The Infinite Zenith

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Revisiting Kantai Collection: The Movie, Remarks On Duality and Accepting One’s Inner Darkness Through Introspection At The Quinquennial

“To become better, you have to admit your ignorance, at least to yourself.” –William A. Pasmore

On this day in 2017, Kantai Collection: The Movie finally became available to overseas viewers after a nine month long wait. While I had been enthusiastic to watch the film, upon finishing my experience, I found that the film had been technically excellent: the animation is superb, and the music was, in my own words, worthy of a feature film such as Letters From Iwo Jima or Isoroku Yamamoto. However, I had been left a shade disappointed with respect to the story, which appeared to leave aspects of Kantai Collection unanswered. As such, with Kantai Collection: The Movie approaching its five year anniversary and Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s release set for November 2022, I felt it was appropriate to give Kantai Collection: The Movie a revisit with a fresh set of eyes. Almost immediately, I found that the me of five years earlier had not been watching the film with both eyes open. Kantai Collection: The Movie makes a meaningful contribution to the franchise through its story, and this aspect is ultimately something that sets it apart from Azur Lane. Throughout Kantai Collection: The Movie, the Kan-musume face a new challenge in the form of an enigmatic voice emanating from Ironbottom Sound, which coincides with Kisaragi’s surprise return, seemingly from the dead. As the film progresses, Kaga reveals that Kan-musume and Abyssals share a close relationship; when one is sunk in combat, they are reborn in the other form, and are cursed to existing in an unending cycle of violence and struggle. While the Kan-musume reason that if they can survive while whittling down the Abyssal’s number, they can end the conflict, this approach actually implies the Kan-musume can only achieve their goal by extermination. In this way, the Kan-musume would become no better than their foe, resorting to force to achieve their aims. This is where Fubuki comes in: while she’s regarded as special in Kantai Collection, no evidence has ever been given of this. In Kantai Collection: The Movie, Fubuki’s single largest contribution is her climactic confrontation with her Abyssal self. Although her Abyssal self attempts to persuade Fubuki that in a world born of suffering, the only recourse is to inflict equivalent suffering unto others, Fubuki rejects this mode of thinking, but also acknowledges that while a changing world can be frightening, the endless cycle of violence can be broken if one accepts that existence is the sum of both joy and sorrow, tranquility and anger, and hope and despair. In short, Fubuki accepts something the other Kan-musume do not: one must accept, and embrace their inner darkness, in order to become whole. This is the acknowledgement that as an individual, one has both positive and negative traits, but rather than attempting to reject one’s negative traits, life is a matter of taking ownership of them and recognising how to manage and work with them. This willingness to understand her own dark side is what makes Fubuki special: she sees her Abyssal self as another part of her, not to be feared or shunned, but to be accepted. In this way, Kantai Collection: The Movie gives Kantai Collection new purpose: winning this war, and breaking the loop, entails giving the other Kan-musume the strength to do the same.

Kantai Collection thus becomes a story of overcoming internal strife through acceptance, and self-empowerment through introspection, which provides the series with a significant amount of depth, far beyond endlessly grinding maps and collecting ships for kicks. While Kantai Collection‘s television series had been an inconsistent amalgamation of comedy and drama, introspection and adventure, Kantai Collection: The Movie dramatically improved on its predecessor’s consistency and messaging. The largest indicator of this is through the film’s incidental music. In the television series, Kantai Collection‘s soundtrack had been an eclectic mix of whimsical slice-of-life pieces, grand combat accompaniments and emotional flourishes, mirroring the series’ portrayal of a wide range of moments in Fubuki and the other Kan-musume‘s lives. Conversely, here in Kantai Collection: The Movie, the entire soundtrack conveys a sense of melancholy and longing. In turn, the whole of the film is an emotional, moving experience, speaking to the isolation that Kisaragi feels after returning, the unsettling feelings associated with the mystery surrounding Ironbottom Sound, and Fubuki’s own journey in coming to terms with who she is. In fact, melancholy permeates the whole of Kantai Collection: The Movie: there is a sense of sadness surrounding what the Kan-musume and Abyssals do, and this aspect of the film speaks to the horrors and desolation that was the Pacific War. The Kan-musume and Abyssals are halves of a whole, of the spirit that went into every destroyer, battleship, aircraft carrier and frigate that was ever commissioned. From the engineers, to the pilots, command craft and crew, each vessel was a home away from home, a friend that looked after its crew in exchange for being cared for, and so, when a ship was sunk in battle, these feelings manifested in the form of a grudge, decrying the unfairness of this world and at how easily so much effort and respect could be undone. Kantai Collection: The Movie forces viewers to be made aware of this fact, and in conjunction with Fubuki’s special nature, the film suggests that it is possible to move on from these injustices by first forgiving oneself and accepting one’s own inner darkness as the starting point. Five years after Kantai Collection: The Movie‘s home release and my subsequent review of the film, it becomes clear that the movie is remarkably mature, and back then, I lacked the maturity and wisdom to pick these messages up.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My revisit of Kantai Collection: The Movie comes as a result of Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s imminent release, and this me to rewatch the film. This time around, I’m rolling the Director’s Cut, which features three more minutes of footage depicting the sprites assisting the Kan-musume. Right out of the gates, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia when starting the film, which opens with a night battle that sees the Kan-musume succeed over their adversaries, the Abyssals. The scene is set to Natsumi Kameoka’s compositions, which added considerable audio depth to the film and series as a whole.

  • I found Azur Lane‘s music to be of a comparable quality, and generally speaking, both Kantai Collection and Azur Lane are distinct in their own way. One aspect about Kantai Collection I did prefer over Azur Lane is the attention paid to detail in the Kan-musume: their loadouts and gear are more consistent and thoughtfully designed compared to their counterparts in Azur Lane. However, Azur Lane‘s charm is that ships from a larger range of navies are shown, and the resulting factions opens the floor to a different kind of story, whereas here in Kantai Collection, the conflict is strictly Kan-musume versus Abyssals.

  • On the weekend after Kantai Collection: The Movie was released five years earlier, I went to the local mall and drove out to the town over to take a stroll in their historical Ranche Park. I recall revisiting the park again a few months later; during this time, my first start-up was showing signs of failure, and I wanted to take a step back. As I sat on the hillside overlooking the park, I promised myself that I would return to this park in the future, under better circumstances. Over the past few years, between a busy schedule and the global health crisis, plans to revisit this park were put on hold.

  • However, with the vacation time I’ve had available to me this year, I was able to capitalise on an opportunity to return. After four years since I’d set foot at the historic Ranche Park, I thus returned, under tremendously sunny skies, to the viewpoint overlooking the town where I gazed across the valley as I had done four years earlier; the park has remained unchanged since I was here last, and a feeling of nostalgia washed over me. I allowed myself to live in the moment, in the realisation that I’d fulfilled a promise to better myself and revisit the park again. A week later, I would head over to the mall again. As I had done five years earlier, I enjoyed New York Fries’ Premium Chili-Cheese-and-Bacon Dog and Poutine Combo before heading off to pick up a foam pillow.

  • Upon revisiting the things I’d done five years earlier, under completely different circumstances, it dawned on me that with this additional life experience, rewatching Kantai Collection: The Movie again might’ve been a worthwhile endeavour because I would return with a fresh set of eyes. Since finishing the movie in 2017, I set down Kantai Collection and never returned to it. As such, all of my remarks surrounding the series in my later posts on Uma Musume Pretty Derby and Azur Lane were based on opinions that stem back from this time.

  • While some of my thoughts and impressions haven’t changed (I still feel that there’s a mystique surrounding the southern Pacific Islands that Kantai Collection: The Movie captures perfectly), my appreciation of the film’s main themes and intentions have increased. This is because back in 2017, I hadn’t quite been watching the film with an effort of trying to understand what the creators were trying to say. As it was, while Kantai Collection: The Movie was superb from an audio and visual perspective, I felt disappointed because the film hadn’t appeared to answer the questions I sought about the series or show its contributions to the franchise.

  • As it turns out, had I made a more sincere attempt in understanding things, I would’ve found Kantai Collection: The Movie to act as a conclusive presentation of how Kantai Collection works. Granted, there are some abstract moments in the theme, but these weren’t intended to willingly obscure or obfuscate the film’s main themes. In the present day, I make an attempt to see what a film wants to say with its narrative, and if a work has a cohesive message that is relevant, I am satisfied. Some folks believe that works of fiction must necessarily do more than this to succeed, but for me, the starting point of enjoying any work is the presence of a clear theme.

  • Throughout Kantai Collection, Fubuki had been presented as being special, but the television series never quite explored what this was. From the television series alone, one might gain the impression that Fubuki was special because, as a seemingly-generic individual with no distinct identifying traits in her personality, she could adapt and grow into whatever role was asked of her. However, Kantai Collection: The Movie suggests that Fubuki’s personality makes her uniquely suited for facing the problem that Kan-musume and Abyssals face.

