Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 10

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The I-401 is sinking and Iona cannot repair herself. Gunzou orders her to cut life support and complete the mission without him, but she cannot obey. Meanwhile, Takao and the others are unable to find the I-401. Takao decides to take Hyuuga’s pod underwater to search. She finds that Iona has sacrificed her mental model to create a life-support pod for Gunzou and her core. Takao then sacrifices herself, merging with I-401 to restore her. Meanwhile, I-400 and I-402, convinced Kongou has lost her objectivity and is violation of the Admiralty code, relieve her of her command and detain her when she tries to go after I-401.

We knew this outing would explore the “we’re so screwed” scenario, but we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of emotional depth we got along with the physical depths into which I-401 sank. The emotions involved were nothing fancy, but that’s what made them work: Gunzou has changed Iona so much, she’s willing to disobey his orders to save him. She’s basically in love with the guy, and doesn’t want to live in a world he isn’t alive in. The use of silence throughout the episode, particularly during Iona and Gunzou’s descent, was outstanding—not bad for a show that’s been at its best when it’s loud and explode-y. Devoid of explosions or fanservice, the episode was able to breathe (even as Gunzou increasingly couldn’t) and provided serviceable interpersonal drama.

But this wasn’t just about Iona and her captain. The show also demonstrated a degree of efficiency and pragmatism by not only eliminating Takao, the tragically extraneous love interest (let’s face it, she wasn’t getting Gunzou as long as Iona was around, and wasn’t heartless enough to yank him from her), but also serving up Kongou’s just desserts, courtesy of Iona’s twin sisters. Whether Kongou likes it or not, she’s become one of the very “defectives” she sought to purge, while her companion Maya was merely an emotionless spy puppet (not surprising at all, considering how vapid she was). Now that Kongo has met her downfall and is in the same boat as the other misfits, we may just start rooting for her…unless she ends up merely seeking revenge.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 09

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Hyuuga defends Iwoto against Kongou’s attacks, buying time for I-401 to make a an escape while Takao engages Maya. Kongou senses Hyuuga and Takao are merely diversions, and once she detects I-401 she heads after her at full speed, enduring the punishment of the minefield set by Hyuuga. She admits to Iona that she too feels emotions, and says she hates her. She fires her supergravity cannon a second time, Hyuuga hacks her systems, and she misses I-401, who escapes at full burst. Takao reveals to Kongou that Gunzou entrusted her with the vibration torpedo and his crew, while Iona was only another decoy. All is for naught when I-400 and I-402 ambush I-401, sinking her.

With the previous week serving as a “calm before the storm” prologue, this week’s battle with Kongou was being built up as the biggest challenge to the I-401 yet. The fleet of Blue Steel is officially forged but suffers a difficult infancy, as Kongou holds no quarter. We’re reminded that Haruna and Kirishima don’t have physical ships at the moment, so they can’t participate in the battle. However, Hyuuga and Takao prove enough to keep Kongou and Maya at bay, and more importantly, grind Kongou’s gears. If they can feel emotions, so can Kongou, which means she can lose her temper and let it affect her judgement. Tired of all the delays and frivolous gum-flapping, Kongou goes straight for Iona with extreme prejudice, and ends up paying for it. It was a hell of a battle, replete with layers of tactics, obfuscation, momentum shifts, and the aforementioned psychological warfare.

Mind you, Iona doesn’t mean to mess with Kongou; she just can’t comprehend what her deal is. In their philosophical debate, one could see Iona as being just as guilty as Kongou of trying to impose her values on others. The major differences, of course, are that  Kongou wants to kill all humans, and is acting out of hatred for Iona and the chaos she’s caused; Iona is acting out of unswerving devotion to—and perhaps love for—Gunzou. The battle may end with the I-401 safely away and Kongou beaten and humiliated, but after yet another new ED we’re treated to a harrowing post-credits sequence that sends I-401 out of the frying pan and straight into the freezer. To have victory so abruptly torn away and to see such ugly chunks taken out of I-401 by her sister subs made for a gut-punch of a cliffhanger, but whatever happens, Takao now holds humanity’s trump card.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

 

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 08

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When Kongou’s fleet surrounds Iwoto, Chihaya invites her and Maya ashore to talk. He serves them tea and throws a beach barbecue party, giving Kongou an opportunity to observe the other Fog mental models interact and even have “fun.” However, Gunzou’s “trap” to “contaminate” Kongou and Maya are for naught, as they are merely decoys; their cores remain aboard their ships offshore. They return and begin bombarding the island. When Hyuuga’s shields weaken, Takao, Haruna and Kirishima combine their strength to reinforce them.

