Kantai Collection: KanColle – 12 (Fin)

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Well, you have to hand it to KanColle, it wasted no time whatsoever declaring it was going to pour all of the compelling drama and peril and promise of the previous episode down the drain. Within the first thirty seconds, Fubuki arrives in the nick of time to save Akagi, as does the main battle force led by Yamato.

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As such, this entire episode is, at its heart, a complete re-writing of history, which makes you wonder (or possibly not wonder at all) why the heck they bothered to set up battles with real-world parallels when they were only going to turn the result of those battles upside down.

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But revisionism aside, this was never that exciting an ending at all because that early taking away of the stakes came with it the knowledge that this episode wouldn’t even be sorta adhering to reality. The show failed to rise above its somewhat unsightly core reason for being: to promote the video game it’s based upon, as well as its sundry characters.

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Thus, the result isn’t just a foregone conclusion (the Fleet Girls win it all without suffering any casualties), but the battle itself feels pointless and needlessly drawn out, infused with setbacks we know will be overcome by the time the credits roll. It’s an extended victory lap, as well as a showcase for every Fleet Girl character.

As for the Abyssals, they disappoint to the last, as one finally actually says something, but only simply phrases like “SINK!” Gee, I sure wish a show in which the good guys fight the bad guys had bothered to, you know, give us something, anything, with which to understand what the bad guys were about. But nope, they’re just evil.

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Looking back, Mitsuki’s loss of Kisaragi was the only remotely significant casualty the Fleet Girls suffered, other than the fancypants Admiral we neither saw nor heard for the extent of the show, and therefore wasn’t any more a character than the Abyssals. I kept watching this show because it had the guts to take Kisaragi out. Unfortunately, that’s all it had guts for.

Still, this episode is saved from total inanity by some nice moments between characters who actually were characterized in the past eleven episodes. Bonds like Nagato and Mutsu, Akagi and Kaga, Kaga and Zuikaku, and the core trio of Fubuki, Mitsuki, and Yuudachi, while nothing particularly special, got some pleasant closing beats.

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As for this admiral dude, I’m just not sure why I should care about him, considering we never see or hear him. I guess the Admiral is really you and me, huh? Well, excuse me if I’m not going to get all that excited about myself, nor a great host of Fleet Girls getting all hot and bothered about me. Simply put, I’m not that special.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 11

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I’ll preface this review by stating I knew the result of the real Battle of Midway, and which ships were lost in it. Suffice it to say, it was a devastating defeat for Japan, one from which they would never truly recover. So I entered this episode wondering: how would KanColle play this?

They’ve been more-or-less faithful to history thus far, a few details aside. The ships may have pretty faces and cute outfits, and the creators may have a game to sell, but I hoped that wouldn’t lead to any major revision of that battle. It made sense in the context of the story so far, after all, that things should go very badly for the Fleet Girls.

What’s interesting is that KanColle seemed well aware of my foreknowledge and anxiety, and seemed to play off of them in the tense build-up to the battle.

Take the super-dark cold open, in which the battle unfolds just as it did in real life: Akagi’s task force is decimated and she is so badly damanged she has to be scuttled. The show even takes the unprecedented step of portraying Akagi as an actual listing ship.

It’s only Akagi’s (recurring) dream, but the episode immediately grabs our attention, announcing it knows what we’re expecting. What it doesn’t answer yet at that point is, how close will it stick to history? Is Akagi’s dream only one possibility?

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As the episode settles into Naval District life as usual, but Akagi’s nightmare, along with the imminent battle, casts a pall on the bright and cheerful surroundings with girls drinking milk to prepare.

The episode is also punctuated by titles indicating how many hours remain until the battle, accompanied by percussive booms that reminded me of Akira’s iconic, chilling opening. This isn’t just Life As Usual…for many, it’s most likely the last of it.

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Not one to shrug off such disturbing dreams, Akagi considers them a warning and an omen of what is to come should things unfold as planned. She takes her intuitive concerns to Nagato and recommends slight alterations in the order of battle, which Nagato approves.

Both elite Fleet Girls get the strange feeling like they’re drifting down a river fate, perhaps one they’ve even been down before. Akagi has seen her doom in dream after dream, but she intends to break that destiny. She wants that more than ever after her escort Fubuki thanks her simply for being so awesome and inspiring her to achieve greatness.

But while Akagi’s mods to the battle plan are meant to change their course in that river of fate, the fact remains she was fated to make those mods, which will lead her exactly the fate she aimed to avoid.

