Azur Lane The Animation 2019-20 [REVIEW] | The Bone Of My Boat

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Ah yes, one more for the evergrowing subgenre of “shipgirls military slice of life”, less Arpeggio of Blue Steel, and more Kancolle/Kantai Collection, which is obvious as hell as Azur Lane (by chinese companies Manju and Yongshi) came out to fight Kadokawa’s browser game, but actually bothered to give it more actual gameplay, implement less taxing gacha elements (which is akin to say “less rusty gambling hooks piercing my flesh”), and actually made it easier to access worlwide without any need to know japanese, use google translate constantly or set a VPN, just released an app for smarthphones.

And given it performed quite well (even in Japan), it was just a matter of time to see an anime adaptation of sorts, which came out in late 2019…not fully, as two last episodes were postponed to march 2020 after concerns on animation quality. I thought it was due to fans expressing criticisms on social media, but it seems it was mostly the staff itself’s decision in order to deliver a better and satisfying ending to the series instead of rushing it, which is commendable, and gave me time to catch up.

I mean, i watched the whole “first season” of the Kancolle anime (the movie was decent, though), Azur Lane The Animation would have had to intentionally work quite hard in order to be more boring and desperate than that, so it stars quite advantaged.

The plot isn’t a direct adaptation of the game’s narrative, at least technically, since it set after the Azur Lane coalition of forces defeated the Sirens (the Abyssal equivalent), with each faction now on their own, and a new menace being posed by a coalition of old allies, the Sakura Empire and Iron Blood, united as the Red Axis, who wants to utilize the Siren supernatural technology for their means.

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So yeah, it’s basically the same plot with the same type of conflict, the same alliances, and the whole “we defeat the Sirens before” thingie doesn’t actually matter such, since Sirens show up anyway, guess they were more out there? How convenient. But still, it’s already a bit better than the Kancolle anime, as in this establishes up front who the enemy is and what it wants, why it wants it, but don’t dig too deep into that, it’s a show about anthromorphized WW2 ships, the worldbuilding is basic as it can get, and there’s so much you can do with such a ludicrous concept.

That said, compared to the Azur Lane anime, there is more a sense of this being a real world, even if the characters are anime cliches shaped weapons named after warships, and you don’t get to see any normal human, or anything else resembling a normal city that these “shipgirls” fight to protect. But still, if feels less than an instance devoid of believable life, since we get to see both the Azur Lane citadel-base and the Sakura Empire (the Iron Blood HQ is barely seen for 10 seconds at the very end). It’s a good as it will get, given the source material and the intended purpose of shows like this.

From a writing standpoint, it’s better than expected, which means there’s a main protagonist (Enterprise) with a sensible dilemma about her purpose as a living weapon built for a specific reason, a friendship blooming between some shipgirls despite them being on opposing factions, the characters themselves having some kind of motivation even if villanous, but don’t expect any deep characterization or exploration of the themes brought up, with the obvious existential drama of being human while not being one at all, and with the comical amount of times the script has the characters say “War Never Changes”, sometimes with slight variations of the phrase, but always said with stone faced seriousness.

It’s an absurdly recurrent “truism” one almost feels it was made on purpose as in-joke, enough to make it both infuriating and funny to witness, i seriously hope you don’t have played too much Metal Gear Solid V, because you’ll either laugh from how many times can “war never change” episode after episode, or just get pissed off. I was honestly looking forward to it, almost like the writer is almost unintentionally venting by taking the piss of this type of “serious warship girl drama”, when he isn’t just ripping the “from great power comes great responsabilities”speech from Spiderman or crafting the typical waffling anime gibberish of vague big words, spiced with random mythology references. And don’t fear, if an episode fails the “ war never changes” quota, following ones will overcompensate for it big time. XD

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Again, given the source material, some problems are gonna be there anyway, but in this case it works better because there is something to plot, something driving the narrative, where the Kancolle anime – which i have to bring up again, yes – clearly struggled to pad itself out with anything. Anything to stuff itself with because we are contractually obliged to have 12 episodes, just hoping the fanbase will enjoy seeing various elements and characters from the game worked into the anime, regardless of everything, but it was so boring and meandering that you’d find yourself asking questions like “how are ships born? Are they born? The grow the cannon rigs or do they fall off like teeth? Do they age?”, and destroying any possible suspension of disbelief. This isn’t the case here.

