Kantai Collection, or KanColle, is a loosely card-based browser game made by Kadokawa Games and operating on DMM. It has proved to be unexpectedly popular; both within Japan proper, where DMM try to keep it, and in the wider world, despite DMM’s best efforts. This popularity has lead, unsurprisingly, into a host of spin-offs of wildly differing interpretations of the setting and across various formats; primarily manga both official and not, and of which the latest example is a single cour anime. The game consists of assembling a fleet of various
Mental Models KanMusu, girls who are either personifications of or just carry the souls of World War 2 warships, against a mysterious enemy termed the Fog Abyssal Fleet which has driven humanity from the seas. For a better overview of the game itself, I would direct you to the fantastic KanColle wikia, or to this video by Aaox, which manages to succinctly sum up what is involved with a level of humour and irreverence I hope to achieve in my own work, and who has the superb taste to recognise Kongou as the glorious existence she is.
That it would get animated was not a surprise to many; its player base has ballooned over the past couple of years (a series of tweets by mangaka Kouta Hirano very evocatively sharing his feelings over losing Kaga is often given credit for sparking the initial surge in popularity) but exactly what the anime would involve was open to much speculation. KanColle, after all, is a setting wherein various models of cute girl are sent to make war on aquatic eldritch monsters, some of which seem to be suspiciously similiar, meaning a dark and dramatic story was certainly possible; on the other hand the large variety of KanMusu and their eclectic personalities would easily lend itself to a light-hearted Slice Of Life affair. Examples of both of these already existed across the created media and there is enough potential for whatever story one might wish to tell to have an appropriate cast to serve as the foundation.
The main draw of the game is the variety of personalities and character designs. As I said in the collab, the Naval District effectively acts as a dormitory for a wide range of temperaments, and seeing them all interact in different ways can be very amusing. The seiyuu for the game return to voice their characters in the anime, and so seeing the girls who you’ve already gotten to know purely through vocal work actually running about and falling over is just as rewarding as fans of the game could hope for. If they happen to appear... Some of the choices regarding the cast composition really can come across as quite strange, though that will be addressed further down. Some girls would have been next to impossible to leave out; such as Shimakaze, Akagi, Nagato, Naka (of course she turned up!) or Kitakami/Ooi. But fortunately, we do also get reasonable focus on the outstanding majesty of Kongou, along with her sisters, and the adorable lolis of Destroyer Division Six. As well, possibly the biggest benefit of this anime (certainly in my case) has been the increased notice of one of KanColle’s girls who had perhaps been overlooked before now:
Yuudachi The Destroyer
Perhaps initially lacking in interesting character, Yuudachi has lead to the internet’s latest meme and her Kai Ni remodel bleeds badassittude. Seriously, this image from a KC calendar really shows you why she has the nickname of “The Nightmare Of Solomon.” That the anime has brought her to people’s attention I consider a good thing.
The CGI, at first
Early on, the series set new standards for the inclusion of computer-generated imagery in anime. I watched the first PV about three times before I even realised it had CG elements, and likewise in the first few episodes of the series proper when in motion it blends exceptionally well with the 2D animation, itself of consistently high quality for the most part, whilst still providing fine details (such as the rifling of a cannon barrel) which would be difficult/annoying/time-consuming to keep consistent with by-hand techniques. Each still have their advantages and I would not wish for CGI to replace traditional animating approaches any time soon (nor do I think it could), but KanColle demonstrates that both can be used in conjunction for an impressive result.
One of the better examples that comes to mind of including amusement for those familiar with a franchise whilst not making it obtrusive to those who wouldn’t recognise it. Such things as Akagi’s appetite, Ashigara’s dating woes or Nagato’s lapse into Cuteness Overload are so innocuous as to not merit a second thought by those not recognising them for ascended memes, whilst Kongou once again demonstrates her transcendent appeal by serving as a vessel for the fans themselves (pun not intended at all [cough]) in applying fandom nicknames to Shimakaze, Ikazuchi and Inazuma, as well as demonstrating she is a very good, if misunderstood, cook. Unlike Hiei. There’s also the “Instant Construction”
flamethrower torch, an in-game item used to rapidly complete the building of a new shipgirl, but not so good for meal preparation...