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The battle begins, and things take a turn for the worse almost immediately as the main assault force led by Battleship Yamato fails to rendezvous with Akagi’s four-carrier task force, sitting in dreadful weather. Aware that they could be spotted by the Abyssals at any moment, Akagi decides to proceed to MI without the main force, leaving an initially protesting Fubuki and Kongou to stay behind and wait for them.

Akagi’s force detects an “airfield princess” on MI, and they launch sorties that do her considerable damage at the loss of only a few planes. Things are going okay, but the force fails to detect the other Abyssal forces who sneak up from behind and throw everything they’ve got at them. Just like that, the ambushers become the ambushed.

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Just like the real-life battle, carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Kiryu all take damage. Akagi’s bow breaks early on, so she can’t launch any planes to defend herself or her fellow ships. The girls’ eyes are full of bewilderment, fear, and panic as the explosions around them multiply.

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And for once, there’s no rescue in the nick of time by reinforcements. There’s no cavalry in sight, or even on the way, as far as we know. Last time we saw Fubuki and Kongou, they were still waiting to no avail.

Things look very very bad for Akagi in particular, who has a torpedo/bomb flying straight at her when the episode goes to black. Her nightmare, or rather vision, is coming true. She wasn’t able to escape the river of fate.

While this is awful on an emotional level, it’s also precisely the kind of episode I was hoping for: one that wouldn’t hold back on history just because it didn’t deliver a happy ending to the show’s good guys.

But the battle is only halfway through. The challenge that faces KanColle next week is: Will it maintain this faithfulness to its terrible but ultimately dramatically satisfying conclusion…or will it chicken out at the last second and let the Fleet Girls snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat?

I’m not saying I’ll automatically be put off by the latter possibility. But it will be a lot tougher to achieve, because the pull of that river is awfully strong, and this episode contributed mightily to that.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 10

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Now that Fubuki knows the reason she was recalled to the Naval District was to be remodeled, she starts training like Rocky, if Rocky was a female Japanese anthropomorphic WWII-era destroyer, hoping to start glowing so she can become taller and more powerful, like Yuudachi, whom she inspired.

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Mutsuki is worried that Fubuki is taking things too far, too fast. She doesn’t want Fubuki to end up in a position where she’s trying so hard she gets hurt, or even sunk. Not to mention I’m sure she harbors worry about being left behind as Fubuki and Yuudachi get remodeled, leaving her in the dust.

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When Nagato sends the reunited Torpedo Squad Three for a recon mission and they’re attacked by Abyssals, Fubuki, eager to prove herself, rushes ahead and very nearly gets herself sunk, which is exactly what Mutsuki feared. It’s one thing to come out of your shell and start believing in yourself; it’s quite another to break formation and rush at the enemy head-on without thinking.

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Fubuki is lucky, as the Abyssal’s kill shot barely misses her. But what’s telling is that Fubuki doesn’t realize how lucky she is. The incident really puts a scare into Mutsuki, who’s so happy Fubuki is okay she jumps into the bath to embrace her while still in her uniform. Even after such a close call, Fubuki isn’t throwing in the towel; but Mutsuki worries as we do that if she keeps going like this, she’s going to end up like Kisaragi. And Mutsuki doesn’t think she could bear to lose someone else.

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Fubuki tracks Mutsuki down on the moonlit cliff where heart-to-hearts were meant to take place, and explains how the Commander, whom we’ve never gotten a clear look at and whose voice we’ve never heard, told her he brought her to the Naval District to join the fleet because he saw her in a dream…

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…Here’s where things get a little weird, because that dream features Fubuki in a wedding gown, with a wedding ring, on a rooftop in modern Tokyo. She also starts to say she loves him, before saying she “trusts” him instead.

Considering Mutsuki seems to want a romantic friendship with Fubuki, like many other sister ships seem to have with one another, this sudden inclusion of a nebulous male-female romantic dream-story is a little confusing.

Anyway, Fubuki promises she’ll never leave Mutsuki, but for some reason it sounds like a death flag, if not for Fubuki, than for Mutsuki.

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After watching Fubuki train so hard, Akagi decides to ask her be her escort, but Kaga challenges her to a test of her AA skills first. Fubuki agrees, and takes a serious beating from both fleet carriers, but keeps getting back up until all the practice planes are shot down.

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After all this, Mutsuki peels her off the dock, and she starts glowing the same way Yuudachi did, and it’s off to the factory. Rather amusingly, while her armaments and outfit are slightly different, her body is exactly the same, much to her disappointment, and Mutsuki’s relief. And Akagi officially appoints Fubuki as her escort for the coming battle.

