In Arpeggio of Blue Steel - Ars Nova - episode 1, "Those with Shipping Routes," Gunzou Chihaya struggled to evade the shadow of his father while attending naval officer training, but the other students were reluctant to let him succeed. On a top secret visit to a captured Fleet of Fog submarine, Gunzou touched the side of the vessel, and its reaction to his touch alarmed his fellow students and instructors. Later, a new student named Iona asked to meet her later near the harbor. Is she playing a trick on him -- one of many perpetuated by the other students because of his father's uncertain past? Or is there something more going on here?
Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.
What's in This Post
3 Favorite Moments
Now we know what a corrosive torpedo will do to a Fog ship! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
The opening scenes in this episode drive home an important message: The Fleet of Fog can destroy any human ship at any time and under any circumstances. We saw them destroy the combined might of United Nations fleet. A little later, as humans tried to launch a spacecraft, we saw the Nagara completely obliterate two human destroyers, each with a single shot each. The people in launch control were on the verge of despair when they detected a Fog submarine. Fortunately, it was the I-401 (3:12)! We quickly learn that it's crewed by humans, led by Gunzou. It also has a mental model or human-form representation of the ship's intelligence named Iona. They size up the enemy and launch a corrosive torpedo, but not before the enemy launches tow torpedoes of its own. Gunzou orders Iona to dive and launch two intercepting torpedoes, and one misses, forcing Iona to raise her "Klein Field." We get to see that it can stop a Fog torpedo. Consider what we've learned to this point: Humans are helpless. The Fleet of Fog is a technological Goliath. Their weaponry and defensive capabilities are far beyond humans to the point where humans are forced to try to launch a communications device in secret. We also know their shielding can even stop their own torpedoes. So when Shizuka Hozumi, the I-401's sonar operator, announces that the the corrosive torpedo they fired at the Nagara will hit, there's real tension: Will Nagara raise her shields in time? What happens when a corrosive torpedo hits a Fog ship? Well, we find out (5:04). It blows a spherical hole in the side of the ship, and the resulting explosion blows her in two. I thought this was a great way to make the I-401's arrival feel like it really turned the tide.
Gunzou asks Iona to become his ship. She agrees. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
You can just hear the ennui in Gunzou's voice when he meets Iona near the harbor. He's convinced it's a prank, but Iona's mannerisms and earnestness earlier in study hall piqued his curiosity. After a little banter, he asks what she wants, and she says, "To meet Gunzou, the son of Chihaya Shouzou, and obey him. That is the only order that remains in my memory" (12:33). Then she shows him what I think it her sensor array, which is made up of non-human characters in a hemispherical canopy that's about 100 meters across. That's kinda cool, and it really gets Gunzou's attention. But we're not to my favorite part yet. She asks him what his purpose is. In a quick series of still images, we find out that he adored the father that he lost in the Fog battles; that his mother committed suicide; and he was terribly alone after that. He answers her by saying that he wants to destroy the status quo that's slowly killing humanity; he wants to have something to live for. Now that Iona has a mission, she says that she can re-activate, and the I-401 that's locked in the secret dry dock comes to life. Seeing it blast it's way out was cool. What was even more cool was when it surfaced just meters away from Gunzou and Iona (14:33). You get a real sense of mass and size. Faced with the improbable but undeniable existence of a Fog ship that just offered to do his will, Gunzou asked her to become his ship (15:25).
Iona, Mental Model from the Fleet of Fog, was nervous about having a captain? That's intriguing! This was the moment that convinced me I was going to watch this show. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Of course, as Iona, Gunzou, and her ship-form I-401 tried to escape, the naval ships in that harbor tried to stop them. As we saw earlier, this would ordinarily not be any kind of problem for a Fog ship, but Iona's systems weren't all back on line after being shut-down for 7 years, so there was some tension: Could the I-401's hull withstand shelling after the Klein Field dropped (16:26)? It'd be a short series if she sank now, so we know they make it (especially since this is within a flashback!). After they dive and make it to safety, we get a quick shot inside of the I-401's bridge, and it's sparse: a Captain's chair for Gunzou and some kind of almost featureless console -- much different from the scenes we saw earlier! He asks for a sonar report, and after she reports all clear, he orders an end to their combat posture. She immediately collapses to the floor (17:11), obviously exhausted. Gunzou's worried -- after seeing her display of power, he's not sure what to think of her looking so tired! Iona may be a submarine from the Fleet of Fog, but she's still Iona, and we learn that she has feelings and limits. "I was so nervous," she said, sitting on the floor. "This is the first time I had a captain. It was so incongruous with the display of power we just saw, and it was so endearing, that Gunzou tried to comfort her. "I-401..." he started, but she interrupted him. "I am Iona!" Even exhausted, she was still clear about her goals.
