Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 11

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I-401, newly transformed by the merge with Takao (who is still alive within the ship’s systems), easily dispatches a fleet of Nagara-class cruisers and sets course for Hawaii, with I-400 and I-402 in pursuit. With a confrontation inevitable, Iona tries to talk to them, but they limit their exposure to her and open fire. Hyuuga and Haruna/Kirishima create decoys of the I-401, and the sisters are kept off balance.

When I-400 is unable to dodge an incoming torpedo, I-402 sacrifices herself for her sister, not wanting her to get hurt. I-400 is trapped in a wire net and also sunk, causing Iona distress. The I-401 resumes course only to be intercepted by a huge fleet of American Fog ships on one side, and a rapidly-closing Kongou, who has escaped custody and merged with Maya, on the other.

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Straying from the Code of Admiralty has its costs. In doing so by being sunk and siding with Gunzou, Hyuuga, Haruna, Kirishima, and now Takao have lost their ships; and now Takao’s even lost her physical model. While it’s somewhat disappointing the show didn’t have the stones give her a “complete” death, the fact that so many former ships are now limited to their mental models makes up for it. No matter how many chefs are in the kitchen, there’s still only one real kitchen: I-401. If she’s sunk, everyone sinks with her.

But the other cost in leaving the Fog is in the emotional toll, most pronounced this week for Iona, who has to kill her sister ships, whom she considers actual sisters, even if they don’t believe the same. They were the last of the Japanese fog ships that held true to the Code, but after their brief contact even I-402 can’t bear to see her sister destroyed. Iona pleaded for them not to fight her, and now she must live with the grief. Of course, with American battleships on one side and a seriously-pissed Kongou on the other, she may not have to live with it long.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • The New I-401 looks awesome.
  • Haruna and Kirishima messing with the now body-less Takao (“Step into the light!”) was a nice moment of levity.
  • Nice underwater tactics this week, what with the decoys and wire trap. Those by-the-book sisters didn’t know who they were messing with.
  • Introducing an entirely new faction of Fog with just one episode left gives us the feeling that this might go another season. Not sure how we feel about that; we were kinda hoping things would resolve in 13.
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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)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 09

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Hyuuga defends Iwoto against Kongou’s attacks, buying time for I-401 to make a an escape while Takao engages Maya. Kongou senses Hyuuga and Takao are merely diversions, and once she detects I-401 she heads after her at full speed, enduring the punishment of the minefield set by Hyuuga. She admits to Iona that she too feels emotions, and says she hates her. She fires her supergravity cannon a second time, Hyuuga hacks her systems, and she misses I-401, who escapes at full burst. Takao reveals to Kongou that Gunzou entrusted her with the vibration torpedo and his crew, while Iona was only another decoy. All is for naught when I-400 and I-402 ambush I-401, sinking her.

With the previous week serving as a “calm before the storm” prologue, this week’s battle with Kongou was being built up as the biggest challenge to the I-401 yet. The fleet of Blue Steel is officially forged but suffers a difficult infancy, as Kongou holds no quarter. We’re reminded that Haruna and Kirishima don’t have physical ships at the moment, so they can’t participate in the battle. However, Hyuuga and Takao prove enough to keep Kongou and Maya at bay, and more importantly, grind Kongou’s gears. If they can feel emotions, so can Kongou, which means she can lose her temper and let it affect her judgement. Tired of all the delays and frivolous gum-flapping, Kongou goes straight for Iona with extreme prejudice, and ends up paying for it. It was a hell of a battle, replete with layers of tactics, obfuscation, momentum shifts, and the aforementioned psychological warfare.

Mind you, Iona doesn’t mean to mess with Kongou; she just can’t comprehend what her deal is. In their philosophical debate, one could see Iona as being just as guilty as Kongou of trying to impose her values on others. The major differences, of course, are that  Kongou wants to kill all humans, and is acting out of hatred for Iona and the chaos she’s caused; Iona is acting out of unswerving devotion to—and perhaps love for—Gunzou. The battle may end with the I-401 safely away and Kongou beaten and humiliated, but after yet another new ED we’re treated to a harrowing post-credits sequence that sends I-401 out of the frying pan and straight into the freezer. To have victory so abruptly torn away and to see such ugly chunks taken out of I-401 by her sister subs made for a gut-punch of a cliffhanger, but whatever happens, Takao now holds humanity’s trump card.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

 

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 08

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When Kongou’s fleet surrounds Iwoto, Chihaya invites her and Maya ashore to talk. He serves them tea and throws a beach barbecue party, giving Kongou an opportunity to observe the other Fog mental models interact and even have “fun.” However, Gunzou’s “trap” to “contaminate” Kongou and Maya are for naught, as they are merely decoys; their cores remain aboard their ships offshore. They return and begin bombarding the island. When Hyuuga’s shields weaken, Takao, Haruna and Kirishima combine their strength to reinforce them.