  • This is because, once every character’s endless cycle between Kan-musume and Abyssal state is known, the Kan-musume determine that they can win the war by eliminating the Abyssals at a much greater rate than they themselves are sunk. On this logic, if no new Abyssals are created, then only Kan-musume will remain, and peace is attained in this fashion. However, given Kan-musume and Abyssals exist as a result of the unanswered feelings from the original World War Two naval vessels, the Kan-musume‘s plan would be akin to completely dismissing and suppressing the negative emotions within oneself.

  • This is, of course, a very unhealthy way of life, and in the context of Kantai Collection, the Kan-musume would be waging a war of extermination against the Abyssals. The Abyssals, being born from feelings of regret, hatred and pain, seek to destroy the Kan-musume, but the Kan-musume are supposed to represent optimism, hope and compassion. As such, while the idea of fighting the Abyssals to extinction works from a functional perspective, it would actually contradict the values that the Kan-musume themselves embody – annihilating one’s foes outright, rather than accepting their existence and reaching a mutual co-existence, usually will not lead to the solution one desires.

  • This is the sort of thing that period discussions surrounding Kantai Collection: The Movie were generally missing – a quick Google search for reviews of this movie will actually find my review, along with several others, topping the results. All of these reviews, mine included, conclude the series is best suited for fans of the series and is beautifully animated, but the story was confusing. Similarly, folks at AnimeSuki weren’t convinced that the film’s narrative could stand of its own accord and concluded the film had no emotional weight because the film focused purely on Fubuki. Some forum members suggest that Fubuki’s role as being special was naught more than a convenient plot device, and that the film should’ve had everyone fight Kisaragi or similar in order to have any depth.

  • However, to fight Kisaragi would be to promote destruction over understanding, and as I’d noted earlier, this would stand against the thing that the Kan-musume are supposed to represent. Since AnimeSuki nowadays appears adverse to perspectives that are not their own, I imagine I’d probably incur a ban for suggesting that these interpretations of the film are incomplete, and that the version of the film their members preferred to see would only reinforce the message that one’s foes should be destroyed. This mindset is precisely why the world is so divided: thanks in no small part to polarising media and social media, the world has increasingly trended towards an “us versus them” mindset, as opposed to acknowledging that problems can (and should) be solved by accepting the fact that other sides will exist, and that a solution in the middle, more often than not, can be reached.

  • At Tango-Victor-Tango, the forum-goers similarly characterised this movie as being poorly explained and hollow. Prima facie, my original review agreed with these perspectives. However, these perspectives, mine included, fail to take into account all of the design choices within Kantai Collection: The Movieboth the melancholy tenour that permeates the film, and the lingering sense of mystery come together to act as an analogy for the inner conflict between one’s best and worst self. I concede that it takes reading between the lines to draw this conclusion, but when everything in Kantai Collection: The Movie is summed up, it looks like the film had strove to convey how a real-world challenge that people face can drive the mechanisms behind those of a fictional world, enough to provide a plausible explanation for how players can collect ships and why they must fight the Abyssals.

  • As it stands, Kantai Collection had begun life as a game, and the game’s goals had proven to be quite simple. Attempting to fit a story around everything demands uncommon creativity from the writers, doubly so because Kantai Collection had been designed around the moé aesthetic. Azur Lane, when it came out five years later, found itself succumbing to the same problems that affected Kantai Collection, but when it released a spin-off, Slow Ahead, the problems vanished. This is because the mood in Slow Ahead matched the general vibe from the game more closely than the original series had. Had Kantai Collection originally aired as a light-hearted slice-of-life akin to Slow Ahead, it may have been considerably more accessible and effective in introducing the characters.

  • I’ve been a longtime defender of Fubuki and Yoshika-like characters in military-moé series, and the reason why this is the case is simple – providing a common archetype, the tabula rosa, allows for a naïve character to become shaped by their experiences and develop their potential. Without any other identifying traits, such characters become worth rooting for because they have nothing more than their effort and grit to go on. Because every world has different attributes, the same archetypes end up completely different as a result of their journeys.

  • The last segments of Kantai Collection: The Movie is the most significant part of the film, and also the least discussed. It is here that what makes Fubuki unique is explored: she alone doesn’t carry lingering feelings of resentment and hatred against her other half, or her fate, as the other Kan-musume do, and so, she is able to sail Ironbottom Sound without suffering the damaging effects from the area’s unusual waters. The phenomenon might be see as the combined grudges of the ships sunk here manifesting in physical form, compelling Kan-musume to give in to their negative feelings, and the damage to their gear is a visual metaphor for how being surrounded by negativity can chip at one’s well-being and confidence.

  • Whereas I missed this previously, Kantai Collection: The Movie makes it clear that Fubuki and her Abyssal self are two sides of the same coin. During the catastrophes of the Pacific War, the spirits imbibed by each vessel, the sum of the sailors, officers and engineers that ran each ship, eventually split in two from the torment and injustice of defeat. The positive feelings would become the Kan-musume, and the negative feelings became the Abyssals. Since then, these two sides have been at odds with one another, seeking to extinguish the other. However, the reality is that light cannot exist without darkness.

  • It is similarly unrealistic to eliminate negative feelings in oneself; when people say to “embrace their darkness”, they are referring to having enough emotional maturity to acknowledge that there are things that make one insecure, weak, et cetera. However, rather than trying to evade it, one becomes empowered by facing them head on. For instance, I’m impatient and quick to anger, quick to deal out judgement. I manage this by turning my impatience into an exercise of patience, of willing myself to take a step back and come back to something later. If later, my feelings of negativity go away, then it becomes clear that whatever had been bothering me was of no consequence. Conversely, if the feelings persist, I turn that restlessness and channel it towards something positive.

  • In confronting her Abyssal self, Fubuki demonstrates a sort of maturity that the other Kan-musume have not. She believes that having hope for the future is what allows one to put their best foot forward, and unsurprisingly, Fubuki’s Abyssal self cannot see why this is. Negative emotions can be all-consuming, and it takes strength to manage them. An exercise folks suggest is to write out the things that bothers one, and see if they can’t find any instances where those negative emotions led one to do something positive: this is supposed to help one understand that negativity is not dominating, and that there is nothing wrong with being human.

  • Because there’d been so little discussion of Kantai Collection: The Movie, one talk that did bring up the symbolism and imagery within the film still stands out to me. While I recognise the effort made towards interpreting these elements, their conclusion only merits partial credit. I can’t quite remember where I read this, but it was suggested that, when Fubuki finally faces her Abyssal self mano-a-mano, the red Spider Lilies that bloom were meant to represent reincarnation. However, the scene in Kantai Collection: The Movie unfolds as follows: Fubuki approaches her other half, and crumbles away from the effort. However, her Abyssal self also crumbles. In spite of this, Fubuki persists and manages to limp to her other half, embracing her tearfully and reassuring her that no one is going to be forgotten, that in spite of what’s happened, people will still be there for them.

  • According to hanakotoba, red Spider Lilies represent a final farewell, and bloom when people part ways permanently. While their usage in funerals led to their being associated with death, originally, red Spider Lilies simply refer to a parting of ways. What’s happened here is something similar to what I’ve experienced. In Chinese culture, killing black moths that enter one’s home is verboten because it is believed these moths house the spirits of the deceased. When a black moth entered my home, my parents told me to leave it be, and I later asked for clarification. From my grasp of Cantonese, I gathered they housed spirits, but missed the specific detail that these spirits may belong to one’s ancestors.

  • If I were to explain this to someone else, I would’ve probably butchered the story and concluded that moths are cursed. It is not surprising, then, that meanings can be lost over time, and similarly, anime are fond of using red Spider Lilies to symbolise death, when in reality, they were used by farmers to keep vermin away before being used at funerals for their distinct appearance: the red Spider Lily, Lycoris radiata, is poisonous. Kantai Collection: The Movie chooses to utilise the red Spider Lily correctly, rendering a field of them blooming as Fubuki bids her Abyssal form farewell before preparing to merge with her.

  • I don’t consider this a rebirth because what happens here is ultimately the restoration of two halves back into its original form. Reincarnation is best described as the process by which an individual’s soul is transplanted to another physical body. While one might then make the case that Fubuki is reborn in a metaphoric sense, the reality is that Fubuki herself prior to this merger still believed in accepting her other half. There is no significant change to her personality, and she’s not imbibing a lesson or experience that leaves her in a different place. On the other hand, a final farewell is an appropriate descriptor because by accepting her Abyssal self, Fubuki becomes whole again with an entity that had, until now, been an independent being with her own agency.

  • This entire scene is set to the track “Hope” (希望, Hepburn kibо̄), the single most moving and touching song on the Kantai Collection: The Movie soundtrack. Whenever I hear this song, my mind immediately whisks me back to the Ranche Park, and in this song, every emotion from Kantai Collection: The Movie is captured in a single, succinct track lasting a minute and forty-five seconds. In this track, the use of piano, string and woodwind simultaneously creates a feeling of wistfulness and empathy, of longing for a better future.

