“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 Movie – both 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.