In Kancolle, Fubuki, a newly commissioned destroyer girl, arrives at the Naval District on the orders of the Admiral who is in command of the district. Under the secondary command of Secretary Ship Nagato and rooming with fellow destroyers Kisaragi and Mutsuki, Fubuki learns the role and duties of the fleet while waiting for a chance to prove herself against the invading Abyssal Fleet. She secretly hopes that she’ll get the chance to provide escort duty for Akagi, a carrier girl who Fubuki takes an instant liking to.
The girls arm themselves with cannons, ship guns, arrows that turn into torpedo and dive bombers and torpedoes themselves before being launched, tokusatsu-style, into the bay around the Naval district and set off on a mission. There’s no point in arguing the logic of teenage girls getting guns on their shoulders and firing them because if you do that, why are you watching Kancolle? Plus, the show shamelessly parades the girls in various costumes, poses and uses the priceless excuse when the girls are in for repairs of having them take long, communal baths in their own bath “slots”. Say what you want about Kancolle but the show runners know their target audience all too well. They go on to explain how each girl has their own unique talents which they alone can master and also that in this world, their real life counterparts appetites for fuel and resources is mirrored in some of the bigger girls having vast appetites (hilariously shown when in the presence of Akagi, she has a bowl of rice the height of a small child to eat every time).
The characters I loved the most were the Kongo sisters. As a Youtuber I follow said, they are madder than a box of frogs. While Hiei and Haruna are silly enough, Krishima is a kind of intelligent idiot. All of her plans and ideas are well thought out but they invariably fail because she didn’t see the most obvious factor in her planning. But the award for high point of the show goes to the namesake of the sisters, Kongo herself. She is a livewire, shooting her mouth off without thinking, leaping into rooms where the admiral is supposed to be and ambushing others with hugs and kisses. She puts on concerts for the other girls because she thinks it will help find a missing girl on campus. She frequently uses English words in regular dialogue without needing to explain to the others. She always uses her guns to devastating effect even when firing them will have no effect. Kongo is the Kancolle version of that US general in every 80’s film: fire everything because that, in and of itself, is a solution! I love every time she’s on screen and when she opens her mouth because nobody can come up with an answer to her better than what she can give out.
The heart of the show is Fubuki who leads herself from fifth wheel in the group to a solid leader within her own team and the other girls in the battle group. As she gains confidence, she falls and stumbles frequently but like every plucky hero, she finds the courage to defy the odds. Now in any other show, this would be par for the course, but in Kancolle’s case, you have to remember the story’s central conceit. She’s a little destroyer but frequently stands up to battleships, carriers and her own fellow destroyers. So it follows that the others cover for her when she’s weak but instead of copping out and just having Fubuki go through a training montage, during one of the early battles, the show kills off Kisaragi off-screen and both Fubuki and her friend Mutsuki are left to deal with their friend’s loss. For Mutsuki, the loss takes the form of silence and waiting at the dock for the lost Kisaragi until she learns to accept it while Fubuki learns to deal with her fear of what knowing what to do by figuring out how to fight on the spot.
The most controversial part of the show is the implicit connections between the ships depicted on the show and their real life counterparts, their role in the Second World War and the final episode. I’m not really spoiling anything but the remainder of the cast fight the main antagonists in a fight mirrored on the Battle of Midway. For those who don’t wish to look it up, the Japanese lost the battle which directly affected the outcome of the war in the Pacific. But here in Kancolle, the girls seem to know that they’re supposed to lose this battle. As if millions of voices cried out in terror blah, blah, blah. So they fight against it and prevail. Just because. But unlike something like Hetalia: Axis Powers, where the countries involved are named, Kancolle hides behind the term “Abyssal Powers” instead of saying the Americans. In some ways, it’s more cowardly to do so but in another, it elevates the story into that rare title, the wish fulfillment story. Japanese anime is forever trying to rewrite history whether it’s ancient Japan or the WWII. It’s like it’s not enough to just have a story set in an era, they have to change it so that everything turns out alright for the rest of the timeline I don’t understand the need for it but it is akin to the American preoccupation in the 70’s and 80’s of making Vietnam films where, for lack of a better term, “this time we get to win.” I would be reticent if I did not mention that Space Battleship Yamato pretty much does the same thing but doesn’t even try to hide the fatalism of the Pacific War’s later years as its inspiration. But I love Yamato so it would make me a hypocrite if I suddenly came down on Kancolle for the same thing. Does the show make a mockery of history with its “cute girls being ships” and failing to acknowledge Japan’s actions during wartime? No, because the show doesn’t show that the girls are fighting to bring peace, normalize countries under their control or expand a greater East Asian sphere (to use some of Japan’s excuses during the war). They’re just defending their home from attack plus the most aggressive statement in the show is when Akagi asks if the last expedition brought back bauxite for her. The show makes a point to mention that the girls are defending all of humanity, not just one group of people from attack. More corrosive than the historical revision is this need to have an unseen, off-screen “Admiral” character (not surprising since this was originally a game) who picks all the girls for their roles, everyone’s love with him (of course it’s a him) and who never has to do the hard stuff. It’s almost like the show’s creators were too afraid to give the girls power and agency together and cobbled the Admiral character in an attempt to engender viewer self-insertion onto the girl’s arcs and development.
I only want to talk about the animation in one specific circle. For the most part, the animation is well done, if a little basic, with the character designs showing off the most of the animators work. The part I want to talk about the most is this weird CG technique where some of the battle scene characters and backgrounds have been rendered in CG but cell shaded so that it appears to be part of the regular animation. The problem is that it doesn’t look as smooth as the other techniques and while it isn’t noticeable at first, I couldn’t help but notice it by the end.
One of the more pleasant aspects of the show is the Yuri overtones in the cast. While the more obvious pairing is Kitakami and Oi due to Kitakami’s obsession with being with Oi and not wanting any other girl near Oi, there is Fubuki’s attraction to Akagi but that is more of an admiration of Akagi as a big sister type than anything else (termed an S-relationship*). The big surprise for me was finding out that A: big gruff Secretary Ship Nagato has a soft side and that B: her assistant Mutsu has a thing for her and that “thing” is reciprocated by Nagato (albeit so long as nobody’s around to see Nagato being girly). There’s no foreshadowing and it’s done in a non-descript way that isn’t as overblown as the others. In a show aching to show off its fanservice credentials proudly, it’s an almost accidental kind of respectability.
Kancolle ends pretty decisively but leaves room for a sequel series. Which we are getting. Plus a theatrical film. Because we needed it. I don’t have it in me to hate Kancolle, despite its many flaws. It’s not nearly as cute and smart as it thinks it is. Nor is it as dumb as some of the other fanservice titles that have made the jump from game to anime over the last few years. If you remove the war in the Pacific aspect to it, it becomes a fairly standard show that entertains, if only for the comedy antics of the Kongo sisters, the overreactions of the younger girls and general “oh boy” attitude of the show’s makers to the whole thing. It’s streaming online now with Madman in Australia lining up a physical release. If you don’t think you’ll ever own it, try it out online first. You could do worse but nothing’s better than the Kongo sisters.
- Wikipedia contributors, “Class S (genre),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Class_S_(genre)
Cross posted on Otaku News