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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