  • Far more than the red Spider Lilies, the true significance of the flower field scene in Kantai Collection: The Movie actually occurs when Fubuki finally embraces her Abyssal self. This is a very literal form of embracing one’s dark side, and shows how there’s nothing to fear. In doing this, Fubuki demonstrates that she’s overcome what troubles the other ship girls, and this acceptance liberates Abyssal Fubuki from her torment; her Abyssal self had existed in loneliness, so being accepted by someone, least of all the person who matters most to her, would show Fubuki’s Abyssal self that there is indeed hope, and that it is time to let go. With the farewell over, the entire scene dissolves.

  • Without Abyssal Fubuki’s grudge driving the opposing forces, Abyssal forces begin to disappear, and the film hits its dénouement. In the aftermath, Kisaragi and Mutsuki share a tearful moment before parting ways. Although Kisaragi’s return is a large part of the story, it ultimately became secondary to Fubuki’s journey, but, despite lacking more detail, I saw it as a show of how Abyssal or not, Kisaragi’s choices is what makes her a Kan-musume. While the film saw her slowly consumed by Abyssal traits owing to her lingering feelings of regret, in her heart, she still wants to return to the others. Seeing this is a cathartic release following the film’s build-up, and with the Abyssal presence neutralised, the Abyssal Kisaragi vanishes.

  • This exercise, in revisiting Kantai Collection: The Movie, represented a chance for me to reflect on how I’ve changed as a blogger. While the film still remains unable to convince me to play the browser game, I now see the movie as a sincere effort to give more weight to the world that Fubuki and the Kan-musume inhabit. In this function, Kantai Collection: The Movie is successful. Looking back, going back and revisiting a work after some time has passed, especially a work one has already written about, is a fantastic exercise for bloggers. Doing this allows one to reflect on how their thoughts and opinions change over time, and how life experiences may shape their experiences of something, potentially helping one to be a more consistent and confident writer.

  • In this way, I’ve come to remind myself that opinions certainly aren’t immutable, and works that I’ve disagreed with previously do have more merit to them than I’d initially thought. Kantai Collection: The Movie is one such example, and it was quite instructive to go back and revisit the film: while my original review was still somewhat positive, I have noticed that of late, I’ve been increasingly unfair towards Kantai Collection in my other posts. Returning to watch the movie anew, with a fresh set of eyes, has helped me greatly in remembering what Kantai Collection had been going for by the time its movie was released.

  • Having revisited Kantai Collection: The Movie, it becomes clear that Fubuki’s story is over. Itsuka Ano Umi de is going to focus on Shigure, and all of the promotional materials have suggested that this second season of Kantai Collection is going to be more serious than its predecessor. Set for release in November, I’m currently still working out how I’d like to write about this one, since Itsuka Ano Umi de airs during the same season as Yama no Susume: Next Summit. While it’s great to be seeing more Kantai Collection after all this time, I admit that, like the wistfulness conveyed here in Kantai Collection: The Movie, there is a bit of melancholy surrounding Itsuka Ano Umi de‘s release: five years have passed since the film’s release, and a nontrivial number of this series’ fans likely would’ve already moved on.

  • While Kantai Collection: The Movie had been all-business, Mutsuki does get a happy ending: Kisaragi returns to her in full, appearing to be fully cured of her previous affliction. If I had to guess, assuming that Itsuka Ano Umi de is set after Kantai Collection: The Movie, it is possible that the story could focus on Shigure coming to terms with her own inner darkness. The original IJN Shigure’s story is a tragic one: originally dubbed “invincible”, the Shigure was sunk after being hit by a torpedo from the submarine, USS Blackfin, at Gulf of Siam in January 1945. As such, with my curiosity in this sequel piqued, I am interested to see what directions Kantai Collection will take next. In the meantime, we are on the doorsteps of September: this is going to be the last post for the month, and since I am hosting Jon’s Creator Showcase, I am presently working on making this showcase one worthy of the community.

Revisiting Kantai Collection: The Movie thus becomes an important exercise for myself and this blog, because it shows how important it is to look inward and understand oneself, as well as accept how one’s life experiences can shift their opinions over time. In reflecting on these changes, one becomes more informed of their own values, and comes out a stronger individual as a result. I’ve never believed in clinging onto old opinions as absolute, and acknowledge that over time, things do change. In 2017, I was of the mind that Cocoapods was little more than bloatware that made it difficult to modify and update an iOS app. However, had I stuck with this belief, I would be a lesser developer for it. My experiences would subsequently show me that I was wrong, and I’ve never been too proud to own up to the fact I made a mistake. After taking the plunge and accepting Cocoapods, I became a better iOS developer, integrating new libraries into my project more elegantly and recognising that there are other excellent developers out there whose existing efforts can both inform me of how to improve myself, and save me time on a project. Similarly, with Kantai Collection: The Movie, I now see a series that strove to remind viewers that beyond the game’s mechanics, a very inspiring tale was told to give the characters’ experiences more weight and moreover, this tale holds applicability even now. Kantai Collection: The Movie has therefore aged very gracefully, presenting messages that remain relevant to this day. As such, I am not so proud that I won’t redact my earlier commentary about this series: Kantai Collection, through its movie, did say something meaningful, and despite over six years having elapsed since the film’s original screening in Japan, Itsuka Ano Umi de still remains relevant, as this second season may potentially expand upon the film’s themes and show the sort of change that Fubuki had laid down the groundwork for. Itsuka Ano Umi de will consist of eight episodes and begin airing in November, and while Kantai Collection may not be as popular as it had been back in 2017, the series still has life in it yet, with Itsuka Ano Umi de possessing the potential of reminding viewers why a six year wait for Kantai Collection‘s second season was completely worthwhile.

Azur Lane: Reflections and Review at the Finale

“If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.” –Winston Churchill

Purifier makes off with the black Mental Cube and returns it to Observer, who activates Orochi. Akagi is resurrected, but Kaga senses that something is off: it turns out Orochi is possessing Akagi, and launches a missile that obliterates an island to test the vessel’s might. The Azur Lane and Crimson Axis realise that Orochi poses a clear and present danger to the world and independently head off to engage it. Upon arrival, the two factions are outmatched by the Orochi’s defenses, and begin working together to destroy it, along with the Siren escorting it. The Orochi launches another missile, and when Enterprise moves to intercept it, Purifier engages her in a duel. Ultimately, Enterprise is able to fend off Purifier and disables the missile, causing it to detonate prematurely. Kaga, upon learning that she was repaired using parts from Amagi and therefore, was never really loved by Akagi, falls into despair, but Zuikaku manages to snap her out of it. With both Azur Lane and Crimson Axis fighting as one, they create enough of an opening for Enterprise to destroy Orochi: a single shot from Enterprise puts the Orochi out of commission, and she saves Akagi as Amagi’s spirit dissipates. Their trump card defeated, the Siren retreat from the battlefield. In the aftermath, the leaders of Crimson Axis and Azur Lane agree to cooperate, having seen first-hand the threat posed by the Siren, and Enterprise remarks that even if war in unchanging, as the embodiment of hope and the people’s will, the ship girls themselves can change. This is Azur Lane, whose conclusion comes three months after production issues pushed its final two episodes back, and with the entire series now in the books, the elephant in the room is whether or not this anime captures the spirit of the game and is worth watching on its own merits.

When Azur Lane had left off last, my main remark was that the series had three concurrent themes within its narrative, which obfuscated the story and left the anime feeling quite unfocused. In the final two episodes, however, the themes converge onto a single point: whether it be Enterprise’s originally stubborn attitude with respect to opening up to the other Ship Girls, or the gradual friendship that develops between Ayanami, Javelin and Laffey, Azur Lane suggests to viewers the importance of unity. While the ship girls for each faction outwardly appear different in beliefs and custom, at their core, everyone shares the same fundamentals, greatly valuing their friendships and everyday life with one another, and being strong in their conviction of fighting to preserve what is right. Although these differences initially send the Azur Lane and Crimson Axis into conflict with one another early on, their skirmishes lead both to realise their “enemy” is not so different than they are. Akagi’s obsession with Orochi comes as an offshoot of the theme: having lost someone important to her, she turns towards the use of forbidden knowledge to regain what was lost, and this action extracted a heavy toll. However, at Azur Lane‘s end, she comes to appreciate what she does have, rather than pining for what cannot be recovered. Altogether, Azur Lane is very busy as a series, but despite this, and the fact that the series does wander into more contemplative turf with Enterprise and Akagi’s stories, overall, Azur Lane‘s anime promotes the importance of unity and how people are, for all their differences, still share more in common at the end of the day; it is therefore vital not to let differences get between different groups, especially when faced with adversity, and in Azur Lane‘s conclusion, the titanic battle to stop Orochi and the Sirens as a joint effort between Azur Lane and Crimson Axis makes this message especially visceral.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Enterprise’s response to Purifier’s escape brings to mind the Legend of Arthur’s fist, which originates from Marc Brown’s Arthur. The backstory is that in “Arthur’s Big Hit”, Arthur clenches his fist in a moment that became synonymous with frustration and anger. The moment itself is now iconic, and subject to numerous jokes, but now is not the time for Arthur jokes. From here on out, I will be focusing on the remainder of Azur Lane‘s final two episodes.

