The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

A Party at the Grand Base- Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! OVA Review and Reflection

“Take it easy, because if you start taking things seriously, it is the end of you.” –Jack Kerouac

With a party scheduled for the following day, Javelin decides to head on over to the gymnasium and show Laffey, Ayanami and Z23 her dance moves. Here, they find Sirius still attempting to practise for her waitress duties so she may impress the Commander during the party, and despite their best efforts, Sirius succumbs to various accidents during training; she becomes visibly flustered at the thought of serving the commander. Later, South Dakota and Massachusetts show up, hoping to practise ahead of the party. It turns out they’re slated to play a piano duet here. When they begin playing, Javelin, Laffey, Ayanami and Z23 appreciate the performance. On the evening of the party, South Dakota and Massachusetts perform while festivities are under way. Laffey enjoys herself with the food, while Sirius appears to have overcome her clumsiness and is able to serve. Javelin lets loose on the dance floor and ends up colliding with Sirius, resulting in some laughs from the other party-goers. This is about the gist of what happens in the special that was bundled with Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!. Airing last year, Slow Ahead! had been a slice-of-life spinoff that portrayed Javelin’s life on base after the main series’ events had concluded. At this time, Ayanami has joined Javelin and Laffey in their everyday misadventures, and even Z23 becomes close with the three: in the absence of conflict, Slow Ahead! shows how the ship girls are more similar than different, and it is ultimately this that allows everyone to befriend one another. This special inherits the aesthetic and tone from Slow Ahead!, as well as the smoother animation and improved artwork: originally, Azur Lane had run into challenges during production and overall, did not possess the same depth or engagement as the game the anime had been adapted from. However, Slow Ahead! reverses this, showing how, even in the absence of an overarching conflict and longer term objective, anime series derived from mobile games can still be remarkably fun to watch. While Slow Ahead! never had any of the severity or conflict that Azur Lane sought to portray, it remained entertaining because it allows the characters to simply bounce off one another, and the special accompanying Slow Ahead!, while nothing innovative, succeeds in this area.

Having now seen Azur Lane and Uma Musume Pretty Derby as examples of how anime adaptations of mobile games can find success, attention turns towards the upcoming Kantai Collection: Itsuka Ano Umi de. Kantai Collection had originally received an animated adaptation back in 2015, which had proven to be quite similar to Azur Lane in several ways. Both series attempted to delve into the more philosophical aspects of endless cycles of warfare while maintaining a balance with everyday life on base, and both series were ultimately at their most enjoyable when dealing with slice-of-life moments, being weaker with their more serious moments. Kantai Collection and Azur Lane both have impressive soundtracks. After its original run, Kantai Collection ended up expanding on their universe with a movie that dealt with the cycle between Abyssals and Kan-musume, while Azur Lane decided to pivot towards a more comedic and gentle portrayal of their ship girls when not in combat scenarios. It is unsurprising that Azur Lane‘s spinoff has proven to be more enjoyable: neither series had quite been able to reconcile the horrors and desolation of warfare with comedic antics that belong in other genres, and Kantai Collection: The Movie had insistently ploughed on with this story and ultimately ended up leaving the universe open. However, with over seven years having elapsed since Kantai Collection last aired, I imagine that, most English-speaking views would not remember the anime. As such, Itsuka Ano Umi de now faces a unique challenge. Presenting the Kantai Collection universe from a slice-of-life or comedic perspective would provide viewers with a conventional, if enjoyable experience, but Itsuka Ano Umi de appears to be taking a riskier route: promotional materials suggest that this series, centred around Shigure, could be a grim one. The original Shigure had fought at the Battle of Surigao Strait, which saw near-total casulties. There is the possibility that Itsuka Ano Umi de would be about Shigure dealing with the outcome of an equivalent in Kantai Collection and finding happiness anew in the aftermath, although save a handful of these promotional trailers, not much more is known. It is equally possible that the series could go in a different direction and continue on with where the film had left off. With this in mind, Japanese viewers do appear excited for the series, and I imagine that the key here is not to expect too much out of Itsuka Ano Umi de: for me, if it does go down a route where Shigure must come to terms with past losses and rediscover her reason for being, that’ll be satisfactory.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Until quite recently, I hadn’t even known that Slow Ahead! would receive an OVA with its home release: despite having greatly enjoyed Slow Ahead! during its run more than a year ago, Slow Ahead! isn’t a series that I would count as being so riveting and compelling that I’d keep up with related news. As such, that there was an OVA had completely slipped from my mind. Having said this, I am glad to have gone through and taken the time to watch this OVA, which became available in July of last year and follows the ship girls as they prepare for a party on base.

  • Slow Ahead!‘s greatest strength had been the fact that it was entirely comedy-driven: in series like Azur LaneKantai Collection and virtually every other online game, characters form the bulk of the appeal, so an anime that is able to take these characters and let them bounce off one another in a slice-of-life setting can result in an entertaining anime that expands the world further without overlapping with the topics the game seeks to cover. This is, in part, why both Kantai Collection and Azur Lane‘s original anime series were a little less effective; the aspects that drive the game may not be quite as consistent or coherent from a narrative standpoint..

