The Infinite Zenith

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

Kantai Collection: Whole-series review and reflection

“We know now that in modern warfare, fought on any considerable scale, there can be no possible economic gain for any side. Win or lose, there is nothing but waste and destruction.” ―Lester B. Pearson

Kantai Collection has finally reached a conclusion: the final quarter sees Fubuki train tirelessly to gain upgrades. These come just in time for Operation MI, a massive offensive to capture Abyssal territory and push them back. Akagi’s misgivings about the battle are offset by a relatively relaxed period leading up until the operation, but once the combat begins, abnormally powerful enemies (in the form of a boss, the Airstrip princess and an upgraded Wo-class carrier), and Yamato’s delay, force the Kan-musume into a difficult position, with Akagi’s dream becoming nightmarishly real. Outnumbered and overpowered, Nagato herself joins the fray, and the girls learn that the Admiral is alive and well. However, even with their renewed spirit, their enemy shrugs off countless rounds the Kan-musume put downstream. It takes an unwavering persistence and sheer determination for the Kan-musume to defeat the Airstrip Princess and its support forces. The Kan-musume are triumphant, but their victory is empty: what was gained by wiping floor with the Abyssals? The final episodes seem distinctly out of place in a series that had previously been very light-hearted in nature, and as it stands, Kantai Collection just isn’t suited for the philosophical discussion of what fate is. However, this is a series that isn’t over yet; there’s a second season set to release somewhere in the future (probably a year from now).

One question worth considering is whether or not Kantai Collection’s animated adaptation can be sufficient in motivating viewers to at least consider trying the game. For instance, after Girls und Panzer concluded, I was quite interested to try my own hand in World of Tanks, the closest equivalent to Panzerfahren and see if I was able to surpass Miho as a tank commander. There were aspects of the game that led me to abandon this endeavour, but that is neither here nor there; the point is that Girls und Panzer was able to excite me about armoured warfare. Has Kantai Collection succeeded in doing the same? The answer is no: going solely from the anime, I am presented with a simple world with the Kan-musume and the Abyssals, and I would be locked to playing as one side. I have a roughly better idea of what the different ships are through the anime, but this is the extent of the anime’s contribution. Even within this scope, the characters are easier to remember for their idiosyncrasies rather than their role in supporting Fubuki’s growth as a Kan-musume. Fubuki herself, despite being the anime’s protagonist, evokes mannerisms and traits from the leads of similar anime (Miho Nishizumi of Girls und Panzer, Yoshika Miyafuji of Strike Witches and Nanako Usami of Locodol, to name a few), rather than exhibiting a personality that would distinguish her from those before her. Consequently, beyond showcasing some of the characters, Kantai Collection’s animated adaptation cannot be said to be particularly successful at elevating interest in the game.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I’ve finally trundled across the finish line for Kantai Collection, and one thing should be made abundantly clear: the anime’s overall contribution to the Kantai Collection francise as a whole is insubstantial, but nonetheless, even if this is something that I am unlikely to recommend, Kantai Collection is fun to watch if one disengages their cognitive faculties. A handful of the initial images in this post deal with Fubuki taking heavy fire, providing some visual imagery as to how some fans feel about the series as a whole.

  • Much of episode ten sees Fubuki getting her ass handed to her by her own single-minded determination to improve as a Kan-musume, and Mutsuki expresses concern for Fubuki after the latter very nearly sinks during a combat operation while trying to go for one more kill. As per speculation, the final quarter did attempt to make things more serious, but as noted previously, this was a series that likely wouldn’t have worked if things had been serious.

  • I’ve known long ago about the “marriage” system in Kantai Collection, which is supposed to confer advantages in-game. From a practical perspective (as far as how the Pacific War actually played out), marrying a carrier would be most useful; the Pacific War was decided by the aircraft carrier.

  • I’m noticing a fair number of discussions on Kantai Collection throwing around the phrase “wasted potential” or similar without ever going justifying themselves. This is not a sufficient argument against Kantai Collection. It’s laziness: this is because the discussion’s participants never address what a show could have been. If there’s “wasted potential”, what would they have liked to see? However, forcing participants to think about this may sometimes be met with hostility: it’s always easy to tear down and criticise, but it’s much tougher to stop and rationalise it: since disappointment is felt rather than quantified, articulating one’s thoughts can admittedly be challenging for some, although it never really hurts to contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way.

