lot of yuri manga (most times it feels like this aspect is mostly glossed over), but she definitely goes too far and often. At this point, I don’t care too much who ends up with who in the end (even if it’s all friendship), but I’m hoping it ends with her understanding that it’s fine to love whoever you want, and that there’s nothing wrong with being gay.
As for our other characters, Tsukasa and Washio… I think I’d describe Tsukasa as “amusing” above all else. She is who she is, and who she is feels somewhat unusual. Calling her a tomboy isn’t quite right, but saying she’s girly isn’t right either. She also feels like the most genuine of the lot, which is probably why I’d like to see Kotooka, who realized how sweet she is, end up with her. Washio…she’s…fine, is how I’d call her. Washio isn’t a bad character, she has many good moments, but…I guess I almost feel like she’s underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the cast. I think, objectively, she’s not: we learn everything we need to know about her by the end of the manga and all that, but… Huh, maybe I just don’t think of her as interesting. She has her own “problems” too, and some readers seem to come away from the series really hating her, but I’m pretty much indifferent. She’s certainly nice and sometimes cool, but…eh.
I think that this series actually took too long (and note: I read all of it at once, not as it was released), which some might disagree with given it seems to have been canceled, but while I think every chapter had something of worth, I feel like the pacing could have been tightened up. Is the pacing bad? …No, I just think it could be better. This feels like a short series premise, but it goes on surprisingly long (it’s not really a long series, just figured it’d be a short one). I feel like maybe if it had been one or two volumes only, the author would’ve been pressured to get out everything they needed to say in a smaller span, which would’ve led to a better overall package. With it ending now, in a longer form where it feels like the author expected to go on even longer, now it seems like there are some loose ends, or less than optimal resolutions. Well, I dunno.
Them’s my thoughts, kiddos. My shifting, un-firm thoughts. I’m honestly not sure if you should read this if you like yuri or not. I think it’s fairly popular in yuri circles, but opinions on it are iffy depending on where you are: ranging from “what a slog” to “I love Kotooka!” to “that blond bitch (Kotooka)” to “the brother is cute” and so on. I mostly liked this, but it was a somewhat uncomfortable read, and it wasn’t what I was expecting… Yeah.
Next time…hm, I’m not quite sure. Well, obviously it’ll be something else. Til then, thanks for reading.