The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Kantai Collection: First Episode Impressions

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” —President Theodore Roosevelt

This is the first post of 2015, coming ten days after the New Year began: the delay in posting was in part owing to the fact that I was on a vacation in Taiwan and Hong Kong during the winter holidays, and as such, rather than posting things while enjoying a cup of hot cocoa back home, I spent the winter break enjoying the warm weather of Taiwan and celebrated the New Year’s arrival by watching fireworks in Hong Kong’s Central distinct. The vacation brought a much-needed break from the flurry of graduate work and for 14 days, I travelled around the Taiwan islands and Hong Kong. Of course, now that I’m back, the first thing that I needed to get done was a scholarship application and some logistics for TA work for this term. With that being said, this isn’t a post about real life, or at least, not entirely: as per the title, this is a Kantai Collection talk. First announced back during September 2013, I was quite curious to see what this was about: the original Kantai Collection is a wildly-popular browser-based card game involving anthropomorphic WWII-era naval vessels. Although I see the game as unremarkable in every regard, it is renowned for having a cast of star voice actors, unique characters and the fact that destroyed vessels in the player’s arsenal are permanently thus, which is said to elevate the player’s care for each vessel. The Kantai Collection anime (which will hereafter be referred to as Kantai Collection) focuses on Fubuki’s story, and the series’ first episode throws in a little of everything, introducing her to the third torpedo squadron, showing life at the academy and providing Fubuki with her first-ever sortie against the Abyssals (previously known as the “Deep Sea fleet”).

The sort of atmosphere in Kantai Collection means that the anime bears a great deal of similarity to anime such as Strike Witches and Vividred Operation, albeit one in a naval setting, featuring a monster-of-the week deal and complete with the lengthy transformation sequences magical girl type anime are known for. Right off the bat, I’m finding myself feeling right at home with the anime after one episode. This is a welcoming setup that allows viewers unfamiliar with the game to get comfortable with the setting: even the bewilderingly large array of characters (if memory serves, there are some thirty two characters in the anime) isn’t particularly problematic, as Kantai Collection makes it clear that this anime will be about Fubuki and the third torpedo squadron (consisting of Mutsuki, Yuudachi, Sendai, Jintsu and Naka), with the other characters making appearances to support whatever story will happen, as well as offer something for the game’s fans to enjoy. In particular, with the first episode’s conclusion, it appears that Fubuki’s main motivation now will be to become sufficiently combat capable as to act as Akagi’s escort. The Fubuki was not a part of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s First Air Fleet and never escorted the Akagi, ending any prior conception that this anime is intended to be historically accurate: instead, Fubuki’s newfound resolve is setting up the beginnings of an adventure that could very well set the anime apart from the game and making it worthwhile on its own merits.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This is Fubuki, an anthropomorphism of the Fubuki class destroyer. She’s timid and meek, and has a low fitness rating. Her namesake was a special destroyer class with a high mobility and firepower relative to vessels of a similar type during its time. The original destroyer was completed in August 1928 and was sunk in October 1942 at the Battle of Cape Esperance.

  • The artwork in Kantai Collection is of a generally high quality, and while CG is used in some of the battle sequences later on, it’s not particularly out of place. The whole CG-vs-hand drawn debate is very much a reality in the industry (as Shirobako indicates), although why it’s a point of contention amongst fans has never really been satisfactorily explored. I personally think that minor faults in animation aren’t too big of a deal, but then again, I’m also quite forgiving of most mesh and texture errors in games.

  • Fubuki might very well be Kantai Collection‘s Yoshika Miyafuji, with traces of Akane Isshiki (Vividred Operation), Funco (Upotte!) and Miporin (Girls und Panzer). While this first episode deals with something many viewers would’ve already seen before (girl transfers to new school and meets new friends, then develops a deep admiration for a senior student), the reason that this rarely gets old is because this is something that can be depicted in an infinitely many number of ways, and each time, it’s fun to see how the show presents the process given the setting.