That battle will take place at “MI”, which I have to suspect stands for “Midway Island.” If the battle there goes anything like it did in real life (and considering it’s implied the Abyssals have broken the Fleet Girls’ codes), Fubuki and the rest of the fleet are in for a rough time.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 09

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This week’s KanColle was another satisfying character-driven piece in which our plucky, “Bucky” protagonist Fubuki faces her latest trial: watching a friend surpass her. It happens very suddenly, as these things tend to do: one minute, regular old Yuudachi is inexplicably glowing and complaining of a light fever; the next, she’s in the factory being refitted into a new, improved, and more mature Yuudachi.

The physical transformation is pretty significant; Yuudachi is now taller, bustier, and wearing an upgraded uniform, and sporting a more detailed hairstyle. This may just be me, but it also seems like her speech patterns are now less childish, and she uses her trademark “-poi” punctuation less frequently.

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On the one hand, Fubuki is impressed and proud of her friend. On the other, well, she’s understandably jealous, and it makes her wonder why Yuudachi was chosen for a refit before her, the flagship of Mobile Unit Five. She’s not so much looking down at Yuudachi but at herself, believing some kind of inadequacy made the admiral pass her by.

Her two heavily-eating senpais, Akagi and Yamato, both assure her that she’s done well so far and tell her not to worry about such things and to keep up the good work; if she’s chosen for a refit, she’s chosen; if she’s not, she’s not. Akagi even pats her on the head, a simple gesture that nonetheless sends Fubuki into a fit of beaming an joyous dancing (if you wanna call it that); so much love and respect she has for the lovely Fleet Carrier.

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Then she hits another speed bump (or should that be land mine?) while on a run. She bumps into Yuudachi, who’s practicing her shiny new weapons, and they’re both summoned to Nagato, who issues them new orders. Yuudachi is reassigned to the First Carrier Group—meaning she’ll get to sail with Fubuki’s beloved Akagi—while Fubuki is relieved as the MU5 flagship and ordered to return to the Naval District.

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It’s a new low for Fubuki, who assumes this is punishment for screwing up somewhere, someway. Mutsuki tries to tell her not to jump to conclusions, and praises her as Akagi had, but only manages to make Fubuki believe people are simply showering her with praise to be nice, and it’s gotten to her head. Walking on the beach with her head down, she bumps into Kongou and collapses into her arms sobbing.

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That night Fubuki has a dream in which she can’t catch up to Akagi and Yuudachi no matter how hard she tries; a dream she knows she shouldn’t be having. At dawn she visits the waterfront, where Yuudachi is practicing tirelessly under Jintsuu and Sendai’s supervision.

As Sendai explains, Fubuki inspired Yuudachi to want to try harder and aim higher, so she went out every night practicing like this, until it paid off. One could say she maxed out her stats in her previous state, necessitating the refit. This snaps Fubuki out of her funk, as she realizes she isn’t the only one working so hard; everyone is, both for themselves and for each other. She then cheers for Yuudachi, who is happily responds with a hearty “POI!”

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Feeling a lot better about things, she travels with Mutsuki and Mogami to the Naval District, which turns out to have been bombed by Abyssals who took advantage of the thinner defense. Fubuki’s character work segues nicely into this resumption of the war storyline, because it’s likely she was ordered to step down as MU5 flagship and return to the District for a higher purpose, not as punishment. The Admiral (whom we’ve never actually seen) goes missing, but no one else is hurt, and the rest of the fleet is right behind Fubuki, and they all work to repair the base.

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Nagato also finds the Admiral’s standing orders, which confirm my theory that Fubuki wasn’t being punished: she is ordered to undergo remodeling, just like Yuudachi. Mind you, she’s not glowing the way her friend was, and her cold staring reaction almost makes her resemble an Abyssal, but it’s one thing for your friend to suddenly be re-fit. It’s another entirely for it to be you. She’s going to undergo some major changes, and change is always a little scary. Still, I look forward to seeing what mods she receives.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 08

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The appeal of KanColle isn’t necessarily its parallels to Pacific War history; in fact, for many those parallels are extremely problematic. What has worked best for me is when the show using certain details of the historic ships the girls represent as a jumping-off point to tell smaller but more relatable human stories.

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This week a battle-weary Mobile Unit Five arrives at the formidable stronghold of Truk Island to join the rest of the fleet and await orders for a larger operation. In the mean time, they soak in the luxurious surroundings. It’s a very straightforward beach/hotel vacation episode, complete with requisite feasting and bikinis (and Akagi’s manhole cover-sized steak is a great sight gag).

