In Arpeggio of Blue Steel - Ars Nova - episode 12, "The Power to Open a Path," Kongou revealed her final form: A Death Star-like construct that was so huge it used nine cruisers to fire a single super gravity cannon blast. How is the I-401 going to fight that? As they discuss options, Iona expresses her desire to communicate directly with Kongou. Gunzou Chihaya confirms that yes, that means she has a free will -- and the other Mental Models embrace the concept as the key to their freedom. But before they can do anything about that, they have to deal with Kongou, and she is utterly consumed by the idea of killing Iona, all of her friends -- and more. What can a single ship, even a combined heavy cruiser/submarine, do against such reckless hate?
Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.
What's in This Post
3 Favorite Moments
Moment 1: Iona's Free Will
Iona is utterly resolved to heal Kongou -- and she knows what it might cost. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Iona voiced her commitment to persuade Kongou to stand down, which drew gasps from the other Mental Models. Their astonishment turned to outright alarm when Iona said he'd have to contact Kongou directly -- physically -- because Kongou had locked everyone out the concept communication system. Iona explained she had to do it because Kongou's heart was hurting, and Iona wanted to help her. The other Mental Models would have ridiculed the idea of "heart" just months ago. Now, they all took the idea seriously, even if they all struggled with the concept. Takao, sounding rueful that she hadn't figured it out yet, asked (8:55), "Weren't we just weapons?" Maybe Gunzou had been waiting for this conversation based of his talks with Iona, because he seemed ready with a response. He said, "It's not about what you were. It's about who you are now." They considered his what he'd said. Iona, emboldened, said clearly that she wanted to save Kongou because (9:17), "...a motivation beyond my processing capabilities is compelling me. Gunzou, is this what 'will' is?" The idea seemed to strike a chord with the other Mental Models. The whole series had been building piece by piece to this moment. What is it that makes them different? What is it that makes them who they are as individuals? I thought it was a beautiful thing to see them take the next step to full sentience. Recognizing their own volition was the last necessary piece.
Moment 2: Iona's Flat-Out Astonishing Badassery
Iona had to run on missiles to get close to Kongou. How badass is that? Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
The outcome of Iona embracing her own agency was that she decided to take on the mission to physically visit Kongou. How did our diminutive Mental Model pull off such a feat? She rode in a torpedo tube-launched missile, of course! That alone was a badass move. But did Iona stop there? No! Iona ejected from the missile (12:10) and calmly (yet sternly!) assessed the situation. She had to force herself to turn away from the sight of the I-401 being hammered. Instead, she resolutely faced her target and saw dozens of Kongou's missiles heading for her. She didn't flinch. She didn't hesitate. She ran down the missiles towards Kongou! That was pretty amazing! To Kongou's credit, she adapted her tactics and altered her missiles to explode not on contact but based on proximity. It wasn't enough, though. Iona had gotten close enough to use her shielding to slow her fall and land on Kongou's forward deck. The animation and sound effects really sold it, too.
Moment 3: Iona's Unshakable Resolve
"I'm sorry for being late," Iona told Kongou as she initiated physical contact. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
After nearly being blown out of the sky, and after dodging dozens of Kongou's mammoth swords, it almost looked like Iona was on the defensive. Maybe she was from an operational perspective, but strategically? She was in control the whole time! Her whole plan was to make physical contact with Kongou to communicate directly with her. The battle came to the point where Iona got slammed to the deck (13:45). Thinking her foe almost defeated, Kongou approached, wondered aloud just what Iona was, and created a smaller version of a sword -- undoubtedly to slash at Iona. But Iona was ready. Almost gently, she reached out and took Kongou's hand (13:57). "I'm sorry for being late," Iona said, and you could hear the anguish in her voice. Anguish for Kongou's state; anguish that Iona herself had not been able to do more. Iona grew so much during the course of this series, and it was in perfect keeping with the show's themes that she was in that spot, in that moment, because of her own decisions.
Thoughts: Kongou and Iona
Did you see the early battle between Kongou and the I-401? That's the sort of thing that drew me to this show in the first place. The directing made the flow absolutely immersive. The art and sound completed the immersion. It really looked like the studio Sanzigen, which did a great job throughout the season, saved their pennies to give an especially amazing battle to start the episode.
And they didn't stop there. The whole episode looked that good.
In the Thoughts section for the previous episode, we talked about how Kongou was in mental anguish. It wasn't that she was enraged. She was hurting. Iona saw that and acted on it. What I thought was so effective about this episode was how it portrayed Kongou's state.
Look at how Kongou fought Iona, especially after Iona touched her hand. As Iona dodged attack after attack, Kongou let slip the real emotions that were fueling her reaction. "Why can't things stay the way they are?" she practically sobbed (18:50). "I don't need change! I don't need relationships! I was find being alone!"
Even as she pounded Iona, Kongou couldn't suppress her tears. She was terrified and didn't know what to do about it. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Her agony hit me right in the feels! For a show that to outsiders looks like another harem-style "let's make everything a pretty girl," Arpeggio of Blue Steel managed to delivery poignancy in what's become a well-worn science fiction trope of AIs developing feelings and sentience. We've talked about several of those emotionally charged scenes in these reviews.
This episode contained the scene that brought it all together. After Iona breaks into the sealed concept communications system, she find Kongou sitting alone, knees drawn up, her face hidden. Iona quietly kneels beside her and gasps when Kongou turns her scared, tear-stained face towards her. Iona slowly puts her arms around Kongou and says, "It's going to be okay... you don't have to be afraid anymore" (19:52).
Up until this point, Kongou's Death Star-like ship was intact. In a quiet voice, she asks Iona, "What's the point of understanding each other?"
"Then we can become friends."
"It's going to be okay," Iona tells Kongou. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
That's the instant Kongou re-imaged herself. The scene dramatized it by showing the artificial garden morph into a green field. "I see," Kongou said as the gigantic ship became to disintegrate. Then she and Iona were lying on the deck of the ship Kongou, where they had a lovely conversation that ended with Kongou asking what was Iona's guide -- the implication being, since it wasn't the Admiralty Code, what was it? What drove her actions?
"My own will," Iona said (22:05).
The concept of free will is important to me. I've pondered its mysteries for as long as I can remember. I remember feeling actual rage when I learned about the predestination concepts in Calvinism, for example. To find these ideas treated with such respect in Arpeggio of Blue Steel was a real treat. I said I loved this show's naval battles, and I do. I've joked that Takao is my favorite character (Takao? More like Tak-WOW!). But when all's said and done, the themes are what makes it timeless.
Thanks to the folks on Twitter who voted for me to review this series! I'm glad I got to look at it through reviewer's eyes, because this theme became even more clear and satisfying.
What did you think of Kongou in this episode? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!
Other Posts about This Series
Other Anime Sites
- Reddit: Spoilers] Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio Episode 12 Discussion
- Rabujoi: Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 12 (Fin)
- MemoryNK: Arpeggio of Blue Steel Episode 12 REACTION