Review of Arpeggio of Blue Steel – Ars Nova – Episode 9: Kongou on the Edge and Nearly Perfect Tactics

Quick Summary

In Arpeggio of Blue Steel – Ars Nova – episode 9, “Desperate Escape,” Gunzou Chihaya and Iona attempt to run Kongou and Maya’s blockade. But they learn about something that shakes Iona to her core: the full extend of Kongou’s hatred. They also learn that hatred is driving Kongou to act irrationally — and dangerously! Even with the full support of Takao and Hyuuga, do they stand a chance of getting past Kongou — much less making it to America? And if they make it past Kongou, are they really in the clear?

Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious. 

What’s in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

Moment 1: Hyuuga and the Power of a Fast Battleship

Hyuuga seemed a little deflated when Iona pointed out that she “just haven’t lost.” But she perked right up when Iona thanked her! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

Hyuuga tried to help Kongou understand how love — in Hyuuga’s case, love for Iona — can take precedence over the Admiralty Code. But Kongou was having none of it. Worse, she continued to threaten the very existence of anyone who disagreed with her. So, Hyuuga tried needling Kongou by saying, “It’s because you’re too rigid in your thinking that everyone’s leaving you” (4:48). Kongou’s response? She opened fire on the island with her super gravity cannon. Invoking her status as a fast battleship and her “love for Sister Iona,” Hyuuga defended with everything she had. The island shook. Even in the I-401, Gunzou and Iona could feel the quaking! Moments later, though, the cannon had expended its energy, and Hyuuga lay in an exhausted heap. She declared that love had been victorious, but do you know what Iona said in response? “You haven’t won. You just haven’t lost. But… good job” (6:35). Iona can be so cruel with Hyuuga’s feelings! But the “good job” certainly re-energized her. 

Moment 2: Takao Rising

Takao blocked Maya’s super gravity cannon with her own. Her declaration that “I am Blue Steel!” was pretty cool! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

This episode was all about the battle — and I can’t remember when I had so much fun! There were so many ebbs and flows in the fight, so many moments when all seemed lost, only to have the tide change again. And there weren’t any deus ex machina moments, either! Almost everything that happened had been properly foreshadowed, which means I got to enjoy it even more. Take, for example, the moments following Hyuuga’s initial defense of Iwoto. Hyuuga was utterly spent when Kongou ordered Maya to fire her super gravity canon. Things looked dire for Hyuuga when, just as the terrible beam of energy lanced out from Maya’s guns, an answering beam intercepted it. The source? Takao! She had submerged, and now, seeing it was her turn to fight, she surfaced (7:23). Changing the color of her skirt and collar to blue (from red), she announced (7:44), “Right now, I am his ship. I am Blue Steel!” She was calm, collected, and focused — pretty much what you’d expect from a deadly heavy cruiser! Even more important? Her feelings for Gunzou gave her an extra level of resolve. 

Moment 3: Kongou on the Edge

Kongou’s declaration of hatred for Iona was very unlike Kongou. It’s an indication of how much this situation has obsessed her. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

Iona makes a last attempt to reach Kongou in the concept communications area. Kongou was all about making Iona submit. The alternative was that Kongou would sink her and kill Gunzou. As Kongou’s missiles and torpedoes hammered the I-401, Iona desperately tried to reason with the battleship. Kongou insisted that only the Admiralty Code mattered; everything else was a distraction. The dogma had completely consumed her. Yet, her anger seemed to grow. So did her fear. Iona tried to share one of her deepest insights. Namely, that alone, they are weak; together they are strong. She spoke of how Gunzou had helped her grow. But Iona might as well have been speaking an unknown language. Iona tried one more time, and this time, her words hit home when she said (17:25): “But, you are all alone right now. You remind me of my old self.” Kongou protested that she had the Admiralty code, but Iona pressed her argument, asking if Kongou felt anything now that she had a Mental Model. Kongou’s control snapped, just for an instance, and she leaned forward, speaking right into Iona’s ear. Saying that she might well be experiencing emotions outside of the Admiralty Code, Kongou said (18:11), “But remember this, if nothing else… I hate you.” She wouldn’t admit it to herself, but Kongou was indeed affected by her contact with Gunzou and Iona. Her dishonesty with herself left her in a psychologically dangerous place.

Thoughts: Kongou’s Tenuous Grasp

Did you watch past the end credits? You should really watch past the end credits. It’s important. 

Have you watched past the end credits yet? I remember someone describing the I-400 and I-402 as Iona’s evil sisters. Now, having watched past the end credits, I understand why. Damn.

