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 – 06

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This week KanColle ditches most of its action, all of its drama, and focuses on an entirely new group of young destroyers, the Akatsuki-class of Group Six. The only battle they fight is against their fellow fleet girls, and it’s not a naval battle…but a curry battle.

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After proving it could do good character work, along with the aforementioned action and drama, this episode came off as a bit of a disappointment, if an inoffensive one. Really, it reminded me of Girl Friend BETA, a show in which the number of characters kept multiplying and changing. But it’s also a show that even Zane dropped, because while its stories were never all that bad, they weren’t really hefty or novel enough to.

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It’s also worth noting that both GFB and KanColle are based upon games, and part of the role of their anime versions is to promote the characters. One commenter pointed out that the popularity of the characters in Fubuki’s new fleet jumped after last week’s episode, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens with these new girls.

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But while both last week and this can be un-cynically be regarded as glorified commercials, last week was more tolerable because it focused on the protagonist Fubuki and had an actual battle. The Iron (or rather Steel) Chef-style battle is mostly just messing round, and the underdogs predictably win when most of their competitors self-destruct.

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The fact that they did win over the only other contestant left standing because Secretary Ship Nagato is sick of eating spicy curry, and Group Six’s was mild, was actually kind of cute, because it shows us another side of her, but the cold open teased her going into something more substantial than a curry judging, and didn’t deliver quite the way I’d hoped.

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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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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 04

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We don’t see the actual moment Mutsuki learns of Kisaragi’s apparent fate, but we do see the immediate aftermath. Destroyer focus and morale plummets, and Mutsuki herself is in silent denial, putting her life on hold to spend every free moment at the wharf, waiting for her sister ship to return.

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But the war must go on. It would probably be best if Mutsuki had a battle to fight to take her mind off Kisaragi, but it’s Fubuki who gets picked to join super-destroyer Shimakaze and the four Kongou-class fast battleships in an attack in the “south-west sea zone.” Dutch East Indies, perhaps?

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Fubuki’s first impression of Kongou was of a cool, steely fleet maiden…an impression shattered by the reality that Kongou is a bit of a goofball, whose hyper antics are not only tolerated but admired by her sisters. All four sisters are voiced by the similarly hyper Touyama Nao., mixing four different delivery systems quite well. If she’s having these conversations with herself in real time in the recording studio, well, all I can say is kudos.

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The bubbly Kongous are a stark contrast to the mood in Fubuki’s dorm, with Mutsuki first out and last in, and Fubuki and Yuudachi unable to broach the subject of Kisaragi, and Mutsuki unwilling to let them.

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The road to the next battle also hits a bit of a detour that’s played for laughs, with the Kongou sisters coming up with increasingly ridiculous attempts to draw out the eccentric Shimakaze (In the end, tea and scones do the trick). Personally, I wasn’t really in the mood for such levity and was hoping for a prompter, more solemn shoving-off.

Still, it makes sense that the Kongou sisters are more laid back when it comes to imminent battles. They’ve been in lots, they have big guns, and most importantly, they have each other.

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The fleet’s disposition is, well, fleet, as in fast. With big storms in the battle area, the fleet carriers won’t be as much use as the fast battleships and faster destroyers that can swoop in, hit hard, and swoop out, regardless of weather.

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The show is keen to let us know that Shimakaze isn’t just fast (her namesake made 47 knots) but wears a g-string under her wisp of a skirt, in a bit of fairly shameless, if quick, Vividred-style fanservice.

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When the battle with the two Abyssal battleships commences, Fubuki ends up further out than she should be and is pinned down and her turret damaged. In a moment of fear (and worry about Mutsuki back home), she freezes up, but once again Kongou saves her, deflecting the enemy shell with her bare fist in a badass display, and showing Fubuki that cool, steely fleet maiden she first encountered.

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Kongou may not be the most serious or composed person off-duty, but she gets the job done out in the field, as do her sisters.

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Thanks to her, Fubuki is able to escape another brush with destruction and make it back home. She greets Mutsuki on the wharf at sundown and gathers her in a hug, and doesn’t let her go until Mutsuki lets it all out, which in turn causes her to let it all out. It’s an touching, cathartic moment the episode had been steadily building up to, and I felt it was earned. KanColle’s first two episodes lacked emotional resonance, but the last two have more than made up for it.

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