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 – 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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