Azur Lane: Ships, Sisterhood, & the Warring Seas || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2019 anime “Azur Lane,” animated by Bibury Animation Studios, directed by Motoki Tanaka, and based on the popular side-scrolling shoot ’em up mobile game franchise of the same name.

Enterprise and eagle union


War is Bad, PERIODT. 

The “Sirens” came without warning, decimating any ship on the open seas with their overwhelming, technologically advanced arsenal. To combat the alien invaders, a divided humanity rose in complete unity for the first time, forming the Azur Lane. Armed in their alliance, Azur Lane powered through their mutual enemy with revolutionary improvements to modern warfare. However, opposing ideals in future confrontation with the Sirens caused the alliance to split in two: Eagle Union and Royal Navy with Azur Lane, and Sakura Empire and Iron Blood forming the Red Axis. 

Although these nations continue to skirmish with one another on the high seas, schemes of independent parties within the Red Axis working together with Siren technology to dominate the world threaten all of humanity. As one particular soldier comes to terms with her own personality and ambitions, however, the hope for reuniting humankind may be found in some ideals that even war cannot shake: empathy, camaraderie, and sisterhood. 

In an attempt to find duality, the series goes about telling the “war = bad” theme by contrasting the pleasantries of daily life in both Azur Lane and Sakura Empire with the frustrations of conflict on and off the battlefield. (Spoiler alert, fighting ain’t much fun no matter which side you’re on.) I think this speaks volumes about the series’ viewership, though, as my favorite parts were, in fact, the high energy combat scenes. Chalk it up to my obsession with ship fighting in general, but when the girls are geared up for war, the show promises to at least be halfway entertaining. Otherwise, the plot itself is full of generic motivations and reveals on both sides of the tide. 

akagi and kaga

Iron and Steel—But Make it Fashion

While I’m no stranger to cute girls fighting with heavy artillery ALA Strike Witches, Girls und Panzer, and basic knowledge of Kancolle, I am a newbie to the Azur Lane franchise. The series markets itself under the sci-fi action and military genres, but spends far too much time indulging in forced yuri shipping and awkward loli lewding. (I mean, these are anthropomorphic warship girls—you already know the kind of audience they were tailoring this franchise to.)

The fan service is clear and abundant (and not really my thing). But, the core premise of iconic and historical ships clashing in what is at least to say a “unique” fashion is actually quite cool. Thinking back, were it not for the eye-popping and abstract character designs, I might not have stumbled upon this title at all. Seeing how the various ship parts come together to form a semi-feasible battlesuit must’ve required some intense layout and design work—especially for the more elite warships—so props to the character designers on this one. These characters may already originate from the game, but to make these girls move AND not seem overly clunky, man, hats off to ya!

character designs azur lane

As for the characters themselves, this is where Azur Lane starts to sink. I get it that franchise adaptations don’t want to leave a single girl out, but WOW, they really did just try and shove every single major and minor character into this one. And it shows, because aside from the stoic “Grey Ghost” Enterprise herself (given life by Rachael Messer’s powerful performance in the dub) and her few close companions (namely the lovely Lindsay Seidel’s benevolent Belfast, and Jad Saxton’s elegant Illustrious), I couldn’t really tell you a think about any of these girls. The sidelining in this one is so bad that you could practically take out the entire Iron Blood faction and the story would be the same. 

Oh ok, I suppose Amber Lee Connors’ cunning and devilish Akagi is worth an applause, same for Dawn M. Bennett’s strong performance as Akagi’s dear sister, Kaga, and Mallorie Rodak’s low and majestic Prince of Wales. On the other hand, I particularly found ALL of the lolis to be more annoying than cute, save for Tia Ballard’s Laffey and Lara Woodhull’s Ayanami, although that wouldn’t be a fault of any of the voice actors so much as children just being, well, children. As a whole, the dub is quite enjoyable, and the accent work is a nice touch. 

Illustrious

A Strong Soundtrack *Almost* Saves the Day

Where the story tanks into generic territory, the production value of Azur Lane helps keep things interesting. You can clearly tell that a variety of talents handled the animation in this show, cause oh man, when it’s bad it’s so awkward to watch—but when it’s good, it’s badass, and that’s what I want to talk about here. The best fight scenes in Azur Lane are on par with Fate/Apocrypha levels of fluid sakuga. Episode 8 is a standout particularly for both the dramatic tone shift in the story and the serious, high-octane battles that take place on these warring seas. 

On the music side of things, I love battle anthems, and Azur Lane is FULL of them! The OST is the strongest unsung aspect of this adaptation, believe it or not. Lots of epic orchestral tracks cue the opening shots of war, and each of the nations have their own culturally appropriate couple of tracks to accompany their respective atmospheres, Sakura Empire’s Japanese-inspired melodies being my favorites. It’s a shame I couldn’t find credits for the composer on MAL, but I would assume these tracks also come from the mobile game. Lastly, the OP theme “graphite/diamond” is full of great energy, and is unmistakably characteristic of the wonderful May’n!

