Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova Review

This is review number two hundred and sixty seven. This anime is part of the Fall 2013 lineup. I am so behind in my shows it’s actually really pathetic. Oh well. I try my best. Apologies if I can’t keep up. I look at my backlog and it’s a bit disheartening for me now. Anyways, the show I’ll be reviewing is an anime called Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova or Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova. It’s a twelve episode anime about sexy battle ships trying to destroy each other. Yeah, seriously. It has sexy battleships. It’s like they have legs or something. Let’s read on.

Story

This show is about a guy named Gunzou Chihaya. In a world where alien creatures has declared war on the world and succeeded in conquering the seas, this guy would dare challenge the aliens head on. He’s not alone though. One of these aliens was apparently ordered to serve him. A submarine named I-401 or Iona has declared that Gunzou is her captain and she follows only her command. Gunzou rides Iona as he travels the eastern sea completing missions for the benefit of mankind. Communication between countries has been cut tremendously and nations are left to fight for themselves unaware if other nations are still out there. One day, Gunzou was tasked to deliver a secret project to America. It’s one that’ll turn the tides of battle towards humanity side. Of course, this is a dangerous mission and the aliens know it as well. They must stop Gunzou from reaching America at all cost. That means Gunzou and Iona is up against the entire alien fleet of the eastern sea. It’s one submarine against eight alien battleships. That sounds like a fair fight.

Taking the Pants Off

This show is probably the biggest surprise of the Fall lineup for me. It had a decent amount of votes so I was hoping for something really good. Arpeggio of the Blue Steel didn’t disappoint. The visuals were amazing and the story was really interesting. The idea of sexy girl versions of battleships sounds like a tough sell but you really only needed to see the first episode to truly enjoy it. It had a smart battle pacing and a wonderful theme of existentialism that will keep you engaged. To think, a show about anthromorphized war ships could be this good. This show is a great reminder of how solid execution can really elevate an anime. It’s also a great example of how a smart story can make an anime experience amazing. I’m singing a lot of praise here and I know I don’t do it a lot anymore. When you’ve seen as many shows as I have, you’d hardly be impressed anymore. Seriously, two hundred and sixty plus and counting, my enthusiasm for anime has certainly dwindled but I can still spot a great anime when I see it. For me, it’s actually a rare thing nowadays. That’s one of the downsides of trying to be objective. You generalize shows and fail to love it for what it is. That’s also the reason though why I get excited when I spot a really good one. There’s not a lot of twelve episode anime that has a good balance of characters, action and story. Arpeggio of the Blue Steel is a good one I’ve seen in a long while.

The show started out slow. It established the status quo first where aliens known as fogs have invaded Earth. Their top class technology made them unbeatable against the primitive weapons of humans. It didn’t take them long to conquer the waters of Earth. They seem to be fixated on it that they don’t want the humans sending ships in their territory. If a ship tries to sail, it’ll be immediately shut down by the waiting alien fleets. With no way of communicating or restocking their goods, the countries are basically left to fend for themselves. They have no idea if other countries are still intact but that seems unlikely. The Fogs just proves too strong for humans. There is one exception though. An alien submarine called I-401 seems to have a human onboard. This guy named Gunzou has somehow managed to operate one of these alien ships. His team and their submarine seem to be the only one that can travel the seas and match firepower with any battleship that confronts them. It’s a bit confusing at first since we only got to see one flashback and then the show opened with Gunzou and I-401 already partners. This unlikely pair is considered to be the only hope for mankind at this point. That’s why the Japanese government has decided to give Gunzou a mission that could affect the status quo of this one sided battle. They have created a special warhead that can easily sink an alien battleship but Japan doesn’t have the resources to mass produce them. America has them so a sample warhead needs to be transported to the other side of the world. It’s not a simple mission. When word gets out of this special warhead, the Fogs have decided to sink the submarine once and for all before it reaches its destination.

