“If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.” –General George S. Patton
The two vessels, Ping Hai and Ning Hai, report encountering a high-ranking Siren during a patrol assignment. The Azur Lane deploy Sheffield and Edinburg to the Sakura Empire to investigate. They learn that Akagi is collaborating with the Observer to build Project Orochi, but are compromised, escaping to a remote island. In the ensuring conflict, Javelin and Laffey encounter Ayanami again but refuses to engage her. Sheffield and Edinburg return to the others with a black Mental Cube. Meanwhile, Belfast steadily pushes Enterprise to spend more time with the others, reminding her that the Ship Girls are human. Acquisition of the Mental Cube prompts the Azur Lane to intervene in a naval battle to prevent the Sakura Empire’s plans from reaching fruition. During the engagement, Enterprise single-handedly destroys Akagi and cripples Kaga. She realises her fears of the ocean here and disappears shortly after. The Observer reveals that Project Orochi is ready, leading others in the Sakura Empire to wonder what Akagi and Kaga had concealed. When Enterprise reappears, she wipes Zuikaku and Shoukaku, but is stopped when Ayanami intervenes. Laffey and Javelin manage to save Ayanami, who is subsequently taken prisoner. The two look after Ayanami, who begins to realise that her enemy is not so different than her friends in the Sakura Empire. With the higher-ups in the Sakura Empire doubting the necessity of Project Oricihi, the Observer compels Kaga to continue. In a flashback, Akagi’s interest in the program had been motivated by a desire to resurrect Amagi. Kaga realises that while she will never be by Akagi’s side, and makes off with the Oricihi. Enterprise’s visions are worsening, and she begins to understand that Orochi was born from an instinctive desire for conflict. Things worsen when another Siren, Purifier, arrives at the Azur Lane’s base and makes off with the Mental Cube. This is where Azur Lane closes off: after the tenth episode, production issues caused the remaining Azur Lane episodes to be deferred until March, and viewers are decidedly left with more questions than answers after ten episodes have elapsed.
The main challenge in Azur Lane lies with the fact that the anime has elected to run with three concurrent themes simultaneously within the space of a twelve-episode series. Enterprise’s weariness of the unending nature of warfare, and her own internal conflict between wanting to lead a normal life and serving her duty is the first of these themes. Concurrently, Laffey and Javelin’s insistence in befriending Ayanami shows that the factions of a war notwithstanding, at the end of the day, everyone on both sides of a conflict shares more commonalities that lead to understanding and peace, than they do the differences that prompt warfare. Finally, Akagi and Kaga’s interest in a proverbial deal with the Devil in Project Orochi speaks to the intrinsic dangers of forbidden knowledge, and the price that an obsession with personal desires can command when one uses these as the guideposts for their actions without understanding the consequences of their actions. Any one of these themes alone would have stood alone in a twelve episode series, and in integrating all three into Azur Lane, the anime comes across as being incredibly turbulent, tricky to follow and inconsistent: one moment, we have Laffey and Javelin sharing a lighthearted moment with Ayanami, and in the next, Enterprise is brooding over her state of being and doing her utmost to distance herself from the others owing to her fearing what could be. This creates a dissonance in atmosphere and gives the sense that Azur Lane is aiming to condense an entire game’s worth of ideas into a single anime, with the inevitable end result being that none of the three themes are adequately explored.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Presented as being stoic and reserved, Enterprise represents the silent soldier archetype, akin to DOOM‘s Doom Slayer and Halo‘s Master Chief. Belfast, having seen that Enterprise is capable of more human traits, attempts to draw out this side of Enterprise by personally seeing to it that Enterprise is sleeping and waking up at a decent hour, eating well, and spending time with the other Ship Girls.
- The two Taiwanese ships Enterprise had rescued during the third episode have sobering information: the Sirens have begun moving their more powerful vessels about, and an upcoming conflict seems inevitable. The fighting between the Azur Land and Crimson Axis seems in part motivated by the want to show that when the players are not fighting the Siren, they have the choice to square off against other Ship Girls, as well.
- Ayanami returns home to the Sakura Empire, a small island with architecture and atmospherics looking like it came straight out of a Japanese high-fantasy setting. The setting is beautiful, and like the Azur Lane’s main base, is home to sakura trees perceptually in blossom. The anime’s decision to show what life is like for Ayanami back home is meant to be a deliberate show that despite their differences, both the Azur Lane and Crimson Axis’s Ship Girls are people at the end of the day.
