Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – Mid Season Review

Badass Iona

Iona can be a total badass

spring13-highw It’s AWESOME!

 

Some of What You Expect, Some of What You Don’t

Youtarou blows his cover

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.

Haruna and Kirishima drive

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

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's triumph Kirishima's failure

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.

SuperSuperGravity Cannon

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

Haruna fanservice

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.

Flat characters

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.

header-spr13-highway

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.

About

Proving that you don't have to be young to love anime, I enjoy all genres and styles of shows. If it's not hurting anyone else, you should never be ashamed of what you like!
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11 Responses to “Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – Mid Season Review”

  1. d-LaN says:

    AW YESH more Arpeggio coverage is good. I liked the anime so much tht I got around to reading some of the manga chapters. Just wondering, will there be a end season post on this? ^_^

    The anime have certainly changed up some stuff frm the manga like omission of several scenes and some pretty big changes to the plot. (I haven’t got tht far though. I’m around the part where Haruna/Kirishima is defeated) Nevertheless, I don’t mind the changes and anime-original stuff. It good enough for me to ignore it.

    Regarding Iona, she actually have a (slightly?) wider emotional range in the manga. She also can make clones of herself to accompany Engine Room gal and they are adorable :3

    PS I’m a bit annoyed tht there no males Mental Mode running around if what Iona said is to be believed. Not tht I terribly mind the females ones like Takao and Haruna/Teddy Kirishima.

    • Highway says:

      I’m planning to do an end season post on it. I just can’t fit in another series weekly (I’m sure you guys noticed my name on 5 already).

      Like I said, I haven’t seen any continuity problems with the plot, even changed from the manga. I think the focus of the anime, on things being done, has been good, and while I don’t mind political drama, I think that keeping the action level high probably works better for this anime.

      I don’t consider it a huge failing that there aren’t male Mental Models. Who knows what other fleets are out there that have more guys? It would make less sense that the entirety of the Fog’s ships with Mental Models would be around Japan.

  2. anaaga says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only person who is hooked on this series.
    People have been complaining about the CG, and I still don’t get why. Though it’s not so great, I don’t find it too bothersome either. Besides, the fact that even the smallest detail of the ships are presented in the anime makes me appreciate the CG/animation(?) of this series.
    I have been searching or an anime that has balance, and I think this anime is one of them. Though there are some memorable emotional aspects that can be seen later in the series, it’s nice to see how the fights and politics are not abandoned at all. The balance between the action and the drama is well done. And yes, the fighting scenes are the best parts of this anime. And Chihaya Gunzou.
    What disappoints me the most is the lack of male AI though, and Takao pisses the hell out of me. Until now, I still don’t get the importance of her emotion except of it being the first sign that the Fog is changing.

    There are some questions that still bother me about the Fog though. The Fog was told as mysterious ships that appear out of nowhere, so based on that description, I concluded that the AI are the representation of the ships’ emotions and feelings. Then how come the AI are slowly turning into mental models that are detached to the ship? The relation between the ships and the AI are questionable also, since the AI did not disappear with the ship when they die. Sure, the core was saved, but the most logical thing to do when the core is saved is to rebuild the ship again, not reviving the AI/mental model. So why? The connection between the ship and the AI still confuses me.

    • Highway says:

      Yes, the CG for everything else is just so good. That’s why I don’t really have a problem with the way the characters are. They’re just a little static and flat, but they still do a good job conveying emotion (although having the two characters that are most unemotional being the ones showing the emotional progress is probably helping).

      I think that the trio of Haruna, Kirishima, and Takao are showing three different evolutions of emotion. Kirishima gets humiliation and regret, Takao gets thrill and hope, and Haruna gets attachment and love. That’s why I think Takao is relevant, and will continue to be.

      The explanation of it as I understand from the anime is that initially there were no Mental Models, but as humanity started to have some success, they developed a Mental Model / corporeal body in order to understand the things like tactics and strategy, things that are more than just “Sail in and pound the humans”. The form of the models, as well as the ships themselves, are arrangements of nanomaterials in a form desired by the Mental Model, so the ship follows from the model which follows from the core. It’s not that Kirishima and Haruna have been detached from the ship, it’s more that they abandoned the destroyed ships, saving the essence. Rebuilding the ship takes a lot more nanomaterial (that they don’t have) than rebuilding the body to transport the core, and would have been less useful for Kirishima in the current situation.

      I think of it that the physical ship is a projection / manifestation of the core, not that the core is somehow beholden to the ship.

  3. Di Gi Kazune says:

    Haruharu… haruharu… hehehe… She likes you.
    Congratulations Yotaroh. Shut up Haruharu!

    They took out about half the plotwise stuff from the manga – mainly the politics on both sides. I can see why since it would make it quite dry. However, it lives up to its subtitle – Ars Nova.

    I do suspect they are going for a AI singing ala Mikumiku in this adaptation though. Iona’s new design examplifies it. That said, this is the Anime version on Andromeda with their AI Avatars.

    Anyway, we need more Hyuuga and Maya.

    • Highway says:

      Kirishima teasing Haruharu about Makie’s name for her is so good. That plotline with the two of them meeting Makie, after their initial presentation as the Anti-human (Kirishima) and emotionless (Haruna) just feels like it’s working so well.

      I was under the impression that Hyuuga was either sunk or out of commission for a while, since the Supergravity Cannon that Iona has was supposedly looted from Hyuuga.

      They do have some AI singing, in an earlier PV. It really seems like the CG has come quite a way since that was rendered.

  4. BlackBriar says:

    It took watching the first episode twice to get over the all CG aspect of the series. Nevertheless Arpeggio of Blue Steel is likable and has an interesting story so I’m glad there’s a handful of people who like watching this series.

    The sea battles are the best parts, pure calculations in the attacks and they exploit Gunzou’s amazing capabilities as a strategist. I’m still giving him props for how well he caught off guard and beat both Kirishima and Haruna even though they docked both their ships for massive firepower.

    It’s hard to say humans are isolated into landmasses when the sea level has raised high enough to nearly submerge entire skyscrapers. My biggest question is how the Fleet of Fog came into existence. At first, the mental models were practically robots systematically sending mankind into extinction but little by little like Takao and Haruna, they begin to act more like humans. It’s clear they find themselves without a definite purpose.

    • Highway says:

      I do wonder what the purpose of the Fog is in the first place, but they don’t really dwell on it in the series, so it’s not really as important to the story. One has to surmise that there is a purpose, especially given the limited war they are waging on humanity: They do not attack land based targets, they are only aggressors when something moves into the realms they deem ‘theirs': sea, air, and space. As I mentioned, I think the point of the Mental Models was to learn to be more human, at least the traits they thought were useful to their purposes. But in addition, they’ve been getting a little sidetracked on other things…

      I kind of wonder about Gunzou’s rapport with Iona, it seems like they both know exactly how the plan is going to go without communicating that to anyone, which is cool for suspense, but kinda defies sense.

      • d-LaN says:

        The anime kinda left it out, but the FoF is searching for the “Admiralty Code”.

  5. skylion says:

    I need my own teddy bear/mental model friend.

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