「初めまして！司令官！」 (Hajimemashite! Shireikan!)
“Nice to Meet You! Commander!”
Preface: I know much less about World War II warships than I know about tanks, and have never played Kantai Collection: The Game so I walk into Kantai Collection: The Anime as one of the naïve audience. From the point of view of Passerby: The Casual Anime Watcher, this introductory episode was… somewhat of a strange beast.
The premise is pretty much as described in the preview, with
kaiju the Abyssal fleet emerging from the depths to terrorise humanity, and water skiing heroines are the only ones to stop them. Not only are these kanmusu possessed by WWII warships, they’re also thematically inspired by them, to the point where they’ll suffer looking like martians in order to do their ship cosplay. All that in itself is not exactly strange, by anime standards. What we have is still basically an amalgam of Aoki Hagane no Appregio and STRIKE WITCHES. What I found strange were the amount of conflicting dualities present from the get go. Let me explain.
KanColle is initially set up as a bit of a war flick, to the point where our series starts with a recitation of the Gosei. Yet, for most of the episode it was hard to tell there was a war going on. This is a lot of sugar for wartime. And the girls are awfully lax for a bunch of kids about to be sent off to fight robotic hell orca. In fact, the tone for the atmosphere could easily have been for an anime in which high school student Fubuki transfers to a new a school and has a tough time on the first day of class. Which is basically every other anime. I know that KanColle‘s setting is not strictly WWII, but I’m getting mixed messages here. There is an anachronistic blend of dated tools with Arthur C. Clarke technology (including, for the enemy, force fields). The battle was supposed to be all serious business until it was revealed the planes (transformed from arrows) were piloted by midgets. Perhaps this is something from the game, but as an anime-only philistine I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to feel here.
Aside from the confusing mood, there was a lot to be positive about in this episode. The art is crisp and clean, the music was appropriately orchestral fanfare (though not quite as iconic as Girls und Panzer‘s arrangements) and the animation consistent all around. Even the CGI was passable—noticeable, but passable. Much is forgivable as long it remains pretty cool. Bringing in Kusakawa Keizo was a surprisingly enlightened choice; he has blended magical girl transformations with mecha transformations into something equally ludicrous but similarly fun to watch (and reminiscent of Western influences).
And the cast. Oh the cast. I’m not going to list all the characters, lest I get an aneurysm, and a lot of them share the same seiyuu and just talk to themselves anyway. I’ll let MAL make a list. The point is, the amount of ships featured is enormous, like an endless cameo parade. Every girl needs to be distinguished, so every girl has a niche, even if it’s just a weird verbal tic or a weird hobby or weirdly gratuitous Engrish (and sometimes Russian). Since there are so many characters (and I won’t be surprised if there are even more) in limited episode time, the girls are at the moment nothing more than a series of gimmicks and catchphrases, and sometimes those gimmicks are no more than flashing underwear or bouncing breasts (they have a target audience, I suppose). With more time, though, I expect at least a core group to receive enough development to gain some depth before the season is done.
Until then, the character I’m actually the most interested in is the absentee, player-perspective admiral. Perhaps the clearest reminder that KanColle is based on a game is the nominal ‘player avatar’ character, and I’m interested in what will be done with him. I am reminded of THE IDOLM@STER, an oddly similar game adaptation, and its ‘Producer’ character. They played with a gimmick like KanColle‘s in the first episode, but ultimately integrated him into the show as a real character in his own right. I think the series was richer for it like that, with the Producer ending up as a very useful enabler. KanColle’s ‘Commander’ has no lines and does no admiral-ing, but we shall see if he becomes any more than an in-joke. For me, his treatment will play a significant part in deciding whether KanColle ends up as just fanservice for established fans of the franchise, or a legitimate anime that stands on its own.
On the horizon ~ looking ahead
With the way KanColle has been set up in this first episode, I can see two directions it can go. Either it remains as it is and continues to be a relatively light-hearted affair, sprinkled with intense battles but ones where there is good, there is evil, and good ultimately triumphs. Alternatively, the relative levity may be a ruse that paves the way for something darker, less idealistic, but meaningful. My expectations lean towards the former but I’m hoping for more of the latter (what with the Abyssals looking like being dark, scantily dressed mirrors of the ship girls) . A happy medium could also exist. In that regard, I’m reminded of Sora no Woto, a superficially comparable anime that I think turned out rather nicely. Sora no Woto, even with its military trappings, was mostly a slice-of-life (as KanColle will probably be), but it was a slice of a very different, but oddly familiar, life. All the slices eventually built a world that was fascinating, beautiful, and sobering. KanColle could do that too, rising above its thin game roots to truly flesh out the creative material available to it. That will be a hard path, but a more rewarding one.
Even if KanColle does not aspire to such lofty heights, it can still be a very solid watch. There is a lot that is fun and interesting hinted at in this first episode, and it could just keep doing that. Even if you aren’t an entrenched fan of the game, and for you Kantai Collection -KanColle- is just cute girls who occasionally blow stuff up, that in itself can still easily serve as quality entertainment this season.