Chihaya’s mission is to get that weapon to America in hopes it will ultimately create a situation whereby the Fog will be forced to negotiate and the human race will be saved, not take on Kongou’s fleet when he only has half the numbers. With that in mind, he does everything humanly possible to try to neutralize her without fighting. He may have failed this week, but not before a lot of valuable facetime (or at least decoy-facetime) with the stern, humorless, ruthless flagship. Despite her confidence her time with Chihaya and the misfit Fog had no effect, the fact is, Kongou saw and heard what she saw and heard. It seems to us that’s enough to plant a tiny seed of rebellion in her core.

When she felt the heat of the tea, watched Hyuuga and Takao fight over grilled meat, or Makie and Maya having fun taking away Haruna’s coat (she’s apparently quite attached to that coat), or took a nibble of that kabob, she was experiencing things for the first time, which should stay with her. Hell, the inviolable “Admiralty Code” she speaks of says nothing about meeting with humans, talking with them, or going through all of the seemingly pointless motions she went through this week. We’re not ready to give up on Miss Kongou; she’s merely a tougher nut to crack, that’s all. Of course, at the moment Chihaya and the Blue Fleet just needs to slip past her; not convert her.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Stray Observations:

  • As we suspected, all the Fog ships thus far have had female mental models because of the human penchant for referring to ships as female. That being said, watch Kongou’s superior be a dude…
  • So one of Iona’s special powers is that she can see into the future. Kongou also seems to think she’s responsible for that dream-like mental contruct the Fog use to communicate.
  • Maya doesn’t seem particularly swayed by Chihya’s tactics either, but only because there doesn’t seem to be anything in her head whatsoever.
  • It’s a shame Kirishima is still a teddy; we relly dug her regular character design. Still, getting heavy from the water was pretty funny.
  • It seems like Iona was “born” (or whatever) without the need to follow the Admiralty Code, but only her own code, which was to be Chihaya’s ship.
  • The cut from Iona to Takao suggests Iona fights for Chihaya because she “loves” him, but still can’t quite comprehend what that is. Maybe if she hung out with less cardboard humans?

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 07

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With Makie, Haruna, and Kirishima aboard, I-401 docks at her secret home base on Iwoto. The fast battleship Hyuuga, a former fog flagship, is there to welcome them, and she has the wayward Takao in custody. In a virtual meeting with Kongou, Haruna refuses to return to the fleet, vowing to stay by Makie’s side, while Kirishima wishes to continue observing Haruna. Chihaya gives Takao the choice to return to the Fog or stay with what Hyuuga calls the “Blue Fleet.” As repairs on Iona near completion, Kongou orders Maya to rendezvous at Iwoto. Gunzou intends to abandon the base and get the vibration warhead to America.

“Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Those are the words that precede the end credits, the visuals of which this week went from being the Fog ships’ mental models to their true ship forms, which we thought was an interestingly-timed switch. Those same three questions are recited by Hyuuga, discussing with Takao why she’s abandoned her the original mission. From the first time she spots and gropes Iona, Hyuuga’s hots for her are played for laughs that never occur, but she’s genuinely interested in Iona; at this point, more interested than she ever was in subjugating humans, because that route was never going to help her answer those nagging questions. Hyuuga isn’t the only one with those questions rattling around in her head.