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But there’s a twist: it’s also a “princess in the tower” episode, with the Battleship Yamato as the princess, and Fubuki as her would-be knight in shining armor (or sailor fuku…or school swimsuit). Like her real-life counterpart, Yamato is extremely beautiful, well-endowed, and powerful, but also extremely sheltered and underutilized.

Truk is the tower she’s stuck in, where she spends her days preparing elaborate feasts and maintaining plush accommodations for the other girls, which have everyone singing the accolades of “The Grand Budapest Yamato Hotel.”

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Seeing a bit of herself prior to entering the fleet in Yamato, Fubuki feels for Yamato, and realizes that it’s no compliment for a battleship to be called a hotel. When Fubuki tries to nudge Yamato into the sea to experience the true thrill of being a fleet girl, she’s shut down by Nagato, who tells her to mind her own business.

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But Fubuki being Fubuki, she can’t accept that the princess remain in her tower, and tries to bust her out again in the middle of the night. Rather hilariously, Yamato sails a grand total of ten feet before complaining of intense hunger, and then proceeds to out-eat the formidable Akagi at the table (obviously a reference to the great vessel’s tremendous appetite for oil and other resources).

Nagato knows Fubuki’s heart was in the right place, but the Yamato can’t be brought out willy-nilly, and Fubuki did disobey orders, so she’s punished…by having to dig for clams on the beach all day, a task Yamato gladly assists her with, as thanks for caring about her and apology for causing trouble.

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If digging for clams sounds like a light punishment for insubordination, that’s because beneath her stern scowl, Secretary Ship Nagato is, deep down, a big ol’ softie. We caught a glimpse of that when she chose a more mild curry for the canteen menu, and again when a cute chipmunk comes afoul of her in the bath.

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Because of this, and because she still can’t accept Yamato withering away in obscurity on Truk, to be known only for her cuisine and hospitality, Fubuki tests Nagato’s patience once more, by towing Yamato out to see. When I say she tows her, I mean her, along with Mutsuki and Yuudachi, because Yamato proves far too heavy for one little destroyer.

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The stunt proves fortuitous, as when four stray Abyssal fighters get through the island’s outer AA defenses, Yamato is the only one with the proper tools to take them out, which she does, in a single, authoritative shot from her massive guns.

Nagato is content to let the positive ends justify the means (Fubuki did defy her, splitting technical hairs aside), while Fubuki got to finally see Yamato do what she was born to do. The experience also builds Yamato’s confidence, so she won’t be letting any more idle “hotel” comments pass her ears unchallenged.

Fubuki also demonstrated her strong sense of justice, as well as her ability to bring out the best in those around her. We saw a product of those traits earlier when Kaga warmly congratulates Zuikaku upon their reunion, and we see when she takes it upon herself to procure for Yamato her just dues. Fubuki is the man. Well, girl. Fleet Girl.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 07

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KanColle got back to what it does best; the big brash naval battles and the smaller exploration of Fubuki’s struggles as a fleet girl. One of those stuggles is attempting to balance the stoic Kaga and fiery Zuikaku continue to clash, culminating in the former having to save the latter from a surprsie torpedo.

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Kaga is okay, but is out of action for the upcoming operation, like Akagi; Zuikaku’s sister Shokaku takes her place, but the incident causes Fubuki’s confidence in her ability as a flagship wavers. But hey, that’s what friends are for: Mutsuki and Yuudachi manage to cheer her up. After all, if she was really that bad, her motley group would have fractured entirely. She simply has to have faith in her fleetmates’ literal vote of confidence.

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Fubuki sets out with Mobile Unit Five and takes charge, ordering waves of recon planes long before they reach their primary target. That’s because the Admiral and Nagato warned her that the Abyssals probably have their codes. That puts Fubuki in a new situation: leading and attack while preparing for the worst case scenario.

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When an Abyssal battle group is spotted, the carrier sisters manage to damage an enemy carrier right out of the gate, and Fubuki has them stay back while the rest of the group moves in for the assault. Zuikaku, for all her protestations to the contrary, betrays her growing affection for Kaga when she tells her sister how she wishes Kaga could be there to see them kick ass.

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Here, away from port and any silly curry contests, KanColle is able to excel, but only to a point. The silly novelty of the equipped girls and the overall animation and energy level remains high, but there’s only so much enthusiasm I can muster in a battle against the painfully lame Abyssals. Yeah, they’re kinda cool-looking, and certainly a contrast to the Fleet Girls, but they have ZERO personality. They don’t even say anything; they just float there, scowling. There’s just nothing there.