Animation is curated by Bibury Animation Studio, a fairly new animation studio (named after the english town of the same name), started in 2017 with a promotional short just named “Bibury”, and before this adaptation worked on a short movie based around the Grisaia series, Grisaia Phantom Trigger – The Animation (also a 2019 project), and is gonna handle the animation for The Quintessential Quintuplets second anime season later this year, so this is what many would consider the “sophomoric effort/exam” for the studio.

And it’s not a bad effort, at all, at the very least it’s proof they can handle a whole tv series, animation and drawings quality is quite good, with a pretty good use/integration of well crafted CG for the action scenes, it’s not distracting at all (hi again, Kancolle tv series). Even if the first episode is a bit too well done, because usually the battles are fun to watch but stop-and-start, in order to accomodate for the runtime and the slice of life scenes at the various naval bases, as this is a licensed anime with tons of characters to squeeze in and make interact with each other, with more space given to the more prominent and popular shipgirls, the others being relegated to a cameo scene or quick passing-by presence on screen, even some dialogue if it’s a fan favourite shipgirl.

There’s merchandise about these characters to be pushed, those nendoroids, oppai mice and bath towels won’t sell themselves!

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Next on SyFY…

I’ll say this about the character design: it’s a slight step up from the game because you don’t get entire sets/families of ships clearly drawn and designed by a completely different artist in a different style. Aside from that, they mostly are -let’s face it- typical garbage fanservice stereotypes, some are presentable, but most are basically on the same level of Shimakaze from Kantai Collection.. even so at least even that series – still eager to please the otaku bucket list – had a more consistent and acceptable general style themed around nautical elements.

Azur Lane instead doesn’t have any sort of shame, so you get plenty of – pardon me for what i’m about to say – “lolibait” designs on one hand, big titted maids or kimono wearing seductive foxgirls on the other, and i guess to directly target the pedophiles, we even have “Jim Henson’s Fregade Babies”, as Destroyer type ships are portrayed like elementary school kids, with the red backpack and yellow school hats. They’re supposed to be cute, but then we have Ark Royal who basically is a pederast, all for the sake of boring, tired and overdone jokes (the nosebleed, etc.), culminating in a scene where she tries to stop a bleeding finger by sucking on it (way too well animated), and she gets hit on the head for it, rightfully so.

The designs are faithful to the mobile game, but i really don’t like most of them, i gotta be honest, and regardless of that, they mostly exist to fulfill the various stereotypes: you got the sleepy one, the obnoxious idol type, the shy child hiding behind grown ups and talking in third person, the energetic one, the tsundere one, the incesty (kinda or kinda not, we’re never gonna be clearcut about it) evil psycho sisters, you know what i’m talking about. If you played the game for any considerable amount of time (i did), you’ll get to see some characters gags or gimmicks animated, so there’s that.

Take this from a guy who has all Onechanbara games: sometimes what you like isn’t good at all, but it’s ok. And since characterization is a bucket of cliches and stereotypes, the positive side is that you’re bound to find something you like… not always, but it’s not offensive or in particular bad taste, not more excessive than most shows of this kind that exists to advertise the original form of property (in this case a free-to-play game). It’s a niche product for a niche audience, which explains the pantyshots, the overall horny photography, the tiresome ecchi humour of molestation and underpants, the obligatory beach bit, and the “fanservice episode” at the hot springs.

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Oddly enough, this might NOT be the error it seems.

The last one is notable, not in itself (despite everyone’s bust size being randomly “expanded” just for the occasion), but because there’s no proper segway into the scene itself, i guess we’re in a Bruno Mattei’s woman in prison movie now, but again, it’s just an exercise to see if the animators can blind you with the many glistering light beams used to censor the naughty bits… i guess, sometimes i think that the characters are in their underwear, but they get the “beamed” on the crotch area anyway. Need to give horny fans a reason to purchase the uncensored Blu-Ray/DVD release when it comes out, after all, even if there’s no clothes destruction here.

