“If it’s strictly comedy, I like to bring some darkness to it. If it’s strictly drama, I always like to lighten it up as well. I like to find some kind of dimension and make my characters human, so that it doesn’t feel like a sketch and feels more like a slice of life.” –Nestor Carbonell
In the aftermath of a new arrangement to help the Iron Blood and Sakura Empire better understand the Eagle Union and Royal Navy, the ship girls live and attend school together at the Azur Lane’s main base. Javelin, Laffey and Ayanami have become close friends since, and enjoy their everyday lives together, befriending Z23 in the process. Their daily activities include helping Baltimore with various club activities, manage to have a solid barbeque despite Rodney blowing up their ingredients, make chocolates with Prinz Eugen and even help Bismark work up the courage to ask Tirpitz to a dance. In these peaceful days, Javelin, Laffey and Ayanami attend a school festival, learn that Belfast is training a smaller version of herself to be a proper maid, set up an onsen with Shoukaku and Zuikaku, visit an amusement park with Yukikaze, Mutsu, and Nagato, and spend a full day trying to help a sleepy Laffey find her ideal pillow. Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! lives up to its name, being focused on the ship girls’ lives outside of their duties in combating the Siren. Similarly to Strike Witches: Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! and World Witches: Take Off!, Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! dispenses almost entirely with the questions that Azur Lane raises, and instead, capitalises on the fact that there are so many ship girls to show the sorts of misadventures everyone has in pursuit of their studies, while they partake in events around their school and even contemplate chasing the elusive commander’s heart. Such a series is invariably light-hearted, and while perhaps not offering much in the way of narrative progression, still serves an important purpose in demonstrating to viewers that military-moé series, by virtue of their characters, are about personal growth and an appreciation of time spent with others first and foremost.
By Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!, what’s become clear is that the different factions have all acclimatised to life with one another. Ayanami is now very much a part of Javelin and Laffey’s lives, and with this familiarity comes the sort of comedy that can result when people get to bounce off one another. Laffey’s lethargy befuddles Ayanami, and Ayanami’s love for video games often gets in the way of things. However, in spite of these character traits, it’s clear that without labels and factions impeding them, Javelin, Laffey and Ayanami are now best of friends. This is something that the original Azur Lane sought to convey, and indeed, this was probably one of the strongest themes in the series. To see an extension of that message in Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! reiterates that this is what Azur Lane had originally aimed to convey. Some events in Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! really drives this point home: in the original TV series, Zuikaku had been utterly determined to defeat Enterprise in combat, pushing herself even in the knowledge that she might be sunk in the process. By Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!, Zuikaku’s latest project is the installation of an outdoor bath, and she accepts Javelin, Laffey and Ayanami’s help in getting things set up, even promising the three first dibs on using the bath once they’re done. This is a dramatic departure from what was shown in the original series, and shows that beyond any doubt, the ship girls can indeed be friends where old grudges and alliances are no longer observed. In focusing on these elements of Azur Lane, Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! is able to act as a comedy, showing that despite the challenges imposed by warfare and the stresses this has on the ship girls, there are also equivalent moments of joy and idle relaxation. Azur Lane succeeds in using its spin-off to help viewers settle down after last year’s anime, creating an easygoing and comedy-filled series to remind viewers that at the end of the day, while Azur Lane might be about naval combat, the ship girls are very much human and experience the same emotions, of joy, sorrow, amusement and jealousy, as we would.
Screenshots and Commentary
- I believe it’s been a shade more than a year since I last wrote about Azur Lane: if memory serves, I found the series to be serviceable, with likeable characters and a solid soundtrack at the heart of its appeal. The production had been troubled, and like Girls und Panzer, the last two episodes were delayed for a few months. Enterprise had been at the heart of Azur Lane, but here in Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!, Javelin is the main character: the series opens with her showering, and every episode is centred around her, Laffey and Ayanami’s adventures.
- Z23 soon joins their group; while she’s initially set to lead the class as an instructor of sorts, Javelin, Ayanami and Laffey end up see her more as a peer than a senior, but a role model nonetheless. Z23 is originally a part of the Iron Blood faction. The resulting group of friends is representative of each faction. Javelin is from the Royal Navy, Laffey is from the Eagle Union, Ayanami hails from the Sakura Empire, and Z23 represents the Iron Blood. It’s a clever setup that really lets Slow Ahead! to demonstrate its themes.
- I’ve found that a lot of slice-of-life anime series, while seemingly trite and simple, are a lot more meaningful than they initially appear. Beyond their kawaii art style and focus on the frivolous, the characters’ experiences speak to various life lessons that are often worth reiterating; while anime that deal with philosophy or social issues create the most interesting discussion, said conversations can also get quite heated, especially when people of different backgrounds come to the table.
- Understanding how to get along with people is something that folks occasionally seem to forget, and this is something that slice-of-life anime excel in speaking to. Even more so than its predecessor, Slow Ahead! has a particular emphasis on fanservice. Four episodes into the season is the beach episode, which features Rodney partaking in the Japanese tradition of watermelon-splitting using her arsenal. Ayanami’s description for the activity speaks to her reverence of Japanese culture, but she forgets to mention the most critical rule; splitting the watermelon can only be done with a stick.
