One Last Solo for Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova-

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

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

I’m still waiting for artificial intelligence like the kind seen in science fiction films and TV series. Then I remember the artificial intelligence goes insane and tries to destroy humanity.

The anime series Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- was nowhere near a great series, but it wasn’t a poor one either. The series had moments of wonderful character development and action and the story was predicated on an interesting idea. The first film, Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC-, was, unfortunately, a poor-man’s rendition of the anime series. But, the production company Sanzigen was working on a follow-up to the film after its release. Nearly a year later, on October 3, 2015, Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- Cadenza (蒼き鋼のアルペジオ –アリス•ノヴァ- Cadenza Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio -Ars Nova- Cadenza) was finally released. I had very mixed feelings about the film because on the one hand there were action set pieces that were thrilling. However, on the other hand, the new villains lacked characterization and not in the sense they didn’t have unique personalities. Rather, the villains were one-dimensional. I also felt the production team was overzealous with the narrative they were trying to present. This made me believe the body of the film was better suited for a second TV series as opposed to a film, especially considering the quality of the new characters. One major facet of the franchise I failed to elaborate on in previous articles was the use of musical terminology to describe the series and films. Very few franchises seem to do this and it was quite pleasing.

As I said, Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- was neither a good nor bad series. Yet, one facet where the series exceled was the characterization of the different Mental Models, the artificial intelligence on the different ships. They all had unique personalities, but more importantly they grew and changed as the series progressed. While I won’t say this was a mark of great writing, it demonstrated the production team understood that in order for viewers to truly care for and appreciate the characters, they needed something they could latch on to. Granted, a unique personality is one way to capture the hearts and minds of an audience, but I feel many people enjoy watching characters change over the course of a series. Thus, even the minor characters in Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- had their place within the larger narrative. As such, the same could be said about the first compilation film Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC-. Although a majority of the character development was rushed, we still understood there was much more to the Mental Models then initially let on. To me, this is what made the franchise somewhat memorable.

Yet, when transitioning to the newest film in the franchise, Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- Cadenza, the same introspection in regards to the characters was lacking. More precisely, little was done to make the new villains, Hiei, Myōkō, Nachi, Ashigara, and Haguro, stand out. True, the five characters all had unique personalities and the film had an interesting premise concerning a student council. However, very little was done to create narrative tension and make the Mental Models an imposing presence. What I mean by this is when examining the three characters who took an active role within the film, Hiei, Ashigara, and Haguro, they were no more than roadblocks for the crew of the I-401 Iona before their final confrontation with Musashi. For example, the second action scene could have been a fascinating look into Ashigara’s motivations and why she wanted to fight. Yet, in its place was a charged action sequence that lacked the narrative tension required to keep the audience affixed to the screen. I actually contend we can learn a great deal about a character after a loss. Hence, seeing how Ashigara, as well as the other four villains, dealt with their respective losses could have informed us about these characters. Unfortunately, what we were left with were five characters who had little bearing on the overall narrative.

The four new villains.  From left to right: Nachi, Ashigara, Hiei, Haguro, and Myōkō.

The four new villains. From left to right: Nachi, Ashigara, Hiei, Haguro, and Myōkō.

Despite her minimal screen time, it was Musashi who felt rounded out as a character. There were a couple of reasons for this, but in the end it came down to how, like Kongō from the anime series, Musashi had pathos. While delving into the details would ruin a great deal of the film, suffice it to say it revolved around jealousy. As such, during a long expository scene between Musashi and Iona in the second act, we came to understand why Musashi was engaging in a war against humanity. Nonetheless, because Musashi’s presence in the film was kept minimal, the weight behind her motives never felt important. Granted, there are times the less we know about, understand, and see a villain the more nefarious they become. But, if she appeared more often in this film, Musashi could have been a menacing presence, despite looking like a prepubescent girl.

