‘Say something!’ (source: pixivid 2683511)
The general rule of browsing anime is that you give them one episode to hook you, then three episodes to impress you. If there was something amazing a series was going to do, then three episodes is plenty of time to do it in. And, perhaps knowing this, if an anime is planning a shift in tone, a surprising twist, or an early spike in tension, then episode 03 is when they usually execute it.
The Kantai Collection –KanColle- anime has adhered to this convention, and since I did intro it over on Random Curiosity I thought I should say something more about it.
Spoilers for the KanColle anime and Puella Magi Madoka Magica after the break.
The thing about having watched a lot of anime is that, unfortunately, not a lot surprises you these days. I would love to return to some of the shows I watch these days with a carefree naïveté instead of the jaded grumpiness I now have, but brain bleach is not a thing yet. I am forced to finish episode 03 of KanColle without being very impressed.
For those who didn’t watch it and are still reading this, basically KanColle has been relatively fluffy so far, until episode 03 where they kill someone. That may remind you of Mami getting offed in episode 03 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and I think in both instances the intent was to shock. It’s not like you can’t see it coming though; on my part I was familiar with Faust before watching Madoka Magica (and was also familiar with Darker than Black 2, that other dark magical girl show) so I was expecting a death at some point. For KanColle, it was more because the death was so telegraphed. ‘I have something to tell you when we come back’ is one of the strongest death flags you can trip, almost on the same level as planning to marry your sweetheart when you get back from the war, or only having one last shortie until retirement. My actual surprise was about how KanColle plays the tropes so straight; I was hoping it’d get more serious, but didn’t expect to go about it in such a generic way.
The bigger reason that the twist that didn’t work for me, though, was that I didn’t simply care about the character that died. Even now, I still don’t remember the name of the ship girl who sunk, and only know of her as that one soldier who fusses too much over her hair. I wouldn’t even have known she was significant if not for the anime trying to force some emotional bond between her and Mutsuki (I think her name was Mutsuki) in the first half of the episode. It’s artificial. It was too obvious that KanColle was trying to hurriedly manipulate the viewer. They even try to fake the audience out with a deus ex machina (some other fleet happening to be on an expedition) right before the death scene, but by then I was already too wary. When I see the magician palm the card, I can’t really be impressed by the sleight anymore. During the death scene I was sorry for the loss on an objective level, but I couldn’t get myself emotionally invested in it.
At this point, KanColle simply has too many characters, with more being introduced every episode. There simply has not been enough time to develop them to the point where I’d care about a minor character getting killed in the third episode. I think it’s symptomatic of KanColle being too eagre to pander to fans of the games, instead of focusing on just making a solid anime. Simple catchphrases or a single, repetitive quirk may make fanboys squeal, but it does not a character make. The off-screen admiral may be the most heinous example of KanColle’s fan-pandering focus. He serves absolutely no purpose. He does nothing. Fubuki and Nagato (I think her name was Nagato) could just be talking to an imaginary product of their schizophrenia for all we know (though if that’s an actual reveal later on… hey, nice twist!). Every time he appears, or rather, is implied to appear, he simply serves as KanColle winking to players of the game. Anime-only viewers like me are not in on the joke, and can only treat the admiral as a useless distraction and be irked by it.
Perhaps the main problem of KanColle is that it isn’t stepping back to really examine what its showing to the viewer. For example, the scene where Akagi hits a bullseye with her eyes closed would normally be cool, but then we remember that planes are piloted by midgets in this setting. Why do they even need to aim arrows? It’s unexplained. It feels like KanColle is too engrossed with its style to try too hard with its substance. It’s like a bunch of amateurs got together and just went, ‘hey, you know what would be cool in a KanColle anime?’. They could have afforded a more professional planning stage, I think.
This is all a bit of a shame, because I really did hope that KanColle would be something more. There a few interesting concepts at work, and I’m still going to follow it, just to see how it pans out (and so I can eventually write an END post for it on Random Curiosity), but KanColle is trying very hard to drive me away. It keeps saying, every week, that this is not an anime for me. I need to be part of its fan club to enjoy it or something. But it would have been so simple for KanColle to have opened itself to a larger audience—just watch what THE IDOLM@STER has done this season, for example. I think it would have been a richer show for it, but alas KanColle has chosen a very unambitious route.