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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Kantai Collection: KanColle – 03

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In her first mission briefing, Fubaki and her fellow ships learn that after their recent and successful attack on the Abyssals’ base, a massive enemy counterattack is expected. Before that happens, the Admiral is sending Torpedo Squadrons Three and Four to capture “W” Island in a surprise attack.

On a personal level, Fubaki is very uneasy and worried she’ll slow everyone down, and feels undeserving of her senpais’ tokens and words of support.

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One night before the battle, it is Mutsuki who puts Fubuki at ease, saying she believes in her, just as Mutsuki’s sister ship Kisaragi believed in her. In a touching flashback, we see Mutsuki take damage in a battle, but Kisaragi stays with her until help arrives and throughout her repairs, forming a bond that goes beyond respect and appreciation and into love.

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At dawn, Fubuki goes out to train a little more before the big night battle. She runs into Akagi in the harbor, who hits a bull’s-eye with her eyes closed and imparts the words “Shoot true, never miss.” It turns out Mutsuki was the one who brought Akagi to Fubuki.

Both Mutsuki and Fubuki express frustration and being unable to ever repay their friends and senpais who have helped them. Akagi assures them no one expects nor needs to be repaid; a simple “thank you” will suffice, and for the recipients of their goodwill to “shoot true” and “never miss.”

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Akagi’s words weren’t just meant to guide Fubuki’s conduct in battle, but in life as well.

“Don’t hesitate to tell the people you care about the feelings you have for them. Because they may not be there tomorrow.”

They’re simple words, but easily overlooked, and beautifully stated. Akagi says this as the morning sun rises out of the horizon, just as the power of her words dawn on Fubuki and Mutsuki, who promptly thank and express their love to one another on the spot. Fubuki also voices her respect for Akagi and her hope they’ll fight in the same fleet one day.

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As for Mutsuki, well, the death flags fly free for the majority of this episode, especially when she tells her sister ship Kisaragi “she needs to tell her something” when they get back from the battle. The bittersweet tone of the music, the words by Akagi, Mutsuki’s flags: they all point to something sinister; the coming battle won’t be a cakewalk.

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Once at the island, the Sendai-class light cruisers launch their Type-0 recon seaplanes, but the element of surprise is almost immediately lost, and Squad Three retreats from an enemy torpedo squad right into the jaws of two enemy carriers launching swarms of fighters.

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Well and truly in the shit, Squad Three takes a defensive formation and fights for survival as they attempt to meet up with squad four. For a hot second, it looked like Mutsuki’s death flags were going to strike true, when Fubuki swoops in at the last second, aims true, and doesn’t miss.

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Everyone stays alive long enough for the the big guns of the Second Fleet (including the fast battleships Kongou and Hiei) to shoo the enemy squadrons away. “W” Island wasn’t taken, but the Fleet Girls suffered no major losses…

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…Until a solitary, straggling Abyssal fighter catches a relieved Kisaragi unawares, firing a bomb right into her stern before blowing up himself. Kisaragi explodes and sinks into the deep dark sea.

KanColle got me for two reasons: One, I was distracted by all of Mutsuki’s death flags to notice it was really Kisaragi in the crosshairs.

Two, I’m not well-versed in naval history enough to know that in real life, the Mutsuki-class Kisaragi was the second warship sunk during the war, in the Battle of Wake Island (hence the “W”. The island on Nagato’s map even resembles the Pacific atoll). FYI, Kisaragi was sunk by USMC aviator Capt. Henry T. Elrod on Dec. 11, 1941, by detonating the depth charge stores in her stern with small-caliber bombs.

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Also, even though Mutsuki (“January”) was the first ship of her class, Kisaragi (“February”) was actually launched and commissioned before her, making her Mutsuki’s “big-sis”. I had no idea the story would hew this close to history. It’s strange, but so far, it’s pretty historically accurate in terms of what went down during the first attempt to take Wake.

