I like a variety of things, many of which aren’t considered in the “mainstream.” While I do enjoy some of the popular things, I do recognize that everyone’s individual preferences are different; and people will also enjoy the same thing for different reasons. Having said that, it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly what my preferences are because I watch a variety of shows, as well as varying opinions for them. And so, in spirit of the official manga release (in English) for this series today, I think it’s time to reveal one of the series that surprised me to be quite impressive!
Arpeggio of Blue Steel / Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: ARS Nova sets us up in a time where global warming creates drastic effects on the planet, where all the nations of the world reach higher ground and depend on waterways for communication and trading. Furthermore in this disaster-ridden apocalypse, a fleet with unknown origins called the Fog (Fleet of Mist) has taken over much of the ocean territory, pushing back civilizations from traveling by sea. It is up to Gunzo Chihaya, a rogue Naval captain, and Iona (I-401), a traitor of the Fog, to deliver a secret weapon– and hope –to the United States in order to turn the tides of this war.
Now I know what we’re thinking: that cute doll with the sea star obsession is going to save the world? Believe it or not, she’s an anthropomorphic “mental model” of an I-400 class submarine; and this series as a whole takes a much more serious tone than most anime that feature anthropomorphic characters (characters who embody objects or creatures, but look and act human).
As one might imagine from a series that uses anthropomorphism as a theme, all of the Fog characters drive the majority of this Naval drama’s story. They also do crazy things together because it’s anime (I don’t have any better explanation for that), and they even prompted a series of commercials called the “Kirikumas” which promoted the anime rerun in Japan for Spring 2014. I guess this proves that once again, Arpeggio of Blue Steel got enough recognition among a Japanese audience to have the series re-air, while audiences elsewhere seem to have overlooked it; at least where I come from, they did!
Considering this anime to be a military drama, one might expect a great deal of action sequences. While there are some scenes like that (and are done quite beautifully in 3-D rendering, if I do say so myself), most of the series is dialogue; which isn’t a bad thing either. I rather enjoyed taking a break from various battle sequences to actually get some real story line as well as questions that are posed to the audience as well as the characters:
- Can humans and beings with artificial intelligence coexist?
- What does it mean to exist?
- What constitutes our humanity?
- How can we balance our decision-making based on logic as well as feeling?
- Are we here to make our own decisions, or just follow orders?
The dichotomy between logic and emotion has always been an ethical debate in every culture, and this series emphasizes that quite well. Plus the characters are drawn to look, well, appealing… at least to some guys. Can’t win them all, I guess.
Over time, viewers have grown attached to many of the Fog characters, despite originally being the series antagonists. The true conflict in this series, while on the surface is the Fog, is actually the Admirality Code that seems to bind all of the Fog members. Some of them, however, do manage to break this Code, and emotions do ensue. I never exactly expected to shed tears in a series like this, but alas, I did; and for all the right reasons.
If you thought this was going to be super cheesy, it isn’t. It’s quasi-cheesy, but it has a lot of very emotional moments, as well as points where I cheered for various characters.
And if that isn’t reason enough for me say that I liked this series, I am cosplaying as Gunzo Chihaya at Anime Expo this year!
So if you’re looking for an unexpectedly good series in the action genre, enjoy military references, or just relish in the concept of anthropomorphism, check out Arpeggio of Blue Steel. If there was such a thing as a “dark horse” anime to me, this would be it.