The titular Ars Nova form of the Blue Steel fleet
As I promised when I did the mid-season review for Arpeggio of Blue Steel, here’s the full season review! At halfway through, I really liked the series, and really liked the direction it was going in. So how did the second half go?
Who Is This Series About?
All Hands on the Bridge
While the first half of the series was setting up the characters of the show, the second half really got far more into the exploration of those characters, and especially the Fog. And while I thought through the first half that most of the show would be concerned with how humanity was dealing with this force that they couldn’t really understand, communicate with, or fight effectively, the second half is entirely focused on the Fog and their own search for meaning, and uses Gunzou as the lens for that exploration. And that may not be completely fair to Gunzou, in that he gets what I think is far too much credit / blame for the changes to the individual characters. In particular, Kongou thinks that everything emanates from Gunzou, but how does Gunzou beating them all in battle ‘infect’ them. I think the real key is that when they give themselves the ability for self-reflection, through their mental models, they open up the possibility for self-identification, and with that comes those three existential questions that put such a poignant period on the ending of almost every episode:
Where Do We Come From?
What Are We?
Where Are We Going?
Iona almost loses everything to help Kongou
And when you start asking that, you’re going to start looking for answers, even if it’s not actively thinking of those questions. Those three questions really do help guide all the changes in our main characters, and lead to caring, love, drive, obsession, and even self-sacrifice. Looking back, it’s almost inevitable that every ship with a mental model develops more into what we would consider ‘human’.
Iona looks so different from the way she did at the beginning
I think the show did a very good job showing the different processes of humanizing: through love and through fear. Through love, we get the Fleet of Blue Steel, and thankfully it wasn’t just Gunzou’s harem. In fact, I think this was one of the best aspects of the show. Yes, Gunzou was the center of the show, but only Iona and Takao were really in love with him, and even Takao realizes that she’s a distant second. But the rest of the ships had different reasons and mechanisms for their love. Haruna loves Makie as a fellow traveler, someone who unconditionally cared for her even suspecting she’s of the Fog. Kirishima may have the biggest change, to following Haruna out of friendship, and accepting Haruna’s goals as her own, as well as fondness for Makie for the care Makie shows Youtarou. And Hyuuga is mostly masochistic for Iona, having found she likes being punished. So why do they all team up? Some is just because they don’t really have a choice, although there’s a giant plot hole why Hyuuga, Kirishima, and Haruna don’t recreate their ships (or even Kirishima’s body) from the stockpile on Iwoto. Some may be because they realize they’re all in the same boat (har har): apostate from the Fog, they need to discover their own way to live. And of course, quite a lot may be that they all care for each other, as it flows from Iona back through everyone else.
Kongou feels the pain of losing her only friend
The other side of this development shows in I-400, I-402, and Kongou. And even as the internal police of the Fog, 400 and 402 aren’t immune, as 402 sacrifices herself so that her sister may live, even being condemned for the effort. But that makes 400 act for revenge, itself an emotional act. And even 400, dying, reaches out for her sister, apparently in contrast to being of the Fog. But nobody does revenge like Kongou.
Flinching away from the pain of friendship
I think that Kongou is afraid of the change that’s happening to her ships from the very beginning of the show, with that fear increasing every time one of the members of her fleet ‘defects’. As first Takao, then Haruna and Kirishima, and finally she understands that Hyuuga has not only left but made a mental model, her fear of this new power – the ego that they have brought upon themselves in effort to understand how to beat the humans – and her fear of perhaps losing herself and her mission, become more pronounced, yet her reaction to it is to become more human, to change even faster. And when it is pointed out that she herself has become ‘tainted’, in combination with ‘losing’ her friend Maya, it pushes her over the brink, setting up the final showdown between Iona and Kongou, not just as two powerful ships but as two sides of emotion. Iona with her friendship, her support, her love with Gunzou and the others. And Kongou with her fear, her loss, her rage at having the things she realizes she wanted – respect and power as fleet leader, friends with Maya – taken away from her. Kongou with her pain, the “agony that disrupts my mental processes,” the “anger and grief surging from within” that she fears will crush her. That Kongou initially rejects Iona’s pleas for friendship is unsurprising, because any time she’s tried that, she’s lost it. And that all of her losing started with Iona, it’s only natural she’d want to get take it out on her, the source, the agent of change.