My favourite however, has to be the above, just for its elegance. The joke being that the pattern of hammer blows Yuubari uses whilst making a pot for DesDiv6, which unnerves the girls so much, is the sound that occurs in the game when you choose to scrap a shipgirl for resources. Though I must admit to being disappointed there wasn’t a single joke about Mutsu exploding.
Attention To Detail
A certain level of attention to detail is required to maintain consistency within a production, below which the sought audience is offput. Going beyond that required level is less common, as it requires a greater investment of resources for lesser gain and, in some cases, is only even of note to a niche segment of the viewership. In rare cases it can even be distracting; unlike with the in-jokes the series includes, details such as the shell dyes used by the Kongou sisters resulted in people being confused as to why some explosions were pink. I have to consider the heightened accuracy a positive however: going beyond the minimum necessary should not be a flaw, and for those who recognise the additional elements they can serve to actually reinforce the suspension of disbelief (Though it can sometimes backfire. Aside from people being confused in the first place as to why Kongou’s shell bursts were red, most people who know about different ships using dye in their warheads to help place where their shots landed, which all nations did, think that Haruna used black dye, not yellow. In fact, some ships used different colours at different times, and both Kongou and Haruna are reported to have used yellow colouring on occasion, though oddly it doesn’t show up in her actual combat barrages.)
Consistently good, and the OP in particular is easily put to nefarious purposes
that I shall be exploiting in the near future... Nefarious purposes accomplished. Even if it does call out the viewerbase on having... certain motivations for watching, shall we say. Even the various insert songs serve very well in setting the tone of the scenes they support, regardless of if that tone is appropriate or not in the grand scheme of things.
Now, I really don’t have much of a problem with Fubuki. It’s been clearly stated by the animation staff that the anime is explicitly an attempt to raise her popularity and the producer of the game makes no effort to hide that fact that he is very fond of her. That’s fine. Except for when it gets in the way of something otherwise being successful. And honestly, I don’t think it does. Yes, she is generic, but in a setting with quite so many outlandish personalities to try and juggle, having a main character who doesn’t put her own distorting influence on events can be very useful when it comes to showing the other eccentricities present. Much as I love her, if you put Kongou as the lead in a show, you’re only going to get Kongou Collection as a result. That said, whoever is used as the main character of any show has to be used effectively for the show to be a success, and Fubuki isn’t. Her reason for being present is repeatedly questioned in-universe, and when the ultimate reason for her treatment is revealed it’s as insulting as it is creepy. Meanwhile, she herself has an equally disturbing obsession with Akagi... because. No actual reason for this veneration is shown; Akagi really does nothing special to justify why Fubuki might hold her in such regard even as multiple other candidates for such immediate awe are present: Nagato, Mutsu and Yamato. Nagato and Mutsu were two of the Big Seven, the seven most powerful battleships in the world allowed by the Washington Naval Treaty (the only ships allowed to carry the 41cm naval cannon, the UK also having two and the US the remaining three) and a source of national pride only surpassed by Yamato once she was completed. These figures need no justification to be treated with reverence. By contrast, Akagi serves as a source of motivation for Fubuki pretty much because Fubuki says so, and also perhaps because of the historical spectre of Akagi’s fate at Midway providing additional Drama. In fact, historically, arguably Akagi’s most significant feat was being the flagship of the force which enacted the Pearl Harbour attack. No evidence for this being the case is offered in the anime, I want to be quite clear, but it presents a markedly different interpretation of Fubuki’s fangirling if it’s derived from such a... significant historical event. Overall, this series does her and everyone else that features a disservice, and fails in its aim in that Fubuki is going to be blamed for this failure, unfairly, as other productions have managed to treat her much better.
Some Good Episodes
Honestly, this is something of a back-handed commendation, as “some” episodes being good naturally implies the others are not. That said, I would state that two episodes in particular really do demonstrate that a good anime of KanColle is actually possible. I think it’s also worth explicitly noting that the two episodes in question move away from the primary perspective of the series to focus on the Kongou sisters and the Akatsuki sisters respectively, and also that one manages a reasonable attempt at dramatic action whilst the other manages SoL fun, for the most part anyway. In fact, the adventures of Episode DesDivSix are widely regarded as the best episode of the run, and it’s the most standalone episode of the entire series.