At this point, Iona’s crew has basically been supplanted in show precedence by all the Fog ships, now wrestling with emotions. Chihaya & Co. were merely the catalyst that started what could be a major Fog revolution, or evolution, as Hyuuga supposes it could be. Iona was a mutation: a Fog ship that rather than destroy humans, sought one out and was genetically predisposed to following every order. Iona’s always been comfortable in this role, but when the competitive Takao asks her if she has feelings for her, she can’t answer, and it troubles her. Meanwhile, Kongou is clearly getting annoyed by losing so many Fog ships. But all the events since Iona and Chihaya joined forces suggests she could be on the wrong side of history. Iona is most likely the harbinger (intentional or not) of a future in which Fog and human coexist in harmony.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Chihaya is delivering the warhead to America in hopes that its mass-production will even the playing field and force Kongou to enter negotiations. But that’s pretty naive of him. Who’s to say the humans won’t use their new superweapon to simply annihilate the Fleet of Fog?
  • This show is no stranger to superfluous fanservice, and this week it drives that point home with Hyuuga’s attempted undressing of Iona as well as Takao, Haruna, and Iona relaxing on the beach in swimsuits, just ’cause…
  • That said, we hope Kirishima gets her regular body back at some point.
  • We really enjoyed the dinner scene: humans and Fog putting aside their past conflicts and simply sitting down for a meal. This could be a glimpse of the future.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 03

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I-401 enters the fortress port of Yokosuka, but after docking, the crew taken into custody by the army, who escorts them to dinner with former admiral and current diet member Kita Ryoukan. He doesn’t believe Iona can be trusted, and demands that Captain Chihaya surrender her to the military. Cihaya refuses, and the dinner is interrupted by an attack by the Fog battleships Kirishima and Haruna. Iona neutralizes the soldiers surrounding them, and the crew boards her and prepares for battle. Meanwhile, Submarines I-400 and I-402 have found Takao, who has decided to leave the fleet, seeking Chihaya as her captain.

So the ragtage young crew of the I-401 leave the perilous high seas for the safety of a port, only to find themselves entering the jaws of an old lion in Admiral Kita – complete with epic beard. But aside from sticking a bunch of automatic rifles in unarmed a bunch of unarmed kids’ faces, he doesn’t accomplish much. In fact, the whole episode lagged a bit, owing to the fact it was the first without a naval battle in it. With nothing loud and shiny to distract us, we couldn’t help but wonder how a raw material-starved country with no access to the sea and a decimated fleet were able to build a gigantic fortress wall around one of their major ports, complete with underground dock. Why would the Fog leave them alone long enough to complete it in peace? Also, the characters look cool, but their appeal is only surface-deep.

The crew members are little more than their jobs; Iona is playing the dense robot role – not understanding cemeteries and what not – while Chihaya is full of determination and gumption, but is a bit wishy-washy in his goals. Everyone is lacking in personality, with the possible exception of Takao, the one character in this series who’s actually changed, though she went from uninspiring villain to vapid love interest. Blue Steel is a series blessed with impeccable good looks, but to hold our interest, it needs to keep the action and combat going at a steady clip. Taking its foot of the gas exposed the flaws lurking just beneath its sheen, we’d overlooked up to this point. The good news is, with two Fog battleships entering the mix, next week should be better.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Kyousougiga – 02

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This episode documents the young Koto’s life prior to entering the Mirrored Kyoto and becoming the ward of Myoue. Abandoned at a very young age, she was taken in and trained by Inari (AKA “The Fox”), and despite early complaints by his peers, she proves to have a great deal of talent. When Koto suddenly appears in the Mirrored Kyoto with her two familiars, A and Un, the Council of Three (the siblings Kurama, Myoue, and Yase), they debate whether she is related to them, or could actually be the reincarnation of their mother, who shares her name and eyes.

It’s just a fact of anime that whenever there are two characters with identical eye color (in an anime where not all characters have the same eye color, that is), it almost always means they’re related. So it’s no coincidence that lil’ Koto has the same red eyes as the departed Lady Koto or Myoue Shounin, just like it’s no coincidence that Inari also has the same color eyes. The narrator in the very first moments of the episode is also quite clear: “This is the story of one family’s love and rebirth.” Meaning Inari and Koto could well be Shounin and Lady Koto, reborn.