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They don’t even put up much of a fight. Zuikaku, playing off of Kaga’s educated dice-rolling strategy in saving her earlier, decides to take a chance of her own when Shokaku is damaged in an ambush. Zuikaku tows her sis into a squall where neither force can launch planes, evening the odds.

She launches planes when the squall ends, but doesn’t quite get the timing right. At this point, I thought the sisters were toast, a la Akatsuki, but Fubuki and the others return in the nick of time to protect them.

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I’m glad the sisters ended up okay, but wouldn’t have minded if the show had turned down a darker path. After all, there’s plenty of characters where that came from, and losing two key parts of her fleet would be a fresh tragedy for Fubuki to have to deal with.

As for Kaga, her decision to take a hit for Zuikaku meant she got to hang out with Akagi in the docks, where she could sit in the hot bath, confident that her comrades would get the job done and make her proud, even in her absence.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 06

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This week KanColle ditches most of its action, all of its drama, and focuses on an entirely new group of young destroyers, the Akatsuki-class of Group Six. The only battle they fight is against their fellow fleet girls, and it’s not a naval battle…but a curry battle.

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After proving it could do good character work, along with the aforementioned action and drama, this episode came off as a bit of a disappointment, if an inoffensive one. Really, it reminded me of Girl Friend BETA, a show in which the number of characters kept multiplying and changing. But it’s also a show that even Zane dropped, because while its stories were never all that bad, they weren’t really hefty or novel enough to.

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It’s also worth noting that both GFB and KanColle are based upon games, and part of the role of their anime versions is to promote the characters. One commenter pointed out that the popularity of the characters in Fubuki’s new fleet jumped after last week’s episode, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens with these new girls.

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But while both last week and this can be un-cynically be regarded as glorified commercials, last week was more tolerable because it focused on the protagonist Fubuki and had an actual battle. The Iron (or rather Steel) Chef-style battle is mostly just messing round, and the underdogs predictably win when most of their competitors self-destruct.

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The fact that they did win over the only other contestant left standing because Secretary Ship Nagato is sick of eating spicy curry, and Group Six’s was mild, was actually kind of cute, because it shows us another side of her, but the cold open teased her going into something more substantial than a curry judging, and didn’t deliver quite the way I’d hoped.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 05

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I’d thought that Fubuki, Mutsuki and Yuudachi would remain roomies for some time, but the Admiral decides to shuffle the fleets in preparation for a wider southeast offensive. Fubuki would prefer if the new fleet she’s in has Mutsuki, but she’d prefer it even more if Akagi was in it. Everyone needs a big sis!

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There was a nice bittersweet vibe to their last night in their present bunks, with Fubuki and Mutsuki sneaking out for a walk and finding the rest of Torpedo Squad Three, who all promise to do their best no matter where they end up. Change is scary, but it can also lead to growth.

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And growth seems to be what everyone in Fubuki’s new fleet is in need of. Whether it’s the need to stop messing around and being so airheaded like Kongou, or the need for torpedo cruisers Kitakami and Ooi to think about someone besides Kitakami, or for Fleet Carrier Kaga and the slightly lesser carrier Zuikaku to get over themselves, Mobile Unit Five is the very definition of dysfunctional.

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One could also call it a damned mess. But Fubuki’s presence in it seems to be a calculation on the part of the Admiral, because Fubuki is in need of a different kind of growth: the kind in which she is able to put aside her insecurities and perceived inferiority with everyone, stand tall, grab this misfit fleet by the scruff of its neck and make it work, because nobody else is going to do it!

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The other five ships are bigger and stronger than her, but each time one of them tries to be the flagship, their training exercises end in unmitigated failure. But Fubuki has a torpedo girl’s soul, and while she does despair for a brief time, that soul (and Akagi’s encouragement) won’t allow her to give up and ask the Admiral to reconsider, which is what Zuikaku wants to do.

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She tells Zuikaku as much, and Zuikaku, who sees that fire in Fubuki’s eyes, doesn’t have the time to respond, because they’re sent out into battle right then and there. This time, Fubuki tells everyone to cool their jets and follow her commands. She is the decoy who charges forward while everyone else attacks the enemy, and after five straight failures in training, Mobile Unit Five’s first real battle is a convincing victory. And there’s nothing like a shared victory to break the ice between them.