It’s a pretty straight forward plot. It’s a point A to point B kind of story. Gunzou and Iona travels while a bunch of strong enemies starts to take them on one by one. It’s a really exciting concept. It’s simple in its structure but it had a lot of potential waiting to come out. This anime has two plot points. They’re fairly big and they are closely linked together. The first plot point is about the mission to America. As I said, it’s a straight forward plot point. As the submarine travels, a bunch of alien battleships tries to take them on. There is a one on one battle and then stronger foes enter the fray. The thing that makes this plot point stand out is the battles themselves. Basically, it’s like a chess game where you see both players try to outsmart the other. One executes a move, the other tries to survive it or deflect it then counter attacks. This is also where you’d either really like the show or absolutely hate it. The first battle happened in the second episode. The submarine was up against a heavy battleship. The one on one battles are massive info dumps that are hard to follow. When talking strategy, the audience is asked to keep up. It’ll bombard you with a lot of terms foreign to you and it won’t explain them. You can catch up though as the battle flows along but it does get confusing at a certain point. I admittedly tried to re-watch certain fights just to understand what the hell actually happened. Some tactics are brought up on the spot and winning maneuvers seems poorly explained. It is setup perfectly though amongst the barrage of intimidating words but you’ll be lost before you understand how the battle ended. Decide for yourself after the second episode if the show is something you can handle. After a while though, you’ll be able to get used to the style of presentation during the battles so you can block certain info dumps while only remembering key points.

The battles are absolutely amazing. It will really draw you in. The appeal is pretty simple. Gunzou and Iona is in a small submarine while they are up against really bad ass battleships that has, like, ten cannons attached to it or something. The advantage is often on the enemy and so you’re waiting to see how Gunzou can wriggle his way out of the disadvantage. It’s always interesting to see the enemy just bombard our little submarine with a lot of missiles and waiting to see how it will counterattack. Along with the visuals, the pacing of the fights is really nicely executed. There is enough dialogue in it to establish the characters while also having some equal amounts of action while making sure crucial tactical points are presented clearly. It can be hard to pull this kind of thing off and I have seen a lot of poorly executed tactical battles. This anime certainly got it nailed down as you’re glued to the screen seeing all those missiles explodes and watching submarine I-401 scramble to pull off it’s one shot counterattack.

The terms might still be a bother though so just remember some things you’d expect in the battles. Firstly, all the alien ships have shields known as Klein Fields. Normal firepower cannot penetrate it. This is the main edge the ships have against the humans. Simply activating mere 3% of the shield can turn a battle into a one sided slaughter. Secondly, the battles are mostly missiles and torpedoes. There are normal missiles that cut down Klein Fields and they’re usually dealt out in huge numbers. All the pretty missiles dancing around the water can certainly make battles look more badass. The missiles you want to hit though are called corrosive missiles. They eat away at a ship when it is hit by a one of these things. You can easily sink one when you land a corrosive missile when the Klein Field is down. It’s guaranteed to give heavy damage. Of course, if you want something truly special. You just bust out the gravitational cannon. It’s a devastating attack that can destroy a ship easily. It takes a while to load though and it fires on a straight line. When the enemy is hit though, even the Klein Field can have massive damage done to it. Lastly, there are also decoys and traps deployed during battles. Decoys composed of nanomaterials. They can confuse radar readings and they can also deal damage when used correctly. They’re mostly for confusing the enemy though while you scurry about to your escape. Traps are small carriers that have missiles in them. Think of it like a landmine. You can catch an enemy off guard before their Klein Field is turned on. It makes for some sneaky tactical maneuvers if you used right. Battles are never easy to follow though. With all those radar readings, engine checks, capacity outputs and other technical jargons, some scenes might overwhelm you but it does get easier to watch as you keep progressing.

The second plot point is about the existence of the aliens. One thing that you’d be wondering is why Iona decided to have a human companion with her. Why did she side with the humans? The Fogs are logical beings that don’t share the weaknesses of humans and, in fact, superbly above them. The Fogs are simply there as weapons with a code to follow by heart. Iona is an anomaly that doesn’t seem to have a cause. How was she able to defect? What motivated her to join the humans? Her explanation is pretty murky and it really bugs a lot of the battleships. During the battles, you’d see the submarine’s opponent often questioning and even mocking Iona for siding with humans. They mock her for being as weak as humans and having emotions that only clouds up their system. The aliens’ existence is a mystery as well though. They just woke up with the Admirality code to follow and they never questioned it. They are on earth to follow a set of rules and that’s enough. So the thought of one of them not following the rules they are given baffles a lot of them. There are a lot of exchanges between the aliens about their purpose. It often ends with the enemy just deciding that Iona is broken and she must be destroyed. You’d be surprised though how a mere moment of existential crisis can change a lot of these aliens. That’s what the second plot point is mostly about. It’s about the aliens learning to embrace human emotions and liking humans in general. Each character’s journey is unique and pretty personal that you can’t help but adore just how human these aliens actually are. They are often posed with a question of “why do I exist” and their path to finding an answer is a really wonderful part of the show. Siding with humans seems to be a radical thing to do for these alien battleships but they’ll soon discover that they’re not that different from Iona with the way she embraced human companionship.

