Director: Seiji Kishi
Writer (of original manga): Ark Performance
Animation Studios: Sanzigen
Version Watched: Subbed
You know, if someone had told me that an anime about battles at sea could be enjoyable before I watched Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio, I’m not sure I would have believed them. It seems to me that there’s just not that much you can do out on the ocean. While I can’t quite say my opinion has been turned around, Arpeggio of Blue Steel (which is the name I’m going to use from now on, because I love the sound of it) has enough going on that it becomes an enjoyable and interesting experience in a number of ways. It’s not a classic, by any means, but it makes my recommendations list.
It’s 2056 and humanity is in dire straits. A 17 year blockade of Earth’s oceans and skies, preventing communication, trade and cooperation between nations, has been held in place by the autonomous naval force “The Fleet of Fog”. The Fog, consisting of ships controlled by individual AI programs, possesses incredibly advanced technology making resistance all but futile, and no effort to communicate has been made…until now. Gunzou Chihaya, a student of the Japanese National Marine Academy is the first to make peaceful contact when a Fog submarine calling itself Iona selects him to be its captain. The Fog have begun to experiment with projecting themselves into human forms to understand how their enemies think, though Iona, now under the command of Gunzou, is an enigma with only one order: To fulfil the ambitions of her new crew.
Arpreggio of Blue Steel’s story is pretty straight-forward. Humanity needs a saviour and, well, Gunzou and Iona are the only candidates. There’s a teeny bit of political manoeuvring and something about a new weapon that needs to be taken to America to be mass-produced, but the majority of your enjoyment will come from character development and the sea battles mentioned earlier. The idea of non-human beings becoming more human just by association is one that appeals to me and watching the changes undergone by the Fog vessels, or rather their personae, is both intriguing and entertaining. While, at times, the way particular events are intended to influence characters is a little too transparent, it didn’t have a huge effect on my enjoyment of the series. My major complaint about how the series handles its characters is when it comes to the human members of Iona’s crew. They get very little time in the spotlight and therefore remain two-dimensional, unable to contribute in any way to the story itself.
One of the reasons I’m not too keen on sea battles is that I’m reasonably convinced that there’s only so much that can happen during them – One side fires weapons and then the other side sinks. This isn’t a problem in Arpeggio, however. The Fog introduce a lot of interesting technology to the mix that keeps things exciting. The conflicts that occur over the course of the show’s twelve episodes are varied and don’t get old, and the addition of the physical projections of the vessels (or Mental Models) adds an entire ‘nother layer to what the anime can work with. This isn’t quite Death Note or Code Geass when it comes to strategy but it does play a part in keeping things fresh.
Surprisingly enough, it’s the visual component of Arpeggio of Blue Steel that gets the most attention for both good and bad reasons. Rather than traditional animation Sanzigen has decided to use computer generated (CG) models which, while not unheard of, are rarely used for an entire anime. To be completely honest, it doesn’t work as well as normal animation; character movements have an unnatural feel and a lot of the effects you see in other series just can’t be used. However! The CG animation is the best I’ve seen for a number of reasons. The quality itself is just that much better than in other series where CG is only used for action sequences and considering nothing is hand-drawn the character expressions are phenomenal. The bottom line here is that the animation style and other visuals can take a little while to get used to, but it’s certainly not bad and represents a step forward in computer generated animation in anime. As for the audio, I have no complaints.
Summary – I recommend Arpeggio of Blue Steel. It’s not a must-watch but it does a lot of things right and manages to be very entertaining overall due to its unique and interesting concept as well as its take on naval combat. A CG animation phobia is not enough to justify skipping this one, as the quality involved is the best you’re going to find and doesn’t detract from the experience.
Score: 8/10 – Good