Mind you, the episode doesn’t come right out and confirm anything one way or the other, while the dream-like sequences of Koto and Inari in the secret room with the drawings of Mirror Kyoto and Koto the rabbit don’t make things much clearer. But whether she’s Myoue/Kurama/Yase’s mother or sister, she’s definitely a member of their family. Her appearance represents a sea change, both in their lives and in the world they preside over. The first major change since their parents left. We’ll see how each of them end up dealing with it.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 02

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In order to reach the port of Yokosuka, the I-401 must get past the Fog heavy cruiser Takao. Gunzou orders a direct attack in concert with their decoys in order to test Takao’s detection abilities. Takao fires her supergravity cannon at 401, which Gunzou predicts and dodges. Hiding along the seabed, the crew determine Takao’s sonar profile must be shrouding a stealth sub. Gunzou surprises Takao by using the supergravity cannon they took from Hyuuga – a previously defeated Fog ship. The sub hiding below her is sunk, but Takao herself is spared, retreating with weapons locked.

Ships in this series bear the same names as WWII warships, but aside from resemblance and the fact they ply the seas, the similarities pretty much end there, with transforming elements and futuristic weaponry. This week we’re treated to a full-on sub-versus-cruiser battle in which the creativity and pluck of the human crew aboard the outgunned patrol sub outwit the haughty, overconfident Takao, whose intense precision and attempt to be sneaky by hiding a sub below her ended up working against her. We also see that whether preparing for battle or in crunch time, Gunzou proves a singular tactician, and his crew is a well-oiled machine. They’re all exceedingly good at their jobs and trust their Captain – and Iona – implicitly.

The battle itself is gripping to behold from start to riveting finish, with crisp, polished animation and impressive weapons effects. The overall aesthetic remains straight-laced and video-gamey, but we prefer of seasons that are diverse in animation styles, and this one certainly stands out. We also found Takao’s progression from imperious, single-minded predator out for I-401’s pelt to chastened, demoralized ship on the run, to actually growing envious of and even smitten with 401’s “human unit” Gunzou, X-factor who not only beat her, but let her live. That sudden change in thinking might just represent a greater weapon the struggle with Fog than any firepower Iona can muster.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Kyousougiga – 01

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In ancient times, monk Myoue Shounin leaves Kyoto to resid in the mountains of Takao. What he draws can come to life, including a black rabbit named Koto who falls in love with him. Koto makes a deal with a Buddha who gives her human form. She and Shounin have a family made up of Kurama, a drawing, Yakushimaru, a human, and Yase, a demon. This strange family garners derision from the town, so they move into the drawing of Kyoto, “the Mirrored City”.

They live there for hundreds of years, until Koto starts to dream of the world’s end, a warning to return her human form she borrowed from the buddha. She and Shounin depart for parts unknown, leaving their three children. Fast-forward to the present day, when Myoue Yakushimaru has replaced his father as Takao monk. The sky fills with unusual lightning, which he thinks could be a sign of Shounin returning, but it turns out to be a girl named Koto from a parallel dimension, looking for her guardian.

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This stylish, engrossing, inventive series has been teasing us with small tastes since December of 2011, but has finally gotten a run of ten episodes in which to expand its already dense and tantalizing story. We’ve been licking our chops for some time, and this first non-recap episode takes us all the way back to the beginning with Myoue’s father. It’s a charming, romantic tale that turns bittersweet when Koto, the rabbit who became a lady, then a wife and mother, has to leave that ideal life. There’s an alarming abruptness to going from happy family to three kids on their own, but Mirror-Kyoto is devoid of war or suffering, so the kids fare fine.

Once we’re in the age of cell phones and video surveillance (this episode covers a formidable length of time), the three now run the city like their parents once did, in the configuration we’re familiar with from the OVAs. Then, out of the blue, a girl who vaguely resembles their father suddenly makes a big, Terminator-style entrance, flanked by twin demon brothers, brandishing a big hammer, hunting a black rabbit we know to be Myoue’s mom’s original form. Just as suddenly as he lost his parents, Myoue gains a family.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)