“I have never advocated war except as means of peace, so seek peace, but prepare for war, because war never changes. War is like winter and winter is coming.” –Ulysses S. Grant
When the mysterious Siren overwhelmed humanity and conquered the oceans, the world’s major navies, the Eagle Union, Royal Navy, Sakura Empire and Iron Blood, formed an alliance and developed the Ship Girls to combat them. The Siren were driven back, and ultimately defeated, but a schism formed between the former allies. In the present, Cleveland and Prince of Wales meet with Illustrious and Unicorn in a base near the Sakura Empire, but the facility is infiltrated. Unicorn, Javelin and Laffey befriend Ayanami while searching for Unicorn’s familiar. However, the peace is shattered when Kaga and Akagi arrive, launching a surprise attack. Cleveland enters the fray with the remaining allied ships to drive off the attackers, but find themselves slowly overwhelmed until Enterprise arrives. Severely damaging Kaga, Enterprise forces the Sakura Empire forces to withdraw, but not before Akagi remarks that their intial objective has been accomplished. This is the opening to Azur Lane, the Chinese counterpart to Kantai Collection, which has its origins in a side-scrolling shooter that was originally released for mobile and gained massive popularity in China. Azur Lane is built around a similar premise of female moe anthropomorphic warships from the World War Two era duking it out with an unknown force, but differs chiefly in its gameplay mechanics and platform. Similarly, the anime adaptations of Kantai Collection and Azur Lane differ in their presentation as well, despite similarities in many of their elements.
In contrast with Kantai Collection, whose Abyssal simply present foes for the protagonists to square off against, and whose focus was surrounding the unremarkable Fubuki, Azur Lane opens with a war amongst the Ship Girls, who disagree on what means must be employed against the Sirens. This creates the conflict that Azur Lane opens to, and out of the gates, creates a more tangible reason for Azur Lane‘s ships to be fighting, whereas in Kantai Collection, the reason for fighting was not presented until the movie itself, which revealed that the spirit of a Kan-musume and Abyssal cycle between two phases, and that the war was to save the Kan-musume forms of the different spirits. This came across as being far more abstract than the concrete reason for fighting in Azur Lane, which insofar, could bring about a more interesting discussion of whether or not the use of alien technology justified in a war, when said technology’s capabilities and effects are unknown. The division between the old alliances into a fictional equivalent of the Allied and Axis powers, with England and United States on one side, and Imperial Japan and The Third Reich on the other, also marks the first time that an anime has presented Imperial Japan as the antagonists: Kaga lacks the same composure of her Kantai Collection counterpart, and is rather more bloodthirsty in nature. The prospective possibilities in Azur Lane are intriguing, and could bring about a more engaging story overall, but after one episode, audiences are also indunated with a large number of Ship Girls. Kantai Collection kept the story to Fubuki’s perspective, and while counted as being an unremarkable character, the advantage of this approach give the story grounding, so viewers were not overwhelmed. By comparison, Azur Lane drops viewers into the midst of things, and after one episode, no clear protagonist has yet been identified, with the lead contender being Enterprise.
Screenshots and Commentary
- My current plans for Azur Lane are to write about it again after three episodes have passed, and then decide from there as to which series this season will be getting quarterly posts. The other two candidates for this season are Rifle is Beautiful and Kandagawa Jet Girls, both of which look fairly exciting in their own right. I will likely be doing something similar where I look at the first episodes, determining which series will be given additional discussions once I have a stronger idea of what the series is about.
- Cleveland and Prince of Wales exhibit the same tendencies as Girls und Panzer‘s Kay and Darjeeling, respectively: Cleveland is easygoing and boisterious, while Prince of Wales possess the regal manner and stiff upper-lip that is associated with the British. They encounter a cloaked Ship Girl that turns out to be Ayanami while walking on the island. The large number of characters out of the gates made it tricky to tell which characters Azur Lane would be centred around.
- The Cleveland of Azur Lane is the 1942 light cruiser CL-55, which saw combat in North Africa before sailing to the Pacific, where she participated in the invasion of the Palau Islands and Okinawa. The Prince of Wales is the HMS Prince of Wales (53), a King George-class which fought the Bismark and was destroyed by the Japanese aircraft in 1941. Cleveland and Prince of Wales meets with Illustrious and Unicorn here; both are aircraft carriers belonging to the British Navy.
- The main facilities in Azur Lane are stunningly rendered: the cherry blossoms and the metal anchor installation stand in contrast with the vividly blue sky that is evocative of a summer’s day. The weather today was actually reminiscent of the weather from a year ago, when I went on a short trip to the province over to check out the salmon run. Like last year, the mild weather created an incredibly comfortable setting to be out and about, and I’m hoping things will hold steady as we enter the Thanksgiving Long Weekend.