Under the second plot point is also a nice element of how humans and aliens aren’t that much different. This isn’t as focused as the existential crisis of the aliens but it’s a subtle point I think the anime has nicely presented. Despite being cold and merciless war ships, the aliens would still have a moment of weakness. They’d be able to show their caring and loving side. They can grow attached to others and they would follow their beliefs to the very end even if it conflicts with everything they’ve ever stood for. Even if they’ve convinced themselves that they do not need emotions, they’ll still be caught up in it just like any vulnerable human would. It’s a nice element of the show that’ll really make you love each character a lot. I’m certainly caught up in it seeing these serious aliens show their quirky side and then just slowly undergo a significant change as the story progresses. On the other hand, the show also present that humans can be as dirty and evil as the aliens. Some episodes would focus on the political aspect of the humans and the lengths they would go to achieve their goal. It’s nothing surprising but you really wouldn’t expect humans fighting against each other in a world full of turmoil. The line is soon blurred as you watch humans act as aliens and vice versa.

The second plot point culminates in one crucial point. There is an interesting discussion about freedom vs. law that appears towards the later parts of the show. The Admirality Code is an important part of the aliens’ existence. They were born to abide to it. They exist to follow yet Iona has discarded it to side with humans. A lot of the aliens are now out to prove that following the law is the only thing that matters to them. As long as you follow the rules then you should be content and you should worry about nothing else. Iona has pointed out though that being the simple minded robot following the code suppresses the aliens’ true potential. There is a lot more that they can achieve if they try and embrace new things. Some important feelings and wonderful experiences await them if they just realize that their existence is for more than following a set of rules. It’s your basic argument for law vs. freedom. Throughout the second half of the show, a lot of discussions among the Fog are about this particular thing. As they tighten their pursuit of Iona, she tries to reason with them and show them that there is something more beyond their sad existence. There are a lot of characters that refuse this claim while some characters explore the possibilities of what Iona is saying. It gets pretty deep. There is some strong discussion about these things in the show and I bet you’d enjoy how strong of a point each side is making. Does obeying the rules really lead to a happy life or does it restrict your potential? Does having no rules and basically being as free as you can hope to be lead to a content life? As you watch each side state their case, you’d often be wondering which choice is better. There is a lot to talk about here but I’m not smart enough to dive that deep. See for yourself just how complex the second plot point is.

The show has a lot of characters in it. It has an expanding story so it’s no surprise how it gets crowded fairly easily. The main characters are Gunzou and his ship, I-401 or Iona. Gunzou isn’t as fleshed out as most characters. He is serious but he has a really special bond with Iona. One thing that makes him special is the way he crafts wonderful tactics during battles. He has a good sense of battle that he can easily outsmart an opponent even if the odds are clearly stacked against him. He would face a battleship head on and has calculated enough room for error to come out on top. It was pointed out that his father defected to the aliens’ side and he has some hand in giving Iona to him but it wasn’t explained much further. The other main character is Iona. She is a pretty decent character. She has sworn devotion towards Gunzou. She only opens up to Gunzou. Majority of scenes involves her and Gunzou alone together with the mutual understanding between them getting stronger. She does have deep concern for others though as she does display some compassion towards others either aliens or humans. She is a really important character because of how the second plot point makes her the center of it all. She doesn’t have that good of a character development but she has enough intriguing aspects to her to really make her likeable.

