Do you like battleships? Do you like moe? Do you like action? Did you answer yes to any of these questions? No? Maybe? Only on Tuesdays? Regardless of your answers, continue reading to find out if you might enjoy watching Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio -- or Arpeggio of Blue Steel.
An adaptation? Well...
Arpeggio of Blue Steel is a manga adaptation of a popular sci-fi shounen manga by the same name. The manga is written by a very small, fairly unknown studio called Ark Performance, well, I say it's an adaptation, but that only holds true for a few episodes. The anime does have an original plot (the manga is still on-going). The show's original plot was written by Makoto Uezu working in conjunction with Ark Performance. The studio who animated the adaptation is Sanzigen, and they take a unique approach to the show by doing the show completely in 3DCG, and when I say completely, I mean completely. Literally everything you will see from this review and in the show itself is 3DCG renders, not hand-drawn. This can lead to a few awkward looking scenes, but overall it greatly helps the show, mostly from its grants to the action scenes, which we will cover later.
The backstory of the show is relatively simple: Due to rising sea levels much of the Earth's dry landmass has been lost by 2039. Naval combat has increased in importance, and the development of the supercavitation torpedo (a super-fast torpedo), meant that it was different than ever. However, in late 2039, a mysterious fleet of powerful sentient warships called the Fleet of Fog appeared and blockaded all the Earth's oceans for unknown reasons. 17 years after the formation of the blockade, Gunzou Chihaya (the son of the human naval leader during the war with the Fleet of Fog), meets the Fleet of Fog "mental model" (a humanoid avatar interface for Fog ships to interact with humans) Iona, of the I-401 submarine, and things take off from there.
A pleasant surprise.
The show is highly entertaining for a debut performance, both from its mangakas and its animators, and it is creative enough to adhere to what we expect from a show of its type without devolving into being overly tropey (although several chiches are definitely still present) or boring. The majority of the characters (read: all of the mental models) are cool and interesting, while most of the others (the humans) are boring due to relatively little characterization and coming across poorly in the 3DCG (a shame, as these characters are fantastic in the manga). Meanwhile, the plot is fairly good for an adaptation of an in-progress manga. Where this show really shines, however, is the action scenes.
The 3DCG nature of the show lends itself greatly to the action scenes. Fleet of Fog warships are "modernized" sci-fi versions of World War II-era Imperial Japanese Navy ships, and they come complete with dozens of missiles, laser cannons, flak turrets, and rocket booster engines. The 3DCG lets Sanzigen animate these action sequences in ways that would be frankly impossible with traditional animation constraints due to budget and time issues. If you enjoy well-choreographed, highly-detailed, and very fun action scenes, these scenes alone make the show worth watching, even if you skip the rest of the show entirely (but you shouldn't).
As for the quality of the show, it is surprisingly high, given that this is a studio which mainly provides 3DCG or support for other shows (KILL la KILL, Little Witch Academia, OreImo). The animation for the most part is surprisingly smooth (give or take a few odd sequences here and there), and you quickly become used to its quirks and flaws. The music is stellar, being composed by Masato Kouda (Devil May Cry, Darkstalkers, Monster Hunter). In addition, several songs in the show are performed by the popular Japanese band Nano, including the opening song of the show.
Overall, Arpeggio of Blue Steel is an incredibly refreshing and interesting anime in a time where many studios tend to be taking the easy way out with tropey, fan-service oriented shows. The action scenes are crisp and well-done, the characters are fantastic, with none being worse than average, and the plot is surprisingly coherent and well-done for an in-progress adaptation. It wraps up its plotlines while also leaving room for a sequel season, leaving the viewer satisfied, but simultanously wanting more of the series. I feel as if it could have been a bit longer, but that is a complaint I lodge for many single-course (12/13 episode) shows.