  • Uma Musume Pretty Derby is the exception to this: because the horse girls have unique goals and aspirations, in conjunction with the fact that every horse girl’s experiences is rooted by their namesake’s history, an engaging story can be written for the anime format, all the while expanding on their world in a way the game might not. It is therefore unsurprising that Uma Musume Pretty Derby is receiving yet another continuation.

  • With this in mind, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more Slow Ahead!, either: Javelin and her friends end up involved in a variety of experiences on base, and these moments do fit the short format quite nicely, offering viewers with a few laughs here and there. Despite my never having played Azur Lane in any detail, Slow Ahead!‘s portrayal of the characters is accessible and simple, allowing this series of shorts to be one more addition to my collection of shows to watch when I’m looking for something simple.

  • In this OVA, Slow Ahead! shows Javelin as being quite excited to take to the dance floor for their party, in hopes of impressing the commander with her fresh moves. Eager to show Z23, Ayanami and Laffey what she’s got, the group head over to the gymnasium, where they find Sirius already there, practising for her waitress duties during the party. The real HMS Sirius was a Dido-class light cruiser that was launched in 1940 and assigned to assignments around the Mediterranean Sea from 1942 onwards. In Azur Lane, Sirius is portrayed as a well-endowed maid who struggles with her practise.

  • All thought of dancing is forgotten as Javelin and the others decide to help Sirius with her practise out: it turns out that Sirius is also hoping to impress the commander. This is a recurring theme in Slow Ahead! as the ship girls vie for the unseen commander’s attention: with Azur Lane‘s original series, the higher-ranking ship girls made their own calls as to what assignments they would take on and what tasks they would carry out, so in this regard, Slow Ahead! does bring back an element that was present in the game.

  • As a bit of an aside, this post has actually been sitting in my “drafts” folder since the last week of April; I had originally been looking to get this post done before May had arrived, but things became quite busy towards the month’s end. While I’m now settled in and have a consistent schedule, the end of April saw me working on pushing through posts for Project Wingman and wrapping up talks on anime that I’d been meaning to write about, as well as begin preparing special topics talks surrounding my trip to Japan five years ago, and the preparations for the MCAT a decade earlier.

  • The largest of these tasks was revisiting Go! Go! Nippon! so that I can do a full scale post for a lengthier recollection about both my travels, and thoughts of the game. With those done, I’ve had a chance to make a dent in my backlog of shows (as Akebi’s Sailor Uniform demonstrates), and this comes just in time as the Calgary Flames make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs; entering this week, I stayed up much later than I normally would to watch the heart-stopping game seven, which took place at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

  • Although the Flames had fallen into a 1-0 hole after the first period ended, Tyler Toffoli tied things up during the second period. Moments later, Dallas would score again, but before the second period expired, Matthew Tkachuk tied the game 2-2. The third period was scoreless, and so, the Flames went to overtime. For fifteen minutes, Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom, and Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger duelled to keep their respective teams alive. Finally, Johnny Gaudreau would put one behind Oettinger at a bad angle, taking the Flames to a second-round showdown with the Edmonton Oilers.

  • I’ve not seen the Flames in a round two series since the 2004 playoffs, when Martin Gelinas scored in overtime to help defeat the Vancouver Canucks, and on this first match in the iconic Battle of Alberta, the Flames exploded out to a 9-6 victory over the Oilers at the ‘Dome. This victory saw Tkachuk with a hat trick, and while winning the first match feels amazing, Edmonton is an excellent team, so the next game is going to be tough. One thing’s for certain: the Battle of Alberta will be intense and emotional. Back in Slow Ahead!, with Sirius struggling with various tasks, the other ship girls do their best to reassure her that despite nerves, she’ll be fine once the party arrives: Sirius has taken several spills, including one moment where she gets cake on herself, causing Laffey to try and help Sirius to “clean up”.

  • Although Sirius’ misfortunes persist, South Dakota and Massachusetts soon appear: it turns out they’re going to perform on the evening of the party, and have also shown up to practise their piano piece. To give Sirius a chance to catch her breath, Javelin and the others decide to hear South Dakota and Massachusetts practise: a grand piano’s already been placed on the main stage, and the gymnasium is soon filled with a warm piano as the pair practise.

  • South Dakota and Massachusetts did not figure prominently in Slow Ahead‘s original run. Both South Dakota and Massachusetts are classified as battleships in Azur Lane: in-game, battleships bring massive firepower to the table, and a quick look around finds that the most iconic World War Two battleship, the USS Missouri, do exist in the Azur Lane universe as ultra-rare vessels, although to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen them in combat or on base previously. However, reflecting on her role in World War Two, Missouri is portrayed as being highly efficient with paperwork (the USS Missouri was the site where the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed).

  • The previously-empty gymnasium is a completely different place on the night of the party and is aglow with warmth. This party, although only portrayed for a few moments in Slow Ahead‘s OVA, speaks volumes to how far things have come since the events of Azur Lane proper: Kaga and Enterprise are no longer at one another’s throats, for instance. Seeing slice-of-life moments in Azur Lane had proven surprisingly enjoyable; longtime readers will know that I am very fond of quiet, ordinary moments. This is because life is already busy and hectic as it is, so moments I have to myself are appreciated, and enjoyment of quieter moments extends to my entertainment, as well.

