Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Arpeggio of Blue Steel
The year is 2038. Seventeen years ago, mysterious vessels appeared on seas greatly expanded by global warming. Known as the Fleet of Fog, these ships waged a terrible war against humanity, proving themselves the masters of the high seas. The Fleet remains a threat today, but one ship at least has defected to the humans – 401, a submarine guided by the “mental model” of the vessel, which takes the form of a young girl named Iona. Gunzou, a young man who left the Japanese naval academy when his father was accused of defecting to the Fleet of Fog, has somehow won the trust of Iona, and now he and his ragtag crew are humanity's best hope against the mysterious ships of the Fleet as a new naval battle begins.
Of all of the moe-fications of inanimate objects, Arpeggio of Blue Steel's use of female avatars, or “mental models,” for ships makes the most sense. The reason for this is that in several languages, boats are referred to by use of the feminine pronoun, so even if your boat has a masculine name, you would still refer to it as “she.” The reasons behind this vary from the historical argument that Old English used gendered pronouns to various local explanations such as the one I grew up hearing (boats and women should be handled with care), but the fact remains that even if you are leery of turning random objects into cute girls, Arpeggio of Blue Steel has a leg to stand on. This makes it easier to enjoy the story itself, and the maritime adventures of our plucky group of ragtag heroes are setting up to be very interesting.
The story takes place in 2038. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, global warming caused a drastic rise in sea level, spurring the need to develop new and better ships. Those start to appear in 2005, but then in 2012, mysterious vessels with a ghost-like appearance began terrorizing sailors. Known as “the Fleet of Fog,” these ships eventually staged an all-out war with humanity, severely curtailing maritime activity. Not only did they have superior firepower, but the ships also appeared to be captained by women. These turned out to be a special form of, essentially, shipboard computer that higher class Fog vessels could use, known as “mental models.” As it turned out, these sentient ships could choose their human captains. A few years prior to the story's opening, Chihaya Gunzou, a cadet at the Japanese naval academy, was reeling from the revelation that his father had apparently defected to the Fleet, has a chance meeting with a Fog submarine, the I-401. Chosen by the ship, Gunzou and his crew, made up mostly of friends from the academy, take to the seas as a vessel neither quite rogue nor entirely legit, but certainly with the potential to be useful to whomever hires them. When the story begins, it looks as though Gunzou, the crew, and Iona have been taking random jobs as sort of maritime mercenaries. They are soon approached by the Japanese Navy, however, and asked to ferry the latest anti-Fleet weapon to America, where hopefully it can be used against the scourge. This, the Navy points out, will not only be helpful, but it will also removed Gunzou's questionably status and make him the official owner and captain of the I-401. As the book goes on, however, it looks as if that's not the only Fleet ship that will come under his command.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel's opening volume is very much a naval fantasy, with huge, elaborate warships, advanced technology, and lots of battle planning and strategizing. While parts of this do stretch credulity, it's also a pretty exciting read, particularly if you have any interest in maritime warfare. For the most part the story takes itself very seriously, showing us screens, simulations, and lots of scenes of ships engaging in battle. These last can be somewhat confusing to look at, as the abundant use of screen tones can at times blur the lines between what is on the water and under it, as well as the actual lines themselves. Conversely, the characters all have a very generic look to them, and while they all do have their own defining traits, they look as if they could have come out of a series drawn by anybody rather than being specific to this one. There are some interesting details, however: helmeted first mate Sou has both American and Japanese flag patches on his arms, the irises of the mental models' eyes change depending on what function they're performing, and all of the older men look very distinct, which is a nice change from the generic old guys we see in many other series. Gunzou's somewhat dandyish appearance belies the fact that he is a very involved captain, and it is clear that all members of the crew pull their weight, even if we still aren't sure what made them all join Gunzou in the first place.
For the novice mariner – or the overwhelmed reader – a glossary of all of the technical terms has been provided in the back of the book, and a time line of events leading up to the story is printed on the front cover. Character profiles appear midway through the book, and Ark Performance writes a fairly long essay in the back about how the story came to be. Seven Seas' translation feels very natural, mixing nautical and military terms with the characters' easy way of speaking. It is also worth noting that all of the mental models speak normally, without any robotic affectations, which certainly helps readability. Opening color pages have also been included, complete with amusing English instructions urging people to take care not to get hit by a torpedo.
All in all, Arpeggio of Blue Steel's first volume begins an interesting, exciting story of mysterious vessels and warfare on the high seas. While there is clearly an element of set up to the book's plot, it also does not feel like a prologue, bringing readers in and holding our attention. It can get confusing at times in its art and is very heavy on the jargon, but on the whole things are off to a promising start.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Ships as cute girls makes sense, lots of high seas action. Translation reads very well...
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