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In the end, the others choose Fubuki as their flagship, which is the right (and if we’re honest, quite obvious) choice, and Fubuki accepts, trusting in her new comrades’ judgement. Turns out she was the one to bring them together; someone who could neutralize their clashing personalities; someone they could all agree on and rally around. Fubuki immediately asserts her authority by insisting Zuikoku and Kaga get along, because at the end of the day, all three of them think towel rabbits are cute. As was this episode.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 04

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We don’t see the actual moment Mutsuki learns of Kisaragi’s apparent fate, but we do see the immediate aftermath. Destroyer focus and morale plummets, and Mutsuki herself is in silent denial, putting her life on hold to spend every free moment at the wharf, waiting for her sister ship to return.

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But the war must go on. It would probably be best if Mutsuki had a battle to fight to take her mind off Kisaragi, but it’s Fubuki who gets picked to join super-destroyer Shimakaze and the four Kongou-class fast battleships in an attack in the “south-west sea zone.” Dutch East Indies, perhaps?

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Fubuki’s first impression of Kongou was of a cool, steely fleet maiden…an impression shattered by the reality that Kongou is a bit of a goofball, whose hyper antics are not only tolerated but admired by her sisters. All four sisters are voiced by the similarly hyper Touyama Nao., mixing four different delivery systems quite well. If she’s having these conversations with herself in real time in the recording studio, well, all I can say is kudos.

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The bubbly Kongous are a stark contrast to the mood in Fubuki’s dorm, with Mutsuki first out and last in, and Fubuki and Yuudachi unable to broach the subject of Kisaragi, and Mutsuki unwilling to let them.

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The road to the next battle also hits a bit of a detour that’s played for laughs, with the Kongou sisters coming up with increasingly ridiculous attempts to draw out the eccentric Shimakaze (In the end, tea and scones do the trick). Personally, I wasn’t really in the mood for such levity and was hoping for a prompter, more solemn shoving-off.

Still, it makes sense that the Kongou sisters are more laid back when it comes to imminent battles. They’ve been in lots, they have big guns, and most importantly, they have each other.

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The fleet’s disposition is, well, fleet, as in fast. With big storms in the battle area, the fleet carriers won’t be as much use as the fast battleships and faster destroyers that can swoop in, hit hard, and swoop out, regardless of weather.

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The show is keen to let us know that Shimakaze isn’t just fast (her namesake made 47 knots) but wears a g-string under her wisp of a skirt, in a bit of fairly shameless, if quick, Vividred-style fanservice.

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When the battle with the two Abyssal battleships commences, Fubuki ends up further out than she should be and is pinned down and her turret damaged. In a moment of fear (and worry about Mutsuki back home), she freezes up, but once again Kongou saves her, deflecting the enemy shell with her bare fist in a badass display, and showing Fubuki that cool, steely fleet maiden she first encountered.

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Kongou may not be the most serious or composed person off-duty, but she gets the job done out in the field, as do her sisters.

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Thanks to her, Fubuki is able to escape another brush with destruction and make it back home. She greets Mutsuki on the wharf at sundown and gathers her in a hug, and doesn’t let her go until Mutsuki lets it all out, which in turn causes her to let it all out. It’s an touching, cathartic moment the episode had been steadily building up to, and I felt it was earned. KanColle’s first two episodes lacked emotional resonance, but the last two have more than made up for it.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 03

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In her first mission briefing, Fubaki and her fellow ships learn that after their recent and successful attack on the Abyssals’ base, a massive enemy counterattack is expected. Before that happens, the Admiral is sending Torpedo Squadrons Three and Four to capture “W” Island in a surprise attack.

On a personal level, Fubaki is very uneasy and worried she’ll slow everyone down, and feels undeserving of her senpais’ tokens and words of support.

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One night before the battle, it is Mutsuki who puts Fubuki at ease, saying she believes in her, just as Mutsuki’s sister ship Kisaragi believed in her. In a touching flashback, we see Mutsuki take damage in a battle, but Kisaragi stays with her until help arrives and throughout her repairs, forming a bond that goes beyond respect and appreciation and into love.

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At dawn, Fubuki goes out to train a little more before the big night battle. She runs into Akagi in the harbor, who hits a bull’s-eye with her eyes closed and imparts the words “Shoot true, never miss.” It turns out Mutsuki was the one who brought Akagi to Fubuki.

Both Mutsuki and Fubuki express frustration and being unable to ever repay their friends and senpais who have helped them. Akagi assures them no one expects nor needs to be repaid; a simple “thank you” will suffice, and for the recipients of their goodwill to “shoot true” and “never miss.”

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Akagi’s words weren’t just meant to guide Fubuki’s conduct in battle, but in life as well.

“Don’t hesitate to tell the people you care about the feelings you have for them. Because they may not be there tomorrow.”