Maybe I've watched too many sexually suggestive series, but when Iona told Gunzou to "Come aboard me" (15:43), I had a profound sense of relief when he treated her request in the spirit she offered it: he just boarded the I-401. Moments like that helped build my confidence that this is a series that's serious about characters and situations, at least to the point where it won't needlessly trivialize them. That kind of moment would be great in some series, but not one like this.
Maya looks really familiar... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
There're a few things you need to know to prepare you for my reviews of this series. Well, you don't "need" to know, but I want you to know what you're getting into.
First, I love naval themes, especially in a science fiction context. That's one of the reasons I've always preferred battles in Star Trek to the battles in Star Wars. Sure, little fighters flitting around are fun, but there's something about huge capital ships hurling themselves against each other that I find more dramatic. Couple that with how the Fleet of Fog has taken the form of its ships from World War II (which the cast called the Pacific War), and I'm there! The battle scenes in this first episode were spectacular, from how the missiles traveled in wobbly trajectories to how the Fleet of Fog casually swept aside the entire combined human navy. I'd almost watch the whole series if it were just a series of naval battles! Well, maybe not, but I'd be tempted!
Second, I enjoy Computer Generated (CG) animation. Not all the time, but I like the character models and I like their range of motion. I particularly like what it can do to the animation for mechanical devices like mechs or -- and you probably see this coming! -- warships! More on the CG in a moment.
Third, you only catch a glimpse of her in this episode, but I really like Takao. I'm not one to think in terms of having a waifu (though at the same time, if talking about your waifu or waifus -- or husbandos -- is something you enjoy, I'll be happy to hear you out), but there's something about her character and her looks that really appeals to me. Plus, I like strong women, and she's the mental model for a heavy cruiser. I think that qualifies as strong!
And here she is, the Mental Model for the heavy cruiser Takao, in all her pre-tsundere glory! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
I want to address the 500 pound gorilla in the room. If there's one criticism I see consistently leveled against this series, it's that the CG bothers some folks. They say its frame rate is too low, so when characters move (especially walking), it looks jerky. Other variations say that the characters seem wooden, or that their faces don't have the kind of expressiveness that we get from the best works of traditional animators.
How do I answer those complaints?
I have to acknowledge them. I can't disagree these are problems. I see what those folks are saying. I can see how in this episode, when Gunzou is leaving his meeting with Ryuujirou Kamikage, Gunzou's movements look a little ragged. There are times it seemed like the gestures of the emotionally expressive Kyouhei Kashihara were almost constrained by the animation technique. I could see examples of Iori Watanuki's expressions, which were usually pretty good, look almost plastic.
Iori's expressions are dynamic, but even still, there's something just a little off about them sometimes. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
But here's the thing.
No approach to animation is perfect. Even traditional animation gives us times when we "see through" the illusion. Even the best traditional animation has moments where the characters are displayed off model; or movements are jerky or imperfect. In Arpeggio of Blue Steel, I can't think of many moments (or any!) where the characters were off model. And while the expressions are sometimes less vibrant, for me, they were sufficient to carry the characters and story.
I am not trying to convince anyone to change their mind. If the CG in this series bothers you a lot, I don't want to suggest you put yourself through an unpleasant experience to try to watch the show. For me, though, the characters, the themes, and especially the battles are more than enough to make me overlook imperfections in the animation. In other words, I want to like this series so much that the problems with its CG don't bother me. But I don't want to disparage anyone who thinks differently!
Oh, and the theme I just mentioned? Gunzou summed it up when he asked Iona (6:29), "Why did you turn up? What is the purpose of your existence?" I'm definitely staying around for that! And I'd be remiss without mentioning the soundtrack...
What do you think of the this series' CG? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!
Other Posts about This Series
Other Anime Sites
- Reddit Discussion of Arpeggio of Blue Steel Episode 1
- Rabujoi: Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 01
- MemoryNK: Arpeggio of Blue Steel Episode 1 REACTION (YouTube)