- As such, while Ayanami might be able to separate her duties from her personal feelings and can be seen as striving to be a good soldier, her portrayal is also intended to illustrate that this mindset, at least in the context of Azur Lane, is one where the sight of the bigger picture is lost. Javelin and Laffey act as the foils to Ayanami, refusing to fight because they see what lies beyond the war, and while this makes them lesser soldiers, it makes them more plausible as people.
- Nowhere in Azur Lane is the inconsistent animation quality more apparent than in late in the fourth episode, when the Edinburgh and Sheffield attempt to evade pursuing Sakura Empire forces: while the backgrounds retain the quality of its artwork, the Ship Girls are rendered much more poorly, feeling distinctly flatter, possessing unnatural facial expressions and are generally clunkier in their movements.
- The fifth episode was probably the dullest for me: most of the episode is spent with Sheffield and Edinburgh hiding in the ruins of an abandoned town while the Crimson Axis forces recon the area, looking for them. After acquiring the Black Mental Cube, Sheffield and Edinburgh take Akashi with the; Akashi had inadverdently caught wind of what Akagi’s plans were and found herself in mortal peril, and after making an escape, she would come to join the Azur Lane.
- The beleaguered Sheffield, Edinburgh and Akashi are rescued when the Azur Lane arrive to reinforce. In the aftermath of the battle, the Azur Lane wonder what the Black Mental Cube is about. Mental Cubes are supposedly constructs that give the Ship Girls the power to wield control over their ships, although the Black Mental Cube’s behaviour is erratic, similar to the One Ring that Sauron had forged in the hands of anyone other than Sauron himself.
- Whereas Enterprise needs a bit of a push to eat properly, I definitely appreciate the worth of good food, and make it a point to enjoy everything I eat. While this seems to be a superfluous thing to do, enjoying sitting down to a proper meal has numerous psychological and physiological benefits, especially with regard to being able to help one create breaks to their schedule and create a routine that increases one’s sense of security and contentment. This is why I am particular about eating at set times of day, and whenever I have a chance to eat out, I greatly enjoy it. Yesterday I enjoyed taco salad, fried chicken with Southwestern gravy and fries for dinner even as a blizzard blew into the area, and dinner tonight was Steelhead trout with a homemade tomato-cucumber salsa.
- While there are similarities between Azur Lane‘s intermission and that of Girls und Panzer‘s, unlike Girls und Panzer, Azur Lane‘s delay is speculated to have been the result of some conspiracy where owing to the series’ success over Kantai Collection for having easier accessibility (Kantai Collection actively controls who gets to register for the game by using an antiquated and obsolete lottery system, while anyone can sign up for Azur Lane, and Kantai Collection has a premium setup, while everything in Azur Lane can be unlocked with enough time and patience), the animation studios deliberately reduced the number of staff who were working on the project, hence the delays.
- This is, of course, entirely speculation and should be taken with a grain of salt. My own thoughts are that owing to the fact that the final episodes are going to be more intensive from an animation standpoint, the staff required more time to ensure that each and every moment is of a high standard, leading me to believe that the two remaining episodes will be focused on combat. This was the case in Girls und Panzer, and imagine that, rather than any fanciful notions of a conspiracy to bring down Azur Lane, it is probably something much simpler.
- From what I have seen in Azur Lane, the animation has been of a consistent quality as far as combat sequences go: fight scenes are dynamic and engaging to watch. Unlike Kantai Collection, where the kan-musume had loadouts consistent with their original ship, the Ship Girls of Azur Lane have some uncommon weapons in their arsenals for their fight against the Crimson Axis and Siren. Between this and the fact that Azur Lane makes no mention of any real-world locations (much less real world battles), I’ve decided to approach Azur Lane purely from a fiction perspective, focusing on the story and what the series is attempting to say through the characters’ experiences.
- This is why I’ve held it to be inappropriate, and foolish, to attempt hauling major battles of World War Two’s Pacific Theatre into discussions of Azur Lane: the world that Enterprise and the others live in is completely distinct from our own reality, and so, parallels cannot be made simply because the causes and consequences of major events in World War Two have no reliable equivalences to events happening within Azur Lane.
- Azur Lane portrays the deep breath before the plunge, those quiet moments on the edge of a battle, as a contemplative time. Some of the Ship Girls are understandably nervous about seeing enemy combatants, while others are merely resolved to accomplish their goals. Here, Takao stands on the deck of her ship, resolute in completing her assignment. Azur Lane‘s portrayal of Takao and Atago differ greatly from their Kantai Collection counterparts, and having now seen both sides of the coin, I conclude that there are some characters who are more likeable in Kantai Collection, and some whose Azur Lane incarnation are more appealing.