I’d like to take a moment to say what an amazing job two of the voice actors in particular did in this episode. They all did well; that’s one of the things I like about this series. But in this episode, Hyuuga’s voice actor Saki Fujita, and Takao’s voice actor, Manami Numakura, delivered performance even more wonderful than usual. Just listen to their voices as Hyuuga and then Takao talk to Kongou in concept communications system. Their voices were so lyrical and beautiful. It reminded me of a conversation I once had with a translator for the United Nations. She spoke of how many Asian languages used tone in very different ways from English. She told me that many Americans can’t even hear some of the tonal qualities that are important in the language. Listening to the voice actors in this episode made me realize how true that was.

Hyuuga’s voice actor, Saki Fujita, did a fantastic job this episode. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

I adored the naval combat in this episode. So much, in fact, that the first dozen or so times I watched the series, I almost missed just how well the action and characters pushed Kongou closer and closer to an emotional breakdown. It started early when Hyuuga visited Kongou in the quaint little garden. As they sipped tea, Hyuuga said, “You look miserable right now. You looked like you were having more fun when you were playing on the beach” (5:00). Of course, since she’s in denial, Kongou would not be happy to hear that.

Takao had a similar exchange. She tried to explain her feelings for Gunzou and failed utterly. Finally disgusted, deciding there was nothing further she could do, she said to Kongou, “I just hope you can come to understand my perspective someday. It’ll change the way you look at the world” (10:34). 

Ever try to reason with someone who was dedicated to a dogma or agenda well past what most of us would consider reasonable? How do they react when you try to help them? 

Even Maya noticed that Kongou seemed off. “Kongou, you sound tired,” Maya said (11:01) shortly after Takao had intercepted Maya’s super gravity cannon . “Must be tough when no one will listen to you!”

Even Maya commented that Kongou looked tired. If even Maya’s concerned… Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

I sometimes think sympathy is even worse than an overt gesture of aid. Maya’s words had to cut Kongou deep! 

All of this came to a head when Kongou’s single-minded pursuit of the I-401 left her vulnerable to Hyuuga’s hacking attack. The attack thwarted Kongou’s pursuit that likely would have incapacitated Iona — or even destroyed her. 

“Your normal self wouldn’t have fallen for such a simple tactic,” Hyuuga said in an exhausted voice (19:59). “But maybe you’re more human than you’d like to think, huh?”

Kongou’s descent during this episode, set up as it was by hints in previous episodes, was very satisfying. Seeing her push harder and harder, seeing her grasp her ideals more and more tightly, while the world spun away from her, left me with one question.

What’s she going to do when she snaps?

This might be the moment that Kongou finally snapped. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream

“You are all wrong. Wrong,” she said (21:25) as the I-401 sped away. She was hanging on by her figurative finger nails. What’s she going to do if she gets even one more substantive psychological push?

I wish I could do a better job of explaining how dramatically satisfying this is. The show’s too often dismissed, for whatever reason, and that’s a shame! Watching a strong character descent into pathos is a treat! 

For the viewer, anyway. It’s probably less a treat for the character!

What do you think of Kongou’s descent? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

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5 thoughts on “Review of Arpeggio of Blue Steel – Ars Nova – Episode 9: Kongou on the Edge and Nearly Perfect Tactics

  1. Good review. I’m not familiar with this series, but it looks like there’s some quality things in it. I did kind of laugh a bit when I saw that one of the characters’ names was Kongou and how it’s a false cognate of two countries in Africa. Sorry, I’ve had a big Congo kick with the music and learning about the culture there.

    1. “one of the characters’ names was Kongou and how it’s a false cognate of two countries in Africa. ”

      Interesting point! I wonder if it’s because MAL and even the Crunchyroll subtitles have misspelled her name? The real battleship’s name was Kongō, and it has a really interesting history:

      Eventually upgraded to a fast battleship, the USS Sealion eventually sank her with torpedoes. Interestingly, it seems that the British had built her!

      “Sorry, I’ve had a big Congo kick with the music and learning about the culture there.”

      I’ve only heard a little of Congo’s music, but what I’ve heard was intriguing. It’s great to study other cultures, isn’t it? One of the best ways to build understanding…

      1. Definitely and I just heard about that battleship the other day from a Congolese YouTuber who talked about the languages spoken in his home country of the DRC.

        There’s some cool stuff out there. Currently, I’ve been listening to Papa Wemba, Konono No. 1, Kasai Allstars, and Alesh among others. I grew up watching the Carmen Sandiego game show as a kid, so that sparked my interest and I found out that I’m part Congolese from a DNA test among other ethnic groups in Africa and Europe respectively.

  2. Oooh, I wish I can give you an answer. It’s been so long since I watched this. And yeah, this series is seriously under rated.

    1. I was surprised how nuanced the characterization turned out to be! I had always enjoyed watching the show, but it was only when I watched it to review it that I noticed these subtleties!

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