Active Engagement Through Timed Comments: Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Arpeggio of Blue Steel was a very nice anime, a naval-themed series with throwbacks to space-based anime of the 1980s, a light-hearted gear that popped up at all the right times, and loads of ambitious 3DCG animation. And it didn’t go unnoticed in Japan – the series itself was a huge success which moved disks and manga volumes alike. Too, just about an hour after this post is scheduled to go up the 19th annual Animation Kobe Award ceremony will be held, honoring, among others, Arpeggio of Blue Steel’s Director.

All of the above are macro indicators of how Arpeggio went over with audiences, but not so much on micro level ones. It’s kind of natural to wonder which parts of the series were the ones that won the largest fractions of the audience over – was it the bear-suit gags, the tense battle scenes, the quotable quotes, or the plentiful new-school takes on the Itano circus? Those questions are exactly the sort of thing a time-sensitive method of anime analysis is built to shed light on, which is why we’re about to take a moderately deep dive into Arpeggio’s scrolling comment history.

For more information on this analysis method, see this similar post on Ping Pong The Animation, or this introductory post covering particular episodes of Shingeki no Bahamut and Carnival Phantasm.

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Fun With Numbers: Anime as Manga Advertisments in 2013

The commercial impact of anime goes well beyond its disk sales. Manga may sell to more people, but anime is extremely visible, airing on TV (albeit often late at night) and propagating around the internet at a very rapid pace. This visibility very often can lead to an increased strength of the franchise in general, propping up sales of print material, figures, and any various other related goods. Sometimes, anyway. 2013 was no exception, and saw a number of manga adaptations have anywhere from minimal to explosive effects on the sales of their source material.

I collected the manga sales history, including thresholds for series which charted sporadically, on this doc, and plotted it below. Note that these sales are not total, but the total number reported in a roughly fixed time period. Comparing sales tail length is a whole other issue, and I’m trying as much as possible to compare like figures.

One important difference from similar breakdowns of 2011/2012 series is that here I’ve opted to use the total sales from a series’ first 2 weeks of release (the highest reported total in that time interval), to attempt to minimize the effects of a bad split in creating artificial variations. It’s still an issue either way, but the difference between 9 and 14 days is a lot less than the difference between 2 and 7 days.

Two important series-specific notes prior to the plots. First, Maoyu is plotted here, in the manga section, because the manga charts more consistently than the light novel did and, more importantly, has available data from both before and after the anime aired (the LN ended just prior to 2013). Second, I can’t parse impact for series that don’t have at least one volume which released after the anime began to air. I thus will not be covering Servant x Service here, though there is data available. I will cover it in an addendum post come September when volume 4 has been out for 2 weeks.

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Get Behind the Bandwagon: The Added Fun Value From Loving Shows Some People Hate

To some extent, I’ve always been cogniscent of the fact that I’ve gravitated towards of a variety of indicators for the success of anime, rather than just word of mouth, because I have idiosyncratic tastes and using said variety of indicators helps illustrate that the case for or against many shows isn’t as clear-cut as many narrative-spinners would have you believe.

For the record, If there’s a worse anime blogger than Rick Reilly is a sports columnist, I’ve never met them. But I’ve read too many terrible columns by sanctimonious 70-year-old baseball writers about how Yasiel Puig has zero class and too many terrible columns by sanctimonious anime bloggers about how Kill La Kill is somehow “saving” an anime* industry that isn’t actually dying or lacking for fresh content not to see a lot of similarities between the two groups. I’m not saying that all writers who take a critical perspective on anime are like this, but far too many of them are more interested in grinding an axe against a genre rather than actually having a serious discussion about it.

But something hit me after I read this recent Andrew Sharp piece (he’s also the writer of the #hotsportstake series that mocks the aforementioned type of writing) about the appeal of bandwagoning on playoff football teams. One of his criteria that jumped out at me; “Does this team piss off Phil Simms and Jim Nantz?” I hadn’t thought about it for a while, but the Rex Ryan Jets were some of my favorite bandwagons for that very reason (plus the fact that those Jets played a defense best described as a shower of linebacker-shaped meteors backed by Darelle Revis eclipsing the sun). While my appreciation of a show is maximum when a show is great, my enjoyment of a show in a holistic sense is more of a 60-20-20 combination of 3 factors:

1. How much I enjoy it.

2. How well it performs commercially, usually in disk sales but potentially in other categories. It has to at least be a lock argument for having had break even sales.

3. The presence of a persistent group of (for lack of a better word) haters. Not just people who sort-of dislike and avoid it, but people who can’t resist taking paragraph-long potshots at it any time it gets mentioned.

This means that, as good as Attack on Titan was, it’s not a max-entertainment bandwagon. No one of any consequence particularly hates the show, and it’s just done really well. By contrast, Girls und Panzer was a near-perfect bandwagon show, putting up megahit numbers in the face of a number of vocal and hilariously ineffectual critics (it would be on my shortlist already if I weren’t currently watching it). There is really nothing sweeter in fandom than watching a show pile up vocal critics and subsequently both be good and sell well in spite of them. This post contains my personal shortlist of series I’ve had the privilege of being a fan of long enough to watch them do the Shaq thing and dunk all over the place.