  • In their debriefing, the Azur Lane learn that the island Sheffield and Edinburgh had taken refuge on a few episodes had been annihilated by an unknown weapon. This weapon is a nuclear warhead in all but name, having the same destructive capabilities and associated fear. Knowing that Orochi is capable of unprecedented destruction spurs both parties into action, and this appears to be the payoff that Azur Lane had been building up towards after all this time.

  • While Azur Lane does cover decidedly serious territory, the inclusion of characters whose very existence lightens up the atmosphere is a firm and consistent reminder that the series cannot be approached from a purely serious mindset: watching Enterprise wax philosophical about the meaning of warfare moments after the more junior ship girls throw a tantrum gives the sense that when everything is said and done, the ship girls are still human in their nature, and as such,

  • To Kaga’s surprise, Akagi is seemingly resurrected from the dead, and moreover, Amagi has reappeared. Historically, the Amagi was a battle-cruiser and slated for conversion into an aircraft carrier, but was damaged before she could be converted. Her sister ship, Akagi, also began life as a battle-cruiser and was converted into an aircraft carrier that played a pivotal role in the Pacific campaign until American planes sunk her at Midway. Kaga, on the other hand, was built as a Tosa-class battleship and served as a replacement for the Amagi.

  • Some historical knowledge serves to enhance one’s appreciation of Azur Lane, similarly with Kantai Collection: here, it explains Kaga’s devotion to Akagi and the dynamic that the two shared throughout the series. One could say that the grudges of the ship’s spirits endure in their ship girl incarnation, and therefore result in the interactions the anime choose to show. Azur Lane suggests that the original Amagi was a peaceful ship girl who encouraged cooperation, foreshadowing messages that would come to pass during the final battle.

  • Gratuitous pantsu doesn’t appear to be a major part of Azur Lane, and one really has to have an eye for this sort of thing to notice them – in the case of Azur Lane, these are not distractions to the flow of events, although I’ll admit that I would’ve preferred to see more of St. Louis in such moments. In fact, one of my biggest gripes about Azur Lane outside of the thematic presentation would have to be the lack of St. Louis.

  • Ironblood only nominally cooperates with the Sakura Empire: throughout most of their joint operations, Ironblood ships appear haughty and unconcerned with their Sakura Empire counterparts, but when they witness the power Orochi possesses, they resolve to support the Sakura Empire’s efforts to stop this monster with a genuine effort. It is in the final two episodes where viewers really have the chance to see the Ironblood ships fighting for the first time, and their use of Siren-derived technology is apparent. Rather than being pure Siren technology, I imagine that the Ironblood reverse-engineered capture Siren hardware instead, which makes it safer to manage.

  • Of the characters in Azur Lane, Prince of Wales and Cleveland seem to strongly resemble their nation’s representatives in Girls und Panzer: Prince of Wales bears a very similar appearance and manner to Darjeeling, being composed and chivalrous, while Cleveland and Kay are both exuberant and energetic. Having two familiar characters helped to ground me in Azur Lane, and even though Enterprise is the anime’s protagonist, having Cleveland, Prince of Wales, Laffey, Javelin and Ayanami helped me to focus on events without getting lost.

  • Kaga, driven to despair begins attacking Sakura Empire forces. Zuikaku and Shoukaku resolve to put an end to the madness, pushing through to reach Kaga, who has adopted a nihilist stance on the world. In general, nihilism is the belief that nothing in life has meaning, although the original philosophy of nihilism has mutated to the idea that because life has no meaning, it justifies poor and immoral decisions that people make in the moment. For me, whether or not life has meaning is irrelevant: doing good by those around us is our duty and obligation, and is a rather more appropriate way to approach the world.

  • Enterprise’s powers are never fully explored, but the anime presents her to be the ultimate ship girl, with no weaknesses: when the Orochi launches a second missile, Enterprise heads off to stop it. These missiles appear to be cruise missiles, as they remain in the atmosphere for its flight duration, and are presumably supersonic: Enterprise is able to keep them in visual range as she pursues them, and as she readies a shot to take it down, Purifier approaches.

  • Despite the Siren being able to seemingly shrug off direct hits from the ship girls, Purifier seems little more than a distraction to Enterprise, who fends her off and defeats her in battle before returning her attention to the cruise missile: it becomes clear that this missile is headed for the Azur Lane’s base, and everything comes down to a critical, well-placed shot Enterprise must take. In the end, Enterprise disables the missile, which explodes prematurely and reinforces to the parties below the importance of taking down Orochi.

  • The Siren have uncommon durability: Purifier’s body is destroyed in the fight with Enterprise, but her head remains intact, and she remains flippant even in defeat, frightening Edinburgh. To be sure, this moment is meant to be light-hearted, judging from the stylistic portrayal of Edinburg’s reaction. I’m guessing this means that Siren have the ability to regenerate when out of battle.

  • Sustained fire from the combined ship girls fleet is not enough to get through Orochi’s shields: I can’t begin to calculate just what kind of firepower is needed to punch through its shields, on the basis that I’ve not yet found any official specifications to help with quantifying everything. Because numbers don’t figure so strongly in Azur Lane, Orochi thus acts as a large-scale opponent that brings everyone together, being a plot device to drive a specific theme forwards.

  • Just as Akagi faced Orochi, who manifested as Amagi, Enterprise’s interpretation of Orochi is an alternate form of herself. It seems that Orochi, being Azur Lane‘s interpretation of a mythical eight-headed drake, represents the fear and doubt in humanity. In Akagi’s case, she sorely misses Amagi and questions existence without her, whereas Enterprise’s own dæmons are internal: she fears the inevitability of conflict and the attendant loss, but ultimately decides to continue fighting to protect those important to her.

  • Zuikaku’s confrontation with Kaga ends with Zuikaku physically beating sense into Kaga. With this wrapped up, all that is left is to stop the Orochi and bring Akagi back from the brink. Kaga and Zuikaku being at odds with one another in Azur Lane pales in comparison to their rivalry in Kantai Collection, and historically, I do not believe that the rivalry as as intense, since the crews of the different carriers did not serve side-by-side for extended periods of time. However, it is the case that the crews of the First Carrier Division viewed the Fifth as being less experienced: the Zuikaku and Shoukaku were added to the Kidou Butai later on.

  • By this point in time, Laffey, Javelin and Ayanami’s friendship shows that the ship girls, irrespective of faction, are more similar than they are different, and this forms the basis for Azur Lane‘s theme. When I finished off the tenth episode, I had an inkling that Azur Lane would ultimately use this as the theme to tie everything together, and the final two episodes of Azur Lane show that this was definitely the case.

  • Ayanami’s friends from the Sakura Empire had promised to beat the living daylights out of Laffey and Javelin when they’d met, but when they do come face-to-face, Ayanami lets her friends know it’s cool. With everyone now coming to the table to stave off destruction from a threat of hitherto unseen proportion, all past dislike evaporates as both Azur Lane and Crimson Axis come together to concentrate their efforts towards stopping the Orochi.

  • To drive things home for viewers, scenes such as one where South Dakota fights alongside Yamashiro exemplifies the sort of cooperation that is possible in Azur Lane. My impressions of Azur Lane notwithstanding, other viewers found that while the wait to the final two episodes may not have been worth it, Azur Lane remained a decently entertaining watch for them in spite of its flaws.

  • Having fought previously, there’s a bit of an awkward silence when Enterprise and Zuikaku meet on the battlefield, but present circumstances trump past rivalries, and Zuikaku implores Enterprise to help Akagi out. Having now found meaning to her fight, and understanding why she fears the ocean, Enterprise understands what Zuikaku is seeking and agrees to save Akagi. This sort of empathy highlights the progress Enterprise has made throughout the series; she begins to fight for those around her and finds new meaning in her existence.

  • As the ship girls begin turning the tide against the Sirens, the Sirens summon additional reinforcements. The number of things happening on screen at a given time in the finale’s ultimate battle is what lends credence to the idea that delays in the final two episodes were indeed a consequence of the additional effort it took to animate these scenes properly. It’s been a while since I’ve seen scenes that were this busy in an anime, and the fact that quality in these moments remains consistent shows that Azur Lane did indeed benefit from the extra time in production.

  • The last time something similar to Azur Lane‘s situation occurred, it was 2012, and Girls und Panzer had announced its plans to delay the penultimate episode and finale to March 2013. By the time the final two episodes aired, I was staring down my undergraduate thesis. Then, the wait had been well worth it, to see a smooth and satisfying close to a series that had unexpectedly taken the community by storm with its story and direction. Azur Lane‘s wait, on the other hand, seems more underwhelming by comparison: while the final two episodes are fun, they don’t carry quite the same delivery as did Girls und Panzer.

  • Even with the combined might of the ship girls, the Siren continue posing a challenge to them by summoning a large number of reinforcements. However, the ship girls are not alone in their fight: Belfast had arranged for additional reinforcements, and soon after, Queen Elizabeth arrives. In-game, her presence increases the performance of all Royal Navy forces. The anime presents Queen Elizabeth as being a bit childish and haughty, but also devoted those around her.

