The Winter 2015 Anime Preview Guide

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

There is no hard and fast rule that anime based on games – card, browser, smartphone, video – can't be good. Unfortunately for every Genesis of Bahamut you get a KanColle. Short for Kantai Collection, the series is based on a browser game which gives cute girls the “souls of great battleships.” For further clarification, those would specifically be WWII Japanese battleships. The vessels have been reborn in adorable young teens so that humanity will have a way to defend themselves against the Abyssals, weird and creepy monster boats that appeared from the depths of the sea. And really, what better way to fight aquatic danger than via underdressed young teens?

As far as plot goes, it's really very thin on the ground. We don't know how anyone determined that the ships were reborn as girls. Based on their cute strap-on accessories we can tell what kind of vessel they are – the aircraft carriers have runways on their arms and fired arrows turn into planes, for example, while warships have little arm turrets – but it's clear from main character Fubuki that they are not born simply knowing how to use the weapons. They glide across the water on little motorized kick boards, but again, there is no indication that they could just do this instinctively based on their souls. This lack of explanation makes it difficult to buy the rest of what KanColle is trying to sell: that going out on the open ocean is best done wearing light summer clothes. If you have ever been on a fast-moving boat even on a warm day, you'll understand why this beggars belief. Unless their skin is somehow armored...?

The girls themselves are basically a collection of stereotypes, with eccentric blond Yuudachi saying “poi” all the time for no discernible reason and Fubuki slotting nicely into the “adorably awkward yet determined” category. While everyone does look relatively unique, this is likely a draw of the “collection” aspect of the original game. There is something a bit odd about some of the nautical animation, particularly when Fubuki is getting outfitted with her battle gear as if the integration of 2D and 3D animation didn't quite work. It is worth noting that this scene also looks like it could really hurt, as bits and pieces are hooked or slapped on at high speed. Again, do these girls have plated skin?

Had I played the game, perhaps I would look at this differently. But this first episode wasn't much in the making sense department as well as cutesifying war, which is a button of mine. I think I'll let this ship sail past while I wait on the dock.

KanColle is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick Creamer

Rating: 2.5

Kantai Collection has the unenviable task of turning an absurd, defiantly narrative-unfriendly browser game into some kind of coherent show. The base ingredients we're dealing with are: lots of classic World War II ships that have been anthropomorphized into cute girls, a mysterious, so far unexplained “Abyssal Fleet” antagonist, a vaguely defined combat system that involves girls… skating???... on water while firing cannons and fighter planes, and Way Too Many Characters.

The first episode of Kantai Collection does a valiant job of turning all that raw material into a reasonable slice of life-slash-sports show, with protagonist Fubuki acting as the rookie through which we get introduced to everything else. Newly arrived at the naval base/school housing all these military ships/girls, the first half of this episode introduces us to a whirlwind gamut of those Too Many Characters, with many girls getting no more than a second or two of screentime before it's off to the next fan-favorite character and their characterization gimmick. It's a combination of boilerplate slice of life and “there's your favorite character!” fanservice, making the first half feel somewhat like going to somebody else's family reunion.

The second half is a lot more exciting, since the girls are thrown into battle against their first abyssal opponents. Kantai Collection gets to show off a little here, as the show's animation and direction are both very solid. Both the scenes of the girls suiting up and their final exchanges with the enemy boss were real highlights, but even the episode's early scenes demonstrated a strong sense of shot composition and lovely color design. The one outlier here is the CG work - though some scenes make great use of it (particularly those focused on machinery or fighter planes), when the CG versions of the girls are simply talking to each other, it's noticeably awkward compared to the usual style. But that's only a few scenes out of an episode that's overall a real visual treat.

Does that mean I actually recommend the show? Not really, no. It certainly seems like it'll please existing fans looking to see their favorite characters, and it's at least competent as a slice of life/sports-drama, but the plot and characters so far are extremely by-the-numbers, giving me no reason beyond the aesthetics to seek out another episode. The browser-game roots are apparent in the simple characters, in the “go fight the arbitrary boss” conflict, in the tired “one day I'll fight beside the cool upperclassman” narrative they've chosen to go with. Kantai Collection's team have succeeded in turning a very bizarre game into a coherent anime, but “coherent” is not high praise.

Kantai Collection is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Hope Chapman

Rating: 3

KanColle is a cute little show and all, but it's hard for me to discuss it because it's also a show I'm clearly not invited to. Based on a popular browser game, like last season's phone-game-based Rage of Bahamut Genesis, and sporting a budget and staff chops much higher than you'd expect for such an adaptation, also like Rage of Bahamut, Kantai Collection is best described as the "navy" to Strike Witches' "air force," and maybe Girls Und Panzer's "army," although the characters in Girls Und Panzer weren't literally living tanks, so maybe there's a better example. Yes, it's a return to the wacky world of military-fetishism-meets-moe-iyashikei anime, and as far as a show about devastating battleships in the bodies of cute little girls goes, it's surprisingly easy to watch and enjoy. It's well-directed, the girls are likable (albeit more pandering tropes than actual characters), and it sports nice animation alongside well-choreographed battle scenes. However, KanColle is still not easy to understand for non-navy-nuts and therein lies my problem.