To clarify before I actually get to the list, I don’t believe it’s a bad thing to hold any particular set of opinions. I do believe it’s a bad thing to constantly spend time talking scrap about stuff you don’t enjoy, and more generally about the way things are, rather than actually doing something about it. If you’re so upset about the majority of anime that get made nowadays, put up and post links to the BDs of the series you do like on your blog, or just buy them yourself. It’s trivially easy to use amazon for that sort of thing in this day and age.

That said, here are my personal bandwagon favorites of the past several years:

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First Reactions: Arpeggio of Blue Steel 12 (End) and Quickie Scores (9/10)

Before this episode I was perfectly willing to stick the show with an 8 or a 9 for an effective variation of comedy and combat that had a first gear that it wasn’t always in. Thankfully, this was one of those episodes that took the decision well and fully out of my hands. While the structure of the climax smacked very heavily of an anime-original story, the spectacle dial was cranked up to the highest level and we ended up with action scene after action scene that probably would have broken the show’s budget had it been a non-3D anime.*

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Lists Are Fun To Make: Clutch BGM of 2013

I haven’t been writing much on it lately, but I’m a firm believer on the power of a soundtrack (and good sound direction) to either give a show the last little push it needs to get to 10/10 quality or kneecap a show that could’ve been a contender. With that in mind, here are 10 tracks from 10 different 2013 anime I thought turned particular scenes into memorable standouts.

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First Reactions: Arpeggio of Blue Steel Episode 11

If it hasn’t been abundantly clear, I love the way this show just faces 12 o’clock down a straight line and does what it wants with supreme gusto. Lining up 22 frickin’ battleships in a row and sweeping them like bowling pins with a combination of Space Battleship Yamato’s wave motion gun and Initial D’s inertial drift was an excellent way to start the episode off. And that testosterone-pumping curbstomp was followed by a hilarious exchange; the two-second fade to a sad ditty when Takao was mentioned only for her to show up and point out she wasn’t dead was a great way to get mileage out of last week’s overly melodramatic sacrifice scene.*

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First Reactions: Arpeggio of Blue Steel Episode 10

I have to admit, I was expecting a lot more of this episode to focus on the rest of the cast’s effort to rescue the now-submerged Iona and Gunzou. I wasn’t expecting, or even really hoping for, a focus on those two. But that’s the direction the show decided to go in, and it produced an outstanding piece of work as a result. There were a few moments where they went a little overboard with the drama (Takao’s sacrifice laid it on pretty thick), but the majority of this episode was quietly stuffed with character detail for Iona and Gunzou.

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First Reactions: Arpeggio of Blue Steel Episode 9

If I had to list of things I really like about the show at this point, after putting down the whole “you can’t stop the future” attitude behind its production, the next thing immediately on the list would be that awesome battle soundtrack. It’s nice to feel like every part of the show is bringing the big-drama gear to the table, and nothing says unshakeable like the way the music maxed out and the camera zoomed around when Hyuga opened off the combative festivities.

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First Reactions: Arpeggio of Blue Steel Episode 8

I was expecting a more straightforward head-on confrontation after the arrangement of battleships opposite one another last week, but this show surprised me again. It was a sense of surprise that went from cautiously neutral to pleasant, as the cast just ended up in a scenario that was equal parts smooth-talking negotiations and beach party. There’s certainly an appeal to the way Gunzou picked, the subversive-diplomacy-verging-on-bribary option. It’s just a shame the ship he was trying to lull ate the peppers first, disarming the live charm-offensive grenade Gunzou and the crew tossed out. The slight expression of realization from Iona when she looked at Kongou’s plate was beyond priceless.

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Beyond that, I gotta say that I really liked the beach party portion of the episode. One of the pleasures in anime with even decent casts of character is just watching them bounce off one another in goofy freestyle, and the beach party was just jam packed with that. In addition to bulking up the charming aspects of them all, it also doubles as a bonding experience for everyone on team Gunzou, as they hadn’t really had time to hang out as a group and gel before now. It should make the next episode, which will presumably contain a straight-up blow-by-blow with the now guns-blazing Kongou, worth the wait.

First Reactions: Arpeggio of Blue Steel Episode 7

One of the fun things of reading a manga or watching an anime that didn’t start out with a rock-solid grasp of its own identity is the sometimes-futile-but-always-amusing attempts to meld a bunch of disparate elements together into something that feels like a complete product. Maybe it’s just that I prefer mixed genre shows to pure cases of one element, but I, at least, gravitate towards shows that have that organic feel. It’s one of the reasons I like mid-tier monthly manga so much; between their loud, energetic character types and their solid+ grasp of visual techniques, they hold a little more intrinsic cohesion than the field. Put another way, you can mix vastly disparate genres provided your characters are amusing and your visual acumen is there.

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Hence the candid camera

And this was the week Arpeggio really flashed its chops in that regard. Already having solidly established the show in the naval combat department, the Kishi/Uezu team really embraced the harem comedy components of the show this week, and the result was pretty much up to their track record, an effective combination of character-centric gags that cleared the air after last week’ darker dramatic turn.

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