  • One of the biggest praises I have for Azur Lane‘s anime adaptation is its soundtrack: like Kantai Collection, the soundtrack is exceptional, featuring a combination of incidental songs that capture the joys of the Azur Lane universe, more emotional and introspective moments, the intensity of a battle, and my personal favourite, the pieces that establish a setting’s atmosphere. Both soundtracks are now available, and while having a different style than that of Kantai Collection‘s, I enjoyed Azur Lane‘s all the same. I find that both Azur Lane and Kantai Collection‘s music to be equivalent in quality, succeeding in enhancing their respective series.

  • Enterprise subsequently does something that is both expected and unexpected: she manages to disable the Orochi in one shot, punching through its shields and cracking its superstructure. The damage takes Orochi and its missile payload offline, allowing Enterprise to finish her fight and fulfill a promise to Zuikaku. The Enterprise confronts one final dæmon within her; having long dreamt about a confrontation with Akagi amidst a sea of flames, this moment is Enterprise’s final test.

  • Salvation, rather than destruction, is the path Enterprise chooses to take: she takes Akagi’s hand, and Akagi suddenly recalls a moment in her past: shortly after meeting Kaga, the two found themselves at odds with one another, but the two gradually came to accept one another with a bit of help from Amagi. Thus, when Enterprise grasps Akagi’s hand, her old memories return, and she comes to weep for the loss of innocence and everything Orochi had cost.

  • With Akagi back to her old self, the spectre of Orochi, in Amagi’s form, vanishes. The Siren understand that the battle is lost and begin pulling back, feeling that humanity has lived to fight another day. Azur Lane made extensive use of vivid imagery in conjunction with repetition to drive some of its ideas home, but despite having a large number of moving parts in its themes, Azur Lane does manage to tie things all together.

  • There remains one inevitable question: is Azur Lane or Kantai Collection‘s anime incarnation superior to the other? The resulting answer should not be surprising: no, neither Azur Lane or Kantai Collection holds the edge over the other, and in fact, both series are more similar than different in what they do well, as well as what they do poorly. Both anime have a top-tier soundtrack and solid visuals, plus likeable characters, but both suffer from trying to venture into more serious topics and striking a balance between the philosophical aspects of warfare as well as the more light-hearted and easygoing portrayal of everyday life as a ship girl. As it stands, I enjoyed both Azur Lane and Kantai Collection equally.

  • With the battle over, Azur Lane and Crimson Axis form an alliance to help improve relations and help to understand one another better. The ship girls aggregate at the Azur Lane’s base and settle into a new life with one another, while Enterprise is made to be the fleet commander. Meanwhile, Z23, who had been hinted as being interested in a friendship with Ayanami and the others, is invited to a picnic and hastens to join them.

  • With Azur Lane concluding in a decisive manner, one wonders if there will be a continuation. Azur Lane‘s current season has resolved the rift between the Azur Lane and Crimson Axis, while setting the groundwork for the Sirens returning as a credible threat, and many of the ship girls (especially St. Louis) could stand to be given more screen-time, so depending on sales, I could see a second season or movie in the future.

  • For me, Azur Lane scores a B- (2.7 of 4.0), or a 7.0 of ten: it had enough going to hold my interest, even with its delay, and from a technical standpoint, was fun to watch. I enjoyed the large cast of characters, and found the story to be a little less coherent than I would’ve liked: the series could have focused purely on Enterprise’s growth alongside Orochi, with the Laffey-Javelin-Ayanami story being resolved in one episode to motivate Enterprise’s own development. In spite of these flaws, and the fact that Azur Lane isn’t going to be for everyone, I still had fun watching the series, and ultimately, this is what counts for me.

The lingering question that remains in Azur Lane is whether or not the series succeeds in its intended goals. From a story perspective, Azur Lane is satisfactory, neither being remarkably good or uncommonly poor. From a marketting standpoint, the anime has not compelled me to give the mobile game a go, so the anime has failed here. While being unremarkable overall and doing little to distinguish itself from its counterpart, Kantai Collection, Azur Lane‘s anime does have its moments: the cause of the delays are evident in the scope and scale of the final battle, which features more characters on screen than anywhere else in the series’ earlier episodes. Overall, the visual quality in the final battle are of a passable standard, an impressive feat considering the number of ship girls on screen at a given time, and ultimately, if ensuring the animation and artwork were of a decent quality was the reason behind the delay in Azur Lane, this is completely understandable. Azur Lane also possesses a very strong soundtrack that captures the full spectrum of emotions and atmospherics throughout the anime. The incidental music does much to augment each moment, and similar to Kantai Collection, this is one of the areas where both anime genuinely excel. Overall, Azur Lane is a curiosity, and while it may not particularly excel in compelling individuals to try the game out, nor does it fully stand on its own as an anime, the series does not strike out entirely: enjoyment value is found in the combat sequences and the soundtrack. It’s tricky to recommend Azur Lane to most viewers, unless one were very fond of the military moé genre (especially ship girls). Consequently, for most folks, Azur Lane isn’t one that is an essential watch, but the series can still be fun for those who do decide to give it a go.

Azur Lane – An unexpected intermission and future directions

“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 PanzerAzur 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.

Rifle is Beautiful, or The Chidori RSC: Whole-series Review and Reflection

“A sniper is like a genius – it’s not enough to be one, you have to be one at something.” –Steve Aylett

After training with Asaka High’s rifle shooting team, Hikari and the others seek out a club advisor; it turns out that the Rifle Shooting Club won’t be able to participate in any sort of competitions without a dedicated advisor, but manage to convince instructor Yūko Tsurumaki to advise for the club despite her lack of knowledge in competitive rifle shooting. The Chidori Rifle Shooting Club manage to make their way through the preliminary competitions and place for nationals, but before they can compete, Hikari and Yukio must pass their make-up exams. The club becomes excited to know that they will compete in Tsutsuga in Hiroshima, and while the team is nervous, they perform well during the group shooting match, placing second overall thanks to a strong performance from YuYūko kio and Hikari. Hikari, however, fails to perform during the individual competition and comes away disappointed, but recalls that her journey’s been filled with fun experiences and meetings with interesting, friendly folk. She resolves to continue training so she can shoot alongside the best in the future. This is Rifle is Beautiful: despite its title, the anime’s main premise proved to be unexpectedly muted in dealing with the sport of rifle shooting, and therefore, never garnered much discussions during its airing. Rifle is Beautiful was further hampered by an unexpected challenge during production. Besides an extra recap episode that pushed the series back a week, the finale aired a full three weeks after its originally-designated time. Thus, when Rifle is Beautiful was supposed to finish back during the final Sunday of 2019, the series ended up wrapping three weeks into 2020. However, with the finale in the books, Rifle is Beautiful certainly is beautiful in its own right, taking a rather unique spin on a sport that is, with due respect, quite dull to watch in reality and making it into something far more engaging.

The aspect that allows Rifle is Beautiful to keep viewers engaged during the decidedly unexciting sport of rifle shooting is the combined use of Hikari’s narration and the focus on a variety of perspectives during a match, in addition to the shooters themselves. By cycling through the thoughts and perspectives of active competitors, spectators and tying all of it together with Hikari’s thoughts, viewers are able to gain a modicum of insight into what everyone is competing for and what brought them into the sport, while simultaneously watching the competitors react to their performance during a match. Since rifle shooting is at the core of Rifle is Beautiful, this clever framing allows the viewer to appreciate that there is more to the sport than good stance, technique and preparation: a plethora of thoughts flit through the minds of shooters and audience members alike, all of which contribute to both their performance and attitudes towards shooting. In this manner, the competitors from other schools are humanised and become properly-developed individuals who have their own reasons for competing. This gives additional weight and urgency to Chidori’s performance: they are going up against other people, rather than faceless masses that represent a hurdle for Chidori to overcome, and as such, when the national competition comes to a close, despite having lost in the individual competition and coming in second, the learnings and discoveries that each of Hikari, Izumi, Yukio and Erika have are equally as important, giving them a proper experience of competition as a team and helping them to improve. The intrinsically slow pacing of Rifle is Beautiful means that the themes can quickly fall to the back of one’s mind had the anime focused purely on rifle shooting, but by capitalising on competition time to also explore the motivations and beliefs other competitors hold, Rifle is Beautiful manages to make the most of its core element to tell an engaging, if tried-and-true, story.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Yūko’s addition to Rifle is Beautiful is a welcome one: she’s presented as a relatively new instructor whose inexperience is offset by her kindness, and finds herself roped into being the advisor for the Rifle Shooting Club. Despite not knowing anything about rifle shooting, the girls persuade her to learn the basics and soon after, Yūko is able to keep up with the others. This comes just in time for the prefecture qualifying rounds.

  • I’ve mentioned this previously in the talk on Koisuru Asteroid: high school instructors in anime are typically younger in age and single. This choice is deliberate to accommodate the idea that an instructor could readily accompany the students on their adventures, and while some anime will emphaise the fact that they’re single (and unhappy for it), other series create the impression that the instructors are still relatively new to their roles and in a manner of speaking, learn alongside the main cast. The latter holds true for Rifle is Beautiful, and while Yūko’s still green, she does her best to be there for her students.

