Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 03

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I-401 enters the fortress port of Yokosuka, but after docking, the crew taken into custody by the army, who escorts them to dinner with former admiral and current diet member Kita Ryoukan. He doesn’t believe Iona can be trusted, and demands that Captain Chihaya surrender her to the military. Cihaya refuses, and the dinner is interrupted by an attack by the Fog battleships Kirishima and Haruna. Iona neutralizes the soldiers surrounding them, and the crew boards her and prepares for battle. Meanwhile, Submarines I-400 and I-402 have found Takao, who has decided to leave the fleet, seeking Chihaya as her captain.

So the ragtage young crew of the I-401 leave the perilous high seas for the safety of a port, only to find themselves entering the jaws of an old lion in Admiral Kita – complete with epic beard. But aside from sticking a bunch of automatic rifles in unarmed a bunch of unarmed kids’ faces, he doesn’t accomplish much. In fact, the whole episode lagged a bit, owing to the fact it was the first without a naval battle in it. With nothing loud and shiny to distract us, we couldn’t help but wonder how a raw material-starved country with no access to the sea and a decimated fleet were able to build a gigantic fortress wall around one of their major ports, complete with underground dock. Why would the Fog leave them alone long enough to complete it in peace? Also, the characters look cool, but their appeal is only surface-deep.

The crew members are little more than their jobs; Iona is playing the dense robot role – not understanding cemeteries and what not – while Chihaya is full of determination and gumption, but is a bit wishy-washy in his goals. Everyone is lacking in personality, with the possible exception of Takao, the one character in this series who’s actually changed, though she went from uninspiring villain to vapid love interest. Blue Steel is a series blessed with impeccable good looks, but to hold our interest, it needs to keep the action and combat going at a steady clip. Taking its foot of the gas exposed the flaws lurking just beneath its sheen, we’d overlooked up to this point. The good news is, with two Fog battleships entering the mix, next week should be better.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 02

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In order to reach the port of Yokosuka, the I-401 must get past the Fog heavy cruiser Takao. Gunzou orders a direct attack in concert with their decoys in order to test Takao’s detection abilities. Takao fires her supergravity cannon at 401, which Gunzou predicts and dodges. Hiding along the seabed, the crew determine Takao’s sonar profile must be shrouding a stealth sub. Gunzou surprises Takao by using the supergravity cannon they took from Hyuuga – a previously defeated Fog ship. The sub hiding below her is sunk, but Takao herself is spared, retreating with weapons locked.

Ships in this series bear the same names as WWII warships, but aside from resemblance and the fact they ply the seas, the similarities pretty much end there, with transforming elements and futuristic weaponry. This week we’re treated to a full-on sub-versus-cruiser battle in which the creativity and pluck of the human crew aboard the outgunned patrol sub outwit the haughty, overconfident Takao, whose intense precision and attempt to be sneaky by hiding a sub below her ended up working against her. We also see that whether preparing for battle or in crunch time, Gunzou proves a singular tactician, and his crew is a well-oiled machine. They’re all exceedingly good at their jobs and trust their Captain – and Iona – implicitly.

The battle itself is gripping to behold from start to riveting finish, with crisp, polished animation and impressive weapons effects. The overall aesthetic remains straight-laced and video-gamey, but we prefer of seasons that are diverse in animation styles, and this one certainly stands out. We also found Takao’s progression from imperious, single-minded predator out for I-401’s pelt to chastened, demoralized ship on the run, to actually growing envious of and even smitten with 401’s “human unit” Gunzou, X-factor who not only beat her, but let her live. That sudden change in thinking might just represent a greater weapon the struggle with Fog than any firepower Iona can muster.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

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.