Chihaya’s mission is to get that weapon to America in hopes it will ultimately create a situation whereby the Fog will be forced to negotiate and the human race will be saved, not take on Kongou’s fleet when he only has half the numbers. With that in mind, he does everything humanly possible to try to neutralize her without fighting. He may have failed this week, but not before a lot of valuable facetime (or at least decoy-facetime) with the stern, humorless, ruthless flagship. Despite her confidence her time with Chihaya and the misfit Fog had no effect, the fact is, Kongou saw and heard what she saw and heard. It seems to us that’s enough to plant a tiny seed of rebellion in her core.

When she felt the heat of the tea, watched Hyuuga and Takao fight over grilled meat, or Makie and Maya having fun taking away Haruna’s coat (she’s apparently quite attached to that coat), or took a nibble of that kabob, she was experiencing things for the first time, which should stay with her. Hell, the inviolable “Admiralty Code” she speaks of says nothing about meeting with humans, talking with them, or going through all of the seemingly pointless motions she went through this week. We’re not ready to give up on Miss Kongou; she’s merely a tougher nut to crack, that’s all. Of course, at the moment Chihaya and the Blue Fleet just needs to slip past her; not convert her.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Stray Observations:

  • As we suspected, all the Fog ships thus far have had female mental models because of the human penchant for referring to ships as female. That being said, watch Kongou’s superior be a dude…
  • So one of Iona’s special powers is that she can see into the future. Kongou also seems to think she’s responsible for that dream-like mental contruct the Fog use to communicate.
  • Maya doesn’t seem particularly swayed by Chihya’s tactics either, but only because there doesn’t seem to be anything in her head whatsoever.
  • It’s a shame Kirishima is still a teddy; we relly dug her regular character design. Still, getting heavy from the water was pretty funny.
  • It seems like Iona was “born” (or whatever) without the need to follow the Admiralty Code, but only her own code, which was to be Chihaya’s ship.
  • The cut from Iona to Takao suggests Iona fights for Chihaya because she “loves” him, but still can’t quite comprehend what that is. Maybe if she hung out with less cardboard humans?

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 07

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With Makie, Haruna, and Kirishima aboard, I-401 docks at her secret home base on Iwoto. The fast battleship Hyuuga, a former fog flagship, is there to welcome them, and she has the wayward Takao in custody. In a virtual meeting with Kongou, Haruna refuses to return to the fleet, vowing to stay by Makie’s side, while Kirishima wishes to continue observing Haruna. Chihaya gives Takao the choice to return to the Fog or stay with what Hyuuga calls the “Blue Fleet.” As repairs on Iona near completion, Kongou orders Maya to rendezvous at Iwoto. Gunzou intends to abandon the base and get the vibration warhead to America.

“Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Those are the words that precede the end credits, the visuals of which this week went from being the Fog ships’ mental models to their true ship forms, which we thought was an interestingly-timed switch. Those same three questions are recited by Hyuuga, discussing with Takao why she’s abandoned her the original mission. From the first time she spots and gropes Iona, Hyuuga’s hots for her are played for laughs that never occur, but she’s genuinely interested in Iona; at this point, more interested than she ever was in subjugating humans, because that route was never going to help her answer those nagging questions. Hyuuga isn’t the only one with those questions rattling around in her head.

At this point, Iona’s crew has basically been supplanted in show precedence by all the Fog ships, now wrestling with emotions. Chihaya & Co. were merely the catalyst that started what could be a major Fog revolution, or evolution, as Hyuuga supposes it could be. Iona was a mutation: a Fog ship that rather than destroy humans, sought one out and was genetically predisposed to following every order. Iona’s always been comfortable in this role, but when the competitive Takao asks her if she has feelings for her, she can’t answer, and it troubles her. Meanwhile, Kongou is clearly getting annoyed by losing so many Fog ships. But all the events since Iona and Chihaya joined forces suggests she could be on the wrong side of history. Iona is most likely the harbinger (intentional or not) of a future in which Fog and human coexist in harmony.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Chihaya is delivering the warhead to America in hopes that its mass-production will even the playing field and force Kongou to enter negotiations. But that’s pretty naive of him. Who’s to say the humans won’t use their new superweapon to simply annihilate the Fleet of Fog?
  • This show is no stranger to superfluous fanservice, and this week it drives that point home with Hyuuga’s attempted undressing of Iona as well as Takao, Haruna, and Iona relaxing on the beach in swimsuits, just ’cause…
  • That said, we hope Kirishima gets her regular body back at some point.
  • We really enjoyed the dinner scene: humans and Fog putting aside their past conflicts and simply sitting down for a meal. This could be a glimpse of the future.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 06

