Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"Arpeggio of Blue Steel" Discussion

Due to serious time constraints, a heavy workload from school, and a few new projects I need to get to working on (as well as planning some reviews/ discussions for the coming months), I'm unable to get out a full review of a show that I truly like, Arpeggio of Blue Steel.

It's an anime series from the Fall 2013 season that features Captain Gunzo as he and his ragtag group of maybe teenagers take on the Fog, an army of powerful artificial intelligence in several naval battles to win back some breathing room for the small, almost powerless forces of humanity.

While some of this may seem like a review, there are just a few points that I like, or dislike, about the show that I wish to talk about, keeping things as spoiler free as possible. I'll give spoiler warnings as they come, though, because I'm nice(ish) like that.

If you've never heard of this show, and you're  fan of anime, don't worry about it. Fall (or, heck, anything from Summer 2013 onward) was completely dominated by the Attack on Titan fever that was sweeping the entire world. It was tough for any show to get in on the spotlight, honestly, with the myriad of people coming in loving it or completely bashing it. I loved it. I still love it.

I was honestly surprised, though, that Blue Steel wasn't highly regarded. I mean, the story's great. The AI are all pretty fun, as well as Gunzo in some moments. I suppose it's all the hype about a new fantasy anime that grabs people's attention, so a show that on the surface is a naval war might not pique interest. Luckily, it seems that the show has garnered some popularity recently, as it's getting two compilation films this year. Of course, I'm very excited.

Blue Steel is definitely one of those "I'll scroll through Netflix hoping for something good" gems. It's probably my favorite out of the random shows I've watched, actually (I don't count Fate/ Zero or Death Note in that because I was honestly interested in them and not just looking for something to watch). It wasn't just some generic Shounen series and it wasn't some lame sci-fi story where the science is more fiction than the events going on. It was intriguing. It's got a few conveniences, sure, but every show has that.

One of the big pieces of controversy that may well have steered people away from it (that pun was not intentional, I apologize for it) is the animation. Everything, everything, is in CGI. Normally in a show like this, you'll get maybe the posts and a couple of big walls to be CG, but nope. Everything from the water to the people to the backgrounds--I think, not really sure--is in CG. So, does it hurt the show?

A little. Since the people are also CGI, there are moments where their faces are expressionless instead of packing emotion. A few movements are also stiffened, or even over-exaggerated, because of the animation. Plus, it looks a little clunky, like the cell blocks used are much larger than they should be and it creates more a square look to the characters.

Personally, I don't have a problem with it. The story is good enough to carry much of the show and so the animation can sort of take a back seat to it, but it's still noticeable at times. I don't understand why they chose to go with the decision. I suppose a show had to do it one of these days, but, I don't see how they couldn't match the beautiful animation Aldnoah.Zero has now with the great CGI on the ships. The grand scope of all the battleships was cool to see in CG, but, it kind of comes of as normal seeing as how everything else was in the same texture and format.

There are a few moments where I forget that things are all in CGI, which is good, but then there are also moments of strange movements that remind me that it's CGI and it's slightly disappointing. Most of those movements, too, are just ordinary things such as a hair-flip or standing up and walking. It almost seems like a doll when they walk, with their arms and legs moving in such a mechanized way. Can't really say it's because most of the characters are AI, either, because they also have some pretty fluid movements.

As far as the characters go, it was a little weird watching them. The ones that were human had little personality outside of gung-ho techy sailors,  and the ones with all of the personality were the machines, namely Takao and Haruna. It's weird that Takao is the one on all the promotional art, but, I suppose since she is the most developed character, it would make sense. Still, she isn't really a part of their fleet and just sort of tags along (think like how Vegeta resided with Bulma before the Androids appeared in DBZ, something like that) for some of the missions. Haruna gains her personality through an almost pointless sequence that has no real bearing on the season.

Mainly the purpose of the AI--also known as Mental Models--is to show that they are capable of complex, human emotion such as fear and love. We see that a couple of the AI fall in love with Gunzo because of his...uh, determination? I dunno. Gunzo is a very determined leader and works very well with everyone around him. The problem is he falls into the trend of the "reluctant" hero, like Kirito and Inaho from the aforementioned Aldnoah.Zero. Kirito at least has some traumatic experiences he suffers through in Season 2 but Inaho has yet to really gain a personality (as of Episode 14, the episode I just watched). He sort of goes with the flow as far as deciding missions and meeting people.

However, I will give him this: he is a tactical genius. We aren't given too much back-story to Gunzo except for in the first episode, where we learn he is basically the top of his class and is guaranteed a high ranking in the Navy to fight the Fog. It definitely shows throughout the season. Even in the first episode we get to see it, and even more-so in their early battle against Takao (which was incredible). Though the crew does, obviously, play a large role in all of it, it always comes back to Gunzo to make the final call and the big, often questionable, decision. Pretty much every battle comes down to his quick thinking and great mind, and it shows. Gunzo may not have much in terms of a personality, but you'll be sure to have this guy on your side in a fight.

There are a few other characters of note, namely Iona, Kongo, and Kirishima. I would put Hiei but she was just a constant bubble of happiness that liked to blow stuff up, nothing too amazing. Iona and Kongo were both very similar in how composed they always were until things got really heavy and their emotions started to waver, which is interesting to see and is necessary for the characters to develop.

I think that's where the show flourishes most. The story itself is an interesting one, but it pushed forward much stronger as the characters grow and develop over time. Keep in mind, this is only a 12-episode show (so far, I'm currently and impatiently awaiting Season 2), so the fact that they were able to develop several character as well as compact several great action sequences is very impressive. I don't think the story would really have anywhere without the characters developing, though. This is very much an introspective series for the Mental Models, not so much the humans. I was fine with that, given how bland most of the humans were anyway.

So, it's not the plot driving show, but the various developments and moments that really leave an impact on our Mental Models as the show progresses. They each seem to get one big moment to shine that changes them forever, and oftentimes it's a good moment. There's good range with them, too, as I can think of a funny one, a serious one, a sad one, and an uplifting one. So, in that regard, they've got pretty much all the bases covered. That's always a fun time.

If you're capable of looking past the CGI animation like I was, I think you're in for a treat with this show. The action scenes are often very large, the characters drive the story, and it all leads to a pretty good ending, leaving you wanting for more but without leaving many plot-holes behind. For a 12-episode season, you're getting quite a lot, and I personally found it worth the watch.

Next time, I'll be doing a rare video-game review (get hyped) of "Dragon Ball: Raging Blast" because Xenoverse doesn't come out for another week. And I totally didn't think Xenoverse was coming out the seventeenth...no...

If you want to stay up to date on when I post, be sure to follow me on Twitter @seaonvan13 and on Instagram @seanovan10. Thanks for reading!

Also, I'm doing daily reviews of every Sword Art Online episode over at wordofsao.blogspot.com, I'm on Episode 9 of Season 2. The Bullet of Bullets is heating up, folks. See you then!

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