Drop In CGI Quality
I’ve put this under
Not Bad Poi... because it never really falls to poor levels, certainly not below the quality of recent shows such as Knights of Sidonia or the obvious comparison; Arpeggio: Ars Nova. But it does become more obvious and slightly janky compared to the first couple of episodes.
Reveals Nothing New About The Lore
The creators of the game are infamously tight-lipped regarding some of the basic facts about the franchise; what the Abyssals are, how shipgirls came about, even what period of time everything occurs within. This has lead to multiple differing interpretations both within the fandom and in the various official productions, albeit with certain consistencies as popular ideas are reused, however I think many people were hoping that the anime, with its unofficial veneer of heightened canonicity, would at the least confirm some of the speculations and possibly even give the fans something new. This did not happen, beyond the in-jokes such as Akagi being a big eater and an implication of something just before the announcement of the second series. At best, this is slightly disappointing, but given some established facts were presented quite differently (such as Ooi being far more a raging psycho-lesbian than her in-game personality, or indeed the much higher prevalence of yuri-ism in general) and some that might have been expected were missing entirely (though it has been said by some that the tune Naka hums in one episode is 2-4-11, I personally don’t hear the resemblance), it leaves one with the general feeling of somehow having less than they started watching with. It also serves as a double-edged blade in combination with the attention to detail I already complimented earlier. As previously stated, one of the biggest mysteries of the setting is what exactly the Abyssal Fleet is, and many different suggestions have been established; the most common ones being that they are the grudges of sunken Allied (read: USN) ships, supported by the naming conventions of Abyssal equipment and the lack of Allied shipgirls, or that they are the grudges of sunken ships of all nationalities, supported by the existence of Abyssal torpedo cruisers and aviation battleships, which the Allies did not use, and certain lines said by some Abyssal bosses. The anime provides evidence for both, primarily being that the entire plot is a very shallow retelling of the Pacific Theatre (which comes with its own rather unpleasant connotations, that shall be addressed later) and also the visual armament of the Abyssal fighters, as seen above. Examination of the picture shows that the underslung gun is very similar to the Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun, commonly mounted on US aircraft throughout WW2 (and still in varied use today; it’s a fantastic design) whereas the bombs are almost identical to the Japanese Type 98 Land Bomb. So that really doesn’t help... It should be stated clearly that Kadokawa have not commented on the canonicity of any supplementary material and given how wildly the details of one production can vary from the next, the fanbase should not take the disappointments of the anime too much to heart.
As I said earlier, one of the main reasons for the anime getting made was to try and improve the popularity of Fubuki, as she is something of a Creator’s Pet. I have no problem with this: if you give me a good story I’m not going to complain overly hard about your motivations. IF you give me a good story, which KanColle does not. In fact, for the majority of the run the main story would appear to be Fubuki training hard to become someone worthy of being an escort for Akagi. Fair enough, that could work. Except they also try to tell the story of the wider war that is ongoing, not just Fubuki’s part in it. That’s getting a bit trickier; trying to switch between different scales of perspective can be complicated. Not impossible though, however we are told that Fubuki’s part in that wider war is critical. We don’t see it, we’re just told it is the case, and in-universe everyone is left wondering why until the last two episodes. And the last two eps are where everything falls apart. Up until then generally not very much had been happening. We’d been told about some strength Fubuki has which makes her essential, but it’s been utterly irrelevant and so able to be ignored. Death flags got raised in such profusion you’d think a military parade of shinigami was passing through, the inevitable occurred, and then we moved on. Fun was had with DesDiv6 trying to master the culinary arts, then we moved on. We went to the beach and stayed at a very swanky resort, and then we moved on to find that Something Had Happened! which could be significant, but it turns out to really not be and we moved on. Then, what would have been the main fucking plot of any other show is suddenly revealed in episode 11, and Fubuki’s “great strength” is made apparent in the very last fucking episode of the series. If you actually have some big, underlying structure to events that everything we’ve been seeing has been built on, you really need to allude to it earlier! And the fact remains that the most well considered episode of the run is the one which has the least to do with any other events, and does not feature the main cast in a primary capacity.