Enterprise finale

A Game of Hit and Miss

Depending on what you’re coming into this show for, Azur Lane may land hard or miss the mark entirely. I heard that even fans of the game didn’t care much for the anime, but that’s besides the point. However generic the story and cookie-cutter characters feel, there’s a lot of interesting things being done on the production side. Additionally, the themes of family being crazy and soldiers finding purpose in life beyond fighting will always be captivating ones for me. Overall, I found myself engaged with Azur Lane‘s unique character designs and soaring string melodies, so I’d say it was entertaining enough. As for being memorable? Meh, I couldn’t give a ship.

warships


The truth is . . . war never changes. It’s exactly the same, no matter which era it happens upon. — Enterprise


Afterword

I was actually going to skip reviewing this one, but it turns out that I had more to say about Azur Lane than I originally thought. I’m glad to be able to watch and review a show that was sitting on my backlog, even if it didn’t turn out to be “the greatest” series by any means. Heck, calling Azur Lane anything more than serviceable might be overdoing it, but I’m comfortable with giving the series the “Coffee” label, a humble rating for mediocre titles like this one. If you stopped at the docks to give Azur Lane a watch, be sure to let me know what you thought about it down in the comments! It’s nice to be back in the review space once again. I’ve got more in store, so until next time!

– Takuto

Anime Crossovers I’d Love to See || The Animanga Festival

Hello all, and welcome to my fourth official entry in The Animanga Festival, hosted by Auri and Nairne over at Manga Toritsukareru Koto!

It feels like it’s been weeks since I last wrote for the festival, yet I suppose I’m still on schedule according to my notes. This week’s prompt(s) start leaning a lot more toward the fandom side of things, so what better way to crack things open than with a good old anime crossover. I used to be huge into crossovers when I was a younger fan. Now, they just don’t interest me as much, mainly because I’ve come to really appreciate the uniqueness of each character’s universe and where they come from. I don’t really need crossovers to give me that “What if” satisfaction anymore.

But alas, we’re celebrating them nonetheless. So here are a few of crossovers in anime that I would find pretty neat!


A New Killing Game

Danganronpa 1 & 2 and Danganronpa V3

Does this one count as cheating? Eh, who cares. I’m a huge Danganronpa fan—an Ultimate Fan, as I’ve once called myself before on this blog—and it’s a pity that the only bit of character interactions I can get between the characters of 1 & 2 and V3 are in fan comics. If you’re not familiar with the franchise, each Danganronpa game/anime focuses one class of students as they fight for their lives in a horrific survival game. The cast of the second game still stands as my favorite, but V3‘s often creep up there, and the first killing game’s cast will always have a place in my heart.

dr v3 gym.PNG

While the first and second entries share decent relation with one another, for story purposes, V3 remains an entirely different beast (and no, I’m not gonna spoil it for anyone so hush). It’s a shame that there’s not a single bit of V3 that has been adapted into an anime (yet), as the characters of Danganronpa really do standout as favorites of mine. If only there were something to tie the stories together . . .

She With the Crimson Hair

Snow White with the Red Hair and Yona of the Dawn

Two powerful red-headed women not about to take shit from anyone. Risking their necks for the ones they cherish, and standing up in the face of evil. Intelligent, skilled, courageous, and ever bold. What fantastic shows, and what incredible ladies we can thank for making them so!

yona red hair.PNG

Every fantasy party should carry with them someone knowledgeable on plants, herbs, and vegetation. Similarly, every royal court should possess a brave badass (and archer!) who isn’t afraid of ruining her clothes or messing up her hair. Although it takes Yona considerably more time to develop into the fearless gal we all love, she still gets there, and boy should she be feared. The Kouka Kingdom ain’t ready for Yona’s historic return, just as the the Wisteria family isn’t prepared for the amount of herbal justice Shirayuki is about to serve to the Clarines Kingdom.

Heroes of the Stars

Gurren Lagann and KILL la KILL

I am 100% satisfied with how Lagann ended. I am equally content with the ending of KILL la KILL. But c’mon, don’t you wanna see the crew of the Gurren and the star-studded students of Honnouji Academy go on ONE LAST EPIC ADVENTURE ACROSS SPACE TOGETHER!?!

kill la kill and gurren lagann.PNG

Often, I see fan artists reminisce about the two, drawing artwork in which characters are stylized in one another’s signature looks, Yoko perhaps donning Ryoko’s iconic uniform, or vice versa. Mako piloting the Arc-Gurren, and Satsuki’s Elite Four standing all cool next to the Gunmen. Even in fan art, this kind of stuff gets to me, making me all sentimental about “the good ol’ days” each legendary story had. Perhaps one of these days we’ll set for the stars once more. Until then, be sure to send all the art you find of these two series my way!

A Showdown of Supernatural Students

My Hero Academia and A Certain Scientific Railgun

Both have hierarchical school systems based on supernatural powers. Both feature dynamic characters that are shown to have academic lives AND encounters with evil forces lurking in the shadows. And both live with that duality, perfectly balancing seriousness and moments for fun. The real question is why HAVEN’T the two been married off yet??

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Personal wishes aside, one probably wouldn’t think of pitting the two together because of how truly comic-esque MHA‘s style is. And I’m not complaining about that whatsoever! Art style, character design—they’re what can give a series its charm, an edge to stand out against the rest. MHA is very eye-popping and colorful; the world of Railgun is clear, architectural, and refined. Still, just think of what an electrifying tournament arc they could’ve had together.


Ahh, it feels good to trash ship two shows together once again. I literally had no idea what to write for this post, but I got to typing, more and more ideas kept bubbling forth. Surely there’s something good to match with Attack on Titan . . . more for another day, I suppose. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my “dream crossovers that totally didn’t just pop off the top of my head” down in the comments! And with that, only one post remains left for me to write for the Animanga Festival. Right when things were getting good, I know! Glad I got those latest couple reviews out, but more are coming, I assure you. Hope everyone’s been enjoying the festivities so far. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto, your host