- The soundtrack in Azur Lane has proven to be one of its most enjoyable components. Like Kantai Collection, the music is of an excellent quality, capturing everything from the urgency and terror of battle, to calm, everyday moments in life. Of note are Enterprise’s motifs and the music surrounding the Sakura Empire; the latter are particularly well done, creating a distinct atmosphere that feels authentic and paints a very vivid image of the Sakura Empire, which is presented as a highly romanticised vision of what ancient Japan might have looked like within Azur Lane.
- The combat pieces in Azur Lane possess a similar emotional tenour to those of Kantai Collection: both anime make use of incredibly well-done music in its battle sequences. At present, while Kantai Collection‘s anime adaptation has fallen to the annals of anime I’ve watched and cannot recall well, the music remains highly memorable and remains one of the best anime soundtracks I’ve listened to. Azur Lane appears to be headed down the same path, with a series that might not be easily remembered, but a soundtrack that stands out.
- Akagi summons to her an array of anti-air cannons through portals in a scene reminiscent of Avengers: Endgame, with the goal of eliminating Enterprise once and for all. While Akagi is portrayed as being powerful, even she cannot stand against the might of Enterprise. Mid-battle, Enterprise begins emitting an unholy glow, and falls into something of a trance as she begins attacking the enemy forces with an unprecedented ferocity.
- I cannot particularly say that Azur Lane‘s anime adaptation has given me the incentive to check out the game: while I am aware that the game is solid from a technical standpoint, from how easy it is to get started, to the fact that it runs on iOS and Android and has more involved gameplay, the anime would have me believe that the game is also mechanically complex and possesses a steeper learning curve.
- From an unexplained mechanism, the entire area of operations is plunged into frigid cold as portals open throughout, impacting all of the combatants. Azur Lane has not yet explored what the scope and limitation of every Ship Girl’s powers are. Up until now, the Ship Girls are portrayed as similar to the kan-musume in performance, with some ships being able to summon familiars mid-combat. Area-denial powers and overcharging have not been brought to the table, leading to the question of where Enterprise’s power comes from.
- Kaga herself was previously injured when Enterprise struck: having seen losses to their forces, the remainder of the Sakura Empire Ship Girls decide to retreat. Zuikaku and Shoukaku decide to stay and sacrifice themselves in order to ensure the others’ escape, but Enterprise effortlessly annihilates both in battle. As Enterprise prepares to deal the killing strike, Ayanami intervenes and destroys the plane that Enterprise had meant to take out the two. This shocks Enterprise back to her usual self, but the destroyed plane also sends Ayanami on a course for one of the portals.
- I don’t expect that Enterprise would have the same capabilities in the game while under the player’s control: the ability to trivially defeat enemies would rather defeat the purpose of the game. In general, visually impressive and overpowered effects are either toned down or outright absent from games; the point of a game is to accomplish something, within the parameters specified by a system.
- At the last second, Javelin and Laffey manage to save Ayanami before she falls into a portal. It is this act that convinces that Laffey and Javelin’s gesture of friendship is authentic, and that their feelings are genuine. With a longstanding conflict resolved, Azur Lane shows here that friendships born of extraordinary conditions can be quite strong, and this sets in motion the idea that Azur Lane or Crimson Axis notwithstanding, the Ship Girls can befriend one another irrespective of their faction.
- Aynami is initially surprised to learn that the Azur Lane Ship Girls are not so different to her own friends back home, but finds that in spite of her technically being a prisoner of war, everyone at the Azur Lane base is treating her well, just as her allies do. Having now seen that the Azur Lane and Crimson Axis are not so different, Ayanami begins to understand why Javelin and Laffey were so persistent in trying to befriend her.
- The page quote was taken from General Patton, one of the most well-known American figures of World War Two, and chosen to mirror the thoughts I have about Azur Lane: I’m not quite so immature as to say that the series’ main shortcoming is the lack of historical accuracy, but Azur Lane has not exactly delivered a gripping narrative that compels me to pick up the game, either. While moderately enjoyable, I admit that Azur Lane is rather difficult series to write for: since I am unable to directly compare and contrast real-world events and hardware, it becomes difficult to draw comparisons and speculate on hardware aspects.
- If and when I’m asked, I’d say that my favourite storyline of Azur Lane would be the friendship between Laffey, Javelin and Ayanami: while also the most conventional with respect to how it plays out, it speaks volumes to the nature of warfare and directly contradicts what Enterprise believes in, showing that conflicts can be finite, and that new things can be born from them. The new friendship between two opposing sides of the conflict would therefore be indicative that warfare can change, that destruction is not always an inevitability.
