“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.