  • Hikari is shown as the sort of person who performs her best when the moment calls for it, but otherwise does not otherwise do all that well in practise. This trait is the source of much consternation from her teammates, who can never be sure whether or not Hikari will choke during a competition. Throughout Rifle is Beautiful, however, Hikari’s appearances belie a strong sense of determination, and she wins where it counts.

  • Like Locodol‘s Saori, Yūko is rather fond of her students, and has a camera on hand to photograph the Rifle Shooting Club’s members. Of course, the ISSF 10 meter air rifle competition is not particularly conducive towards exciting photographs, and even when writing about Rifle is Beautiful, there was only so much I could do with the moments spent during competitions.

  • Rifle is Beautiful is up front about the nature of shooting competitions: matches consist of 24 warm-up shots that allow participants to calibrate their sights and get a feel for things, followed with 60 live shots that count towards their scores. The athletes have 50 minutes to place their shots, which equates to around 1.2 shots per second; there is no inherent advantage to being a quick shot, but taking too long either will be detrimental.

  • Rifle is Beautiful uses the same rule set as the Olympics, and so, the maximum score count the shooters can achieve in a given match is 654 (with 10.9 being a perfect shot). While shooters are only 10 metres away from their target, the target itself is 45.5 mm in diameter, and the ring for scoring a 10 is 0.5 mm across. In general, any individual shot scoring above a 10.5 is considered solid, and excellent shooters have a shot grouping of no more than 4.5 mm.

  • Chidori High does well during their preliminary rounds and secures a spot to the national competition. Looking back, the preliminary rounds also acted as a bit of a warmup for Rifle is Beautiful, allowing the series to show how it would go about keeping the competition portions engaging when the competitors themselves were shooting. Even at the preliminaries, the outgoing and friendly Hikari befriend students from competing schools without difficulty.

  • In the aftermath of the preliminaries, the girls have precious little time to celebrate, but their success has drawn the admiration of their classmates. Early on, Rifle is Beautiful predominantly focuses on Hikari, Izumi, Erika and Yukio as they get to know one another better, and so, the story does feel a little quieter in the absence of other characters. This changes as the series shifts gears towards the nationals, where more characters are introduced.

  • However, before Chidori can visit Hiroshima, Erika and Izumi must first deal with their wayward friends, whose academic standings are jeopardised when they fail their exams. While Hikari seems the sort of person who may occasionally fail from carelessness or a lack of inclination to study, Yukio failing was a bit of a surprise. With this being said, appearances can be deceiving, and a part of the comedy in anime comes from unexpected moments such as these.

  • It is not lost on me that I’ve now thrown around the phrase “make up exam” in the past several of my anime discussions. Rin from Kandagawa Jet Girls, and both Mira and Ao of Koisuru Asteroid ended up failing exams, as well. Back in Rifle is Beautiful, Yukio’s response to Erika for having gotten a pitiful five percent on her exam is priceless. Back when I was in high school, I was a rather competitive and serious student who scored consistently in the mid-90s. My primarily inclination was that I enjoyed the materials, wanted to see where effort led and also had a penchant for collecting souvenirs of this effort.

  • Of course, this led me to be a rather arrogant and narrow-minded individual, and by the time university came around, a sound beating during my second year, followed by my decision to attempt the MCAT, led me to view things from a different perspective – learning for the sake of improvement is alone a worthwhile and meaningful motivation, and grades alone do not always represent how much one has learnt. While Erika beats down Yukio during their study session, Izumi takes on a much friendlier approach in tutoring Hikari.

  • With Hikari and Yukio passing their make up exams, Rifle is Beautiful returns its focus to rifle shooting and the nationals. At this point in time, I’ve found all of Chidori’s characters to be endearing and likeable in their own right; Hikari takes the archetypes of the ditz who manages to be skilful where needed, Izumi is the reliable and dependable one, Erika is a tsundere, and Yukio is more or less a carbon copy of Yuki Nagato, albeit with a more developed sense of humour. All of the characters bear familiar archetypes, but it’s ultimately their interactions together, rather than their individual traits, that make Rifle is Beautiful fun.

  • Hikari prepares to head off for the national competition and waves her parents off. Overall, the technical components (animation, artwork and sound) in Rifle is Beautiful were of a good quality, and in particular, one aspect of Rifle is Beautiful that I enjoyed was the soundtrack: the incidental music in slice-of-life series are often overlooked as little more than a background element, but listening to the music on its own really gives a sense of how the composers have written the music to fit with different moods and settings within the series. Rifle is Beautiful has a combination of both optimistic pieces, uplifting tracks and even feel military march-like pieces.

  • From here on out, it’s the nationals, and familiar faces make a return as Hikari meets up with the other qualifying teams from their prefecture. Rifle is Beautiful did the characters from the other schools justice to the best capacity the series allowed, and the closeness to each school that viewers end up getting corresponds with their distance to Chidori. Hikari and the others are the characters viewers immediately feel at home with, while Asaka’s students and those who were at the preliminary rounds are familiar faces. Come the nationals, new characters are introduced, as well.

  • When I look back at my time as a student, I travelled the most extensively in middle school; I had been a part of a concert band and, besides going around town to compete, I also went to band camp. My final year of middle school was marked by a trip to the British Columbia coast as a part of a character-building programme. The criteria for admission into this journey was strict: only students with high grades and good character could go, but the benefits of going were numerous. I learnt team work skills while spending time on a converted mine sweeper and made memories that have endured to this day.

  • In high school, I stopped going on outings: my extracurricular activities became working on the yearbook and other activities that remained largely on school grounds while I geared up for admissions into, and during my undergraduate degree, it was taking all I had to stay in satisfactory standing. On the other hand, I travelled in graduate school and then on a few occasions for work. I definitely appreciate being able to go places, but like Chidori, my travels haven’t purely to satisfy wunderlust, and while there’s a sense of yearning on such trips, I feel that the sense of purpose I get in travelling, to do something for someone, is admittedly a good one.

  • While Yukio is often thought of as being very poetic despite her stoic mannerisms, the reality is that she’s just not good with words, and the impression of a mind suited for eloquence is ill-placed: Yukio’s Mind is actually like Freeman’s Mind in that she thinks about completely irrelevant or irreverent stuff during the moment. During her awe-inspiring run in nationals, her competitors wonder what could go on in the mind of this machine-like shooter, and as it turns out, Yukio’s thinking about how she’s loving every moment of how hot the room is, how while her name is wintery in nature, she prefers the summer.

  • When Hikari’s eye is drawn by a special under-jacket, all of Izumi’s strength is insufficient to get Hikari to move on, and even a coin toss to help Hikari whether or not to buy the jacket ends up inconclusive. A coin landing on its edge looks to be an incredibly uncommon event, but a short study by Daniel Murray and Scott Teare published to Physical Review E in 1993 found that the probability of the American nickle landing on an edge is roughly 1:6000 (i.e. one in six thousand tosses). While a 0.01677 percent probability is very small, it is by no means impossible, and the occurrence is purely meant as a visual metaphor that shows how undecided the two are.

  • Erika is Chidori’s next shooter, and while she paints herself as being highly focused, disciplined and not given to flights of fancy like Hikari might be, even she is not immune to the pressures of competition. Of Chidori’s Rifle Shooting Club, Erika most resembles Haruhi in mannerisms, being dishonest about her feelings, hot-tempered, competitive and quick to point out flaws in others. Beyond this tough exterior is someone who seeks to be a part of something and has a tender aspect to her personality, as well. She and Yukio are an interesting combination because of the vast differences in their personality.

  • In the end, Erika becomes the weakest link and scores poorly, causing Chidori to drop out of the race for the coveted first place. Unable to hold back her emotions, Erika cries at the outcome, but fortunately, Chidori still has one shooter in reserve. It’s all eyes on Hikari, whose performance will determine Chidori’s fate. The competition is fierce, and there are plenty of incredibly skilled and experienced shooters in the competition. During matches, the perspective switches several times to focus on different characters and explore their motives for doing well. While I continue to cheer for Chidori, it was nice to see what the other shooters were thinking, too.

  • In the end, Hikari puts on her best performance yet, scoring so well she draws the attention of several of the competition’s most experienced shooters. This final push, however, falls slightly short, and Chidori ends up finishing second in the competition. While Hikari and the others are disappointed, a freshly-minted team of first years that was relatively unknown getting this far is no trivial feat.

  • The outcome of the team competition is actually is desirable from a narrative standpoint: staunch proponents of realism in slice-of-life anime will accept that a new team won’t be able to rise to the top that easily, and finishing second gives Rifle is Beautiful direction in the future should there be a continuation, as Chidori strives to improve and win the national competition. The page quote for this Rifle is Beautiful talk is speaks to the spirit of marksmanship but also applies to life in general: it isn’t sufficient to know something, but it’s also about being able to put one’s skills to use. This is something that the best shooters appreciate, and as Hikari and the others continue practising, this will become more apparent.

