Arpeggio of Blue Steel takes place in a world that has been brought to its knees by the appearance of a mysterious fleet of sentient warships armed with nanotechnology. Chihaya Gunzou (Japanese name order) is a frustrated student who suddenly finds himself with an opportunity to join the fight against the Fleet of Fog, as the warships are called. When he touches a captured and seemingly nonfunctional Fleet vessel, it activates. I-401's mental model (a human form created out of nanomaterials) approaches Gunzou and names him as her captain. Some time later, Gunzou has a whole crew and a mission: transport a powerful top-secret warhead to the U.S. in the hope of ultimately winning the war against the Fleet.
While this show wasn't the most terrible thing I've ever seen, it was so boring. The only characters who received any kind of development were the AIs, and even they were just character types. That was still better than most of humans, though. Gunzou and Sou were the only ones who stood out at all, Gunzou because everybody gravitated towards him and Sou because of the helmet that made him look like a robot (it was supposedly protection against allergens).
At first, I thought it was weird that Netflix's image for the show featured Takao, rather than Iona (I-401), but sadly it made sense. Despite being Gunzou's submarine and therefore one of the show's main characters, Iona was cute cardboard during most of the show. Takao at least had a goal, although it was kind of cringe-worthy: she wanted Gunzou to give her orders and be her captain (which, in her mental model form, translated into an enormous crush with D/s undertones). Several of the other ships had episodes devoted to them, but, by the end, all they amounted to was backup.
Not only were the characters weak, so was the world-building. I understood how the Fleet could cripple ocean travel, but why wasn't it possible to fly from one continent to another? The Fleet itself was a giant mystery that remained a giant mystery. The various mental models talked about the “Admiralty Code” that governed their behavior, but not a single one of them knew what the Fleet's ultimate goal was, or why it had decided to attack in the first place.
The show wasn't all battles – it made a few attempts at humor and establishing character relationships. Unfortunately, the humor was almost painful at times. Hyuuga, for example, was the “hilariously over-the-top lesbian” who threw herself at Iona at every opportunity, including during incredibly inappropriate moments, like when the audience was still supposed to be mourning one character's recent sacrifice. The “joke” that most upset me involved Haruna, whose mental model wore an enormous coat that obscured her shape and covered everything up to her nose. She was the most body-shy of all the mental models, so of course the episodes that focused on her had her frequently and unwillingly stripped to her underwear. I absolutely hated that viewers were expected to laugh at her embarrassment.
Episode 10 was probably the best one in the whole series. Its revelations broke Kongou, Iona was forced to confront her feelings, and Gunzou was finally something other than “cool, confident captain” and became a bit more humanized. Unfortunately, episode 11 was a step backward, and the final battle was so ridiculously overpowered that Iona shouldn't have been able to survive. Everyone was basically saved by the power of love and friendship.
All in all, this series wasn't worth the time it took to watch it. The animation was occasionally weird (yes, it's entirely CG rendered), the characters and world-building were weak, and it never answered the questions I was most interested in having answered. The best things about it were its opening song, naval battles (which weren't much of a draw for me), and episode 10. I'd only recommend it to serious naval warfare fans, and even they would probably take issue with that final battle.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- Girls und Panzer (manga) by Ryohichi Saitaniya; Girls und Panzer (anime TV series) - Another military-themed anime with cute girls, although this one has them in tanks instead of warships.
- Upotte!! (anime online series) - This is a slice-of-life series starring cute girls who happen to be anthropomorphized military assault rifles.
- Fafner (anime TV series) - I don't know much about this one, but it looks like it might be another one with a mysterious alien invasion and aliens who are gradually transformed by their encounters with their chosen enemy, humans.
- Yukikaze (book) by Chohei Kambayashi - I haven't read this yet, although it's on my TBR. It's military sci-fi in which humans are fighting against mysterious alien attackers. The main character pilots a sentient fighter plane.