Iona can be a total badass
Some of What You Expect, Some of What You Don’t
There are definitely some interesting plot developments, like a carrot eating stuffed bear
Ok, ok, ok. I probably can’t get away with a two-word review of the series. But I’ve really been enjoying this it, enough that I wanted to do at least something to cover it. The first episode didn’t really do it for Jrow and Fosh (and I don’t blame them for not doing mini-talks on it (the Log Horizon ones are pretty good, tho). But from the first episode, I was hooked on this show, cause it had cool ship future combat, and a seemingly interesting presentation with the completely CG animation. So let’s go over how it’s done since the first episode. BTW, I’m going to talk about stuff that happened up through episode 6, so if you really don’t want to be spoiled, you shouldn’t read the rest. But because so much of the show is the experience, not the particular plot points, even if you’re spoiled, you’ll still likely really enjoy it.
The detail on the battleships is good, here with Kirishima (blue) and Haruna (yellow)
I think the story has progressed well, and also done well to wrap more of the different players in. The basic premise is that mankind has been isolated into landmasses because the Fleet of Fog has completely shut down air and sea travel, as well as land based and space based communications. And nobody knows why the Fleet of Fog is doing that, or even what the Fog are, or what they’re trying to do. After getting completely beat down, humanity is still trying to rally, and the best hope now is Chihaya Gunzou, who is the recipient of Iona, the Fog submarine I-401, from some endeavor of his father’s. The first few episodes really focused on Iona and Chihaya, but since the battle with Takao, the Fog’s Heavy Cruiser name ship, it’s really been expanding to cover not just Gunzou, but also the rest of the Fog, including their motivations and personalities.
Exciting Battles and Action
Takao has probably had the biggest change, and wants to make Gunzou her captain
Yes, personalities, because even though they’re AI’s, they’re AI’s specifically created to learn things from having a corporeal body. As the Fog, they relied solely on superior firepower and defense to crush the human fleets through brute force. But realizing that they’re not always going to win through overwhelming force, indeed even starting to see some success on the part of the humans, they develop “Mental Models”, basically cute girls, to take that corporeal form and learn things like ‘planning’ and ‘tactics’, things that require understanding of time and position and hunches. But perhaps the adoption of Mental Models is taking them too far, which is what the series is now exploring, with Takao changed after her fight with Gunzou, Iona experiencing new things, and even Haruna and Kirishima finding that they are not immune to experience and the way it changes them.
Kirishima, from the high of victory to the despair of defeat
The action in the series is probably its strongest point. We’ve experienced 3 naval battles, each better than the last, and even land fighting. And each of the three naval battles has upped the ante on seat-edge action (note: at this point, I decided I’d rather rewatch episode 4 and see the Haruna and Kirishima battle again. You should too. Go ahead, I’ll wait… Ok, that was awesome again). And more than just being great action, the battles have really captured a full emotional range, with first Takao and then Haruna and Kirishima all experiencing things they’ve never felt before, quite literally life-changing experiences, even though all three survive.
Gattai Battleships firing a big gun
The battles are well-paced tactical masterpieces, and even though they don’t really have an authentic feel as far as naval battles that we’d have with our current tech levels, a quick look at the specs of the ships, helpfully given in the OP sequence, explains why: Iona has a submerged speed of 80 knots, a speed matched by the Kongou-class Fast Battleships (including Haruna and Kirishima) and exceeded by the Takao-class Cruisers on the surface. Speeds like that are unheard of for human vessels, so that helps to explain why the battles are so fast paced, not the slow, silent, tension-filled conflicts in submarine combat movies we’re used to.
But More Than Just Battles
Some Haruna fanservice with Makie, too
But perhaps the biggest surprise for me in this series is the emotional depth it’s been able to pull out, even in spite of the fairly flat CG characters. And maybe that description is unfair, because while we early on see only Iona, who continues to be fairly emotionless (as do her sister subs, I-400 and I-402, giving an interesting consistency and personality to the submarine fleet), as more of the Fog are introduced we definitely see more of a range of emotions, from Haruna’s similar unflappability to Maya’s carefree playfulness to Kirishima’s huge mood swings. And along the way, they develop attachments, to Chihaya, to Makie the Design Child, and too each other. Makie and Haruna’s (“Haruharu”, hehehe) story, especially, is one that resonates, and while the message of ‘finding humanity’ is not really particularly original, I think it’s well done in this series so far. We have the Fog, who as they interact with humans (more than just blowing them up), coming to grips with more of the conundrums that define humanity, such as Haruna and Makie both feeling that they are undeserving of being each other’s friend, due to their past activities against the ‘friends’ of the other.
Gunzou’s arms are probably glued to the armrest, for all he moves them, but kneeling Iona is cute
I mentioned the CG characters, and they’re the weakest part of this all-CG presentation. I actually find them fine: once you get used to them, there’s very little thinking about them. The only time you do is when a new character shows up and you have to get used to that one, too. But in general they look fine, and for some of the characters (like Haruna, Iona, and the other subs) they’re perfect. The others do dip a little far into the uncanny valley at times, but watching the characters walk around really isn’t the point of the show. So I’d encourage anyone who wants to watch to just try to get around that particular aspect and enjoy the rest of the show.
I wholeheartedly recommend this show, especially for anyone who likes military-ish combat. The battles are excellent, even awesome, and the story is really holding up its end of the deal. And on top of that, the show really does throw in a little flair to make you laugh, like it now has Kirishima’s bear form, and Haruna’s new dress in the OP, or when they ask Iona to open the hull to inspect the supergravity cannon, and she pulls her shirt up just a little to expose her tummy. From what I hear, it’s not very faithful to the manga, but the anime story so far has been very coherent, and definitely seems to have a path forward, so I’m not really worried about problems with the divergence. And what I’m most looking forward to is more moments like the climaxes of these battles, which have all just had that wonderful thrill of “OMGOMGOMG what’s going to happen?!?!?!” And every one has paid off so far. I can’t wait for more.