They’re simple words, but easily overlooked, and beautifully stated. Akagi says this as the morning sun rises out of the horizon, just as the power of her words dawn on Fubuki and Mutsuki, who promptly thank and express their love to one another on the spot. Fubuki also voices her respect for Akagi and her hope they’ll fight in the same fleet one day.

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As for Mutsuki, well, the death flags fly free for the majority of this episode, especially when she tells her sister ship Kisaragi “she needs to tell her something” when they get back from the battle. The bittersweet tone of the music, the words by Akagi, Mutsuki’s flags: they all point to something sinister; the coming battle won’t be a cakewalk.

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Once at the island, the Sendai-class light cruisers launch their Type-0 recon seaplanes, but the element of surprise is almost immediately lost, and Squad Three retreats from an enemy torpedo squad right into the jaws of two enemy carriers launching swarms of fighters.

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Well and truly in the shit, Squad Three takes a defensive formation and fights for survival as they attempt to meet up with squad four. For a hot second, it looked like Mutsuki’s death flags were going to strike true, when Fubuki swoops in at the last second, aims true, and doesn’t miss.

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Everyone stays alive long enough for the the big guns of the Second Fleet (including the fast battleships Kongou and Hiei) to shoo the enemy squadrons away. “W” Island wasn’t taken, but the Fleet Girls suffered no major losses…

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…Until a solitary, straggling Abyssal fighter catches a relieved Kisaragi unawares, firing a bomb right into her stern before blowing up himself. Kisaragi explodes and sinks into the deep dark sea.

KanColle got me for two reasons: One, I was distracted by all of Mutsuki’s death flags to notice it was really Kisaragi in the crosshairs.

Two, I’m not well-versed in naval history enough to know that in real life, the Mutsuki-class Kisaragi was the second warship sunk during the war, in the Battle of Wake Island (hence the “W”. The island on Nagato’s map even resembles the Pacific atoll). FYI, Kisaragi was sunk by USMC aviator Capt. Henry T. Elrod on Dec. 11, 1941, by detonating the depth charge stores in her stern with small-caliber bombs.

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Also, even though Mutsuki (“January”) was the first ship of her class, Kisaragi (“February”) was actually launched and commissioned before her, making her Mutsuki’s “big-sis”. I had no idea the story would hew this close to history. It’s strange, but so far, it’s pretty historically accurate in terms of what went down during the first attempt to take Wake.

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Having nothing to do with history is the fact that, in KanColle, Mutsuki is not just a ship, but a girl who just lost someone more dear to her than anyone else, whom she was planning to confess her love to. But while we’re aware of the tragedy that has befallen them, Mutuski and Fubuki remain unaware of the sinking through the end of the episode. They race out to the cape at sunset, waiting for Torpedo Squadron Four, and Mutsuki’s love, to return. Excuse me…but…sniff…does anyone have a goddamn tissue?

This episode basically fixed all of the drawbacks of the first two episodes: the reliance on fancy visuals, cute character designs, and novelty of the fleet girls (though all were still present), and the lack of a tough enemy or heavy stakes. The affection and camaraderie of the girls was stronger than ever here, and while she was only a minor character and it was a bit telegraphed, Kisaragi’s loss was still palpable and her demise shocking in its practical portrayal. KanColle has my full attention.

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Stray Observations:

  • It’s hard to tell without checking MAL, but a mere handful of seiyus are voicing several characters each. For example, all three Sendai-class cruisers and Nagato are voiced by Sakura Ayane, while Suzuki Aya voices all three Akatsuki-class destroyers. That’s some nice range right there!
  • While Mutsuki, Kisaragi, and other ships with fleet girl characters were involved in the Battle of Wake Island, Fubuki was not (it was in Hainan then French Indochina), which suggests events will not unfold precisely as they did in the real-life Pacific War.

Kantai Collection: KanColle – 02

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Character names link out to wiki pages for their real-world historic counterparts.

This was a pleasant fall-down/get-up training episode that explored more of how the strange world of pretty anthropomorphic ships works, and inched Fubuki a little further towards respectability.  No battles with Abyssals this week, but Secretary Ship Nagato has plans for one soon, of which Fubuki will be an important part. The only problem is, while she impresses her peers in classroom theory, she’s an absolute disaster in the water.

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After witnessing a bit of Fubuki’s flailing, Nagato warns Fubuki’s light cruiser senpais Sendai, Jintsuu and Naka that if the lil’ destroyer can’t cut it, she’ll recommend the admiral strike her from the fleet. It may sound harsh, but there’s no point in sending a destroyer out there that’s just going to get herself destroyed, is there?