  • I won’t throw the phrase “wasted potential” around without justifying what stems my thoughts. I consider that Kantai Collection might have been able to differentiate itself from the anime by making use of its twelve episodes to build a rich world for the Kan-musume: this world-building would foster that attachment to the characters and motivate the Kan-musume’s necessity as a weapon against the Abyssals. Such a world building would need to focus on one aspect in order to be fully explored within the space of twelve episodes.

  • I was admittedly disappointed when Fubuki’s upgrades only appeared to give one tier’s worth of change, whereas Yuudachi appears to have gotten the full package. The changes are very subtle and include superior armaments, and perhaps in a bit of meta-humour, Fubuki herself is disappointed with the minimal change to her appearance and assets.

  • Kantai Collection was at its best with humour-driven moments, and when Akagi begins mentioning something about “overcoming fate”, it feels like a distant attempt to give the girls’ sorties some weight to them that comes too little, too late: the Kan-musume aim to “protect everyone”, but so far, this “everyone” is never shown.

  • So begins Operation MI to annihilate an Abyssal force: Operation MI’s real-world counterpart was part of Admiral Yamamoto’s strategy for the Battle of Midway. He intended to disperse his fleet and attack the American airfield in waves, employing deception to ensnare the US fleet. However, Yamamoto’s plan did not account for the fact that the Americans had already repaired the USS Yorktown, assuming they only had two operational carriers and the fact that their naval codes had been cracked.

  • The Battle of Midway itself opened with American forces launching light attacks against a Japanese escort group, and the Japanese forces launching to unsuccessfully bomb the Midway airfield. Douglas TBD Devastator groups were also launched, and although they were eliminated completely and inflicted no damage, did delay the Japanese forces’ ability to refuel and rearm their aircraft, leading them to leave ammunition on their carriers’ flight decks. This left them vulnerable to the Dauntless dive bombers, which wasted the Japanese carriers and crippling the IJN’s capacity to project air power for the remainder of the war.

  • The Kan-musume do not suffer the same fate in their Operation MI: despite losing her operational capacity, Akagi is saved by a well-timed shot from Fubuki, and Kaga lends her a bow. Later, Zuikaku makes and appearance and lends Kaga a bow, saying that they were half-expecting the First Carrier Group to run into trouble.

  • Despite squaring off with the airfield princess and coming under heavy fire, Kongou never loses her cheerful manner, casually laying down her usual pseudo-English phrases and artillery bombardments against the Abyssal forces. During the fight with the Abyssals, any semblence of a respect for the laws of physics go out the window as the Kan-musume resort to even melee attacks to take on the Abyssals.

  • Haruna and Hiei’s cannon configuration is identical to that of an X-Wing from Star Wars and also appears to be able to execute quad-fire, where every cannon is fired to inflict additional damage. I’ve seen Arpeggio of Blue Steel, and truth be told, while the former has a more focused story, the character designs from Kantai Collection are more appealing.

  • Discussions I’ve had here seemed to foreshadow that a Wo-class carrier would serve as the final boss for the series; but this was not the case, as Fubuki quickly wipes out the Wo-class that she’d damaged in an earlier sortie. That showdown was brief and quite anti-climatic, but yesterday was anything but; I picked up volume seven of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, and spent most of the day preparing to teach Java’s Swing API. The day ended with Korean BBQ chicken and a skewer of grilled shrimp as some Tuesdays and Thursdays are wont, given that my tutorials occur by evening this term.

  • Fortunately, the term’s almost over, and once I can finish the implementation of my agent-based system soon, my team can finally test it and submit it for the term assignment. After this comes the oral exam for multi-agent systems, and if I can survive that, the summer will be upon me. I’ve finally gotten some of the basic elements of my project imported into the Unreal Engine and will be acquiring a newer computer for development soon. Back to Kantai Collection, the airfield princess’ durability is such that the Admiral’s orders encompass bringing out every last Kan-musume to the fight, including Nagato, who has hitherto acted as a secretary and operated at command rather than fighting on the front lines.

  • While the IJN suffered a major defeat at Midway, the Kan-musume triumph over their adversaries. The Abyssals’ origins and stories are never officially explained in Kantai Collection, and fan speculation has varied greatly concerning how the Abyssals came to be: some theories claim that they’re supposed to be representations of the Allied vessels, while others take a leaf from Puella Magi Madoka Magica and suppose that the Abyssals are born of a downed Kan-musume’s grudge.