- In the end, Rodney manages to undo the damage by using her main cannons and blasting enough fish out of water for the barbeque’s main course. Slow Ahead! aired during the winter season, but because I’d been swamped (by episodic Yuru Camp△ 2 posts, and regular posts on Non Non Biyori: Nonstop), I decided to set this series aside with plans to watch and write about it shortly after the winter season concluded. However, my usual tendencies for procrastination kicked in, and this pushed Slow Ahead! back. We’re now about two thirds of the way through the spring season, and I’ve finally had the chance to give this series a go.
- Fortunately, Slow Ahead! episodes are only eight minutes long, and that means I could finish the entire series on short order. This made it much easier to catch up and wrap things up in an efficient manner. Here, Ayanami befriends Graf Spee after their shared interests. Individual episodes of Slow Ahead! don’t do anything too dramatic or meaningful from a narrative standpoint, but they represent fun moments into the world of Azur Lane.
- When a formal dance is held one evening, the girls help Bismarck ask Tirpitz for a dance after getting her decked out in suitable attire for the evening. Javelin feels a little out of place at these events, feeling them to be a little too stuffy for her tastes, it turns out she’s not the only one. Formidable has snuck off to a side room and finds cupcakes. Her evening suddenly takes a turn for the unfortunate when it turns out these cupcakes had been prepared for a food roulette game later, and she’d taken the one spiked with hot peppers.
- Formidable suggests that such parties aren’t her jam, despite her possessing the manner and air of a lady herself. However, when she sits down on some boxes to rest, the boxes collapse immediately. I suppose that this would be a joke on Formidable’s mass, since Formidable displaces 23000 tonnes standard (for comparison, the Enterprise displaces 21000 tonnes at standard) – like Kantai Collection, the writers have incorporated several jokes relevant to the original ships’ properties as a bit of a callback to the real world, which navel enthusiasts would find enjoyable. Azur Lane‘s ships seem to be quite far removed from their real-world counterparts and fight more like magical girls than navel vessels, so during the original TV series, I never did focus too much on these details.
- In my original talks on Azur Lane, I stated that St. Louis would probably be my favourite ship on account of style alone, but Formidable is a contender – aircraft carriers are the navel vessels I respect the most on account of their power and versatility. More so than battleships, aircraft carriers shaped the outcome of World War Two and greatly impact doctrine today, but as detection and anti-ship ballistic missiles become more potent, navel combat may change once again. Since Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! isn’t about the navy, I’ll probably not make too much mention of any real world equivalents here.
- Javelin later asks Formidable to learn how to dance and fails in even the basics: Formidable notes that learning to be elegant isn’t an easy thing, and that it’s something one must commit themselves into being. The contrast between her usual self and when she gets flustered is night and day, and for the time being, Javelin’s got a long way to go. Conversely, Ayanami and Laffey are content to enjoy the fancy food being served during this ball. What Formidable says is true – she subtly hints that Javelin should strive to be herself.
- One episode has Javelin, Ayanami and Laffey join Mikasa in cleaning the commander’s room, with Taihou attempting to leverage the situation and learn whatever she can about the commander in a bid to get closer to him. All of the ship girls in Azur Lane have a crush of sorts on the ever-absent commander, although some (Javelin and Honolulu) are more subtle about their feelings than others. Taihou’s efforts are especially brazen, and one can imagine the challenges of being the commander in such a world, if one’s charges are constantly coveting his heart where he has a job to do.
- During the school festival, while changing into costumes for the day’s events, Ayanami, Laffey and Z23 run into Honolulu, who is reluctant to change into a yukata that St. Louis had given her on account of it being too revealing. Characters who never had substantial screen-time during Azur Lane are given a chance to for some shine time here in Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!, but with some 450 ships altogether, practical constraints mean that some players’ own favourite ships won’t see time in the animated adaptation.
- While Honolulu initially feels embarrassed about her outfit, she ends up following Laffey’s lead and has fun along with the others, even scoring a prize to go on one date with the commander in a darts game, rendering the other ship girls jealous in the process. Throughout the course of Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!, seeing Javelin’s character helped to elevate my fondness for her: in the game, Javelin is an elite destroyer, making her classified as roughly the same as Kantai Collection‘s Fubuki. I’ve heard that Fubuki’s character was never particularly well-received in Kantai Collection‘s anime, but I myself didn’t have issue with her.
- While out and about one day, Ayanami, Laffey and Javelin encounter a mini-Belfast, whom the regular Belfast is training to be a maid. The mini-Belfast is effective and motivated, even helping keep Ayanami company in her gaming adventures. When Azur Lane first aired, I was constantly getting Ayanami and Laffey mixed up, to the point of being surprised whenever Ayanami didn’t sound like Maria Naganawa. Ayanami is voiced by Yō Taichi (Princess Principal’s Dorothy). Having watched Azur Lane all the way through, this is no longer a problem for me.
