by Paul Jensen,
Well, that escalated quickly. After two episodes of light entertainment and occasional action sequences, KanColle suddenly got serious this week. It may rely heavily on old war movie clichés, but this episode marks a dramatic and unexpected shift in tone. If you haven't watched the episode yet, be aware that high-caliber spoilers lay ahead.
Things start off innocuously enough: Fubuki's persistent training impresses some of the more experienced ships, earning her team a spot in the fleet's next mission. As Fubuki struggles to find a way to repay the other girls for their help, Akagi offers her and Mutsuki some advice. The speech boils down to a reminder that being a fleet girl is a dangerous job and it's best to tell people how you feel while you have the chance. It's the sort of “for tomorrow we may die” message that appears all the time in war movies, and it initially feels too serious for an anime series about girls in warship costumes.
The speech immediately triggers a landslide of sickeningly sweet “I love and respect you” conversations across the cast. Mutsuki mentions getting a lot of help and encouragement from her sister ship Kisaragi when she first arrived at the base, and resolves to properly thank her for it. Unfortunately, she misses her chance before the girls set out on the next mission, which should send up an immediate red flag for viewers. When something important goes unsaid before a battle, there's a good chance that someone's about to get killed off. Even so, this is KanColle. Surely the writers wouldn't sink one of their fans' beloved ship girls, right?
Wrong. Just as the battle appears to be over, the show drops a bombshell in both literally and figuratively. An Abyssal plane lands a lucky hit on Kisaragi, destroying her equipment and sending her to the bottom of the sea. The other ships in her unit stay behind to look for her, but the episode ends with Kisaragi being formally reported as sunk. Unaware of the news, Mutsuki and Fubuki run happily down to the shore with the intention of being the first to welcome Kisaragi home. For a lighthearted adaptation of an online game, that's a pretty dark note to end on.
Normally, this is where I would add a note of caution. After all, there's an unofficial rule that no fictional character should be presumed dead until the audience sees the body. In this case though, there are a few bits of trivia that suggest Kisaragi has officially gotten the axe. First, her final line is the same bit of dialogue that plays in the event of Kisaragi's demise in the game. Second, the real-life destroyer that Kisaragi is named for was sunk after being bombed by an American plane during the battle of Wake Island. Given that this episode has the girls fighting near “W Island,” I'm inclined to think that KanColle is playing for keeps here.
This whole sequence of events is a bold choice for what seemed like a fairly laid-back series, but that doesn't mean it was executed perfectly. The episode hints at its ending so early and so often that it robs the death scene of some potential impact. It certainly doesn't help that the audience doesn't get a chance to grow attached to Kisaragi before she bites the bullet. She exists more as a piece of Mutsuki's backstory than as a character in her own right, so it's hard to feel too shaken up over her demise. To be honest, I don't think this storyline has really shown its teeth yet. Mutsuki's reaction to hearing the news has the potential to hit much harder than anything we've seen so far.
Aside from its one major talking point, this episode continues the show's pattern of being competent but unspectacular. The humor is weighed down by the writers' apparent need to toss half a dozen new fleet girls into each scene. I realize that the fans all want to see their favorite ship get some screen time, but the oversized cast makes it tough to go beyond basic character humor. On the plus side, this episode relies much less on viewers' familiarity with the franchise than the previous two.
KanColle continues to show off its impressive production values, but I'm not sure how I feel about the heavy use of CG character models for the battle scenes. The transition from 2-D to 3-D is pretty obvious and hurts the show's ability to immerse the viewer in an action sequence. On the other hand, using CG lets the animators keep the characters moving where they might otherwise have to resort to extreme close-ups or slow pans over static images. As much as I hate to say it, I think I'd stick with the current approach if given a choice. That freedom of motion is crucial to selling the fleet girls' ability to skate across the water.
This episode does a lot to challenge the idea that KanColle is just another inconsequential game tie-in. It's clumsy and predictable in its execution, but I'm excited to see where the show goes from here. Since its source material is pretty light on story content, KanColle is more or less free to do as it pleases. If the writers want to use that freedom to make an action series with some real dramatic weight, then more power to them.
KanColle is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Paul Jensen is a freelance writer and editor. You can follow more of his anime-related ramblings on Twitter.
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