  • Mutsuki is the first of the Kan-musume that Fubuki meets at the Chinjufu Naval base, and the two quickly befriend one another after learning that the other is not as scary as their respective imaginations had made them out to be. With a cheerful personality, Mutsuki is based off the Imperial Japanese Navy’s destroyer of the same name: commissioned in March, 1926, it was involved in the Sino-Japanese War and the early stages of WWII, until it was sunk during the Battle of Eastern Solomons in August of 1942.

  • Mutsuki introduces Fubuki to Yuudachi, a relaxed girl who adds “poi” into her sentences and is based off the Shiratsuyu-class destroyer. Commissioned in 1937 January, the Yuudachi participated in the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and was eventually sunk at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. Sendai, Jintsu and Naka are also introduced here despite the lack of screenshots: being members of the Sendai-class light crusiers, each girl has different interests and personalities. All three of these light cruisers were destroyed before WWII concluded.

  • Every ship introduced thus far was destroyed in battle or scuttled by their crew, so if Kantai Collection were to take on a historically accurate approach, then the conclusion of the anime would doubtlessly be on par with Glasslip in terms of viewer satisfaction, or lack thereof. Given the tone of Kantai Collection thus far, it’s unlikely that any of the kan-musume will suffer casualties, and I’m personally hoping it stays this way, even though the game imposes certain death on ships that run out of health during combat.

  • Kaga and Akagi are members of the first carrier division: the former is focused and serious, while the latter is decidedly more easy-going and playful in character. Both Kaga and Akagi represent carriers, and fire arrows that transform into aircraft squadrons during combat. Their real-world counterparts were sunk by American forces in 1942 during the Battle of Midway, and coupled with the loss of highly-trained pilots, the Imperial Japanese Navy never quite recovered their fighting prowess afterwards, leading to their eventual defeat at Allied hands.

  • While strolling around the base with other members of the third torpedo squadron, Fubuki encounters Akagi for the first time and deeply admires the latter’s combat prowess. Some readers may be wondering why I’ve chosen the screenshots that I did; there are very few combat images depicting the other Kan-musume in combat, and that’s because this talk is mainly about Fubuki’s story, rather than the cameos that other kan-musume make in the first episode.

  • After meeting Akagi, Fubuki becomes enamored with the former, even managing to miss the fact that a massive parfait is sitting right under her nose. This sort of dynamic between a junior and senior student is remarkably common in anime: in fact, Fubuki’s expression here reminds me a great deal of Non Non Biyori‘s Hotaru whenever she’s thinking about Komari.

  • Even with a diverse array of characters, I have no trouble remembering members of the third torpedo squadron. In future episodes, I look forwards to seeing whether or not other characters (such as Nagato, Yamato and Atago, to name a few) will play a larger role in the anime, and if they do, I’ll learn everyone’s names in time.

  • The warning siren sounds, and Nagato gives the Kan-musume the order to sortie. Thus begins the transformation sequence, which answered some of my questions as the scene progressed. Previously, I wondered how the Kan-musume worked: they were stated to be anthropomorphic ships, but that led to the question of whether or not they were the ships themselves. The anime adaptation decides that the Kan-musume posses the spirit of the original naval vessels and are granted the power to use specially-built battle suits.

  • The combat equipment the girls gain allow them to ski over water and affords them firepower against the Abyssal fleet. The equipment is mechanical rather than magical, similar to the Vivid system in Vividred Operation, but the mechanics have not yet been explained (such as their power supply, ammunition storage and how arrows from a long bow can transform into aircraft), so it is not unreasonable to consider the equipment itself as having magical properties.

  • Kaga is probably my favourite character (and not just for this image’s angle); I’ve always been more of an aircraft carrier fan for their versatility over battleships and other naval vessels. As aircraft carriers, Akagi and Kaga wield long bows that can fire arrows which transform into squadrons of fighters and attack aircraft, along with a shield shaped like an IJN carrier’s deck. Careful inspection of the scenes find that the torpedo bombers are historically accurate, sporting the wooden fins that served to stablise the torpedo until it entered the water.

