October 25, 2014

Arpeggio of Blue Steel -- commentary

Wonderduck has promised us a post about Arpeggio of Blue Steel, describing why he isn't totally pleased with it.

I'm going to steal a march on him and post my own opinion. Necessarily it contains spoilers, so it goes below the fold.

First, there are a lot of things I liked about it.

The art for the show is entirely rendered, including all the characters. And in general it's extremely well done. The character art in particular is very impressive. And someone put a lot of effort into the ship models.

The battles (and that's mostly what the show is about) are well done; very tense and exciting. And the series has a definite destination, and gets there, and it feels triumphant when we do.

Now, the problems: The Fog are never explained. Where did they come from? Who sent them? Why? A card shows those questions in every episode, but there's never any answer and not even any hints.

There's a good reason: I don't think the writers know. (Or the mangaka.) The Fog in their entirety are a deus ex machina. They exist because the director wants to do a show about science fiction naval battles, and to do that he needs an enemy, and it needs to be one that's vastly superior to any currently on Earth. And he wants to use classic Japanese ships from WWII as his main characters, which makes no sense at all except for the Rule of Cool.

That aspect of it is so contrived that there can't really be any satisfactory answer to it. So the question is asked, over and over, and the only answer we ever hear is, "I dunno."

That's the single biggest problem with the series.

There are two other lesser contrivances: The "Mental Models", and the fact that exposure to humans makes the Mental Models go haywire. The latter is maybe believable, but the existance of the Mental Models themselves is, again, because the director wanted to have mecha musume in his show. He wanted humanoid avatars for all the major Fog ships so that they could talk to each other and to themselves during the battles, so that Our Hero wasn't just fighting against abstract alien leviathons.

And the last unfortunate thing: this is the opening chapter of a much longer story. Yes, I-401 achieves its goal of delivering the new weapon (and its designer) to America for manufacturing, and yay team. But the Fog are still out there (maybe in substantially reduced numbers, or maybe their forces have been replenished) and we still don't know what they are or why they are there or who sent them.

Nor can we get any guidance on that from the manga. It ended with the battle in Yokosuka harbor when Kirishima and Haruna were defeated. Which was episode 4 of the anime. Everything after that seems to be anime-original.

I-401 has to fight its way back across the Pacific but the return trip won't be anything like as hairy. They are fully loaded with supplies because the rich Americans were grateful and thus generous with reloads. Kirishima and Haruna stayed in America with Makie, but I-401 still has Hyuga and Takao on board to augment Iona's compute power.

So there isn't any doubt that they'll return to Japan safely, and then they'll continue to fight the Fog.

(One more deus ex machina: what exactly was the deal with I-401? Why did she change sides? Who programmed her to serve Gunzou? However, on that one at least there are hints: Gunzou's father did it. How he did it is another mystery, but he's the one.)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel is historically important because it's the first major anime that is completely rendered. We've had shows which were partially rendered for a long time (e.g. Divergence Eve) but the CG and normal animation didn't really blend well. In Mouretsu Pirates and Strike Witches the blending was very good and in Girls und Panzer the blending was superb, almost to the point where it was unnoticeable. (Not quite, but close.)

This animation technique doesn't lend itself well to all subjects but it works very well for certain kinds of show, and I think we'll see more of it -- because it is inherently cheaper than hand-drawn animation (even computer aided).

All its flaws notwithstanding, I liked it, and I've rewatched it several times. I think my favorite character is Hyuga; she's snide and sassy and sophisticated and loads of fun.

UPDATE: I noticed something which is an interesting parallel: all the other ships call Iona yon maru ichi. What's interesting is maru which means "circle". They also have zero but rarely use it. It's exactly like us saying "Four Oh One" instead of "Four Zero One".

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Anime at 01:08 PM | Comments (10) | Add Comment
Post contains 802 words, total size 5 kb.

1 I apologize to Wonderduck for stealing the wind from his sails, but for the last couple of day, every time I've seen his post I've wanted to write a big comment. That kind of thing nags me until I let it out, and I didn't feel as if I should post it on his blog, so I wrote it here.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 25, 2014 01:18 PM (+rSRq)

2 It's okay, fortunately your main point isn't the same as mine.  Actually, nothing you've written about (well...) matches my gripes.

But between dealing with a loss of internet, a leg injury (brick to the shin) that makes it hard to stay in one position for any substantial amount of time, and ebola an illness/cold, I haven't had a whole bunch of zip for writing.

Posted by: Wonderduck at October 25, 2014 01:24 PM (jGQR+)

3 I lost interest in this show after just a few episodes. I was wondering if I was missing any interesting plot points by giving up, but it appears that the plot was as "foggy" as I feared. As for the duck:
...a leg injury (brick to the shin)...
Did a moving brick strike a motionless shin, vice versa, or was the collision "mutual"?

Posted by: Siergen at October 25, 2014 01:46 PM (r3+4f)

4 Hyuga makes the show, hands down.

Yeah, two big problems with the basic plot:

I wonder if the -maru thing is a throwback to pre-Meiji Japanese ship-naming conventions? Those tended to end in "-maru" as a kind of honorific...

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at October 25, 2014 03:14 PM (ZeBdf)


○ or 〇 (pronounced maru) means "circle". It has nothing to do with the use of "maru" as a suffix for nonmilitary ships.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 25, 2014 03:24 PM (+rSRq)

6 I tried to watch this after Steven's previous "excellent story telling from start to finish" and it took me about 5 seconds to close the window.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at October 25, 2014 03:33 PM (RqRa5)

7 Ah, I found it. 丸 maru is the term used for non-military ships. Obviously not the same as 〇.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at October 25, 2014 07:45 PM (+rSRq)

8 Sadly, the truly important detail for it being an all-CG affair was always this: the girls still look good.  That's pretty much what was required to make this work.  And, it did.
I also thought they wrapped an enjoyable amount of tension & drama with some conception of combat tactics.  The battles were great.
I still don't know what brought out Unicorn at the end, but the fight with Kongo really was quite awesome.  A lot of "rule of cool", but it was fun.
Would have liked more development of the Blue Steel's actual crew, but time was actually pretty tight for the story they wanted to tell.

Posted by: sqa at October 25, 2014 08:58 PM (YB89l)

9 My post is up, btw. 

And "vice versa", Siergen.

Posted by: Wonderduck at October 25, 2014 09:21 PM (jGQR+)

10 There doesn't seem to be any real consensus on why 丸 acquired the meaning of "ship-name suffix" in addition to its usual circle/round and, as a prefix, whole/entire/complete meanings.

Interestingly enough, my big dictionary doesn't have the suffix use, and the Japanese Wikipedia entry doesn't mention the prefix use.


Posted by: J Greely at October 25, 2014 11:41 PM (1CisS)

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