Kantai Collection is based on an inexplicably mind-bogglingly popular game starring a bunch of girls who are ‘possessed by the spirits of WWII vessels’, which is a hilarious way of saying that they’re battle ship gijinka. They fight against the ‘Abyssal Fleet’, a bunch of weirdly alien monsters and monster-girl ships who ‘drove humanity from the sea’.
They’re all housed in some kind of school and/or training facility, where a young rookie girl – Fubuki -has just enrolled. She makes friends with the other younger ship-girls who introduce her to the older, more accomplished ship-girls (who seem to be the characters from the game). Eventually, the alarm goes off to signal a battle against the Abyssal Fleet and everyone goes out to fight. Unfortunately, Fubuki has zero combat experience.
Let’s not beat around the bush – I’ve really never been fond of KanColle, at all. It represents way, way too many things I can’t stand about otaku culture in general – beginning around ‘uncomfortable sexualization of girls that look too young to be uncomfortably sexualized’ and ending around the vicinity of ‘creepily revered by right-wing military otaku obsessessed with WWII’. Add on the fact that as a big fan of gijinka, I never found any of the KanColle designs to be particularly good gijinka and seemed more along the lines of ‘moe trait with ship parts slapped on’ – there are a few exceptions, of course, but most of them are pretty forgettable for designs that have been turned into 3 million figures for each character. (The most popular being that one Shimakaze girl, because when I think of ‘personification of a warship’ I definitely think ‘bunny girl who looks 12 years old with micro mini skirt, striped thigh-socks and thong’. Speaking of which, she had a cameo in this episode, although I’m a little confused as to why she seems to be such a minor character in this given her obvious popularity.) And, of course, due to it being virtually inescapable it’s hard to not feel some resentment for this latest merchandise juggernaut. (For the record, I’m on Team Touhou in the battle of ‘ultra-popular things with fighting girls that have a billion characters.’)
KanColle’s anime version was, however, significantly less infuriating than I was anticipating it to be. There’s still a lot of WWII fan-pandering and some of the character designs are laughably bad, but it’s got an impressive budget behind it (no doubt funded by the goldmine of merchandise) that’s resulted in some incredibly slick animation. Even though what I believe are the three ‘main’ girls in the anime version are pretty generic moeblobs, complete with dumb speech quirks, I actually kind of found myself enjoying the dynamic they have as they strive to be as cool as the more well-known characters in the franchise. Silly as it is, I also did kind of like how the airship carrier ship gijinkas are depicted as japanese archers and their arrows transform into planes mid-flight. The Showa-aesthetic to the school is also pretty nice, and a lot of the scenes of the girls just walking around it and eating at the cafe were quite pretty. I’m sure that existing fans of the franchise are very pleased with the amount of effort that went into this adaptation.
Ironically, I actually liked the ‘fluffing around at school doing nothing ‘ parts more than the sea-battle parts, even though these naval scenes were clearly meant to be the highlight. They use that 3D-enhanced, 2.5D look in these action scenes, and while it definitely looks smoother than the other times I’ve seen it in anime, it’s still distracting to me, and I couldn’t help feeling that the girls didn’t look like they were on the same plane of existence as the water they were water-skiing on. (I should mention that when these ship-girls go to battle they ski across the water, and it looks pretty goofy but at the same time I’m kind of thankful for it, because having them actually be in ships would be the kind of superfluous thing that annoyed me so much when the gun-gijinka girls in Upotte! all carried actual guns.) Also, once this battle started it really did become obvious how blatantly this entire show is ‘Strike Witches on water’. While it doesn’t have the same amount of dumb fanservice as Strike Witches did, the ship-girls’ clothes become tattered and come off when they suffer damage, and I imagine it wouldn’t be remotely as popular as it is otherwise. (Here’s a hint, girls, the reason your clothes come off so easily is because you aren’t wearing anything even in the vicinity of ‘suitable battle wear’.) They’re even both fighting against scary black alienesque monstrosities and I’m pretty sure you could swap out Fubuki for Strike Witches’ lead Yoshika and no one would notice.
In all, I still don’t like Kantai Collection. I understand it a little more, and I actually may dislike it less than I used to, but this adaptation still failed to win me over to its bizarre merchandise cult.