- Azur Lane had Zuikaku determined to defeat Enterprise in combat, but here in Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!, she’s more easygoing. When the base’s hot water supply is taken offline for repairs, she suggests setting up their own onsen and invites Laffey, Z23, Javelin and Ayanami to soak with her and Shoukaku, even enjoying tempura in the process. Having seen both Azur Lane and Kantai Collection, I prefer Azur Lane‘s Zuikaku and Kantai Collection‘s Akagi and Kaga. Curiously enough, both incarnations of Shoukaku are agreeable to me as far as aesthetics and personalities go.
- While Kantai Collection had been strictly set in the World War Two era had limited the kan-musume to what was available during the time, the girls in Azur Lane have access to game consoles, tablets and the internet, along with modern amenities and conveniences. Here, Javelin enjoys lunch with Yukikaze, Mutsu, and Nagato at the Manjuu Land amusement park. It’s a fun-filled day for everyone, even Javelin, Mutsu and Nagato, who are blown away by the ferocity of the amusement park’s première attraction, a massive roller coaster.
- The finale to Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! is a fanservice filled romp, during which a sleepwalking Laffey attempts to reunite with her pillow after being found in a treasure chest. Misunderstanding her, Javelin, Z23 and Ayanami spend the day trying to find her pillow, assuming that Laffey had lost her memory and would be restored if she found a stacked ship girl to hang with. Thus begins an episode of brazen fanservice, amplified by the fact that nothing seems to be working.
- Because Laffey’s referring to an actual pillow, the ensuring chaos winds up being hilarious to watch. Admittedly, this is more along the lines of what I’d expected Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! to be about when I first heard of the series, and while the series doesn’t disappoint in this area, it becomes clear that in addition to comedy, this spin-off’s focus really is about how the different ship girls get along with one another despite their different factions. For this reason, Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! exceeded my initial expectations coming in, and I had a great deal of fun watching it.
- With this post in the books, I’ve wrapped up my list of things to knock out before June arrived. May begin slowly, since I spent the first week getting my desktop back online after finally upgrading to Windows 10, and since then, I’ve been trying to catch up on posts: with news that Higurashi: SOTSU is happening in July and the fact I’ve begun going through Black Ops: Cold War, I figured it would be wise to clear up as many posts as I could before things get hectic. This did mean that the end of May was a bit crazy with respect to getting posts done (there’s been a post every two days for the last eleven days), but on the flipside, it means that I now have a bit more wiggle room in June: the only posts I’ve got scheduled are for Higurashi: GOU, Black Ops: Cold War, Super Cub, Yakunara Mug Cup mo and Higehiro.
- Before I wrap this post up, I’ll note that the spin-off’s name is a reference to the engine order, which is issued to engineers operating a ship’s engines. “Slow ahead” is precisely what it means, reflecting on how Azur Lane‘s spin-off is meant to depict things more slowly than the usual series did. In this, Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! does live up to expectations and provides a satisfactory experience. The short format of this series, however, means that not very many discussions of the series exist, and having now seen it, it becomes clear that Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! is really meant for the folks who did enjoy the TV series and are looking for more ship girls while awaiting Kantai Collection‘s second season. Beyond the fact that it will feature Shigure as the protagonist and air somewhere in 2022, not much else is known about this series.
The events of Slow Ahead! serve to act as a precedent for what more military-moé series should seek to do in between more serious stories; this helps to dispel any misconceptions about the characters’ beliefs, desires and intents. By showing characters outside of their duties, this serves to humanise them. When the chips are down and the defecation hits the oscillation, viewers are not left scrambling over one another to draw conclusions about characters or their motivations (in the past, this has resulted in flame wars). Instead, seeing characters and how they typically are helps viewers to appreciate that their actions have at least some basis in rationality. As such, series like Girls und Panzer and High School Fleet could each do with a slice-of-life spin-off: discussions surrounding these series have oftentimes become far more heated than necessary, since some viewers are convinced that such anime are all-serious works akin to the likes of Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, Patton or Apocalypse Now, works that speak to the horrors of warfare and how individual merit and bravery in conjunction with teamwork is necessary to survive times that otherwise bring out humanity’s evil. The reality is that, were an anime intending to cover such themes, they would utilise a completely different set of characters and aesthetics. Seeing Javelin, Laffey and Ayanami doing the sorts of things that are expected of ordinary students serves to reinforce that at the end of the day, military-moé are more akin to the cute-girls-doing-cute-things genre, about discovery and exploration above all else. Here in Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!, seeing Ayanami getting along swimmingly with Javelin and Laffey, or Zuikaku and Shoukaku treating them cordially with an onsen experience for having helped them to set up, serves to illustrate that beyond factional differences and occasionally dissimilar combat objectives, the ship girls are more similar than unlike. This helps to put a smile on the viewers’ faces and reinforce the notion that we needn’t worry about things like the ship girls shouldering responsibilities alone or the consequences of accessing forbidden technologies, because at the end of the day, the series is more about the elements that make slice-of-life enjoyable: world-building and the ability for viewers to immerse themselves in a world that is simultaneously different from and similar to our own.