On the other hand, there are funny moments, like when the N.E.E.T. character (Long Island, in this case) tries to buy a scale replica of Enterprise, the actual battleship, not the character, the random realistically drawn shark attacking San Diego, the random ass “panty discourse” (which actually it building up to something) in the cafeteria is so absurd it’s funny, how Shiranui just “floats-sits” in the air (no, it’s not an animation error), the “maid brigade with guns” (there’s a nun type ship, no “nun with a gun” though) of John Woo’s/Black Lagoon memory, and some genuinely cute moments, which are made harder to enjoy by some of the off-putting character designs.

Going back to the animation, while is far better than the news of delay for the last episodes led me to believe, some complaints weren’t just mean spirited nitpicky garbage, because in the middle episodes (5 and 6) you can notice some minor and sporadic slowdowns in the CG parts, characters in middle focus with mostly featureless faces (maybe mouths if they need to talk), jarring instances of character drawing quality turning noticeably to bad to good as the character gets closer to the prospective, running animations skipping way too many frames, a very odd segment where two characters are moving fast, but only of them has their hair moving while in motion, the other one is barely animated, with the camera focusing on the almost still figure, with a looping background providing the only sense of movements, like this is ATHF or something.

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“You have something off your face”

It’s even odder because this specific “stunt” happens AGAIN a couple minutes later, while scenes that need better animation and drawing…. tend to be well done. It’s the inconsistency of these errors and quality drops that’s striking, and ironically, the later episodes made before the hiatus aren’t that bad. Thankfully, the wait for the last 2 episodes has proven to be beneficial, as they look quite good and don’t have any odd animation or “meeting of the faceless society”, and it’s nice little ending, even if it’s a bit too fast moving, but it’s better than being miserable for the sake of it.

And of course we get a final twist on the “war never changes” phrase, with an “inspiring” final phrase, and no sequel bait of any kind. I was kinda expecting to see the “PEACE FOREVER!” end screen from the first Metal Slug, but what can you do.

Final Verdict

While it’s nothing special all things considered, Azur Lane The Animation is a surprisingly watchable adaptation of the Manju & Yongshi’s gacha smartphone game about moe anthropomorphic WWII warships, with a nominally different but practically identical plot that see the various “national” factions fight with or against each other for control of the seas, with an alien enemy (the Sirens) thought as defeated that surfaces back for mysterious reasons..

And being this anime in “gacha territory”, nobody seems to have understood the military might of wearing some pants, but this is due to horny (often worryingly so) and shameless character design, making for a colorful cast of anime stereotypes that are still kinda enjoyable to see interact and fight, because while this exists mostly to promote the Azur Lane free-to-play game, it can be watched and understood without having the anime rely excessively on prior knowledge/familiarity of the viewer, or in fans just willing to endure boredom in hope of seeing fanservice.

Azur Lane The Animation 2019-20 all the gang

Yes, it’s niche, trashy and absurd, but mostly in the right way (like the writing obsessed in overstating that “war never changes”), and there is some effort put in the project, the narrative is fairly straight forward and balances well slice of life and action scenes, with entertaining and mostly well animated flashy battles, a sensible use of the elements from game into the plot, a bit of character arc for the protagonists and an attempt to make something out of the themes, as the limits of the franchise and worldbuilding become fairly obvious. And despite some odd, sporadic and bizzarre animation errors (well beyond random cruel nitpicking), it’s mostly quite well produced, especially for a new and fairly inexperencied studio such as Bibury.

I mean, given that there’s a scene where they open the Azur Lane’s equivalent of a lootbox (the brass balls on this thing), they could have phoned everything in, since projects like these are mostly engineered as publicity for the main source material, in this case a free-to-play gacha smartphone game, and related merchandise. The quality is nice, but optional/accidental, it just serves the same objective of “advertising the core product/brand”. “Buy the Blu Ray, get the skin for the mobile game!”

Again, not great, but a fairly decent adaptation that makes for an enjoyable niche anime, if you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you’ve played the game before, it will be worth a watch… where i won’t say, since outside of Funanimation in the U.S., it’s not streaming officially anywhere, i think. So it’s the way of the salmon.

And yes, just in case you didn’t catch it before, it’s WAY better than the Kancolle anime series (he first season/series, at least).

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