  • The first theory would suggest that Kantai Collection is an attempt to glorify and justify the IJN’s actions during the Second World War. Although I have a strong dislike of the IJN for their actions and do not condone their role in the Second World War, at the end of the day, Kantai Collection does not appear to be giving off a vibe that suggests it is advocating Imperial Japan’s beliefs or actions in any way: instead, Kantai Collection‘s popularity (for the browser game) stems from its attention to detail. On an unrelated note, here’s something I’m wondering: does Akagi resemble Girls und Panzer‘s Hana Isuzu from a physical perspective?

  • The second theory, on the other hand, is subtly endorsed by the anime: after Operation MI ends, a hair ornament not dissimilar to Kisuragi’s floats to the surface, suggesting that the souped-up Wo-class carrier might’ve been her. If this is indeed the case, there’s less explaining to do with respect to history, but such an outcome would also necessitate a better explanation of what this world constitutes exactly: is it an alternate history or just a game running on someone’s computer?

  • I admit that, as someone who’s not played the game or are likely to play the game in the foreseeable future (between Kantai Collection and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, the former isn’t even an opponent), my own reflection on the series might not be as complete or representative of which audiences the Kantai Collection is suited for. With that being said, there are a few meaningful reviews out there that fans of the game have drafted, and from the looks of things, this series was so-so for them on average.

  • While Kantai Collection is unable to deliver a final product that sets it apart from the game, there is a single aspect that few can criticise. This is the soundtrack, a behemoth with sixty four tracks spanning hundred-and-fourty-five minutes that does a superb job of capturing and amplifying the emotional tenor of every moment in Kantai Collection, whether it be the majestic, militaristic songs for the Kan-musume, the Abyssal’s ominous motifs, and making use of strings to really bring out the right mood for the more emotional pieces. The soundtrack has an older feeling to it, reflecting on the Kan-musume’s origins, and I dare to say that soundtrack is so good that Kantai Collection doesn’t even deserve it: some of the best pieces on the soundtrack could be used in a far more serious film, such as Letters from Iwo Jima, and they’d still probably work.

  • A second season’s been announced, and I might just watch it because some days, inconsistent plots and flaws do not triumph over the eerily effective combination of moé and explosions. This is it for Kantai Collection posts from this blog as far as I can foresee, and over the next week, I will be striving to complete talks on Shirobako and SaeKano before the Spring 2015 season is officially upon us even as I gear up to wrap up the agent-based system I’m working on with my group, and finish grading for my students in a timely fashion.

As an anime, Kantai Collection is at its strongest when it chose to stick to Fubuki’s character and build the events from her perspective in the early episodes. This meant that there is always a familiar character to view events from: as a new destroyer when the series starts, other characters explain to Fubuki how various things work. As the series progresses, later episodes show deficiencies concerning how the universe of Kantai Collection is explored: is this strictly a simulated world that is intended to showcase what the game looks like from the Kan-musume’s perspective, or is there actually a reason the Abyssals are antagonising humanity? If it’s the latter, what about the Kan-musume make them more effective at combating the Abyssals then fully-trained Naval staff? What are the stakes of allowing the Abyssal threat to go uncontested? There is the possibility to give the Kan-musume’s campaign more weight (otherwise, this would simply be a full-blown slice-of-life anime), although this aspect never really is explored to any extent. Kantai Collection does have some good visuals, and a soundtrack that rivals those of a full-on war film in quality, but without giving the viewers a solid reason to support the Kan-musume, these elements ultimately are insufficient to counteract the overwhelming sense that the world of Kantai Collection feels very empty. This is an anime that’s difficult to recommend: from what mine ears have picked up, this is a series that left even its target audience (namely, those who’ve played the game) disappointed, and as such, Kantai Collection best suited for the most die-hard fans of the military moé genre, or those who have an uncommonly open mind.

12 responses to “Kantai Collection: Whole-series review and reflection

  1. medievalotaku March 27, 2015 at 22:08

    I can’t think of this show as anything besides some lighthearted fun. I must confess that I’ve only seen two episodes at the moment, but the only serious question which comes to my mind about the series is why they chose a “Special Class Destroyer” as the main character. The most famous destroyer battle of WWII which comes to my mind was the one in Leyte Gulf, where American destroyers and small escort carriers fended off more powerful vessels. As you write, the first season ends with something resembling the battle of Midway; but I can’t help but wonder if the second will not include something like that fight at Leyte Gulf.

