Every now and then a show comes along that you just can't get out of your head; that fascinates you because you simply cannot wrap your head around it. In the case of ARPEGGIO OF BLUE STEEL, I couldn't understand how all the elements came together to form one single, malformed entity. I gazed upon the first three episodes with a sort of perverse fascination, unable to rationalize almost any of the creative decisions that went into its production.
ARPEGGIO has so many elements in it it's fit to burst, but like a poorly made puzzle nothing fits together. To extend that metaphor, at first you can't even believe someone would sell you a puzzle like this in the first place, so you keep attempting to put it together thinking there must be some sort of logic that you're just not seeing yet. When you finally come to grips with what's actually going on, you get offended because it's just that stupid as you feared and you lose a little faith in humanity.
Let me try to pare this down for you. In this military drama, the world has been invaded by aliens that have cut off all long-distance commincations and blockaded all sea and air transport, landlocking all the countries of the world. Known as the Fleet of Fog, the aliens have painstakingly recreated some of the most famous battleships of all time and inexplicably retrofitted them with their advanced A.I. technology, allowing them to run without crews.
Enter teenager Gunzo Chihaya and the Blue Steel, a submarine from the Fleet of Fog that for whatever reason switched sides. Armed with Mental Model technology, the Blue Steel has a living human avatar (the petite Iona) who has a psychic interface with the sub and acts as the helmsman. Since the Blue Steel is the only ship around that can penetrate the blockades, they receive missions from the Japanese government to do whatever their fleet can't.
So yeah, plenty of material for the military-style otaku out there. There's lots of swooping shots of lovingly rendered battleships and the depictions of naval combat are intricate and flashy. We don't see much naval style action these days, anime or otherwise, so that aspect of the show is refreshing.
It's the whole "Mental Model" thing that's the crux of the show. You know how ships are always referred to as "she" by the people that work on them? The Mental Models are an extension of that concept; they are anthropomorphized versions of the battleships they represent. They are also all archetypical female anime characters and are all obnoxious or boring.
And this is where things get really ugly.
The ship avatar girls make a HUGE deal about the fact that they are weapons. Several of them, including and especially Iona, talk about how they are tools to be used by their commanders and nothing more. By anthropomorphizing these ships, the show actively objectifies women. All women.
I'll give you an example. Takao, the show's poster girl, forms a massive crush on Gunzo when he defeats her in battle because of his tactical superiority. She realizes that only when she has a commander (or "human unit" as she calls it) will she ever be complete like Iona. Not only that, but only Gunzo is fit to "command" her. So, yes, this show also has harem aspects to it, since none of the ship girls will really be whole without a man to tell them what to do!
There's an ocean's worth of other reasons not to watch this show. It's all done in CG, for instance, giving all characters a wooden stiffness to their movements and poses. There's the fact that the plot takes enormous leaps through time without any indication, making you wonder how you missed the fact that Gunzo gathered an entire crew or found the resources to construct prefect to-scale decoys. You might be incredibly bored by Gunzo's extensive and dry tactical breakdowns of every situation, whether he's on the bridge or not. Or maybe the ship avatar girls getting just as much if not MORE screentime than Gunzo and crew will grate on you.
But nothing really tops the deep misogyny at the heart of this show. It's creepy and fetishistic, tainting every piece of the show like a bad case of red tide. Scuttle this boat, and quick.
Matt Murphy is a freelance nerd who has contributed to many nerd websites. You can reach him by going to where the light meets the shadow, by sending out zeta-brainwaves or by following him on Twitter @Murphix.