First Reactions: Arpeggio of Blue Steel Episode 2

The first episode of Arpeggio was very much an introductory one a few very high-octane minutes followed by an origin story for the main characters and their supertech submarine. That expositional phase of the series apparently mostly ended last week, as this week’s episode was what I would guess will be the meat of the series; naval combat that was as snazzily animated as it was thought out and tense.

Arpeggio-2-1

Episode 1 also brought some predictable backlash, with many commentators criticizing the full-3DCG animation style. Personally, I have the same stance on it that I had on Kaiji (loved it), Aku no Hana (not a huge fan), the cars in Initial D (Eurobeat), and many other shows with atypical artstyle. Choosing to be different means nothing, it really comes down to how well it gets executed. So far, the show’s been doing a more than respectable job of that. Meanwhile, the market continues to speak for itself, as the BD for the show’s first volume is currently the 8th-most preordered one of the season and rising in spite of a significantly shorter solicitation time.*

It was a definite plus to see that the combat was going to be more than just fancy animation of wave motion guns firing at each other. Instead, the confrontation with Takao was full of standoffs with both sides waiting well outside of the other’s striking range and probing for weaknesses. One of the greatest points about Space Battleship Yamato were those quietly tense scenes in the middle battles, especially in the directing-shots-around-corners arc, where the crew was plotting out their next move with calm intensity. The actual tactics involved were analytically driven and quite novel, and invoked in a very matter-of-fact way. Not making a big deal out of the sub sneaking into range with the remaining decoys was a shrewd writing choice on Makoto Uezu’s part, one that made that scene flow much smoother.

The style of scripting battles and the overall premise of “this crew of elites needs to travel deep into enemy territory and get to a certain location to save humanity” that resemble Space Battleship Yamato. The style of direction is also very 1970s. And I don’t in any way mean that as a negative comment. Let me explain. Two episodes in, I’ve got a pretty good bead on the artstyle; there are things Studio Sanzigen can do well (spiffy naval battles, lip movements, blinking), and things that are beyond its current capacity (sweeping arm and leg motions, most notably). However, much like the great directors of the pre-digital era, Kishi Seiji is taking those limits into account, adjusting his camera placement and presentation accordingly. By restricting most of the scenes involving humans to ones with either lipflap, small gestures, or ones where camera panning/switching takes the place of actual motion, he effectively takes the biggest weakness of the show mostly out of the equation.

Arpeggio-2-2

If I had to describe it with a term, I’d say it was “guarded” visually. It’s using the same thing they did back in the early-mid 90s to draw attention away from the big picture of animation, keeping much of the focus on characters to lipflaps and small gestures that look a lot more natural than, say, what these models would look like running a full spring or swimming laps in Free. People will dislike it, just like they disliked digital when they first rolled around. That doesn’t mean it can’t be handled, or that there aren’t benefits to the style being refined. The most notable upside I can think of is that it paves the way to more seamlessly use the snazzy mech animation in scenes involving people, something that has been notably absent from most modern 3D mech shows.

Of course, that same camera skill that Kishi’s always had manifested itself with an even bigger upside where the animation was actually strong, and the fast-moving part of the battle sequence in the second half of the episode was flat-out fantastic. I have no reason to doubt this show now that it’s taking care of business on the downsides and cleaning up mad points on the upsides.

*In other words, it’s been a fairly typical week for a Kishi Seiji fan.

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