  • After their team competition, Chidori decide to hit the onsen and unwind after a tense day of shooting. Being in an onsen means Rifle is Beautiful has a chance to bring out a joke not seen since the earlier episodes: the size of Hikari’s bust is something that surprises and impresses all those who learn of the truth, and for my amusement, I’ve included one screenshot here. Hikari’s outward appearance is that of someone diminutive, so I’m guessing that this design choice was probably deliberate to introduce some cheap laughs.

  • While the girls might be disappointed in not winning, a part of life is also being able to take defeat, learn from them and come back stronger than before. This is one of Hikari’s best traits, and while she may feel downed by a setback, she’s quick to recover and make the most of things. After competition for teams draws to a close, she spends the evening with Asaka’s students enjoying fireworks.

  • While awaiting their turn in the individual shooting competition, Hikari and Yukio stop by a food truck for some lunch. It turns out that Yukio’s not good with spicy food and ends up ordering the mild curry, to Hikari’s surprise: Hikari believes that authentic curry must be enjoyed in the spiciest form possible. Japanese Curry is, incidentally, my favourite form of curry: in its base form, I enjoy it either chicken or beef, plus potatoes, carrots and onions on rice. I have cooked the dish before, and the key is to cook it for longer at a lower temperature to really allow the potatoes to soften.

  • Another trait in Hikari that is presented as a strength is her ability to seemingly dispel her nerves by being friendly and open to those around her, regardless of whether or not she knows them well. When another competitor is struggling to decide whether to pick up a souvenir, Hikari shows up, and her positivity prompts the other student to buy said souvenir.

  • However, mirroring the ups and downs of real life, Hikari performs poorly during the individual competition and is extremely disappointed, to the point of feeling as though she’d been dusted by Thanos’ Snap: this actually happens to her when Izumi finds her. I’m actually not sure if this is a callback to The Avengers: Infinity War, which saw characters literally become dust after Thanos acquired the Mind Stone and used the Infinity Gauntlet to harness their powers into realising his vision for the universe. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo decided on the effect because it was a plausible portrayal of accelerated decomposition and breakdown.

  • Had Hikari actually been dusted by Thanos, the anime community (or at least, the small subset of it actually watching Rifle is Beautiful) would’ve put a team together and done their utmost to bring Hikari back. Fortunately, this isn’t the case, and it’s simply the case that Hikari’s just suffered a setback: she begins to wonder if everything she’d accomplished up until now were chalked up to blind luck. After crying into Izumi’s arms, Hikari feels better and returns into the competition hall, wishing she’d stayed to watch and enjoy the performance of giants.

  • With the competition now over, Yūko rallies her students and tells them that summer break is upon them. This doesn’t help the other schools’ students’ image of her, but for me, it shows that Yūko does care for her students in her own way. I’m very nearly done a post that should’ve been written a few weeks back, and before I wrap up, I note that January’s been uncommonly active for posts because I’ve been playing catch-up with last season’s shows. I will need to come back and do a talk on Azur Lane at some point in the future: the final two episodes will roll in March, so I’ll likely take this one on in February. In the meantime, the only posts I have left for this month will be for Magia Record and Room Camp, as well as a lengthier talk on Halo: Reach now that I’ve finished the campaign.

  • Overall, Rifle is Beautiful earns a B grade (7.5 of 10, or 3.0 on a 4-point scale): I was impressed with how the anime was able to take something like rifle shooting and weave character growth into the sport to make an unexpectedly engaging series that has left me with a little more knowledge on how the ISSF 10 Metre Air Rifle sport works. With likeable characters and solid technical aspects (both audio and visual), I had fun watching this series. In the end, this is what matters, and since Rifle is Beautiful succeeds here, I count it as a series I enjoyed.

Admittedly, the pacing of Rifle is Beautiful is ultimately something that viewers will have to decide for themselves as to whether or not the anime is worth picking up and continuing with; while successful in conveying the atmospherics, technical aspects and tenor of rifle shooting, Rifle is Beautiful is a very slow anime, even more so than other slice-of-life series that I’ve gone through. In particular, the matches span multiple episodes, and it can be easy to forget who’s who. However, the slow, and often meandering flow in Rifle is Beautiful is very naturally presented, serving to remind viewers that Hikari’s opponents are not faceless machines, but ordinary people like herself, with intents and desires. Punctuating the more introspective moments with comedy help me to enjoy the presence of the other school’s characters. Seeing the human side of the competitors helps to also remind viewers that this story isn’t just about Hikari. As such, while I was rooting for Chidori, having Chidori perform admirably in the group competition and watching Hikari fail the individual matches was also a reminder that happy endings can come in different forms: the real win Hikari has in Rifle is Beautiful comes from being able to compete properly with a team and meet so many unique people. The slower pace thus serves to direct focus on these moments, and so, while Rifle is Beautiful may not be a rivetting anime about rifles, it certainly does have a charm of its own. With Rifle is Beautiful in the books, I do not imagine that a continuation is likely in the foreseeable future: the original manga’s been running since 2015, and there are a total of four volumes so far, the last of which releasing in October 2018. Sales figures and source material notwithstanding, Rifle is Beautiful‘s current animated adaptation has ended on a respectable and fairly conclusive note, so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if this is where Rifle is Beautiful‘s anime incarnation closed things off.

Rifle is Beautiful, or The Chidori RSC: Review and Reflection After Three

“Bolt actions speak louder than words.” –Craig Roberts

Having participated in target shooting since primary school, Hikari Kokura enrolls at Chidori High School when she learns that there was a shooting club, but to her surprise, a lack of members means that the club was disbanded. She decides to recruit new members of restarting the club, including her best friend Izumi Shibusawa, the competitive and dedicated Erika Meinohama, and Yukio Igarashi, a quiet but studious girl. Erika is dismayed to learn that the scatter-brained Hikari was the one who bested her the previous year in a shooting competition, and initially joins to get her revenge, but after seeing Hikari’s determination to reach national-level competitions, the girls decide to pick up the sport. It turns out that Hikari had no uniform, and they visit Erika’s place, where she has a few spare uniforms. The girls later set about practising, and when Hikari fails her exams, Izumi helps her study so that she might pass. Between club activities, Erika and Yukio develop a bit of a competitive streak – Yukio had scored higher than Erika on exams, and the latter seeks to even things out, beating Yukio in softball. In order to help Hikari and Izumi improve, Erika arranges for a practise competition with Asaka High School, which has a strong target shooting team. This is Rifle is Beautiful, which is referred to as Chidori RSC (Rifle Shooting Club) in some places, a rather quiet and benign series about Hikari’s desire to become more consistent as a shooter as she becomes closer with the RSC’s club members. Unremarkable but gentle in its execution, Rifle is Beautiful is a simple and straightforward series that uses the premise of the 10 metre air rifle Olympic Event at its core: with the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics fast approaching, it is natural that an interest in the Olympics is ramping up, and although Hikari is unlikely to reach such a level of proficiency, Rifle is Beautiful nonetheless stands to be this season’s show to relax to.

When Rifle is Beautiful first began airing, viewers were introduced to the use of electronic rifles and targets: 10 metre air rifle shooting is typically done with a 4.5mm air rifle and paper targets, but for safety and cost effectiveness, specialised electronic rifles are becoming more widespread. These work on the same principles as light guns and simulate the air rifles being used in competitions. Other aspects of the sport, from scoring rules to the special clothing that participants are outfitted with to improve stability and reduce the prevalence of lower back injuries from the shooting position. With the sport being well-established, Rifle is Beautiful spends time between the girls’ club activities and their everyday lives. Having been around the block for slice-of-life series, Rifle is Beautiful offers nothing particularly novel or exciting with its setup; even rifle shooting appears a little dull. Instead, it appears that the series’ main draw really is watching the characters bounce off one another and grow as they spend more time together. The fiery Erika and her love of competing with everyone offers consistent comedy, while Yukio is more or less Rifle is Beautiful‘s incarnation of The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan‘s Yuki Nagato, retaining the same taciturn but mischievous personality. Izumi’s gentle and soft-spoken nature makes her a grounding implement for the other characters’ eccentricities. With character archetypes that are quite unlike those I’ve come to see in numerous other slice-of-life anime, Rifle is Beautiful provides a different sort of humour that is refreshing in its own manner.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Rifle is Beautiful has very little in the way of discussion: forums are quiet about this one, and blogs have nothing to say, either. I was actually originally set to write about Rifle is Beautiful after its first episode aired, but found that I didn’t have enough thoughts on things to write a reasonable post. After three episodes, there’s enough for me to write about, and I am enjoying this series, although the community’s lack of enthusiasm for the series has persisted.

  • While Hikari and Izumi are thrilled to have secured the requisite number of members for their shooting club, Erika and Yukio stare one another done. The closest equivalent in personalities I can think of is The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi‘s Haruhi, and the incarnation of Yuki Nagato from The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi-chan, who is rather more sardonic and expressive then her normal counterpart. This dynamic adds a bit of hilarity to Rifle is Beautiful.