- As punishment for disobeying a direct order during combat, Laffey and Javelin are made to look after their prisoner of war, but in practise, this equates to the girls taking Ayanami to some of their favourite spots on the base. At one point, Laffey downs her pancake in one shot, then makes to steal Ayanami’s, leading the two into a spirited (but still friendly) duel. These antics suggest a fast friendship was reached, and I would be curious to see how the three play a role in the conflicts ahead.
- At the opposite end of the spectrum is Enterprise: despite Belfast’s best efforts to restructure her life, Enterprise remains distant and cold. This isn’t a consequence of an aloof attitude stemming from her combat prowess, but rather, because she’s not particularly good with sharing her honest feelings with others. Dark have been her dreams of late: Enterprise encounters a shadowy version of herself which leads her to doubt her place in the world. While Enterprise and the others state that she has a fear of the ocean, it seems more appropriate to say that Enterprise fears herself, and fears that she possesses an unquenchable thirst for conquest and destruction.
- With Akagi presumed dead and Kaga still despondent, the mood in the Sakura Empire has shifted considerably, with the other Ship Girls wondering if this war is worth pursuing given their current situation. Ten episodes in, I would say that my favourite Ship Girl of the Sakura Empire would probably be Shoukaku, and I have no equivalent in the Iron Blood, since they’ve made limited appearances throughout the series. As Takao and Shoukaku continue their discussion, they pass by some buildings typical of the architecture in the Sakura Empire: I absolutely love the way the Sakura Empire island is structured, and it is here that some of Azur Lane‘s best artwork is seen.
- Whereas the Ship Girls all field World War Two era equipment, the Sirens run with contemporary and futuristic arms: their aircraft resemble the YF-23, an experimental next-generation fighter that began tests in the 1990s but was eventually counted as inferior to the aircraft that would become the F-22 Raptor. The Siren also field beam weaponry. However, the gap in technology does not appear to extend to defense; the Ship Girls are capable of damaging the Siren all the same. I believe that in the game, Sirens only appear in event missions, and Purifier, a Siren that attacks the Azur Lane base, is a battleship-type.
- The Azur Lane forces make pursuit but find themselves face-to-face with a Siren armada. It’s a bit of a cliffhanger to end Azur Lane on; with the eleventh and twelfth episodes coming on March 20 and 27, respectively, there is a bit of a wait, even now, for the story to wrap up. When the time comes, I’ll end up doing a single post to wrap up my thoughts on Azur Lane – in retrospect, I felt it to be a good decision not to make this the series I was going to blog about in greater detail. Between the amount of territory Azur Lane covers, and the delays it’s encountered, writing about this one would’ve proven very tricky.
- Azur Lane‘s tenth episode, leading into the intermission, ends with Kaga seizing the Orochi and sailing for unknown waters. We are now into February, and as I am hosting this month’s Jon’s Creator Showcase, it will be a balancing act to ensure I keep on that: I am intending to have four more scheduled posts for this month (two for Koisuru Asteroid, one special post for Girls und Panzer, and a talk on The Division 2 now that I’ve hit World Tier One). Depending on my availability and scheduling, I might have other posts written out, but these posts will be the ones I aim to put out for sure, besides the Jon’s Creator Showcase for the end of this month.
While Azur Lane does have discernible messages that are superficially explored owing to the constraints of the twelve-episode format, Azur Lane primarily succeeds in conveying to viewers the complexity in its universe. This may not necessarily be to the franchise’s advantage: an anime adaptation of a game universe is typically intended to drive viewers to pick up the game and presumably, buy in-app purchases. This is accomplished by creating a coherent story and create a sense of familiarity so that the viewer is inspired to pick up the game itself and delve further to learn more about the characters the anime adaptation portrayed. Azur Lane‘s anime adaptation, then, can be seen as promoting Enterprise and Belfast, Akagi and Kaga, Ayanami, Javelin and Laffey. However, owing to how the series has chosen to present its themes, each group’s stories are only presented at a basic level, creating none of the connection needed here. Azur Lane‘s anime, in short, does not compel me to play the game, much less go for any of its in-app purchases. The delay in productions, then, is doubly disappointing: with a story that is loosely held together, I had at least looked forwards to seeing how the fight with Kaga and Oricihi would close things up, but the series also suffers from a technical perspective, with inconsistent animations and artwork being quite evident. The net result is that there is now a wait to see how Azur Lane concludes, and the lingering sense that this wait might not have been worthwhile. Whether this is the case remains to be seen, and it will be in March when the final two episodes of Azur Lane will be released.