- After a September whose weather proved rather more hospitable than the weather of last year, October is off to a solid start as well: aside from colder mornings, the weather’s been most pleasant. Entering this weekend, we had a mostly sunny day that was prefect for visiting the local zoo. Two panda cubs born here are set to go to Chengdu in China now that they’ve reached gestation age, and I spent the early afternoon watching the younger pandas eat and fight over the best sleeping spot in their space, as well as an older panda who chilled on a log.
- It’s been many years since I visited the zoo proper: in the past several years, I attended the Illuminasia Festival and saw lanterns of the animals, but these events were set during the night, so the rest of the zoo was closed. Today, however, I visited by day and therefore was able to see the animals, from giraffes and Bactrian camels to musk ox and Chilean flamingos. The weather remained quite pleasant, and we left closer to the end of the day, which ended off with a family dinner whose centrepiece was a crab fried rice (蟹飯, jyutping haai5 faan6).
- Folk who’ve played Azur Lane to a greater extent than I did will have to explain what the Unicorn familiar is about. It appears that some of the Ship Girls of Azur Lane exhibit animal-like traits, similar to the Witches of Strike Witches. Here, Unicorn, Javelin and Laffey share a conversation with Ayanami: they are unaware of her affiliation and immediately take to her, but Ayanami suddenly vanishes having been whisked away by aircraft to a secure location. Here, she apologises for what is to come next and signals that the time has come to begin combat operations.
- Whereas Kantai Collection presented Kaga and Akagi as refined, calm carriers, their Azur Lane counterparts are more villainous in nature, relishing the idea of combat and dealing damage to their opponents. At this point in time, I much prefer the Kantai Collection incarnations of Kaga and Akagi. Azur Lane‘s versions both sport fox tails here and share an unusually close bond with one another.
- When enemy aircraft resembling the YF-23 appear in the skies, Cleveland suits up and begins to return fire. The equipment configurations and setup are nearly identical to those seen in Kantai Collection, although the transformation process is distinct in that the girls transmute the material properties of their respective ships into infantry-sized gear pieces that they wear into combat. The precise mechanics of both Kantai Collection and Azur Lane don’t make much sense when scrutinised, so I’ve resolved to simply enjoy them as they are.
- My perspective on Azur Lane is that of a beginner: I have no intrinsic familiarity with the game beyond the quarter-hour I spent playing it on my iPhone. With this being said, I would count myself as being sufficiently well-read as to understand why the analogues of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany are the antagonists in Azur Lane. Contrary to the supposition that the show was written with political implications in mind, I counter-argue that the choice to have the Sakura Empire and Iron Blood oppose the Eagle Union and Royal Navy is simply intended to both provide a setup where Ship Girls fight one another purely for fanservice’s sake.
- From a story perspective, having other Ship Girls as enemies simply allows Azur Lane to explore whether or not the risks of forbidden knowledge (the Siren technology) is an acceptable tradeoff for a more powerful and effective weapon against an enemy whose intentions and full capabilities remain unknown. Sino-Japanese relationships did not figure in the design of Azur Lane, and I’d wish that folks lacking the requisite background in this area would cease their emotionally-driven prating on how the contrary is true. Such discussions are wearisome and inane, accomplishing little except showing just how uninformed the participants are.
- Similarly, the absence of ordinary civilians and an equivalent of Kantai Collection‘s admiral are not relevant to the discussion. This becomes apparent when Unicorn summons a familiar that allows her to soar through the battlefield – Azur Lane dispenses realism and waltzes into the realm of magic with its use of familiars, so it is reasonable to suppose that this series is supposed to be about visually exciting things happening in battle over everything else. Watching with the intent of having fun is how I’m going to roll, and I’m going to be dismissive of any “serious” discussions, since the original goal of Azur Lane‘s mobile game is fun, first and foremost.
- If I do decide to push forwards with Azur Lane in the quarterly review format, I will be making a more conscious effort to include more pantsu purely for the sake of my own amusement as well as the reader’s. I typically focus on scenery screenshots, since I have little to offer in the way of discussion when the frame is focused on someone’s pantsu at close range, but I think that it wouldn’t be such a mad idea to mix things up every so often. I invite the reader to provide feedback here as to whether or not this is something you might tolerate from this blog.
- The first battle the Eagle Union and Royal Navy fight against the Sakura Empire’s Kaga and Akagi implies that a Ship Girls’ combat performance is impacted by game mechanics like level and specialisations. While Cleveland is able to intercept the fighters sent against them, she and the other Ship Girls are slowly overwhelmed once Kaga gets serious and summons a wolf familiar similar to Fenris from Thor Ragnarok.
