Kantai Collection Review

So, I just finished the final episode of Kantai Collection yesterday evening. For those of you not in the know, Kantai Collection, or KanColle for short, is a twelve-episode anime that aired in the winter 2015 season. This is one of those moé shows with cute girls that, in turn, falls into the sub-category of military-themed moé shows with cute girls that, in turn, falls into the sub-sub-category of military-themed moé shows with cute girls that are anthropomorphized as military equipment. I just realized how odd that must sound to someone not familiar with anime. In this case, the girls are the anthropomorphic representations of Japanese warships that served in the Second World War.

The show is based off of an internet browser game of the same name, which does not sound promising. From what I understand, the game is based on the free-to-play model where there is no down price or subscription but players can offer up money for bonuses and whatnot. There is no storyline beyond: Collect these characters like pokémon and fight with them. This sounds like a lame foundation, and it is, but the show uses this simple premise for something more.

The show takes part in some alternate world with simple sensibilities. The main characters are the ‘fleet girls’, who are cute teenage girls hinted at being the reincarnations of Japanese warships that were sunk in the Pacific War. Each girl wears a uniform indicative of her class and in battle, they have their armaments (guns, torpedo launchers, etc,) strapped to their backs and limbs. They wear shoes that have keels and propellers on them for cruising over the water.

Their enemies belong to an ‘abyssal fleet’ made up of slightly-less cute girls with deathly pale skin and wear eldritch outfits that look like they are slapped together from black tar and oversized-mammalian teeth. They almost look like the Borg from Star Trek. These enemies bear no resemblance to real-life vehicles and they seem to exist simply for the named characters to have an enemy to fight.

Some of the battles that we see bear similarities to the battles in the Pacific War. It is never explained why this war is taking place and why the abyssal fleet is invading. Is humanity in danger? The only humans that we see are the girls that are anthropomorphized warships and the only civilization in this world look to be military establishments for the sole purpose of their training and deployment. It sounds lame, but KanColle is very upfront and unashamed about how simple it is.

There are a few nudges and winks pertaining to its computer-game roots. There is a character called the Admiral, who is spoken to, but never speaks himself or is seen on camera. This is undoubtedly intended to be a stand in for the players. After battle, the girls that are damaged heal themselves by bathing. One instance shows an in-game item called an instant-repair-bucket dump healing water on one of the girls to bring her up to full health. Another episode shows the girls collecting scrap for resources to craft equipment.

The main character is Fubuki, a new class of destroyer deployed to the naval district for the purpose of training. Most of the world is seen through her eyes and we follow her progress as she trains with other fleet girls and goes on assignments and patrols with them. Fubuki manages to grow as a character. She arrives to the naval district where the other fleet girls are and is a complete rookie but becomes a competent destroyer and even shows some savvy for battlefield tactics. Fubuki develops a sort of girl-crush on Akagi, a senior aircraft carrier and vows to become her ‘escort’. Double entendre undoubtedly intended.

I am generally not a fan of moé shows. I often find them slow-paced and sometimes disgusting. I tried watching Strike Witches a few years ago and I could not get passed the third episode because I was cringing too much. The cartoon panty shots were just that repulsive to my sensibilities. I gave the first episode of Girls und Panzer a try and nearly fell asleep from the boredom. I gave KanColle a shot because I figured that I might want to try and see what all of these moé fans are clamoring about and because, hell, I’ll try anything once.

And I actually enjoyed it.

The show and its characters are intended to be cute without being overly sexualized. There are a few scenes of the girls in the bath and some girls show Sapphic love towards each other, but it’s all shown to be more adorable than erotic. This is in direct contrast with something like Strike Witches, where the characters’ innocence is sexualized and just plain gross. KanColle has no close ups of panty-shots or boob-groping or anything like that. It’s a completely inoffensive show.

The third episode surprised me during a battle when it is shown that one of the characters is killed off by a stray bomb from the abyssal fleet and sinks to the bottom of the sea. Death is something that rarely happens in shows like this. I thought the entire reason for having the named characters fight enemies without personalities was so that none of the fleet girls would have to die. This is partially what encouraged me to continue with the show. Dealing with the death of friends and loved ones is not exactly a subject foreign to anime, but these moé shows are generally meant to be the television equivalent of comfort food for geeks. The next episode largely focuses on Fubuki and her friends coming to terms with their friend’s death.

Sadly, the show does not get heavier than that and no more named characters are killed off. The climax in the final two episodes bears a resemblance to the battle of Midway with the named characters standing in for the Japansese fleet and the abyssals standing in for the American Fleet. It is hinted that something bad is going to happen, with Akagi having a vision of her real-life counterpart sinking. Yet, in a ‘screw destiny message’, the fleet girls all make it out alive with the abyssal fleet defeated.

Each character has statistics and appearances that correspond to their real-life warship counterparts. The different classes of warship are identifiable by what the girls look like. Their armaments are identical. Girls of the same class dress in a specific manner with the Kongou class battleship girls all wearing headbands with radar wings and the Akatsuki class destroyer girls dress in sailor uniforms, to name two examples. The aircraft carriers dress in archery gear with asymmetrical breast plates and flight decks for shields. They have bows that they use to shoot arrows that turn into D3A Val dive bombers and A6M Zero fighters. These are piloted by little chibi girls. Yes, this is the sort of franchise that fetishizes the detail put into it right down to a character’s bra size being proportionate to their counterparts’ displacement tonnage. Oh, Japan, never change.

There are also some historic in-jokes like how Kongou peppers her speech with English words due to the fact that the real-life Kongou was assembled in Britain and how Yamato gets the nickname ‘hotel’ due to being held back from battle. (Though in the anime, this is due to being short on fuel for her as opposed to the admiralty considering the real life battleship being too awesome to waste in battle.) Yes, KanColle is one of those shows laser-guided at Japanese military otaku. Specifically, those with knowledge of warships. (Tell me that’s not a niche.)

Some people not familiar with this type of show might mistake it for having some sort of political message due to the premise. This seems to stem from the misconception that glorifying these characters means glorifying Japanese wartime attitudes and sentiments. I don’t see it like this. Maybe it’s due to the amount of anime that I’ve seen, but the Japanese (or at least Japanese oktau) are much more concerned with glorifying design aesthetics and capabilities than the context in which they are used. I highly doubt that there is some political agenda behind this franchise. The show is simply a cash-grab with military otaku as the intended market.

In summary, I can say that I enjoyed KanColle, but I will probably never watch it again. It is a show that I watched every week for some light entertainment and it is really little more than that. This is not going to be some long-remembered show, except possibly within the moé fanbase. I cannot recommend it to everyone. If you are in the mood for some light entertainment, then maybe consider giving KanColle a try. There is a second cours planned and I might watch it depending on what mood I am in.

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