Nerves of “Steel”

April 6th, 2014 in Anime, Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio, General Reviews by

Arpeggio of Blue Steel review

How many of you folks know what an ‘arpeggio’ is? Sure, most of you could identify it immediately as something related to music, but the real definition is a musical technique where notes in a chord are played or sung in sequence, one after the other, rather than ringing out simultaneously. This word comes from the Italian word “arpeggiare”, which means “to play on a harp.” An alternative translation of this term is “broken chord.”

Arpeggios allow monophonic instruments to play chords and harmony and help create rhythmic interest. The title is most supportive of “Arpeggio of Blue Steel (“Aoki Hagane no Arupejio”), which looks like a mere submarine anime, but it’s more than that.

In the year 2039, it’s a mess. Humanity, via global warming, has reduced a lot of their land mass. In that year, a strange alien force came down. Known as the Fog, they manifest themselves as naval vessels and successfully blockaded the oceans, so humanity was cut off from one another. 17 years after the blockade (that’s now 2056, if you are trying to do quick math), Gunzō Chihaya, a former student of the Japanese National Marine Academy, is captaining a Fog submarine that defected and joined humanity’s plight. Technically referred to as I-401, Iona is the Mental Model for the Blue Steel submarine. Chihaya and crew are pirates or renegades, or, more to the point, blockade runners. They can deal some major hurt to the Fog fleet.

The Japanese have come up with a prototype torpedo that can deal some serious damage to the Fog, but they lack the capacity to make it in raw quantities. However, the Americans can do this. Gunzo’s task is easy (or should I say ‘easy’) in that he has to deliver it to the naval forces in the US, a mere 5600 miles away. But it might as well be 10 million, as the Fog is relentless and his own military does not trust him fully to do the task (then why give it to him, eh?)

The series follows two arcs: the travails to get said prototype from here to there and understanding the Fog better.

The first thing that struck me is that ALL the Fog is ladies. There is not a drop of testosterone on the other side. The second is why manifest yourself as an Iowa Class battleship? Why not come down in your alien craft? Which leads to the next question: why haven’t you conquered the world?

The opening sequence in Episode One is the Final Battle of Us vs Them and Them win hands down. But…..they do nothing with the victory. They just patrol all day and keep humanity from using the oceans and THAT’S IT! Is subjugation enough?

The other part of the story is what defines ‘humanity’. The Fog are calm and cool and collected; very rational and logical, so things like ‘emotions’ throw them for a loop and they feel it is an aberration and must be destroyed. So when members of the Fog encounter humans, and I mean face-to-face, not over miles of uncaring ocean, they tend to have a breakdown of sorts.

For me, I enjoy a good cat-and-mouse anime. “Death Note” certainly did that well. This does it to some extent, but a lot of it seems contrived. I do not consider this a spoiler, but one captain destroys her entire fleet (26 ships) so SHE can have the sole honor of sinking Gunzo. Why not have them withdraw? Or maybe it’s like the Ammo Fairies, you’ll get more. Oh, and speaking of Ammo Fairies, the Fog seem to have an endless supply of rockets and torpedo and other tools of destruction. They NEVER run out and can send up curtain after curtain of anti-personnel devices.

The thing about the arpeggio? The teams act rather independent of one another, so it is like a broken chord, or, more to the point, not really acting as a team. Iona shows them what it means to be in concert with yourself, so the harmonies flow (I know, bad music analogies, but THEY started it!)

My two beefs? This is an attempt at a caliber of CGI. I thought they would want it for the Fog to show a kind of robotic nature, allowing the rest of the folks to be hand-drawn and show a demarcation like that (What? An anime that makes you think?) But you can detect it in more places, so it may have been a way to cut production costs and requirements, so nothing moves smoothly. You can see the jerks and ticks in the animation.

The other is the rather bullet-proof nature of Gunzo, who manages to squeeze out of the tightest situation with nothing more than scratching up the paint job. Still, I liked the series enough to run it through to the end. Well, the end that they have. We’ve really only completed Stage One. Whether there will be a Stage Two is anyone’s guess. So this is a guarded approval at best. I mean, the Fog pride themselves on being in charge of things, but they are easily sidetracked when things go awry. We even see emotions creeping into them. And where is the Big Boss? There has to be an admiral behind that Admiralty Code they keep squawking on about, so why doesn’t that Big Kahuna take charge of it all? Too much to follow? Is he (or she) waiting for her solo? Perhaps, but it’s not over as of yet.

On a scale of 1 to 10:

Artwork 6 (CGI is both obvious and sometimes annoying)
Plot 8 (They do a good job of it)
Pacing 7 (Some of the battle sequences seem off)
Effectiveness 7 (Things are telegraphed early)
Conclusion 7 (It reaches a ‘coupler point’, but doesn’t really end)
Fan Service 5 (A similar show would be “Maburaho”)

Overall 7 (A change of pace)

And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. Dive! Dive!

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