Selective Application Of Game Mechanics
One of the problems with any adaptation of a game to any other format is “How many of the necessarily artificial mechanics of the game do we include?” and the solutions run the gamut between playing the setting entirely straight to having the production follow the rules of the game as strictly as possible. KanColle leans more towards the latter; only six ships to a fleet arranged in game formations, frequent deliveries of lines quoted from the game (with varying degrees of contextual appropriateness), use of game items, damage represented by clothing destruction and so forth. This sets up the dynamic that events will not occur that are explicitly against what could happen in the game, as many of those mechanics are limitations that would be nonsensical to follow were it not required. And then things occur that completely ignore those mechanics, instead suddenly applying different rules purely for the sake of Drama. One of the most important qualities of any work of fiction is internal consistency, and arbitrarily changing the Laws by which your setting operates utterly destroys that. If you want to do something beyond those restrictions, find a loophole to exploit instead... Ise may be available for consultations. After all, she wasn’t filling her days with an anime filming schedule [cough]
Mismanages Balance Of Slice-of-Life To Drama
In fact, that proclivity to just randomly insert Drama, regardless of the setting allowing for it or not, pretty much underlines the biggest single flaw with KanColle: it tries, unsuccessfully, to work two angles at once. As I stated in the opening, the premise of Kantai Collection lends itself well to both the archetypal “Cute Shipgirls Doing Cute Things” and darker fare, verging fully into horror should one wish. It’s easy enough for a production to just pick one primary genre and concentrate on it, though often shows will include a variety of minor elements to keep things from getting stale. It’s much harder to successfully switch genres through the course of a show’s run, especially within a single cour, or to maintain multiple different genres at once. KanColle attempts the latter, and fails. In a way, I’m actually surprised by this, as the director has a track record of being able to do such shows, at least to a better standard than KC achieves. And it fails in both directions; the Death Flag 2015 celebrations are followed by some of the wackiest antics of the entire run (although I would argue there is some quality pathos at the end of that episode, primarily due to some outstanding vocal work), and in the other direction once again we return to the adventures of DesDiv6, which proceed splendidly until the last few minutes, whereupon inappropriately heavy-handed angst is suddenly slammed down; blatantly still aiming for comedic value but just being presented far too strongly. Few of the scenes in the anime are particularly bad taken individually, but they simply don’t work when brought together.
How. The Hell. Did That. Get Through... There had been minor issues that didn’t deserve to really be hung around the anime’s neck right through the series; oddly enough most of which had to do with the Kongou sisters: the depiction of their stockings, or more accurately their zettai ryouiki, altering between scenes or having incorrect rigging types (in their first appearance they are all shown using boat-type rigging, which only Haruna uses, and in the next they’re all shown using cross-type, which Haruna doesn’t use) but at least they were consistent about which type was in-use. But the last couple of episodes really go downhill, the above image merely being the most grievous example. Others include Hiei’s rigging changing type from boat to cross mid-scene, Souryuu never actually firing arrows but rather having placeholder brown lines which instantly vanish rather than moving forward, and Fubuki’s Anti-Aircraft Fire Director disappearing from her wrist for a few frames before magically popping back into existence. These are basic issues which should not be getting through quality checking, and really cannot be excused.
Missing Fan Favourites
Were you wanting to see Ryuujou or Jun’you in the series? Well “Wow! Congratulations!” because there they are. Seriously, that’s it. Now, with 160 prospective characters, obviously the majority were never going to feature. There are some we could discount pretty easily, such as the more niche arrivals or the German girls. But others really make no sense in their absence, especially if the anime is targeted more towards fans of the franchise than newcomers, as is the quite obvious case. Some girls appear as background characters, like Kagerou and Samidare, whilst others do actually get some attention in supporting roles: Atago, Kuma, Tama, Mogami, Souryuu and Hiryuu, and Yuubari. But Tenryuu and Tatsuta, two of the most recognisable shipgirls (and both with personalities that would easily lend themselves to hilarity: a hot-blooded yankee with a soft spot for destroyers, and an angelic sadist) get mentioned in passing by name only, Maikaze appears for a few seconds but doesn’t get named, Shouhou does get named and does appear, in flames, and none of the submarines nor Murakumo feature at all. I think this might be a good place to also mention that a new character is introduced in the last moments of the last episode, from absolutely nowhere (which itself is bad enough), but whilst the preceding episode had teased a silhouette with no further information given, her appearance is spoilt earlier within episode twelve itself by having the mid-ep splash card depict her! You even fail at your asspull Deus Ex Machina KanColle! >< (Though this was by no means the only asspull of the final episode. I would need to check to a higher degree, but I suspect a new record for Asspulls In Rapid Succession may have been set...)