“That’s no moon…” (sorry, I had to)
But in the end, we see where Kongou is, afraid and alone, the remnants of the world she liked (before she realized she liked it), and we see that Iona is able to make that connection to her, saving her from her own destructiveness. And having made that connection, Kongou finally understands, it seems.
Iona finally reaches Kongou
The use of color really helped my enjoyment of the show
Apart from these existential questions, I really loved the presentation of Arpeggio of Blue Steel. The show was just great fun to watch. About halfway through the season, I realized that I was looking forward to Monday nights the most, because that was when I could watch this show, and then finish up my night with Non Non Biyori. But in terms of non-blogged show I watched the most this season, it was definitely Arpeggio, with at least two times through every episode. This was a show I just loved to watch. And it really did a good job bringing the balance of everything: great action, good relationships, good examination of humanity, even funny moments that generally lightened the very heavy mood.
Youtarou (Kirishima) gets serious
One thing this series did very well was put in those great moments of awesomeness. And they were frequently when Gunzou managed to turn the tables, through his impeccable planning and thinking outside the rigid box the Fog were fighting in. The second Corrosive Warhead that destroyed Haruna and Kirishima, the surprise Supergravity Cannon to defeat Takao, the triple decoy with all four Fog ships linked. And you couldn’t have had them without the other side, without the effort on the part of the Fog ships to beat Gunzou, and put him in that situation. The best thing about these battles, and these moments, was that it really felt like an even matchup. The overwhelming force of the Fog was definitely enough to win, but the cunning of Gunzou and Iona’s pairing overcame that force. And it helped that it wasn’t David plinking rocks at Goliath. The weapons both brought to bear were equal in scope, it was just that Gunzou had to do more with fewer. He couldn’t Macross Missile Massacre the way Kongou / Maya (512 missiles in the air at once) or Haruna / Kirishima could. And when he got the computing power of the other ships – Takao, Hyuuga, Haruna, Kirishima – you really felt like he was almost invincible, even against Kongou’s monstrosity.
My favorite moment in the whole series Show ▼
But it wasn’t just the battles. This show also really had great moments in emotion. Haruna beseeching anyone who would listen to save Makie, and having her plea answered by Iona. And then perhaps the most beautiful scene in the show, at the end of episode 10, when Takao sacrifices herself for Gunzou and Iona, realizing that she’ll only ever be second in his heart, but still wanting him to live. With that haunting figure from Silver Sky playing, her figurative embrace of Gunzou is heartbreaking and uplifting, especially as the song makes that transition into its single line in a major key. Sparkling and heartfelt, it’s stunning in its beauty and depth of feeling. That it’s followed up by the lockdown of Kongou and the loss of Maya as her friend just increases the poignancy of both moments.
The final battle, Kongou’s fear and rage against Iona’s determination
Visually, everything in this show was a treat. As I said in the mid-season, the only quibbles anyone can have visually is with the characters, the weakest part of the the all-CGI presentation. But there are good parts to being used to the CG characters as well: that final battle between Kongou and Iona came out tremendously good, because there was no jarring transition to CG, and no off-model animation. For those like me who had no issue with the CG throughout, this was definitely worth it, but I don’t know if it’s something those who hate the CG characters would want to stick around through the whole show for. Apart from the characters, though, this was really a beautiful show to watch, well-animated, action packed, and full of visual detail.
The visual beauty of self-sacrifice
This is one show that I did notice the background music, and a lot of that might be that there wasn’t a lot of different music, but it was used tremendously well as audio cues for what was happening. There were highly recognizable themes for both things getting serious for the Fog and for the counterattack by Iona. The consistent use of these themes really made a difference in identifying the action and ramping up the reaction. Maybe not the most beautiful music, but very effective. And I’ve already mentioned Silver Sky, which was packaged as the B-side to Savior of Song, the OP for the series. The ED was also switched up for episode 11, with Innocent Blue substituting for Blue Field, again packaged as the B-side.
Some Extra Fun
Compared to the two-word review I started out in the Mid-season review, I’ve written an awful lot here. But for me, Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova was my favorite series this season (even beating out White Album 2). It was exciting, emotional, interesting, and thought-provoking. I thought it examined the human condition very well through the use of the Fleet of Fog, and really gave you a feeling of “OMG OMG What’s going to happen?!?!?!” throughout every encounter. Things like Iona’s despair at sinking her ‘sisters’ I-400 and 402, and then her determination to not lose Kongou the same way really showed her growth through the series, as well as the increasingly human animation she had. This show really made Mondays special this season.