Arpeggio of Blue Steel Season 1 Eps 4-5 (Anime Review)

As I continued on with my view-through of last year’s Arpeggio of Blue Steel, I realised that despite the flaws of the show I was really enjoying it and that the characters were the first and most important element of that preference. In the first three episodes, we’ve seen a lot of setup and development of the characters, not to mention the setting itself, and the show kept getting more and more interesting with each of these first three episodes. And where the first two episodes were packed with a lot of action, the third slowed down to focus on character development and emotional action, rather than anything physical.

Having just watched episodes 4 and 5 of the anime, I can say that the action scenes are second to none and that it is really fun to see how the characters are built up, especially the Mental Model AIs of the Fog ships, and that the anime doesn’t really stint on the interesting stuff that comes with these characters being alien robots, whether emotionally or otherwise. Not a lot of character development for the main cast as the focus is always on the action, but the fifth episode provides some really nice twists and does explore a side of the Mental Models that we haven’t seen prior to that.

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When last we left off with the anime in episode 3, the Fast Battleships crewed by the Mental Models Haruna and Kirishima had just attacked the port city of Yokosuka and the crew of the I-401 was just getting ready to meet the threat head-on.

Episode 4 is all focused on the battle between the good guys and the “bad guys” as the I-401’s captain Chihaya Gunzō tries every trick in his repertoire to keep his ship afloat and his crew alive, even as Haruna and Kirishima come after the submersible with their full power. One after another, we get some really intense battles as tensions between the two sides heat-up and the “bad guys” try to ascertain what could be so beneficial about a human crew that the I-401 would turn traitor and directly lead to the treachery of the warship Takao as we saw in Eps 2 and 3. That angle certainly needs to be explored and the fourth episode does this really well.

Episode 5 then is all focused on the result of the battle between the three ships and the recovery by all those involved, even as we get to see another part of this setting and see how the arrival of the Fleet of Fog led to a spur of scientific development and achievement, with mixed results. And at the same time, we see how the I-401 is being entrusted with the pinnacle of one such successful scientific achievement, a bit of cargo that the ship needs to transport to what remains of the once-mighty United States.

Chihaya Gunzō, I-401’s Mental Model Iona, and the two Fog loyalist Mental Models Haruna and Kirishima are the most interesting characters in these two episodes. It is lamentable that the writers so far have seen fit not to explore the backstories of the rest of the I-401’s crew, preferring instead to focus on just Chihaya Gunzō and Iona, which is nice in a way but is also a big negative since the rest of the crew just appears to be there as decoration and nothing more, listening to and executing Chihaya Gunzō’s orders. Once you get past that however, you begin to really enjoy both Chihaya Gunzō and Iona, even though the former appears to be a bit too much the Marty Sue given how the writers are playing up the whole “human captain” angle for Iona and Takao.

Being a war/military SF show, I expect some good battles and appropriate tactics and strategies from the characters involved and that is indeed what episode 4 is all about. Chihaya Gunzō is a master strategist, able to come up with some really surprising twists when the situation calls for it and seeing his plans unfold proves to be quite a thrilling experience.

In Episode 5 we get to see a very… human side to the Mental Model Haruna, and it just might be the best of all that we’ve seen so far regarding the Mental Models. The Fog ships employ human forms for their AIs in an effort to better understand human tactics and strategies, but it can so easily be more than that and that seems to be part of the mission statement of the fifth episode, which does a really good job of humanising Haruna. I would have liked to have seen something similar for Kirishima, but that’s fine since she’s a very different sort of character to Haruna, and thus requires a much different approach.

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The CGI in episode 4 is pretty spectacular especially towards the climax when Haruna and Kirishima have their big showdown with the I-401. It is moments like these that I love military SF/war shows so much and this episode certainly did not disappoint at all in that respect. With the episode being as fast-paced it is, we get to see lots of different shots of the warships involved on both sides, as well as the various retaliatory strikes that are made. If there was one thing that I didn’t like about the animation in episode 4, it is that there was too much exploitation of Kirishima, in terms of how she is portrayed, given that she is one of the “sexier” Mental Models. And in a lot of the scenes she is bent over on her display screens with her butt sticking out back and it is both distracting and a disservice to the character since she should be much more than this. Episode 5 is significantly better in that respect but it has far too many scenes of Haruna in her undergarments and the almost pained expression on her face when she crawls towards her ridiculously oversized trench coat is also something that bothered me. But once again, you look past that, and you see that the CGI itself isn’t really all that bad, since the expression-work for the characters is mostly top-notch.

With all the revelations that are handed to the viewer in these two episodes, and with the way that the overall story is developing, I’m still committed to the show since I am having a lot of fun watching it. There are some significant kinks for the show to work out, and I can only hope that the future episodes correct that.

More Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ep 1, Ep 2, Ep 3.

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