For a full rundown of the cameos, see here.
I personally find the setting fascinating even beyond my fondness for mecha musume, and had high hopes for the anime. Sadly, it just does not make use of the available potential. A poor story, poorly told, but with occasional glimpses of what could have been. Inevitably, what can be salvaged by the internet will be stripped out and put towards other endeavours, and the rest will be left behind to lay undisturbed in the depths. Going forward, with the knowledge of a second series to come, let us hope that mistakes can be learned from and a far more worthy successor will launch. After all is said and done, as I come to the end of writing this review, I’m realising that I’ve enjoyed seeing the girls running around for its own sake, and I’ve really enjoyed filling my days with KanColle in order to do this write-up. I want more Kantai Collection. I just don’t want more of THIS Kantai Collection.
Kantai Collection is available on Crunchyroll.
There’s a great deal to take a closer look at in this anime, and I’m going to address a couple of things here, with a Spoiler Warning in full effect, with another article dedicated to the larger topic requiring discussion.
First off, exactly what is the point of the elaborate arming sequences the girls go through? They look awesome, and the two we actually get to see (three if you consider Akagi and Kaga to be separate but concurrent) are great. Shame that’s all we got. And then the whole premise is undermined entirely by the girls seemingly being able to manifest their rigging from fucking nowhere. Sure, it’s been stated that Yamato had her’s in that crate she was sitting on. Why was it in the crate? Even assuming they have multiples of their individualised rigs and aren’t retrieving them from the depot/armoury whenever they care to, Yamato retrieves her massive equipment from that crate (which is too small to contain it) and dons it in a matter of seconds without assistance or even making a sound, standing in a small boat, and then packs it away into that same tinyass crate afterwards. Why the hell do the bases have these massive installations to elaborately do what the girls can do themselves with less effort? When Yamato actually sorties later, we see her depot rise out of the fucking ocean. Why? We already know she can just shrug the damn rigging on and be ready to go! There may well be a reason for it, but we aren’t given one.
Second point that should be addressed: there’s a surprisingly high level of creepiness in the anime. Leaving aside the fact that the reason Fubuki was assigned to this particular Naval District and given special attention is because the Admiral had a dream that he married her, having never met her before (Run Fubuki. Run and never look back), the anime tries to play the “Sister Ships” angle both ways and, surprise, fails to make it work. You can either have that term be figurative or literal for general application, but whichever you choose to employ, that’s how you’re defining the term. If you have Kongou treating her sister ships as siblings, albeit siblings that are really close, having Mutsu then be romantically interested in Nagato comes across as uncomfortably incestuous. I would argue that there’s more evidence for the term not being literal, actually; aside from the episodic soap opera of Kitakami and Ooi (both of whom are Kuma-class cruisers: insert Yuri Kuma Arashi joke here), one of Fubuki’s sister ships, Hatsuyuki, appears in the background of one scene yet no interaction between the two is ever observed, with Fubuki even expressing nervousness about who she might meet when she is first assigned to the base. However, leaving the issue confused allows for certain levels of squick to manifest, and that’s never a good thing...
Oh, and on that note, the culmination of Weekly Lesbian has Ooi show up with a Dynamic Entry purely to save Kitakami, and they have a tender moment together before realising lots of Abyssal destroyers are watching and d’awwwwing at them, and they kill them all out of shyness. At least, I presume that’s what happened, given the encirclement of Abyssal ships around them doing utterly nothing as they provide a pretty-damn-good definition of moe, actually, and then sink them all with still no action on the part of the Abyssal destroyers whatsoever.
Also, just as a finishing aside, there exists the popular theory that yon Black Wo Shooter was Kisaragi as an Abyssal. I am personally in favour of the alternative; that Kisaragi will become an Abyssal and appear later (unless we’re lucky enough to get an entirely different take on KC for the sequel) but even had she been present at the end of the anime, she’s far more likely to have been one of the Wo’s escorts, given the typical fate of a mook without anyone really noticing. Or, given that she lost her hairclip as she was sinking in the first place, it was simply later picked up by Wo-town who then became very fond of it.