Thursday 8 January 2015

First Impressions: Kantai Collection

Kantai Collection

Kantai Collection is arguably one of the most popular franchises in Japan right now, but there's probably a fair portion of the Western anime fanbase out there who've either never heard of it or simply know it as "the boat girl" thing. Starting with humble origins as a turn-based freemium game by Kadakowa, KanColle has since massed manga, light novels, drama CDs, figures and of course - even more games! But 2015 is the year the franchise has branched out into a fully fledged anime, courtesy of Diomedéa - the studio behind Shiryaku! Ika Musume. Airing worldwide on online streaming site Crunchyroll, it's time for Kantai Collection to set its sights on global domination.

Following a series of attacks from creatures known as the Abyssal Fleet, humanity has mostly lost controlled of the seas. The only hope we have from this mysterious enemy are the Fleet Girls (or Kanmusu) - girls possessing the spirits of Japan's greatest warships. After being recommended to join the Third Torpedo Squad by the (unseen) admiral, new recruit and destroyer-class ship Fubuki quickly finds herself sortied into battle despite only just arriving at the naval base. The only problem is, Fubuki lacks proper training and any combat experience! But after being dazzled by the fighting prowess of Fleet Girl ace Akagi, Fubuki vows to do her very best to become her new idol's escort.

Have you ever seen the series Strike Witches? Remember how the first few episodes had main character Yoshika arriving at the airbase to meet her new teammates, going into battle with minimal experience and being wowed by a highly skilled superior officer? Well Kantai Collection gets off to a pretty much identical start, only cramming the details down into a single episode, replacing plane girls with boat girls and considerably toning down the fan service element (but given how battle damage works in this show, I doubt this will last forever). Despite having such a basic plot (good boats vs bad boats) this first episode throws everything at the viewer thick in fast - introducing as many of the franchise's many boat girls (currently numbering at well over 100) as it can through both proper introductions and two-second cameos. It may be a simple show at heart but with so much to cram in this episode might give you whiplash from just trying to remember who is who.

But perhaps the most divisive issue with this debut episode was the battle animation, which is something I've been worried about since the very first teaser for the anime - the use of CGI character models. As the action shifts to the Fleet Girls darting across the oceans at high speeds, the characters becomes not only less detailed, but less fluid with the backdrop (which I guess is only green-blue oceans, but still). With the way the anime market is shifting the use of CG is understandable to save some budget, but the stiff animation really takes you out of what should be the fast-paced centrepieces.

Through all its problems though, there is something great about those unique character designs. Girls with boat parts attached to them sounds ridiculous when you write it down like this, but Kantai Collection has taken that concept and really made it work. Likewise the Abyssal girls parallel beautifully with the typically Japanese protagonists - feeling more like something out of a Huke artwork (the man behind Black Rock Shooter). This was never going to be particularly cerebral show so looking good was the main task at hand. And other than the aforementioned animation issues, it does the job pretty damn well. Fubuki's "armour on" transformation sequence being a particular highlight of this first episode.

So all in all it was a pretty interesting premiere. Despite not being particularly original and having some rather iffy battle animation, the episode proved to be a lot of fun and certainly something worth continuing with for a few more episodes.

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