by Paul Jensen,
Adapting a game into an anime series is a tricky balancing act. Fans of the original work already know everything about the setting and backstory, while everyone else is coming in blind. The script needs to find a way to get the new folks up to speed without boring the existing fanbase with redundant information. Rather than trying to find an ideal compromise, the folks behind KanColle seem to have focused their efforts on appealing to the franchise's core audience. Considering that the game has several million registered players, it's hard to blame them.
KanColle's premise is a pretty typical invasion scenario: a mysterious fleet known as the Abyssals has seized control of the world's oceans, threatening humanity with all manner of doom and destruction. Luckily for us, we have the fleet girls: a group of girls named after World War II naval vessels. Equipped with outfits resembling the ships they represent, the fleet girls fight the Abyssals for control of the seas. If that all sounds a little complex, just picture adorable anime girls in battleship costumes fighting less adorable anime girls and their monster minions.
How much you enjoy KanColle will depend mostly on whether or not you play the online game it's based on. The series is filled with little references and inside jokes that assume the viewer is familiar with the source material. The show offers no explanations for these details, like Sendai's obsession with night battles or Akagi's ravenous appetite. In the first episode alone, I counted at least twenty things that would've gone over my head if I hadn't started playing the game a few months ago. Almost all of them made me smile, but most of this appeal would be lost on the average viewer.
Even if you take away all the hidden references, KanColle is still a perfectly competent series. The action scenes rely heavily on CG character models, but a sweeping musical score and solid camera work help to keep things engaging. The more traditional animation used outside of combat is good enough to stand with this season's other high-budget titles. The characters are generally likable, if a bit shallow. Fubuki is the earnest but clumsy one, Yuudachi is the easygoing slacker, Akagi is the charismatic upperclassman, and so on. The average character in the game has a few dozen lines at most, so it's not surprising that KanColle is sticking closely to the standard anime girl archetypes.
My biggest gripe on this front is with the Admiral, who stands in for the player's character. We neither see nor hear the guy, but he still plays a significant role as the base's commander. This is especially awkward when the Admiral gives Fubuki some kind of pep talk at the end of the first episode. Since the Admiral is invisible and inaudible, the audience doesn't hear a word of it. All we know is that Fubuki felt discouraged before the conversation and was much more confident afterward. If the Admiral isn't going to have any spoken lines, then he certainly shouldn't be in a scene that requires them. The show would be better off keeping him locked in his office and leaving the inspiring speeches up to the more experienced fleet girls.
KanColle is generally pretty restrained in its use of fanservice, though the second episode provides an exception in the use of a public bath as the base's repair dock. Apart from that scene, it's been a pretty tame show thus far. Viewers who couldn't stomach the infamous outfits in Strike Witches will likely find KanColle more palatable.
I really enjoyed the first two episodes of KanColle, but it's tough to recommend the show to anyone outside of the target demographic. Fans of the game will love seeing their favorite ship girls in motion and spotting all of the in-jokes, and the show's overall production quality is a pleasant surprise. If that's you, consider this review's rating to be a notch or two higher. For everyone else, it's a much harder call to make. Future episodes may do more to explain the nuances of the franchise, but the learning curve's pretty steep at the moment. Don't abandon ship just yet, but be aware that some of this season's other action shows might be a better option for the uninitiated.
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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