The submarine is operated by Gunzou and a bunch of his classmates. I don’t remember their names but they all have specific roles to play. One listens to sonar, another deploys missiles, one checks the condition of the ship, and the other checks the engine while Gunzou barks out the order. They seem to have a backstory because the show never fully explained how they got on the ship with Gunzou. I think the show skipped it on purpose. It’s a shame because this makes them one dimensional character. Some of them look really cool but they only function within the submarine doing their job. They don’t offer anything else but I have this gut feeling they have something more to offer. There are also other humans like this high ranking Diet officer posed to be the next prime minister. That’s basically it. He brought up the anomaly of humans siding with aliens when he saw Gunzou put so much trust on Iona even though she is part of the nightmare they are living now. Much like the submarine crew, I felt he also had a lot more to offer especially on the politics side of the story. Early on, it was a huge part of the show but the focus shifted elsewhere. With that said, there is also this dude that Gunzou talks to about his missions. He is shady and I think he also represents the politics side of the story but he didn’t do much in the show. Politics is a small aspect of the anime because a heavier focus is on the alien battleships.

There are a lot of alien battleships in this show. All of them are pretty interesting in their own right. I don’t want to spoil much by introducing them. They all start out pretty one dimensional though with the way they do nothing but attack our main characters. They have a wonderful transformation though. Throughout the battles, they keep antagonizing the main characters and their exchange with them eventually fleshes them out. You’ll slowly understand just how interesting the characters are. The once robotic characters you met slowly transforms into something else. It’s especially more interesting when you see the aliens slowly embraces being humans and learning to co-exist with them. Then you’ll see their quirky side presented and it now turns the robotic characters into endearing ones you can’t help but cheer for. You’ll eventually be attached to at least one of them. I find myself just loving how cute and fluffy these characters can be but also applaud the smart writing because their existential crisis moments are nicely executed as well. It feels personal without being cheesy and it has a hint of realism without being overdone. Seeing them reject Iona for siding with the humans but slowly learning to embrace her ideals is a really wonderful aspect of the show. It takes a while understand their backstory though. Apparently, they literally are ships but they can make “mental models” of themselves using nanomaterials of their ships. The important thing is that their main core is intact because that’s basically their entire self. That’s why emotions and human logic shouldn’t happen to them. I’m guessing there is a bigger story here but the anime wasn’t able to present it. It just focused on the battleships found in the eastern sea and the hell I-401 went through to finish their mission. It was hinted that there are more ships stationed elsewhere. Some are in America, Europe and other places.

If you look at this:

It tells us that there a lot more sexy anthromorphized battleships for us to adore. I’m guessing the manga is really long and the anime covered just one arc of it. The idea that there are more awesome girls to see makes me wish there is another season. I am really hopeful because I am already lusting over that chibi Russian character on the upper left.

For all the hate he received trying to adapt video games to anime, I think people should finally see just how extremely talented Seiji Kishi is. Ever since he took a stab at Persona 4, I can already tell this director is talented. Actually, if you ever saw how masterful Yugo the Negotiator is then you’ll realize this guy is truly amazing. After Devil Survivor 2 and Danganronpa, his works just aren’t appreciated for what they are: really entertaining anime. Most people just compare them to the video games and it breaks my heart a bit knowing how hate ready most people are. Well, if you hate this director then you’ll hate the fact that the entire anime feels like it’s a bunch of in-game cut scenes by the look of the CG visuals and the way the cinematography just flows like a game. I hope people can see though that this director is really talented and I honestly can’t wait to see more of his works. I have never heard of this studio Sanzigen. According to wiki, they specialize in CG animation and they handled this show called Wooser’s Hand to Mouth life. I have never seen the show and I’m too stressed out to watch another less than five minute show. If this is the kind of quality this studio can produce then I say go make more amazing show. Just give us another season of this one though. I seriously want to see that Russian battleship. Haruna gave me some appropriate fan service but cmon, give us this one.

Sight and Sound

Character design is pretty amazing. The manga is actually more intense in the design. It has fierce characters with the way the manga just put a lot of detail on the facial expressions. The CG design gives the characters a stiff look but that doesn’t mean the design is compromised. The manga just had a cleaner look with the way the facial expression adds to the narrative. I also love Gunzou’s eyes when he thinks in the manga. It feels engaging as if you really seeing a mastermind draw up a masterful plan. Anyways, there are always downsides to CG animation but that’s OK. The faces of the characters are still intact. The cute round face with the expressive eyes along with the wonderful hair design only CG can give us still looks pretty damn cool. The male characters all look awesome. That’s one thing that you can’t take away from Ark Performance’s design. Each one is interesting in their own right. Some wear simple suits and tie while others have really exaggerated designs like Gunzou’s two male shipmates. One wears a mask while another has a freaky hairstyle and wears big goggles. Gunzou has a simple design but, again, his facial expression really gives his character a strong impression.

