OP: 「graphite/diamond」by May’n
「【起動】海を駆ける少女たち」 ([Kidou] Umi o Kakeru Shoujo-tachi)
“[Launch] The Girls Who Run on the Sea”
We’ve come full circle. On first blush the stubbornly misspelt Azur Lane seems like a thoroughly Japanese game — familiar art style, solely Japanese voice work, and making the big bucks in Japan. But it’s actually made by a Chinese company, and is now coming all the way around and getting an anime adaptation. Perhaps this says something about post-Cultural Revolution China, or something about Japanese soft power. I don’t know what. What I do know is that it says something about business savvy. Even a passing observer will note that Azur Lane looks awfully like Kantai Collection. One has War War II warships as cute anime girls, the other has cute anime girls as World War II warships. You see it, right? But rather than a story of Chinese plagiarism, this is a story of missed opportunities. As you may know, KanColle was wildly popular in Japan, and still is (as a quick perusal of Pixiv will tell you). But it remained a Nippon-centric game (in many ways) and never globalised, so into that neglected market stepped Azur Lane, which in flavour is Kantai collection but with even more ships and somehow even more anime. Surely, this is what capitalism is for.
So, what about this adaptation? For those of you who are just checking out this anime to sample the Azur Lane franchise, be warned that this adaptation seems very much to be a fanservice adaptation. It will dutifully try to get new viewers up to speed with hefty info dumps, but there’s no mistaking whom it’s aimed towards. Even outsiders will be able to tell which scenes and lines are specifically designed to make fans squee (or make more self-conscious ones cringe). I have mixed feelings about fanservice shows like these and we’ll get to talking about that, but before I get all negative about Azur Lane let’s be positive, because there’s a deal to like about this pilot and far be it for me to make people feel bad about liking a show. Again, Azur Lane is a very anime anime, so if you like anime (a good bet if you’re reading RandomC) you’ll probably find something good in there. There’s the staples: cute girls in short skirts, gratuitous action shots, giant monsters firing particle effects, and, of course, wanton destruction. Sure, you have to sit through 10 minutes of exposition, but Azur Lane has decent animation (though maybe derpy art here and there if look for it) and big set-pieces that are bound to appeal. If you want your anime Fast and Furious, prefer your action turned up to ridiculous (behold, an aircraft carrier riding an aircraft) and are the type who can turn your brain off and just bathe in the endorphins, then you can stop reading right here.
The pedants among us will have to soldier on.
Let’s turn back to KanColle for a moment. Comparisons between it and Azur Lane are inevitable, and you’ll recall that it also had an animation adaptation. The TV series was also a fanservice show, but even fans will tell you that it was bad. To be fair, while KanColle was bad it was also terrible, and I posit that much of that comes from its fanservice nature. It had both production values and a passionate staff behind it. It had very obvious ambition. But the problem is, fanservice runs counter to ambition, because fanservice wastes a lot of time. KanColle is one of those character-collector games, so it had this huge cast that all needed some screen time because fans will riot if their waifu was not represented. And in its quest to please everybody KanColle ended up pleasing nobody and ironically sank under its own weight (though the movie apparently salvaged some of it).
Azur Lane is also one of those character-collector games and with not just one but four fleets in play its cast may even be bigger than KanColle‘s. You can’t really tell from the screencaps (because we cut down to 36 shots on RandomC) but a significant amount of episode time in this pilot is devoted to simply panning over characters without speaking parts, for no purpose other than to show that they exist. And to be perfectly honest, from a storytelling point of view there is no reason to care about them. But storytelling is about parsimony, about conserving details for the actual important stuff to make them pop, so all this cast baggage is at best a distraction. Combined with the occasional panty flashes and throwaway catchphrases that must be tossed in regularly, a lot of viewer attention, let alone the precious 20 minutes per episode, are consumed.
And Azur Lane seems no less ambitious than KanColle. Now, Japanese censorship boards are awfully touchy about talking about WWII, so like KanColle it instead settles for a metaphorical WWII (though it seems to be following the Allies equivalent rather than the Japanese, and starring Star Trek 2B). At the same time, though, it already has this B plot about, er, the power of friendship, I guess. There are many things Azur Lane wants to do, but only 12 episodes in which to do it, so something will likely need to be sacrificed. My guess? It’s going to be the world building. Here I’ll raise Hai-Furi, yet another show about anime girls and warships (even if Azur Lane seems stylistically closer to Arpeggio). Hai-Furi, like KanColle and Azur Lane, also had too large a cast but what it had was full knowledge of its scope. Within that scope it had a defined world, slotted its WWII elements into it, and made sure flaunting old naval hardware to please the military nerds made sense in context. Azur Lane, though? The moment a little girl rode into battle on a flying unicorn plushie to do battle with Player 2 Amaterasu you just knew that Azur Lane does not have a damn left to give about world building. Hard sci-fi this is not. Everything is run on shiny space magic, the historical elements are brief nods at most, and all the humans are presumed dead. Whatever.
But hey, it’s only the first episode. I’m only pointing out structural weaknesses, and those can be potentially overcome. And even if Azur Lane implodes, as long as it does so gloriously, we’ll all be entertained.
Full-length images: ED 01.
ED: 「光の道標」 (Hikari no Michishirube) by 鹿乃 (Kano)