Unlike something like Strike Witches or even Upotte!, which immediately dove into world-building details and trivia-driven dialogue that explored the unique aspects of the fantasy conflict or the types of weaponry and what made them unique or interesting, KanColle just dives straight into battleship-girls fighting more monstrous battleship-girls with no education or immersion to be shared. The show seems to be assuming that you're already a military otaku and/or a fan of the phone game and has no patience for trying to appeal to any broader audience. It's well-executed from a visual and basic narrative standpoint, but with a premise this bizarre and insular, it seems like a waste not to explore it in more inclusive detail. I'm sure fans of the premise or game itself are getting exactly what they wanted with this handsome and fun presentation, but for the more casual fan, KanColle is not interested in making friends with you. It's nice to "ooh" and "ah" at the spectacle for as long as it engages, but the temptation to move on to something with a little more personality outside its barely-clarified gimmick will probably creep up strong inside of a few more episodes. If I'm watching a show about cute girl battleships, I kinda want to learn about the battleships or the history of their war or something. Otherwise, why even bother?

KanColle is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Zac Bertschy

Rating: 2.5

A terrifying fleet of human-warship hybrid things called "Abyssals" are attacking humanity. Only one thing can stop them: the "Fleet Girls", a band of beautiful warriors who have the souls of battleships inside. Fubuki is a "name ship", new to the fleet, and after introducing herself to the commander, she acclimates herself to life among the fleet girls, making new friends and meeting impressive and experienced heroes of the fleet along the way. It's all parfaits and daydreaming until the raid siren goes off; central command has discovered the enemy base, and it's time to attack. Fubuki charges (sails?) headlong into her first battle on the open ocean.

Kancolle is based on an extremely popular online card game, one appreciated by millions of fans in Japan who buy boatloads (a-hyuk!) of merchandise. The show is presuming you count yourself among them, because it doesn't really go out of its way to explain much - we know these girls have the "souls" of Japanese battleships inside them and they're fighting weird alien ship girls, but that's about it. Characters show up and aren't actually introduced so much as they make a cameo, say something you're supposed to already know is typical of their character, and then we move on. Mostly, the show is weird; it's an idea that functions as an abstract, imaginative concept made aesthetically literal on screen, often in baffling ways. Occasionally it's actually pretty unique and cool; there's a shot of an aircraft carrier girl who fires an arrow that becomes two warplanes, which becomes the purest visual expression of the concept behind this series that the first episode has to offer.  Otherwise it goes through the "cute girls doing cute things" motions in the first half, and then gives us some fighting near the end. I was reminded, tonally, of Strike Witches, with one key difference -there's almost no fanservice to speak of. You won't see these girls swabbin' their poopdecks or whatever the giant dumptruck full of doujinshi these ladies have already inspired depicts. If you ignore the thematically subterranean implications about the strange new places Japanese military fetishism appears to be going, the show is almost totally straightforward and innocuous. Handsomely animated (although when the girls switch to CG characters out on the water it's very noticeable and a bit distracting), with a swelling score reminiscent of modern war movies, KanColle is a big expensive-looking production of a fan favorite that (probably rightfully) assumes you're already onboard (a-hyuk!).

KanColle is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Theron Martin

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: KanColle is the commonly-accepted abbreviation for Kantai Collection, a hugely-popular (in Japan) app-based card game which features classic naval warships anthropomorphized as young ladies. With more than 2.2 million registered players and a massive body of already-existing doujinshi, its anime adaptation certainly comes in as one of the most anticipated titles of the Winter 2015 season.

The first episode looks like it was budgeted for something expected to be a major hit. Its artistry is crisp, appealing, detailed, and vividly-colored, complete with character designs that are uniformly attractive and well-rendered (though perhaps not all that original). Animation is also ambitious an active, especially during the featured mass battle scene towards the end of the episode, and definitely multiple steps above typical anime series fare; this will be one of the better-looking series of the year if it somehow maintains the quality seen in this episode. (Given that studio Diomedia is also simultaneously animating Unlimited Fafner, World Break, and Cute High Earth Defense Force LOVE!, that seems unlikely, but it would be quite a feat if they pull it off.) The way the girls all wear and fight with contraptions suggestive of their affiliated warships is more than a little weird, but again, it is still done well visually.

With the concept, visuals, and a strong supporting musical score being the features, the characters and story only really need to not drop the ball entirely for this to be a success. Although neither aspect shines, they don't flop, either. In a premise very reminiscent of Arpeggio of Blue Steel, a mysterious fleet – in this case called Abyssals – has appeared out of the midst of the ocean and driven humanity out of the seas, and the only things that can effectively fight them off are the ship-girls. In this case, though, the girls are not the avatars of the ships but the embodiment of them (because they have “the soul of a ship”), which means that they essentially skate across the water when out to sea and fire arm or back-mounted weapons which either turn into full ship-sized versions or transform into something else appropriate, such as the arrows that the carrier-girls fire which turn into squadrons of torpedo-equipped fighters. The story mainly follows Fubuki, a Special Class Destroyer who is newly-arrived to join Torpedo Squadron Three and quickly comes to admire Akagi, one of the beautiful and elegant carrier-girls. She is suggested to either be clumsy or have serious confidence issues or both, and because of that she has no battle experience coming in. That changes when the local base for the Abyssals is located and an all-out assault ordered.

So yeah, the concept is kinda kooky, the plot ordinary, and the girls introduced so far a pretty typical array of anime personalities. The setting is also weirdly anachronistic, as it gives a World War 2-era vibe but also features more modern elements like idols, elaborate parfaits, and higher-tech ship docks. As long as the series continue to look good and deliver action scenes like those seen at the end of the episode, though, it is quite watchable fare.

KanColle is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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