Resetting an Arpeggio

One of the posters for Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC-.

One of the posters for Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC-.

Since the ships in Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova- have artificial intelligence, why not have them solve crimes like Knightboat: The Crime Solving Boat from the Simpsons?

Whenever I watch a film that’s a compilation of an anime series, I tend to find it’s a monotonous experience. Yes, there are times when the narrative of the series is condensed in a way to make the material engaging. Nonetheless, more often than not these films feel like a way for anime production companies to remind fans of or rejuvenate interest in their intellectual property for a second series or feature film. Oftentimes, I don’t actively think about this when I watch a film that compiles an anime series, but the 2015 film Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- (蒼き鋼のアルペジオ -アルス•ノヴァ- DC Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio -Ars Nova DC-) certainly did. This was because the film was poorly cut together and the nearly forty minutes of new content added little to the narrative of the TV series. In fact, it would have suited the production company, Sanzigen, to separate the content into two different films—though they were working on a second Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova- feature at the time—and left this one as a compilation of the TV series and the new content as the first act of the next feature film. However, having the opportunity to look back at some of the visuals of the Arpeggio of Blue Steel anime franchise, I found the presentation of the communication method between the Mental Models interesting.

As much as I want to begin by addressing the major issues with Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC-, there were a few aspects of the film that allowed me to reconsider the animation direction of the TV series, Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova-. While I believe CGI animation still needs improvement, that doesn’t mean CGI artists haven’t managed to create some remarkable imagery. For instance, there were a number of shots of the different ships of the franchise that were beautifully rendered and many of the action scenes involving those ships weren’t just engaging because of the narrative, but also for the stylistic choices. However, it was how the animators presented the ethereal world that the Mental Models, the artificial intelligence that operated each ship, used to speak to each other that was noteworthy. I failed to notice this when watching the TV series, but the gazebo in which the Mental Models met hardly changed over the course of the thirteen episodes. Yet, watching Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- it was apparent the space outside the gazebo went through a number of changes depending on the characters occupying that space.

For example, when we were first introduced to that space, the area behind the gazebo was completely white. There was no discernable scenery other than Greek style pillars and the steel garden tables and chairs. One also has to remember, only the Mental Models of Kongo and Takao—so we understand, I will be italicizing the names of the Mental Models because they were ships—were there and this was long before either of them gained any form of free will, whatever that may constitute. However, when different characters were in that ethereal space, the scenery changed ever so slightly. This was the case when Iona was speaking to her sister ships, the I-400 and I-402, and before the climatic battle between Iona and Kongo. With the former, we saw a flower garden in the background and I felt this was a nice visualization of the growth Iona had gone through. Hence, because she had developed a kind personality when she occupied that space, we saw soft colors blended together in the form of a garden. Looking at the latter, the visuals mirrored Kongo’s fear, anger, and resentment by using a blue tone over the scene with withered vines crawling around the gazebo. Had Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- not been made, I would have missed this wonderful use of visualization of the characters’ personalities and for that I have to praise the production team.

One of the new cuts from Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC-.

One of the new cuts from Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC-.

However, that’s as much praise as I can give this film. Of the issues I had with the film, the largest came from how the film was clearly divided into a retrospective of the TV series in the first half and new content in the second. I’ve written in the past that I am not opposed to compilation films provided they keep some of the narrative undertones and themes from the TV series. Yet, the narrative in the first half of Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- lacked the qualities of what made the TV series memorable. It was literally an amalgamation of all the action scenes with none of the emotional content to back it, thus making it pointless. For instance, in the eighth episode of the TV series, Kongo and Maya were asked to parlay with the protagonist and his crew on Iwo Jima. During this episode we saw how Kongo thought about the changes in the other Mental Models and ultimately decided to lay waste to the base on the island. Yet in the film, there was no explanation as to why Kongo came to this conclusion, which severely limited her character.

The film was rife with other examples of the lack of context, but one other involved the character Makie Osakabe. Again, when looking at the TV series she had two episodes dedicated to her introduction and why we should be emotionally invested in her. The two episodes were handled well and allowed us to examine the different agendas working against each other and to see Haruna and Kirishima grow as characters. As with the example above, we received none of this in Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- because the content of the two episodes was condensed into a five-minute scene. I felt this was unconscionable as this was one of the moments in the TV series that genuinely informed viewers there was more to the Mental Models other than being out to destroy humanity.

What’s worse in my mind, though, was the treatment of the new content tagged onto the second half of Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC-. It’s not uncommon for compilation films to add new content to either pad out the introduction or to create a bridge to an upcoming TV series or feature film. But, in those instances it’s generally no more than five to fifteen minutes of extra content. As such, I was rather shocked when the new content in this film filled the second half and not just because of the duration of it, but also because of how poorly it was constructed. In all honesty, the first half of the film, which compiled the TV series, bored me to no end. Thus, when it ended I was under the impression I would be leaving the theater after about ten minutes of new content. But lo and behold, I found myself watching an extra forty minutes of new material. One can imagine my surprise at this, and though I was happy the production team added so much new material, as the new content progressed I found it suffered from one major issue.

What was a hodgepodge of plot points suddenly became a more focused story and it didn’t match the narrative of the first half of the film. This ultimately made the film seem as though the scriptwriter was opening a new story arc rather than closing the events of the first half. In fact, there was a distinct tonal shift in the film when it entered the second half, making it feel more or less like the first act of a completely different film. Had the entire forty minutes of new content been cut and then added to a subsequent film or TV series, this would have allowed the compilation section of the film to be more thorough. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the new content, but it forced Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- to close on an inappropriate cliffhanger. If the production team had set out to open a new story line, the decent thing for them to do, at the very least, would have been to close both story arcs properly. Unfortunately, Sanzigen chose to use the cliffhanger as an advertisement for their follow-up film Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova- Cadenza. This was a great shame and it upsets me to no end.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- is a poor quality film. The compilation of the thirteen episode series was handled poorly and the new content was very much out of place. While I understand the musical notation of DC means to return to the beginning of the piece and then proceed to the coda, I can’t help but feel the producers took the notation a bit too literally for this film. Thus, I could have forgiven the film had it just been a compilation with a few minutes of new content included at the end. This would have allowed me to further analyze the characters, themes, and animation of the franchise. However, because somebody on the production team decided it would be fine to add the first act of the subsequent film to this film, I was unable to do so. It’s a shame, too, because I was able to glean one aspect of the animation of the franchise I failed to notice when watching the TV series. Only the most ardent fans of the franchise should watch this film. But be warned, you will most likely be upset, just as I was.

Work Info
Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- (蒼き鋼のアルペジオ -アルス•ノヴァ- DC Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio -Ars Nova DC-)
Under: Sanzigen
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