  • Just this past weekend, I ended up having a few hours of Sunday afternoon to myself: having gone grocery shopping and mopped down the floors, I had enough time in my afternoon to walk over to the neighbouring bookstore, where I spent an hour blissfully browsing through the latest novels and reference books. On the way back home, it suddenly hit me that I’ve not felt this relaxed for quite some time. Back in Slow Ahead!‘s OVA, Sirius has managed to overcome her doubts and becomes comfortable with serving just in time for the party.

  • To reiterate the fact that this party is a magical moment for all those participating, the entire scene is filled with a warm, golden glitter: all of the preparations appear to have been successful, and the event itself is further given a dream-like character by depicting the various scenes as stills. Although this technique was previously used to offset the fact that some moments are too intricate to animate, slice-of-life series utilise it as a visual metaphor and emphasise the idea of living in the moment. This is the reason I’ve given as why Akebi’s Sailor Uniform‘s final performance uses stills rather than animation; for both Erika and Komichi, they’re completely immersed in what they’re doing, and the anime intended to convey this, rather than CloverWorks’ prowess, hence the outcome.

  • Laffey lives up to her promise of eating to her heart’s content at the party. While reception foods are quite tasty, I’ve never really been one to over-do it: eating too much at a party, especially when one’s in formal wear, can create for some challenges. The key here is that at parties, dinner is often served buffet style, and the best approach I’ve found is to sample everything, then “fill up the corners” with one’s favourite dishes once everyone’s had a chance to eat and settle down. This familiarity comes from a lifetime of eating dinner Chinese style: everything is communal, rather than served in individual portions, so it’s considered good etiquette to let everyone at the table try something, and then slowly pick away at the dishes over conversation.

  • Javelin, on the other hand, dances her heart out during the party. After a series of watching the ship girls struggle in a life-and-death battle with the Orochi Project, Slow Ahead! gave viewers a chance to see the girls enjoying everyday life. Slow Ahead!‘s OVA continues in the vein of its predecessor, bringing back memories as to why Slow Ahead! had been so enjoyable. The look of joy on Javelin’s face is priceless, although in the moment, Javelin loses track of her surroundings and collides with Sirius, who’d otherwise been having a fine evening, as well.

  • While perhaps a little embarrassing, no lasting damage is done to either Sirius or Javelin. The moment does leave me with another screenshot of note: fanservice in Azur Lane is comparatively disciplined, and this was something I found a little surprising, since series of this sort traditionally capitalised on the moment to show pantsu and make mammary jokes like both were going out of style. Having said this, while such moments are not a bother for me, I do feel that in a series where the characters can stand of their own merits, such moments could be stripped out entirely, and the work would still stand.

  • Slow Ahead! is one of these series: the characters and their misadventures carry the show, so even in the absence of things like pantsu, the anime would still be quite charming to watch. However, the presence of such fanservice is not unwelcome, simply serving to add yet another layer of comedy to things. With this post in the books, I believe I’m as caught up as can be for Azur Lane at present. This means I’m going to focus my attention on wrapping up My Dress-Up Darling, and then make my way through Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which I picked up for 10 dollars during the past weekend. I’ve been wanting to return to Bolivia and start my fight with the Santa Blanca cartel: the last time I played Wildlands was during the 2017 beta, and I’ve been wishing to return and finish the fight since then.

While this may come across as a bit pessimistic, I will note that Japanese viewers are more open towards another Kantai Collection adaptation. Folks who’ve seen the trailer and promotional artwork are looking forwards to seeing more of their favourite Kan-musume brought to life in the animated format, as well as seeing what sorts of things await viewers. This is the more mature perspective to take: Azur Lane‘s appeal had similarly been with its characters. Javelin, Laffey, Ayanami and Z23 had made Slow Ahead! remarkably entertaining even though the series had no combat whatsoever, and while the writing is largely dependent on familiarity with the characters’ in-game incarnation, the fact that the spin-off had given viewers a chance to know the characters better meant that I’d left Slow Ahead! with a better measure of each character, despite never seeing anyone fight against the Siren. The prevailing sentiment amongst Japanese viewers is that the characters make Kantai Collection worth watching, and these thoughts are valid: my hopes are that Itsuka Ano Umi present viewers with a central cast that are every bit as likeable and charming as Javelin, Laffey, Ayanami and Z23. For the time being, there’s a full half-year between the present and when Itsuka Ano Umi is set to air, and having just finished Slow Ahead!‘s special, I am glad to have taken the time to check this one out: despite its short runtime, it brought back everything that had made Slow Ahead! enjoyable and condensed it out into a short format to give the series a swan song of sorts. It’s unlikely that Slow Ahead! will receive another continuation, but in the event that such a continuation does occur, I would have no qualms about watching it. While Slow Ahead! might not be a thriller or a philosophical masterpiece, it does succeed in its function of giving viewers a few laughs, which is something that everyone could do with more of.

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