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Fubuki tracks down Fleet Carrier Akagi, who is having a 15-hour repair bath when the admiral sends along an “instant repair wash”. Afterwards they have lunch, and Akagi repairs Fubuki’s confidence just by being awesome, but when Fubuki settles in for the night, she becomes the recipient of some more direct assistance, courtesy of her cruiser senpais.

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Sendai gives her balance training, Jintsuu target practice, and Naka…er…idol practice? Charisma? The thing is, the three sister ships train her in consecutive sessions, and end up exhausting her. Fubuki’s friend Mutsuki suspects bullying or hazing is afoot and steps up to defend her (worried they’ll “sink” her if they continue. Turns out the sister ships failed to coordinate their individual plans to help Fubuki improve; no sinister senpais here.

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Yet even as Mutsuki stands up for Fubuki, Fubuki herself is back out of bed and outside, training hard; a gesture that convinces the cruisers that Fubuki has “the soul of a torpedo girl”; she just needs their help to blossom as a warship. An exhaustive and exhausting training regimen ensues, documented via montage.

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It’s often the case that such montages start with failure and end with the protagonist suddenly great at everything she trained for. Refreshingly, that’s not the case here. When she must perform in a training exercise, Fubuki is certainly better than she was, but she’s still far form full combat readiness, which is what the cruisers report to Nagato.

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However, they also report that Fubuki isn’t going to give up, and if she falls, she gets back up and tries again. She’s got “the right stuff” as it were. It’s probably the reason the still-unseen admiral invited her into the fleet to begin with.

He knew she’d charm and inspire the other fleet girls into take her under their wing and show her the ropes. Satisfied with her progress, Nagato assigns the three cruisers, plus Fubuki, Mutsuki and Yuudachi, to an upcoming battle that will be theirs to win or lose.

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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 01 (First Impressions)

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So far the Winter has given us magical guys, bears in human form, and now, some bizarre hybrid of high school girls, traditional warriors, and naval vessels. It’s as if someone pulled three random things from a hat and just went with it. There’s an underlying sincerity and pluckiness to the whole operation that kept me watching.

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But there isn’t much else underlying this show’s very slick and snappy skin. It falls victim to a common plague among intro episodes: trying to do and show too much. If you blink you’ll miss the introductions of half a dozen technicolor characters. The only ones who made any impression at all were the underdog protagonist Fubuki and the perfect senpai Akagi, but both are pretty dull achetypes.

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Still, the premiere gets by compensating for its narrative depth (good vs. evil; new girl wants to get stronger…that’s about it) with some really nifty action, though I won’t deny I chortled a little bit at the first sight of girls wearing bits of the ships they represent like clothing accessories. They could easily come off as goofy halloween costumes, but the sequence of Fubuki getting equipped was a nice bit of WTF spectacle.

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I may still prefer the heft of the full-size ships the avatar characters in Arpeggio of Blue Steel ‘rode’ into battle…even if they looked like reanimated corpses. In KanColle, characters are usually animated normally, while their CGI versions are very close in appearance; only a little stiff.

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Fubuki is thrown right into the deep end, as her comrades assume she’s been in more battles than they have, since she came highly recommended by the fleet commander. But she’s woefully unready for real battle, and must be rescued by the ‘First Carrier Fleet’ led by Akagi and Kaga. Like the Fubuki-equipping scene prior, the show exhibits some cleverness by having Akagi’s arrows turn into warplanes – the arrows being a symbol of the catapults carriers use to launch planes at sea.

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As for the baddies, called ‘Abyssals’, they kinda just stand around and let themselves get whooped. They don’t even say anything. Considering all the dark clouds and badass get-ups, I was expecting more. That being said, the more beast-like Abyssals are a effectively stark aesthetic contrast to Fubuki’s bright, shiny, civilized world. I just don’t really care about them in any way.

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This intro, dizzying as it often was, at least kept most of the focus on Fukubi, and in a way, everything it threw at us was a parallel to her own newbie experience. After Bahamut, I’m no longer one to laugh off adaptations online card games. KanColle never embarrassed itself, looked great, and had some clever details, it suffered from a glut of bland characters and a dearth of emotional depth.

Then again, it’s better than Gundam G. Faint praise, but better than scorn.

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One-Minute Research: KanColle is directed by Kusakawa Keizo (Akuma no Riddle) with series composition by Hanada Jukki (Chu2Koi, Kyoutai no Kanata, Steins;Gate). Fukubi is voiced by Uesaka Sumire (Dekomori Sanae, Chu2Koi).