The female characters are all awesome. Their design is pretty incredible and the CG design actually made them look more badass. The characters really look amazing because of their outfits. The alien characters all have unique outfit on. Some of them exposes a lot of skin and the design focuses on their sexy bodies while others are clad in big clothes mostly gothic Lolita in its conception. The outfit mostly matches their personality and it tells us a lot about the characters. Some wild ones would expose a lot of their legs and hips while uptight ones have proper clothes on. I am in love with Haruna’s design though. This blonde character wears a big coat that covers her entire body and a part of her face. She then has nothing underneath but bra and panties. She eventually puts some clothes on but that’s just part of the story. If I had a choice, I would’ve just let her go half naked all throughout the series.

arpeggio

Animation is where you’d really love or hate the show. It’s done in full CG. The movements look a bit stiff and the wonderful facial reactions in the manga are not captured by the show. If it does, it’ll just look stiff and forced. I honestly see the problem with CG animation. It just looks unnatural at first. Compared to traditional animation, CG just looks like an expensive waste of time. I personally prefer to see it in RPG cut scenes from PS1 games or something. Seeing the characters talk just feels a bit unusual at first. You’ll eventually get used to it though. There is an unconventional charm seeing fully rendered CG characters act all cute and sexy. It’s a refreshing approach to anime and I certainly appreciate the change. I said that I prefer my CG scenes in games and I think the director has that in mind as well. He made one giant game cut scene by making this anime. The animation is outstanding when you watch the battles. The way the missiles dance around the water, the way the Klein Field deflects corrosive missiles, the way torpedoes are launches from its tube, they all just look amazing. The camera motions are so alive and the CG scenes just really elevate the experience. The cinematography of this show is one of a kind and it really gives the anime an amazing personality. CG rendered anime has a place in the industry and this show proved it. Of course, it takes an amazing eye to pull it off. Seiji Kishi has a vision for this anime and he pulled it off amazingly. I have seen bad CG rendered anime like Appleseed but I think there is some potential you can only achieve in this kind of format and I think more studio should try it. To be honest again, I prefer fully rendered CG to rotoscoping. I just want that statement to be said because I think CG rendered show has more potential to it. Besides, CG animation can still capture the small details like waving hair, unstable missile movements and a lot more intricate small details normal animation can’t be bothered to capture.

arpeggio22

The anime’s OP is “Savior of Song” by Nano feat. MY FIRST STORY. This is a pretty decent OP. I love the singer’s voice because it just gives the song its distinct action packed personality. The verse up to the chorus was energetic and it does have a catchy tone to it. I especially love the way she speaks English during the intro. It just gives the song a very wonderful personality to it. It’s also nice to see some nico nico douga singers making their way into anime. The OP sequence features all the characters and a brief montage of the events of the show. It’s really flashy and all the characters look bad ass. It ends with a preview of the episode to come. It’s pretty awesome as it captures the cool CG cinematography of the show.

The anime’s ED is “Blue Field” (ブルー・フィールド) by Trident (Mai Fuchigami, Manami Numakura, and Hibiki Yamamura). This is a really wonderful ED song. It’s very soft and has a slow pace. The voices of the singers really made th4e song special as they made each lyric as cute as possible. The verse has a nice pace that leads to very cute chorus that you can’t help but keep on listening to. I really like this song as it counters the action packed feel of the anime and leans more towards its fluff. The ED sequence features all the Fog girls holding out their hand as the camera pans up and features them one by one. It’s really cute as you watch the CG rendered girls in all their bright colored outfit with a bright colored background. It’s pretty awesome.

Overall Score

8/10 “High quality animation with a solid plot guarantees for an amazing anime experience”

This is a really great show. It has a strong story with a nice theme of existentialism with some nicely paced action scenes and a bunch of loveable characters you’ll easily like. The CG presentation might turn people off but I’m sure you’ll love the things this anime can offer beyond the visuals. If you enjoy chess battles with really interesting characters then you should check this show out. Do you like CG rendered fan service? Then check this anime out. If you like deep stories with compelling characters then you’ll enjoy this one. It’s a solid show through and through. I highly recommend it.

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