Toy Boat, Toy Boat, Tossed to the Seas

October 23, 2014

“I don’t know what you all have as a power source, but if it’s not too much trouble, would all of you like to join me for a meal?”

Gunzou Chihaya, Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Arpeggio of Blue Steel - The Oriental Fleet

I first stumbled upon Arpeggio of Blue Steel as a manga, fresh off the translated releases of The Plot to Assassinate Ghiren. With the memories of Ark Performance’s excellent mechanical art, designs, and their expressive characters, I dived straight into Arpeggio of Blue Steel without any hesitation, and it was an exciting read. Of course, given my positive experience with the manga, the anime, Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova, was a must-watch for me.

In Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova, set in the near future, humanity is at war with the Fleet of Fog, mysterious warships resembling World War II designs that have dominated the coasts of the continents since their sudden appearance. These enemy warships are far from following the capabilities of their visual counterparts relegated to the history of past wars, however; with advanced energy and shell armaments, rows of vertical launch systems for a wide array of missiles and torpedoes, and the impenetrable Klein Field, a barrier that surrounds most Fog ships, these WWII-esque ships are hardly harmless against the modern navies of the world; in a handful of years, most of humanity have taken massive losses to their naval fleets, and have been cut off by the Fog, who not only set upon any attempt to sail upon the seas, but actively shut down any attempts at establishing contact, largely by shooting down low-orbit satellites and even SSTOs sent up by launch facilities.

However, there is one unknown factor in all this; Gunzou Chihaya, former student and current dropout of the Japanese National Marine Academy, and the rogue Fog submarine carrier I-401, nicknamed Iona. After these two met two years ago, they have been prowling the waters of the Japanese region ever since; gathering crew members and taking on secret tasks, some of them involving the Japanese government, Gunzou and Iona have made a name for themselves as the only force in recent history to not only take the fight to the Fog, but win, as well.

Now that the Japanese military has designed a new torpedo type to counter the Fog, Gunzou and his crew have been tasked to deliver it to the United States of America, the only nation left that has the industrial capability to mass-produce them. This journey will test the skills of Gunzou and his crew; in-between them are the seas, and the prowling Fog warships, each a sentient weapon with an eye on the Fog anomaly that is I-401.

The first most glaring visual cue to the viewer would be the heavy use of 3DCG in this. In a surprise move (and some would say for the worse, going by memory of trending opinions), even the characters are clearly done in CG, with the heavy styling used to give CG anime characters their typical 2D art style. It’s not as easily noticeable, but neither is the CG very concealed, and in certain actions and scenes, it really shows itself. On the plus side, characters are no longer under threat from the drop in art quality whenever relegated to the sidelines in a particular scene; however, the facial expression seems stiff, and sometimes unreal. It’s a passing thing, but you’ll never be able to fully shake off the observation that “hey, this show is using CG for its characters”, and unfortunately, given the show’s return to exaggerated expressions for humorous situations, this tends to be one of its more outstanding visual aspects.

This, however, only applies to the CG for the characters. CG for the ships and other mechanical designs are otherwise what you’d expect from today’s anime, and while I’m sure there are a few who are devoted to hand-drawn, the battle CG in Ars Nova is otherwise well within the standards of expectation.

My main issue with Ars Nova, however, lies in its status as an adaptation of another work, rather than an original story.

While humanity in the world of AoBS (I’ll use AoBS to refer to the manga, and Ars Nova, the anime, from this point on) have already revolutionized naval warfare once with the widespread adoption of the supercaptivating torpedo, in Ars Nova, none of this is mentioned, and we’re given the presentation that it’s modern humanity that is getting its works kicked in by the Fog. There’s a noticeable loss in the story settings in Ars Nova; for example, the new torpedo design undergoing rigorous testing in both adaptions is mentioned, but in AoBS Gunzou makes it a point that the Japanese administration’s test target was a torpedo boat; still a ship of the Fog, but the key difference is that it’s not a ship of the line, and lacks the Klein Field of larger warships, the main impediment in getting any kind of weapon to make contact with the Fog. In Ars Nova, the vibration torpedo is merely used as a reason for the journey to the USA, and then barely factors into the plot itself.

Certain characters are also notably different; in Ars Nova, Gunzou and Iona share a different, closer kind of relationship than the more clear-cut comradely link that is present in AoBS; at least, at the same point in the story for both series. Ryūjirō Kamikage, a side character in Ars Nova that was, at best, professionally neutral against Gunzou, despite their working relationship, is also a significant change compared to his AoBS portrayal, who never directly voices any displeasure against the crew of the I-401.

There are a few more changes, mostly in regards to some aspects, but while Ars Nova manages to keep most of the other aspects of the show intact, there is also a wide array of missing characters. For one, Mitsumine, the current Prime Minister of Japan in the settings, and whom even Kamikage and his rival politician, Ryoukan Kita, are subordinate to, never makes an appearance, cutting out much of the dialogue present in AoBS that built the political worldscape of the series proper. Daisaku Komaki, Japanese naval capatain of the newly-built Hakugei 3, is another character that I consider a far greater loss; humanity’s side of the conflict is represented by him and his crew, a different POV from that of the main characters. Without them, the anime series becomes a normal story where a group of people find a weapon that allows them to fight back against a menace; the rest of humanity’s efforts don’t factor in, something that, despite the overwhelming power of the Fog in AoBS, is a key theme in the story; that Gunzou, while a lone fighter, isn’t the only one on the field with his life on the line. There are other characters that have either been changed, or are missing as well, both humans and Fog, that takes away the intricacy of the original manga version, but any more and things will get too spoiler-filled, so I’ll leave this aspect here.

It’s really a shame, because Ark Performance is a group more focused on the world settings, and with The Plot to Assassinate Ghiren under their belt as one of their more well-known works, AoBS is proof that they’re capable of weaving a highly-charged setting, with characters representing the different mindsets of any possible situations that the main characters could have taken or sided with.

Don’t take this the wrong way; I’m not calling Ars Nova bad, not by any sense of the word. But Ars Nova is an adaptation of AoBS in the way that, say, the Pokemon games and anime series are two different things; using the same settings, but vastly different execution and portrayal of events. In my personal opinion, the tweaks made to Ars Nova, both in visual terms and in the execution of the story, makes it “less heavy” than its manga contemporary; more suited for anime viewers in general, than those looking to immerse themselves into a new world setting, and I’m not even talking about the scattered fanservice in both versions. That’s all I can say about it. Hopefully a second season, if it comes to pass, will rectify some of this, but by that point in time, there’ll be even more changes present.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s for better or worse. But if you ask me, while I think that Ars Nova is pretty decent as a introduction series, AoBS fans looking for a loyal adaptation of the manga might want to keep it in mind that some of the things that they liked about it might not be present in Ars Nova.


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