- The combat sequences of Azur Lane seem to be flashier and more dynamic than those of Kantai Collection, featuring a much greater range of motion from the Ship Girls themselves. Javelin reluctantly engages Ayanami in combat, forcing the former to do a flip into the air that, in Kantai Collection, would be counted as impossible. While Azur Lane is off to a good start, I admit one of the things I will need to master is my own constant inclination to spell Azur as “azure”. With this in mind, there are plenty of azure skies in Azur Lane.
- Enterprise is a higher-tier Ship Girl modelled after the USS Enterprise (CV-6): a Yorktown-class, the CV-6 Enterprise was commissioned in 1937 and was absent from Pearl Harbour in 1941. The ship would participate at the Battle of Midway, the Guadalcanal Campaign, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf, becoming the most decorated ship in the navy at the time. In Azur Lane, Enterprise is a highly skilled and powerful aircraft carrier, capable of fighting Kaga to a standstill without any apparent effort.
- Because it’s so early in the game, the full scope of the Sakura Empire and Iron Blood Ship Girls remains unseen and therefore, something the series could potentially explore as time wears on. For now, the first episode has suggested to me that use of Siren technology allows the Sakura Empire and Iron Blood ships to possess more brute strength than their Eagle Union and Royal Navy equivalents, but in exchange, the veteran ships on the Allied side will likely possess better combat experience and/or tactics, playing on the Axis ships’ arrogance and faith in Siren technology.
- This is, of course, speculation, since I am not at all familiar with Azur Lane. Here, Enterprise launches a point-blank shot at Kaga after closing the distance, surprising Kaga. The results of a close-range shot damages Kaga, and she reluctantly complies with Akagi’s request to retreat. I remark here that the phrase “point-blank” is often abused: it means “the range where the trajectory of a projectile is sufficiently flat so it experiences no drop, so that aiming directly at a target without adjusting for gravity will allow one to hit the target”. For instance, some rifles have a point blank range that extends out to 300 metres. The media and film take the phrase to mean “at close ranges, often just short of being a contact shot” – while technically correct, since there is no bullet drop at this range, it’s also a bit of a misnomer, since it excludes the idea that a pistol shot that hits its mark at 15 metres is also in point-blank range.
- Ayanami retreats from the battle, wondering what will happen next. I’m certainly intrigued by the series’ setup, although Azur Lane will have to work hard in the episodes upcoming to newcomers such as myself on the characters and their objectives. For folks who’ve felt I’ve not adequately discussed the series, I present fellow blogger Jusuchin’s reflections of Azur Lane‘s first episode. Despite his modesty about such matters, Jusuchin is markedly more knowledgeable than myself on all things military and also has extensive background in things like Kantai Collection, so those looking for more information will find his perspectives to be valuable.
- With Azur Lane‘s first episode in the books, I am going to experiment with a slightly different approach this season and write about the first episodes to the series I will be writing about in some capacity, and then pick one series to follow in greater length. Kandagawa Jet Girls and Rifle is Beautiful vie with Azure Lane for more writing time. In the meantime, my focus turns to writing about Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?? ~Sing For You~ and Star Wars Battlefront II‘s campaign. The latter, I beat last month, and the former, I’ve been waiting to write about since last September. I expect that, for Sing For You, I remain on target to have the internet’s first and most useful review of.
Overall, with its uncommonly sharp visuals and animation, Azur Lane is off to a solid start, presenting a far livelier world than the one that was presented in Kantai Collection‘s anime. The character count and lack of a central perspective so far has been the main shortcomings of the first episode, but with a strong premise and engaging battles, Azur Lane could prove to be a reasonably enjoyable series as time wears on. One additional aspect that makes Azur Lane worthwhile are its incidental pieces; like Kantai Collection, orchestral pieces are employed, and in the case of Kantai Collection, the music was masterfully performed to really convey the might of the navy, the gentle and frivolous days the Kan-musume spend together, and the enmity of the Abyssals. From the soundtrack that’s been heard in Azur Lane so far, it appears this series will be following suit in its use of music to create a very specific atmosphere. Taken together, I am curious to see how Azur Lane plays out: I had downloaded the game for iOS and gave it a whirl prior to the anime starting, and while it is unsophisticated compared to the titles I am accustomed to, Azur Lane‘s increased accessibility and substantial gameplay component means that between it and Kantai Collection, I would prefer to play Azur Lane over Kantai Collection‘s luck-based approach. With this being said, for the time being, I am much more familiar with and prefer the style of Kantai Collection‘s characters, so Azur Lane‘s anime adaptation is going to need to put in some effort in order to sell me its story and encourage me to follow the Ship Girls’ adventures and experiences.