  • Armed with six Type 3 127 mm 50 caliber naval guns (mounted in three pairs), a maximum of twenty-two Type 96 25 mm AT/AA Guns, ten 10 × 13 mm AA guns, nine 610 mm torpedo tubes and thirty-six depth charges, the Fubuki and its sister ships were the most powerful destroyers in the world, surpassing American and English destroyers to the point where the Fubuki class were designated as Special Type destroyers.

  • Owing to a misunderstanding, the rest of the third torpedo squadron are under the impression that Fubuki is a veteran when she is in fact a complete novice; she struggles to stay afloat even while moving over open water, but once the combat picks up, she slowly begins to pick up the basics. This is not dissimilar to Strike Witches, which had Yoshika fly a striker for the first time without any training and managing to hold off the Neuroi long enough to keep it away from the allied fleet before the 501st destroy it.

  • With this screenshot of Fubuki tripping and falling, I’ve reached the quota for the maximum number of pantsu screenshots posts may currently have. One of the first things that come to mind during the combat sequences is that the choreography is quite good, making use of different camera angles and particle effects to give the impression that the viewer is right there with the characters as they do battle with the Abyssal fleet.

  • I have no screenshots of the Abyssal fleet, primarily because for the anime-first viewers, their appearance is a surprise that I’d rather not give away with the first few screenshots; with the same mystique as the Neuroi, Alone and Fleet of the Fog, the Abyssal fleet are an unknown enemy whose sole purpose is to act as the antagonist in the series and as such, have no backstory or additional information. This stands in contrast to things like Gundam, where the antagonists have defined backgrounds that may tell viewers why they are engaged in their actions.

  • The Kan-musume make use of a variety of miniaturised weapons that seem to be quite effective against the Abyssal fleet despite their small size, even though the latter have access to energy shields and beam weapons. This disparity is also seen in Strike Witches and Arpeggio of Blue Steel, denoting both the writer and audiences’ enjoyment of watching kinetic weaponry defeat far more advanced systems. In the Halo universe, humans are characterised by their tenacity and capability to fight the technologically superior Covenant with weapons that use the same principle as contemporary weapons: this particular choice seems to derive from the innate sense of satisfaction from triumphing against the odds, hence its popularity in entertainment.

  • Despite putting up a reasonable fight, the third torpedo squadron run up against highly powerful Abyssal forces and are bailed out by the first carrier division, who proceed to wreck the Abyssal forces without too much difficulty. For reference, from here on out, whenever I refer to a character from Kantai Collection, I will refer to them by name, and when I am referring to their real-world counterpart, I’ll throw in a “the” before their name.

  • After seeing the first carrier division in combat, Fubuki resolves to train and become sufficiently experienced to fight alongside Akagi. This wraps up my first post of 2015, and coming up next will be final talks on Amagi Brilliant Park and Sora no Method. This anime season, I will also be following Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata and Aldnoah.Zero: talks for both will happen after three episodes have elapsed. A talk about the iPad Air 2 may also be on the horizon as I become familiarised with some of its capabilities.

After the first episode, the question that will invariably be asked is where Kantai Collection will go from here. It’s logical to assume that one of three things could happen. The first would have Kantai Collection taking a more casual approach, emphasising the slice-of-life and comedy aspects above war, leaving viewers with something not dissimilar to that of Girls und Panzer or Strike Witches. The second is a more serious approach that gradually shifts the show into territory that raises various thematic elements about the necessity and morality of warfare, as well as the implications of following orders to engage and destroy an enemy one knows very little about (perhaps something like Madoka Magica or Knights of Sidonia). The third approach would be the middle ground, and this is the one that would serve Kantai Collection the best if the series is striving to differentiate itself from the game, as the anime would be light-hearted enough for new viewers to enjoy, while simultaneously raising some questions for thought amongst both those familiar and unfamiliar with the game. However, trends suggest that the first is probably the most likely to happen, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: at the end of the day, keeping things cheerful and relaxed would probably be the best way to ensure that Kantai Collection retains the greatest amount of consistency with the original game. Either way, in a series with a vast number of female characters and an unknown entity to fight, each week will probably see 24 minutes of moé girls and explosions, both of which are an excellent countermeasure against icy, grey winter days.

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