  • While Hikari may not look it, she’s actually better-endowed than most everyone in the rifle shooting club: this leads to much rage from Yukio, who’d figured that she and Hikari shared a similar figure. Erika’s jealousy of her comes from Hikari having bested her previously in a shooting competition, and while Hikari may have had experience in shooting, her air-headed tendencies means that during practise, she tends to perform quite poorly.

  • The first episode’s pacing was quite unusual: most anime tend to space out the club’s development over two episodes, but Hikari manages to secure the number of members in no time at all. The remainder of the episode is given to introducing the sport of 10 metre rifle shooting, which is one of the few shooting sports that the Olympics recognises. Right off the bat, viewers are immediately familarised with what the sport entails and with it, have a clear idea of what Hikari is getting into.

  • A quick glance through the rules and regulations of 10 metre air rifle shooting shows that Rifle is Beautiful is very faithful to the real sport, meaning that more experienced shooters like Erika will be able to provide viewers with a good picture of things like scoring and equipment. While the real sport uses air rifles that fire a specialised wadcutter (flat-head) pellet, the club at Chidori uses “beam” rifles that emit an infrared beam for a sensor to detect. Depending on where the photons land, a computer then computes a score. The girls remind viewers that these aren’t the beam rifles mobile suits from Gundam series wield.

  • Yukio enjoys rifle shooting greatly, and right away, smiles warmly. In The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, Yuki never smiled, and it was only in The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi that a smile was seen, leading to a major reaction from the community. It suddenly strikes me that I’ve not actually written about either the TV series or the movie here; while the TV series did not live up to the hype the community created by putting it onto a pedestal, the movie far exceeded my expectations.

  • While Yukio resembles Yuki, Erika is a tsundere and is more similar to Haruhi in mannerisms: she is quicker to anger and grows frustrated with the other club members’ lack of drive. However, beyond this is a side of her that cares for the others, as well: when Hikari reveals that she doesn’t have a suit, Erika decides to invite everyone over to her place and lets Hikari pick her suit of choice.

  • When Hikari begins to smell the Erika’s old suit, she causes Erika to quickly become embarrassed. Once Hikari’spicked out a suit that she likes, the girls step out to a convenience store, where the closeness between Hikari and Izumi becomes apparent, and Erika begins to yearn for friendship of a similar calibre. This aspect will likely be a part of Rifle is Beautiful as each of Erika, Yukio, Hikari and Izumi become closer as a result of their sport: while treading on a well-worn road, the themes of Rifle is Beautiful will nonetheless offer a relaxing experience even if the setting and world-building is very conventional.

  • The rifles used in Rifle is Beautiful are of a make I’m not familiar with. Whereas the manga shows each of Yukio, Erika, Hikari and Izumi sporting different rifles, the anime has everyone using the same training rifles for their club. Compared to the shooting I’ve seen elsewhere, 10 metre rifle shooting involves hitting a very small target very precisely, and only allows participants to shoot standing up. In competitive shooting, shooters pin their non-dominant elbow against their body to reduce sway, but rather than using an open hand, some shooters may form a fist and use their other hand as a platform for holding the rifle steady.

  • This is a marked departure from the combat stances I’m more familiar with: unlike the military, where mobility also comes into play, competitors in a 10 metre rifle shooting match are only concerned with hitting their targets with precision. On the flip-side, rifle shooting as a sport means Rifle is Beautiful is much more laid-back in nature compared to a series where real firearms are used and also side-steps the rather dodgy issue of firearms violence elsewhere in the world.

  • Some folks insistently refer to Rifle is Beautiful as Chidori RSC, which is an alternative name based on Chidori high school’s rifle shooting club. The new title has absolutely nothing to do with Ribeyrolles, Sutter and Chaucha, who designed the semi-automatic RSC M1917 rifle, which was one of the first semi-automatic rifles introduced into service. The RSC M1917 featured in Battlefield 1 as a semi-automatic weapon for the medic class and had high damage to offset its small magazine, while in Battlefield V, the RSC returns as a weapon for the recon class and exchanges reduced muzzle velocity for being able to leave an extra round in the chamber, making it able to theoretically drop three enemies before requiring a reload.

  • When Hikari wonders what her objective with the rifle shooting club should be, Erika immediately suggests international level skill, but Hikari loses interest once Izumi brings out apple pie to share. Hikari’s poor performance prompts Erika to get in touch with her contacts and arrange a training session. While Erika is initially reluctant to do so, she nonetheless follows through with the request and sets up a practise match with Asaka High school.

  • On the day of the practise match, Hikari and the others meet Asaka’s rifle shooting club. A dedicated, serious club with more members, Asaka’s club is more akin to what Erika was expecting from a rifle shooting club. I’ve heard that the practise was supposed to be similar to Ooarai taking on St. Gloriana in Girls und Panzer, but it becomes very clear that because of the vast difference in the sport being used, Rifle is Beautiful simply does not have the same atmospherics: the chosen sport and setup means that there is little opportunity to present more colouful settings

  • I will eventually need to learn the name of Asaka’s students, but for the time being, they’re only present for the practise round. It turns out that Erika knows Akira Shinonome, their club president, which is how they were able to arrange for the practise match, and Erika has dirt on her. One of the other club members begins to listen in, but before anything interesting is discussed, Yukio’s sharpshooting catches everyone’s attention.

  • I’ve become rather fond of Izumi: she reminds me a little of Girls und Panzer‘s Rukuriri in appearance, but unlike Rukuriri, she’s soft-spoken and supportive. Reliable and present for Hikari, Izumi’s main goal in joining the rifle shooting club is to lose weight by sweating it off: the suits the girls don to shoot don’t particularly breathe well. However, losing weight is not this simple, and naturally, Izumi finds that this goal is actually less attainable than Hikari’s aim of competing at a national level.

  • Hikari’s wildly inconsistent performance is discussed, and while she is overall a poor shot, Akira wonders if Hikari’s the sort of person who does better when they’re in the moment. Whether this will be the case or not is left as a matter for future episodes to resolve, although I’m going to hazard a guess that since Rifle is Beautiful is a slice-of-life anime, Hikari probably has a clumsy archetype that leaves her unable to perform unless the moment really calls for it, purely as a comedic device rather than anything more substantial.

  • After Hikari and Izumi finish their turns, they prepare to head home, only to be reminded that Erika actually still needs to go. Gentle moments like these are the norm in Rifle is Beautiful, and while the series is not conducive towards more interesting talks where I can quickly draw upon a multitude of subjects to keep things going, series that are much quieter have their merits, as well. I am looking forwards to spending Sunday mornings watching this after training at the dōjō.

  • Hikari connects with Karen Sakashita, a novice shooter from Asaka who similarly scored poorly during the practise run. The two immediately get along, and this, together with the fact that Erika is related to Akira means that Asaka’s club members could become recurring characters in the show.

  • Learning that Akira is a skilled marksman inspires Hikari to look on. When she picks up her rifle, Akira remarks that it’s been a while since she’s shot an electronic rifle, having grown accustomed to using air rifles. I wonder if air rifles will be introduced later in Rifle is Beautiful: while the beam rifles are fine for training basic technique, an air rifle would also allow Hikari to become familiar with recoil control and reloading techniques.

  • With the day over, Chidori’s girls find their session with Asaka a useful one, where Hikari both meets a new friend and gains inspiration to continue practising and improving. For the time being, I have no plans to write about Rifle is Beautiful until the finale, but I am looking forwards to watching this one every week: with the world a chaotic and unfriendly place, it is reassuring to know that there are small things to look forwards to each week, and in between Battlefield V‘s Pacific Theatre chapter, I think that Rifle is Beautiful will fill the role of helping me unwind for the remainder of the Sundays. We’re now rapidly nearing the end of October, as well, and while there are a handful of posts to look for in November (including the Hibike! Euphonium and Aobuta‘s movies) I do have one more post I’d like to roll out for Blend S before the end of the month.

This season, it is quite apparent that there is a bit of a disconnect between an anime’s enjoyment factor and my ability to write for them: like Azur Lane, I am enjoying what I’ve seen in Rifle is Beautiful thus far, and after three episodes, I will be continuing to watch this one for the relaxing atmosphere the anime exudes. However, with 10 metre air rifle shooting being a rather uninteresting sport, and the technical elements being quick to grasp, Rifle is Beautiful offers very little for me to write about. Admittedly, when Rifle is Beautiful drew my eye, I had anticipated a series involving live firearms and a fictionalised variant of the Olympic sport: as it currently is, Rifle is Beautiful‘s use of standardised electronic rifles means that things like firearm maintenance and customisation, ballistics and recoil management no longer come into play. As such, writing about Rifle is Beautiful at regular intervals will see me encountering considerable difficulty in keeping readers engaged. With this being said, I see no problem with Rifle is Beautiful as a whole, and I do look forwards to seeing the sorts of activity that the shooting club will partake in to improve their skills, as well as whether or not the progress that is made will allow the club to fulfill their goal of reaching a national-level competition before the series comes to a close. I remark that just because a series is not conducive of conversation does not necessarily mean the series is lacking in any way, and so, I will be returning once Rifle is Beautiful concludes to focus primarily on what Hikari and the others have learned through their time together, as well as seeing whether the payoff from their journey was a meaningful one.