Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 10

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The I-401 is sinking and Iona cannot repair herself. Gunzou orders her to cut life support and complete the mission without him, but she cannot obey. Meanwhile, Takao and the others are unable to find the I-401. Takao decides to take Hyuuga’s pod underwater to search. She finds that Iona has sacrificed her mental model to create a life-support pod for Gunzou and her core. Takao then sacrifices herself, merging with I-401 to restore her. Meanwhile, I-400 and I-402, convinced Kongou has lost her objectivity and is violation of the Admiralty code, relieve her of her command and detain her when she tries to go after I-401.

We knew this outing would explore the “we’re so screwed” scenario, but we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of emotional depth we got along with the physical depths into which I-401 sank. The emotions involved were nothing fancy, but that’s what made them work: Gunzou has changed Iona so much, she’s willing to disobey his orders to save him. She’s basically in love with the guy, and doesn’t want to live in a world he isn’t alive in. The use of silence throughout the episode, particularly during Iona and Gunzou’s descent, was outstanding—not bad for a show that’s been at its best when it’s loud and explode-y. Devoid of explosions or fanservice, the episode was able to breathe (even as Gunzou increasingly couldn’t) and provided serviceable interpersonal drama.

But this wasn’t just about Iona and her captain. The show also demonstrated a degree of efficiency and pragmatism by not only eliminating Takao, the tragically extraneous love interest (let’s face it, she wasn’t getting Gunzou as long as Iona was around, and wasn’t heartless enough to yank him from her), but also serving up Kongou’s just desserts, courtesy of Iona’s twin sisters. Whether Kongou likes it or not, she’s become one of the very “defectives” she sought to purge, while her companion Maya was merely an emotionless spy puppet (not surprising at all, considering how vapid she was). Now that Kongo has met her downfall and is in the same boat as the other misfits, we may just start rooting for her…unless she ends up merely seeking revenge.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 04

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Fog fast battleships Kirishima and Haruna launch an assault on Yokosuka, breaching her defensive wall, entering the harbor within and laying waste to the human navy. Chihaya employs a number of unconventional tactics to keep the battleships off-balance, but lacking the firepower to pierce their Klein fields, I-401 has to goad them into docking together and charging their supergravity cannon. They fire a torpedo from a remote launcher hidden in the sunken museum ship Mikasa, which passes through the temporary hole in their foe’s field, sinking both ships. Haruna’s mental model barely escapes with Kirishima’s core, and is found unconscious by a human girl.

This week Blue Steel returns to its strengths, serving up its most exciting battle yet, and the I-401’s most improbable victory. Iona is outnumbered 2-1 and outgunned by a large degree, but once again, her human crew nullifies the shortcomings of her specs. The fog battleships seem to have more power than they know what to do with. The aggressive, arrogant Kirishima simply lashes out, getting more and more annoyed when things don’t go her way, and while the calm, analytical Haruna sees some value in human communication, she allows herself to be caught up in her partner’s intensity, and pays dearly for it, understanding in her moment of defeat the true feeling the word “regret” represents.

It’s a real pleasure to watch the underdog I-401 crew poke and prod their superior foes as they navigate the sunken ruins of old Yokosuka, finally playing their trump card at the most opportune moment. It’s a very close shave, but as Captain Haddock says, “All’s well that ends well.” While she’s still afloat, Kirishima’s demonstration of her arsenal makes for an imposing spectacle, even more so when she and Haruna literally part the friggin’ sea, then merge into a single unit (which leads to their downfall, as they also become a single target.) As Chihaya defeats fog ships with Iona, he’s also converting them; being defeated by humans means seeing value in them; value Kongo ignores at her peril.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 01

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The nations of the world have been splintered, isolated, and pushed to the brink by the technologically advanced naval “Fleet of Fog”, who go on to rule the seas. Promising military student Chihaya Gunzou is shown a top secret fog submarine I-401 that activates when he touches it. The next day, an ethereal girl Iona confronts Gunzou, telling him she is the embodiment of the I-401, and her only order is to obey him. For the next two years Iona, Gunzou, and a crew of his classmates battle the Fleet of Fog as an independent ship. The Japanese military hires them to transport a new, potentially game-changing weapon to America for mass production.

It’s always been a custom to refer to the vast majority of boats, ships, and naval vessels as female in gender. We don’t know why for sure, but it feels right for some reason, as there’s something maternal about how they bear their crews and cargo and protect them from the harsh seas. This series takes that tradition to its quasi-logical conclusion: giving vessels actual human avatars. Rather than a mother, Iona comes off as more like a highly dutiful little sister to Chihaya Gunzou. In the flashback when they meet, once he realizes the power at his disposal, he wastes no time agreeing to be her captain. The setup is very efficient, quickly establishing their rapport and then showing the product of two years of collaboration.

We can see the cel-shaded CGI being off-putting to many, like Aku no Hana’s rotoscoping. It almost suits the not-really-human Iona, but the problem is everyone moves in pretty much the same mechanical way, and their gazes are a bit dead-eyed. Their movement aside, the character and costume designs are top-notch; the colorful crew reminded us of Eureka Seven, both in their look and the way they roam the seas (mostly) free of government masters. Gunzou is dedicated to shattering the status quo by taking the fight to Fleet of Fog – a gang of haughty ladies in elaborate garb going after Iona the deserter. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but it looks like a solid, professional series.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Gunzou’s dad is believed to have defected to the Fog, which made things rough for Gunzou growing up but also seems to be responsible for Iona defecting from the Fog and going to Gunzou. 
  • It’s not even mentioned, but we like how despite the shadow his father cast over him, there were still some who decided to befriend Gunzou. They became his crew.
  • This show takes itself very seriously most of the time, but we liked the lighter moments in which a freshly-awakened Iona answers everyone’s queries quite literally. We also liked how she admitted to being nervous in her first battle; she’s clearly more than just a machine.
  • We liked the lived-in, personalised nature of the various crew members’ kiosks on the bridge.
  • It goes without saying, but the naval battles and ship models were really well done and expensive-looking.