Streams: Crunchyroll on Thursdays
First Episode Rating: B
Though easily the most successful of the “ship girl” franchises to come out of the 2010s (it had an enormous presence in doujinshi markets through much of that decade), the mobile game Kantai Collection has only had two previous anime adaptations: a 12-episode 2015 TV series and a 2016 movie. This eight-episode series represents an alternate storyline rather than a continuation of either of the previous entries, and seems to be happening with an entirely different cast of characters. (A few of the original cast have background or flashback cameos, but that’s it.) Hence no familiarity with previous animation is strictly necessary to follow this this series. The first episode does, however, expect that audiences are at least generally familiar with the franchise’s operating conceits: that (mostly) teen girls called Ship Girls exist who possess the spirits of World War 2-era Japanese naval vessels. That allows them to glide across the water and use equipment and weaponry in line with their source ships to fight the Abyssal Fleet, an alien presence from the deep seas which threatens humanity’s presence on the seas. And this Abyssal Fleet is, of course, based on the American and Australian fleets that Japan fought against in WW2.
For returning franchise fans, the first episode quickly offers up one key difference: the overall tone is decidedly more somber and desperate. The CGDCT antics which characterized downtime in the first series are still present to some degree, but the high spirits of the first series have been replaced by suggestions of grievous losses, passing comments about dwindling numbers, and the fleet that feature character Shigure (originally a Shiratsuyu-class destroyer) is assigned to being given a diversionary suicide mission. The reason for this is revealed by the end of the episode: this is the set-up for the Battle of Leyte Gulf, originally fought in October 1944 over the U.S.’s attempt to land in the Philippines. The historical conflict was the largest naval battle of WW2, and is the largest naval battle in recorded history in terms of the number of combatants involved. It was also, effectively, the last stand for the outgunned Japanese navy; the few surface ships which survived to make it back to port either never sortied again or were used only for escort missions for supply ships. In other words, as Shigure and crew sortie out at the end of the episode, they’re in for a bitter fate if the series closely follows history.
Of course, as the first series showed, the storytelling is capable of deviating for dramatic effect, so I am curious to see how far this installment will go in following the multifaceted battle awaiting them. The storytelling is already fudging a bit, since the “Northern Force,” rather than the “Southern Force” centered around Fuso and Yamashiro, was the intended decoy in the original battle. The battle did feature spectacular events such as the last battleship-on-battleship battle ever fought and the first kamikaze attack, so there should be a lot of flash and excitement even if the writing does not bail the Ship Girls out in the end. Shigure, with her more subdued but still determined demeanor, serves well as the viewpoint character for this situation; she may have also been chosen for other reasons that are spoilerish for anyone who has not studied WW2 naval battles in detail.
The riggings worn by each of the ship girls look as awkward as ever, but the technical and artistic merits are at least as good as the original (albeit with perhaps a slightly heavier emphasis on CG) and some fog-shrouded shots of the main (historically Center) fleet are visual features. Overall, the first episode is a solid effort, but will probably hold limited appeal for those who are not franchise fans or WW2/naval warfare buffs.