Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 04

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Fog fast battleships Kirishima and Haruna launch an assault on Yokosuka, breaching her defensive wall, entering the harbor within and laying waste to the human navy. Chihaya employs a number of unconventional tactics to keep the battleships off-balance, but lacking the firepower to pierce their Klein fields, I-401 has to goad them into docking together and charging their supergravity cannon. They fire a torpedo from a remote launcher hidden in the sunken museum ship Mikasa, which passes through the temporary hole in their foe’s field, sinking both ships. Haruna’s mental model barely escapes with Kirishima’s core, and is found unconscious by a human girl.

This week Blue Steel returns to its strengths, serving up its most exciting battle yet, and the I-401’s most improbable victory. Iona is outnumbered 2-1 and outgunned by a large degree, but once again, her human crew nullifies the shortcomings of her specs. The fog battleships seem to have more power than they know what to do with. The aggressive, arrogant Kirishima simply lashes out, getting more and more annoyed when things don’t go her way, and while the calm, analytical Haruna sees some value in human communication, she allows herself to be caught up in her partner’s intensity, and pays dearly for it, understanding in her moment of defeat the true feeling the word “regret” represents.

It’s a real pleasure to watch the underdog I-401 crew poke and prod their superior foes as they navigate the sunken ruins of old Yokosuka, finally playing their trump card at the most opportune moment. It’s a very close shave, but as Captain Haddock says, “All’s well that ends well.” While she’s still afloat, Kirishima’s demonstration of her arsenal makes for an imposing spectacle, even more so when she and Haruna literally part the friggin’ sea, then merge into a single unit (which leads to their downfall, as they also become a single target.) As Chihaya defeats fog ships with Iona, he’s also converting them; being defeated by humans means seeing value in them; value Kongo ignores at her peril.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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)

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)