The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova

Title: Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova aka Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Sanzigen
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 8 Oct 2013 – 24 Dec 2013

Synopsis: In the year 2056, most of Earth’s land mass has been eaten by the rising oceans due to global warming. Furthermore, mankind has lost most of its navy to a mysterious group of sentient battleships known as the “Fleet of Fog.” A former student of Japan’s National Marine Academy, Chihaya Gunzo has managed to secure himself a defector from the Fleet of Fog and has been tasked with transporting sensitive military data to the United States. Gunzo and his crew must survive assaults by Fleet of the Fog agents along with humans who have their own plans for the data.

The Highlights
Visuals: Predominantly CGI, from the ships and lasers to the characters and backgrounds.
Story: Intriguing in idea, shoddy in execution.
Characters: Either boring or hard to sympathize with.
Action sequences: Pretty much the only reason to watch.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova is essentially about cute anime girls who are actually magical battleships fighting amongst each other and developing human emotions as they interact with people. The anime is a mildly entertaining trifle that has one huge quirk that will break the show for many, which is the fact that the series is animated in near full CGI. Military equipment like battleships have been rendered in CG for over a decade, but the show animates even its characters and backgrounds using anime style 3D models. It is a visual aesthetic that is hard to swallow unless you have a tolerance for rubbish being thrown in your eyes.

A while back, I posited that CGI has gotten to a point where it could work as adequate substitutes for key animations if the in-between animations were actually hand drawn. This idea ignores the fact that the technique doesn’t alleviate one of the more labor intensive portions of animation, which is probably why Arpeggio of Blue Steel animates everything in full CGI. The end result is that characters seem plausibly hand drawn until they start moving. For whatever reason, the movements feel deeply unnatural and break any sense of immersion. A greater number of frames would probably alleviate the off-putting motions, but the end result would cease to look like a normal anime, which is clearly the end goal. Whatever happy medium that needs to be reached in the animation techniques clearly have not been ironed out here.

If by some miracle, you can tolerate the visuals, the show follows a motley submarine crew whose most interesting quirks are their character designs before the series unveils its real cast: the cute battleship girls. The core drama of the series centers around these former weapons of war learning to embrace human emotions. It is immensely difficult to empathize with characters who have no emotions learning to have emotions since there are no hooks to connect with.  Furthermore, the moment a battleship girl learns to have emotions, she immediately seems to transform into a sickeningly overwrought and overdone anime stereotype.

With no emotional investment into the human cast or the battleship girl cast, the show can only really be enjoyed as a CGI action spectacle where things start out as basic navel warfare maneuvers and evolve into laser beams and particle effects spammed across the entire screen. Backed by heavy vocals and hammering electric guitars, these sequences are a sight to behold, but they lack the weight of genuinely likable characters hanging in the balance.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova is an interesting experiment in CGI animation which hasn’t quite panned out in the end. While I’m glad that it doesn’t waste a truly weighty story in a beta level visual endeavor, the nature of the narrative requires a great amount of subtlety and a degree of directorial mastery that the anime does not possess and really could not posses due to the CGI.

The Rating: 4

Reviewed by: Shadowmage

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