Anime Review: Kantai Collection ~KanColle~

If you took 100 ordinary people and screened KanColle for them, you’ll find that it’s objectively kind of a nothing show. But I’m going to have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. All this probably boils down to how susceptible to moe I am – KanColle is about moe anthropomorphisms of Japanese WWII-era warships roughly reenacting the Pacific War. If that summary sounds appealing for you, congratulations! You’re part of KanColle‘s surprisingly large target audience.

So here’s the rundown of everything wrong with KanColle. There is no plot development that isn’t basically a genre trope. You want training montages? Characters having trouble getting over the loss of a comrade? The protagonist facing adversity only to overcome it through sheer willpower? Check all those boxes! The cast isn’t composed of characters so much as it is made of personality traits. There’s basically no logic to anything, to the point where I don’t even know what the KanMusu are. Are they human girls? Are they actual ships? Do they live on a school campus or military base? Finally, the battles aren’t so much about strategy as they are about who can spam the most torpedoes. Maybe that’s how real naval battles are won – I’m not an expert – but I think there’s more to it than torpedo spam.

KanColle is light moeblob entertainment at its core, but there are lots of these kinds of shows and I don’t go out of my way to watch those. What it does, though, is fit the Strike Witches formula almost to a T. There are weaponized young girls, World War II references (it’s the entire conceit of the franchise), and it mixes action with light slice-of-life comedy (actually the one thing this show genuinely does well is visual humor). The only difference is that Strike Witches has a lot more nudity.

The historical element isn’t leveraged for much, but it does represent an intersection of interests to me. I think that’s why I go for shows like this and Strike Witches. They help me go down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, finding references and rough historical parallels to the action going on. I’ve always been interested in naval battles, but KanColle had me reading through Wikipedia accounts of the Pacific theater and all the various Japanese warships. It’s like one of those brain slugs from Star Trek, slowly taking control of my mind as it grows ever more powerful. “Hey,” it whispers into my ear, “don’t you want to find out what happened to the real battleship Nagato? Nah you don’t need to get ready for work… come on, open that wiki…”

There’s a little snob in me who expects high art in every anime I encounter. KanColle is the antithesis to that – a vapid attempt to promote a browser game (of all things!) and lure otaku into the maws of a merchandising juggernaut. I know I should hate it, but hating it takes an amount of willpower I don’t have. It’s fun. I like the ship girls too much. I love the yuri subtext. For some reason I even enjoy how the show isn’t so much committed to its central premise as it is committed to being a weird animated facsimile of an RNG-based computer game. I like KanColle. You probably won’t, though.