    Like

    • Jusuchin (Military Otaku) March 27, 2015 at 23:57

      In that case, that if they wanted to focus on a destroyer, fans would’ve chosen the (improperly dressed) Shimakaze, Yuudachi (POI!!!), Shigure, Yukikaze (beaver), etc.

      There is a reason why, even though she is billed as the MC, almost everyone calls her ‘Whobuki’. But the fact she is seen as the MC by the devs.

      As for the show, I honestly wished that they just animated the Fubuki, Ganbarimasu! 4koma. It’s very light hearted and fun and would’ve appeased many without this bullship. I agree on the soundtrack though, it’s well done. But it isn’t bad. It isn’t the best, but I think the backlash it’s generating is just from people who wouldn’t see the reality and raged that the anime didn’t fulfil what they wanted.

      I saw what it was from the get go. Something to milk the cash cow, and I came in it hoping to glimpse my beloved Zuikaku (my first ever crafted ship), and 6th DesDiv. And it happened, so I was content.

      Like

    • infinitezenith March 28, 2015 at 21:00

      Assuming they go for a historical route, Leyte Gulf would leave almost all of the Kan-musume in ruins, and they’d deal a nontrivial amount of damage to the Abyssals in return. It’d certainly set the stage for some serious combat, but ‘serious’ hasn’t really worked all that well in Kantai Collection.

      Fubuki was someone I identified as being quite generic as soon as I saw the first episode: I personally find that generic is a better descriptor than bland: once upon a time, the ever-determined youthful schoolgirl with resolute persistence was quite novel. It’s the repeated usage and prevalence of this archetype that leads to it being so unremarkable, rather than any inherent features about the archetype itself😛

      While those more qualified than myself may disagree, I find the inclusion of some game elements to be quite nice, so those who’ve not played the game still feel like they’ve learnt a little about the game itself.

      Like

  2. Jusuchin (Military Otaku) March 27, 2015 at 23:59

    As far as I can tell, Akagi is one of the Yamato Nadeshiko in the series (when she isn’t eating). She is less ‘strict’ in a sense than Kaga, but firmly holds the ideas. The others would be Yamato herself, and Nagato if you can stretch it.

    That chipmunk may not agree about Nagato.

    Like

    • Jusuchin (Military Otaku) March 28, 2015 at 00:07

      And damnit I wish there was an edit.

      I would call it wasted potential. Because they didn’t stick to one track. They tried to appease all of the fans. From the right wing nationalistic Japanese, to the gaijin Admirals who play around the world. They tried to cram as many characters in but failed. I know it’s hard to pick and choose, but they had something great going when they forced a very uneasy group of personalities with Mobile Unit 5. And that was one of the better arcs, if not the best, in the series.

      And the last arc ruined that. Hell, it got worse when the recurring villain in the Wo-class Flagship Kai was sunk off screen, without even a fight. Also she’ll be refered to by fans who gave her the nicknames not!Yorktown or Wo~cktown, and in-game: Black Wo~ck Shooter.

      Like

      • infinitezenith March 28, 2015 at 20:52

        WordPress should enable an edit option: it’s something that seems to dissuade readers from partaking in discussion. Concerning Akagi, I’m only somewhat familiar with the Yamato Nadeshiko concept and to the extent of my knowledge, I assumed that it applies to mannerisms rather than appearance.

        As for the notion of wasted potential, I note that my dislike of the term’s usage stems from reviewers who feel that using the phrase in a sentence is a sufficient argument in and of itself (i.e. “I used a term that should be self-explanatory, and if you don’t understand, that’s your problem”). The point of writing is to be expressive: as one might expect, I don’t have any issue when people explain their rationale for saying so. In your case, you clearly make it clear that the series’ could have had a more focused story, focusing on a small group and really giving them exploration. Which means that I can go in and think: if we focus on a smaller group, it’s quite possible to really feel rewarded when said group gradually overcomes their differences, as with the fifth mobile unit. That’s quality discussion.

        When it comes to the last arc, I imagine the discontent that people who’ve played the game would have felt: it’d be like taking out a boss in Borderlands 2 one shot in an adaptation when players recall the fierce struggle it necessitated in the game.

        Dealing with the second season, there’s still a possibility that Kantai Collection could improve, although given the premise of this series, it wouldn’t be sacrilegious even if they don’t break from the status quo, but that’s just me.

        Like

  3. Joseph November 19, 2015 at 20:58

    I just want to know the names of the songs of Kancolle the anime…so amazing…

    Like

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