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Having nothing to do with history is the fact that, in KanColle, Mutsuki is not just a ship, but a girl who just lost someone more dear to her than anyone else, whom she was planning to confess her love to. But while we’re aware of the tragedy that has befallen them, Mutuski and Fubuki remain unaware of the sinking through the end of the episode. They race out to the cape at sunset, waiting for Torpedo Squadron Four, and Mutsuki’s love, to return. Excuse me…but…sniff…does anyone have a goddamn tissue?

This episode basically fixed all of the drawbacks of the first two episodes: the reliance on fancy visuals, cute character designs, and novelty of the fleet girls (though all were still present), and the lack of a tough enemy or heavy stakes. The affection and camaraderie of the girls was stronger than ever here, and while she was only a minor character and it was a bit telegraphed, Kisaragi’s loss was still palpable and her demise shocking in its practical portrayal. KanColle has my full attention.

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Stray Observations:

  • It’s hard to tell without checking MAL, but a mere handful of seiyus are voicing several characters each. For example, all three Sendai-class cruisers and Nagato are voiced by Sakura Ayane, while Suzuki Aya voices all three Akatsuki-class destroyers. That’s some nice range right there!
  • While Mutsuki, Kisaragi, and other ships with fleet girl characters were involved in the Battle of Wake Island, Fubuki was not (it was in Hainan then French Indochina), which suggests events will not unfold precisely as they did in the real-life Pacific War.

Kantai Collection: KanColle – 02

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Character names link out to wiki pages for their real-world historic counterparts.

This was a pleasant fall-down/get-up training episode that explored more of how the strange world of pretty anthropomorphic ships works, and inched Fubuki a little further towards respectability.  No battles with Abyssals this week, but Secretary Ship Nagato has plans for one soon, of which Fubuki will be an important part. The only problem is, while she impresses her peers in classroom theory, she’s an absolute disaster in the water.

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After witnessing a bit of Fubuki’s flailing, Nagato warns Fubuki’s light cruiser senpais Sendai, Jintsuu and Naka that if the lil’ destroyer can’t cut it, she’ll recommend the admiral strike her from the fleet. It may sound harsh, but there’s no point in sending a destroyer out there that’s just going to get herself destroyed, is there?

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Fubuki tracks down Fleet Carrier Akagi, who is having a 15-hour repair bath when the admiral sends along an “instant repair wash”. Afterwards they have lunch, and Akagi repairs Fubuki’s confidence just by being awesome, but when Fubuki settles in for the night, she becomes the recipient of some more direct assistance, courtesy of her cruiser senpais.

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Sendai gives her balance training, Jintsuu target practice, and Naka…er…idol practice? Charisma? The thing is, the three sister ships train her in consecutive sessions, and end up exhausting her. Fubuki’s friend Mutsuki suspects bullying or hazing is afoot and steps up to defend her (worried they’ll “sink” her if they continue. Turns out the sister ships failed to coordinate their individual plans to help Fubuki improve; no sinister senpais here.

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Yet even as Mutsuki stands up for Fubuki, Fubuki herself is back out of bed and outside, training hard; a gesture that convinces the cruisers that Fubuki has “the soul of a torpedo girl”; she just needs their help to blossom as a warship. An exhaustive and exhausting training regimen ensues, documented via montage.

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It’s often the case that such montages start with failure and end with the protagonist suddenly great at everything she trained for. Refreshingly, that’s not the case here. When she must perform in a training exercise, Fubuki is certainly better than she was, but she’s still far form full combat readiness, which is what the cruisers report to Nagato.

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However, they also report that Fubuki isn’t going to give up, and if she falls, she gets back up and tries again. She’s got “the right stuff” as it were. It’s probably the reason the still-unseen admiral invited her into the fleet to begin with.

He knew she’d charm and inspire the other fleet girls into take her under their wing and show her the ropes. Satisfied with her progress, Nagato assigns the three cruisers, plus Fubuki, Mutsuki and Yuudachi, to an upcoming battle that will be theirs to win or lose.

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