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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.