6 Comments

  • For such a featherweight, superficial show that is indeed apropos of nothing, Kantai Collection is a show that leaves me feeling conflicted, which is not something I like to feel when watching anime (I don't really want deep or artistic themes in my anime, particularly when handled pretentiously, which is one reason why I often disparage the Fate/stay night franchise). For one thing, it dredges up a personal conflict - that of my own Japanese-Korean ethnicity and American upbringing - that I've never been able to reconcile (indeed, that I usually prefer not to think too much about). I wonder if I'm unique in this regard as the scale of Japanese depredation in World War II - particularly China, the Philippines, and Singapore - coincides in large part with areas where anime is popular, and yet I've not heard of many people who regard this incongruity as being peculiar or disconcerting. For another, at least on the surface, there are some odd parallels with where I live now; I live in Virginia, which is technically in the South, and there are all sorts of remnants and reminders of the Confederacy (I live not far from a road named for Jefferson Davis). I simply cannot understand why anyone would venerate that institution, being that its evil is apparent to anyone with an education, and I'm similarly made uncomfortable with the premise of Kantai Collection, which also whitewashes the odious nature as well as the incompetency (Japanese leadership failings were numerous in World War II) of a defeated nation. That the opposing force is obviously the United States - and is composed of monstrous, malformed beasts and zombies - seems to me an appalling example of bad taste. While I'd agree that Kantai Collection and Strike Witches are very similar, the latter show handled this aspect much better in turning the bad guys into vaguely-defined aliens. That the course of the Second World War still informs so many aspects of foreign relations and cultural attitudes in Asia makes me think that less historical fidelity (Kantai Collection's anime adaptation is actually surprisingly close to real history) would have been the wiser route. Perhaps I'm overthinking this, and perhaps one might simply insist that this show is purely entertainment with no social or historical importance. But one could make a similar claim about anything remotely controversial, and to dismiss real issues in such a cavalier manner reveals more of the character of the person making that judgment than it does about the significance of the show.
    • The game is rather carefree with it's historical relationship, making America the villain with using inch measurement and similar named planes. In the anime it was less obvious, but still you felt it's going that way. You can either judge this as carefree fun or a light nationalistic intention. It's obvious after reading on history that the japenese navy failed badly a few times, not because of lacking or bad material, but incompetency. From an entertainment point of view I like Kancolle and maybe feel biased about some things, but I can understand that some things might feel questionable. Other examples of glorification are Space Battleship Yamato, though the Gamillus rather appeared like Nazi's or an episode of Kamichu were they were praising the Yamato's internal Soda factory. Such things are a bit weird as best, in my country we were taught (for good reasons) that war was and is bad, Japan has their only self defence army after WWII, but sometimes it feels like they didn't learn that their very active participitation back then was wrong. Attack wars in most cases are always wrong. As I saw Girls und Panzer, as cute and innocent as it was with all the praise for tanks especially german tanks, I felt seriously unwell. Well, we also have old military vehicle fans, but they are obviously not popular, since the connection with history is terrible.
    • This isn't something I personally wrestled with (despite my Chinese heritage) but I don't think you're wrong to do so. For me I just filed this in the same space that Hetalia: Axis Powers would go into. I agree that KanColle falls into the "bad taste" department, but I also think it's important to acknowledge that it's not outright malicious. So... I guess that makes KanColle the Gilbert Gottfried of anime? Honestly this probably just goes to everyone's personal perspective of the subject matter. I didn't see KanColle as celebrating any of the evil/inhumane practices of Japanese troops, but rather celebrating the ships themselves and their history. Their physical characteristics and operational history are leveraged much more than the Japanese strategic objectives in the war, or the details of the battles themselves. For the enemy, there was a lot of ambiguity as to what the abyssals were but IMO the last episode more or less confirmed that they are (SPOILER) not supposed to be American ships. I actually think the developers went this route when the anime was announced to downplay the very issue you mentioned.
      • The curious thing is that the anime does a reasonably good job of referencing history (counter to my original expectations and impressions). There's a part near the middle of the show where Nagato calls Fubuki over and mentions that their radio codes have been broken It's a strange scene that doesn't really make a ton of sense unless one were familiar with history; the US Navy's breaking of JN-25, the Japanese naval cipher, was one of the critical aspects of the war (similarly, the Allied breaking of the Enigma codes was of monumental importance in the war against Germany). There are also a number of references to "AF", the Japanese code name for Midway. This is also a reference to a famous incident in history; US Navy cryptanalysts continually saw references to AF but did not know what it denoted. Suspicious that it might be Midway, they had the island's station send out a message saying that its water distillation plant had broken down. Soon after, they intercepted a Japanese message saying that AF was short of water. There's another peculiar scene where the player character admiral disappears, and this certainly references the assassination of Isoroku Yamamoto by US Army Air Force aviators. It's a little disingenuous for them to model history so closely and then wave their hands and say, "Hey, this is all made-up make-believe stuff!"
  • I did not find it bad, in particular I was looking forward to each episode, but it was definetely a wild mix of settings from tragic character deaths to crazy Kongou sisters and curry contest. A nice cast and their interactions can make up for some weak plot and other things, the questionable plain MC aside it was great to see more of "my" ships than just talk their game lines. I'm glad they made this show somewhat lighthearted, sinking more of the lively ships would just leave a bad taste. I was always a bit puzzled when viewers were discussing about who (sh)would die next, most animes don't work like killing half of the cast. The last episode unfortunately turned out as static as it gets, with no tension after all. With some heavy damage (no deaths) they could at least have pretended that it was a tough final battle, maybe the budget was already depleted. Not that other shows I've watched this season were much better, I feel dissapointed anyway. So on comparison Kancolle was a highlight for me, it was a nice show with Mutsuki, Nagato and yeah the Yuri CT's were actually cute after I got used to them. This show also made me read about history, I actually thought some ships created outstanding results in combat, hell no. If at all they messed up some important things. I try not to see this as black and white, but when playing the Game, it's difficult not to root for the ships a little. Naval warfare jut isn't as I imagined, I was expecting such "heroic" things.
    • It's just hard to articulate why I liked KanColle so much beyond "moe shipgirls." There's so much wrong with the show but still... I liked the main trio, and thought Fubuki worked well as a main character. Kongou and her sisters were my favorite, and I also liked the NagatoxMutsu yuri subtext. Wasn't a fan of Ooi but her scenes in the last episode were awesome!