Episode 4

by Paul Jensen,

It was obvious going in that this would be a make-or-break episode for KanColle. The series made some bold narrative choices last week, putting a lot of pressure on this episode's ability to bring that arc to a satisfying conclusion. It takes its sweet time in doing so, but the show does eventually finish what it started.

It's a tale of two plot arcs. We begin and end with Mutsuki's reaction to Kisaragi's death, but much of the episode's running time is devoted to a separate story involving some of the franchise's most popular characters. Fubuki is sent on a new mission with the speed-obsessed destroyer Shimakaze and the eccentric Kongou sisters. It feels odd to break up a serious storyline with such a heavy dose of comedy, but the episode somehow manages to hold together.

The four battleships are the narrative equivalent of a steamroller, especially Kongou herself. Her arrival heralds a fresh barrage of catchphrases and inside jokes, most of which are aimed exclusively at fans of the game. The rapid-fire comedy routine is fun if you can keep up, but many viewers will be left wondering what in the world just happened. Last week's serious atmosphere has been completely overwritten, and it's not a particularly smooth shift in tone. The comedy works reasonably well in isolation, but it's jarring to jump from Mutsuki holding in her grief to Kongou starting a pop idol showdown with Naka.

Things calm down a bit once the mission finally gets underway. The slugging match between the fleet girls and Abyssal battleships lacks the visual punch of previous episodes' carrier battles, but the action sequence does at least help advance the story. It gives the series a chance to show us a (slightly) more serious side of Kongou and company, developing them beyond their initial roles as joke dispensers. It also gives Fubuki some credible motivation to help Mutsuki confront her emotions.

Fubuki finally gets through to Mutsuki in the episode's final minutes, resulting in one of the most effective scenes that KanColle has put together so far. It's nothing fancy, just a simple show of support that lets loose some raw emotions. Even so, it works pretty darn well. It's starting to look like this series won't be all parfaits and tea parties, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If KanColle can keep offering compelling moments of genuine drama, it has the potential to reach beyond its built-in audience.

If it's going to do that though, the show really needs to cut down on the constant additions to its already oversized cast. I've griped about this before, but it continues to be one of KanColle's biggest weaknesses. I want to see my favorite fleet girls get screen time as much as the next fan, but not if it means reducing the cast to shallow caricatures. For just one week, I'd like to see KanColle take a deep breath and work with the characters it already has. Show us more of Nagato dealing with the emotional burden of leading the fleet. Let us see more of the quirks behind Akagi's calm and collected persona. A little more character development would make the show more approachable for newcomers and more meaningful for established fans.

KanColle is still putting most of its energy into entertaining its core audience, but it's on course to broadening its appeal little by little. The production values are holding up reasonably well, and the writing continues to flex an unexpected amount of dramatic muscle. If it can narrow its focus a bit, there's nothing to stop this adaptation from standing on its own merits.

Rating: B

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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