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Haruna creates a Makie decoy and distracts the human soldiers while Kirishima (still in a stuffed bear) protects the real Makie. After her contact with Makie, Haruna finds she isn’t able to kill the soldiers, so attacks them non-lethally. This drains her energy, and the decoy dissipates. The soldiers find Makie and Kirishima and open fire, but Haruna shields them in time, becoming pinned down herself. She pleads for someone to save them, and Iona and the I-401 arrive to do just that.

After last week’s fiasco, we approached this episode in a bit of a sour mood and with much trepidation. Could Blue Steel manage to pull out of this tailspin? Things were looking grim in the first minutes, with Makie’s lame dying creator-dad breaking out this gem:

You were created as a puppet. And yet, I came to care for you. And now, you are attempting to form a bond with the enemies of humanity. How ironic.

It’s not ironic, it’s just freaking stupid. Anyway, we weren’t about to let this show break our spirits and defeat us, any more than Haruna was going to let those army dudes lay a hand on her dear new friend. So we decided to accentuate the positives. Fortunately, there were far more than we anticipated.

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First of all, as the episode progressed we actually bought into Haruna’s sudden friendship with Makie. She’s Fog after all, so a day of contact is apparently enough for her to form an intense bond with a human, to the point she fights with everything she’s got, but stops herself from killing. All her amassed data and observations led to that bond and the development of emotions, which end up circumventing her Fog directives. There’s also a nice symmetry to Kirishima getting caught up in Haruna’s new-found compassion, just as Haruna got caught up in Kirishima’s sabre-rattling in the naval battle.

Secondly, there was no shortage of “Fuck Yeah!” moments throughout: From Haruna stepping out into the hall to face off with the soldiers, to all of her myriad bullet-deflecting and gun-melting, helicopter-killing tactics. Ridiculous as it was, watching Teddy-Kirishima kick ass was still hilariously awesome to behold. And Iona’s timely arrival and subsequent pwnage of the soldiers—irrespective of her past beef with her Fog sisters—was also most satisfying. This episode did much to assuage the grief last week’s stoked; for the moment, the series seems to be back on track.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 05

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As the crew of the I-401 take on their Vibration torpedo payload, Haruna and Kirishima end up as guests of Osakabe Makie, a young girl with no parents living in a huge mansion. After downloading Kirishima into a teddy bear, Haruna gradually becomes friends with Makie. After delivering a status update to Kongou, Kirishiima and Haruna are led to a secret facility below the mansion, where they meet Osakabe Toujuurou, who created Makie to do what he couldn’t: design effective anti-fog weapons, including the Vibration warhead. When the government discovers Makie has had contact with Haruna, they send troops to the mansion.

Hold on, now, what the heck was that? We didn’t sign up for this! How does the show go from a submarine crew battling two battleships, to one of the battleship’s avatars turning the other into a teddy bear and then spending an entire damn episode bonding with a little rich girl who comes totally out of left field, who of course is a manufactured being herself, because SCIENCE! C’mon, seriously. Why do we have to hang out with the little rich genius test tube girl? Why’d they have to introduce her and the old decrepit bedridden guy suddenly bringing up all this stuff about human experimentation? What in the world does this have to do with awesome naval battles? Why 109 embryos?!

We get it. We brought this on ourselves. We knew that a lull was coming after a battle as big as last week’s; that’s just the pattern this show is following. We also know that the more the Fog girls hang out with humans (at least some of them), the more trouble they have accepting Kongou’s assurance they’re only inhabiting “temporary personas.” We knew last week that little girl found Haruna. But did the show have to forget about the crew of the I-401 for an entire episode? Not that they’re the most interesting bunch in the world, but you can’t just…change shows in the middle of a run. For us, this was simply a turn down the wrong road.

To quote Haruna when Makie wouldn’t give her coat back: “Sniffle, sniffle.”

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Rating: 3
 (Bad)

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.