However, despite the new characters lacking a distinct set of memorable qualities, every action scene involving them was spectacular. It was one of the few aspects of the franchise that was thrilling to watch, but more so in regards to Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- Cadenza. While I may have said the second action scene, with Ashigara, lacked narrative tension, it created a great deal of suspense in terms of what Iona’s crew faced. This was because the scene not only depicted a grand chase between two war vessels, but it also displayed a creative arsenal of weapons used by Ashigara. Yet, it was actually the third action scene that truly brought the best aspects of the Arpeggio of the Blue Steel franchise to the forefront of the film. Although the grand spectacle in the second half of the scene was on par with many of the other action scenes from the franchise, the buildup made it invigorating. Here Iona had to navigate the underwater currents of an island chain in the Arctic Ocean. This alone didn’t warrant any tension, but the conflict came from the helmsman maneuvering the currents without power and without making a sound. Added on top of this, the scene was cut in such a way the fly-by-night operation was depicted from two perspectives: Iona’s and Hiei’s. These two layers created a great deal of suspense because the audience was privy to all the information, as opposed to the characters’ limited knowledge of each other.

Yet, with all the praise I gave the action, when placed next to the plot development the film became overstuffed with content. Granted, three actions scenes weren’t too much for the film, but with the amount of story that needed to be covered, there was too much content. I understand time had to be made to introduce the new characters, but very little was done with them to warrant the amount of information presented to the audience. I’m specifically speaking about Hiei and company’s introduction more so than Musashi’s, as they had a creative introduction, which, unfortunately, was used ineffectively. This came from the ethereal space the Mental Models used to communicate with each other—a concept I explained in a previous article. With Hiei, this space mirrored a Japanese school’s student council office. This was certainly a beautiful way to covey how Hiei wanted order among the entire Fleet of Fog, but was also a fantastic opportunity to flesh out the characters before entering the bulk of the story. On top of this, the student council office only appeared one or two times throughout the entire film, which felt like a betrayal to how the Mental Models communicated with each other. It went much further than the use of the communication method of the Mental Models as well.

While the communication method was an issue of wasted potential, there were other instances in Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- Cadenza that were narratively fascinating, but felt as though the production team rushed through the plot points. One instance was when Takao was speaking to a military agent in the second act. Honestly, this was essentially a setup for the moral conflict in the third act, but it was handled very quickly from a narrative standpoint. Yes, it conveyed what the audience needed to know, yet if this scene had an episodic treatment, rather being a scene in a film, it would have had narrative weight and fleshed out Takao’s opinion of the machinations of the different world governments. As such, though this was a key moment in the film, moments like these would have had a greater impact on the franchise had Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- Cadenza been an anime series rather than a film.

Musashi explaining her war to Iona.

Musashi explaining her war to Iona.

As much as I may harp on the film and the franchise as a whole, I can’t help but say the respective titles of each installment were thematically intriguing. I’m specifically speaking about the musical terms, Ars Nova, DC, and Cadenza added to the end of the titles. Although I haven’t studied music in years, I recognize two of the terms used in the franchise. The easiest to explain is DC, or Da Capo. This annotation denotes a return to the beginning of a musical piece. Thus, its use in the Arpeggio of the Blue Steel franchise denoted the first film was a return to the beginning. A Cadenza can be a bit difficult to understand for those not familiar with music, but essentially it’s a solo before the end of a musical piece. In terms of this franchise, then, it could have signaled Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- Cadenza was an intermediate film. However, because the climax tied up many of the loose ends, I felt this wasn’t the case. Hence, a better musical annotation for this film may have been Coda. But that’s just arguing semantics. The last of the three terms I referenced, Ars Nova, is the most complex of the three if only because there is a lot to unpack. Yet, I feel we only need to examine one facet of the term.

The term Ars Nova was coined in the fourteenth century to denote a new style of music developed in France. In fact, the term is Latin for “New Art.” I didn’t feel the production team was using the musical definition of “Ars Nova” for the franchise, but rather the Latin definition. If this were the case, this added an interesting layer to the production design of the franchise as a whole. Consider, Sanzigen, the animation company that made the anime series, was using an uncommon form of animation for the series: CGI that mimicked traditional animation. As such, the “Ars Nova” in the titles of the franchise could have denoted how the production team was using a new art form as opposed to traditional animation. This is an interesting thought and I hope it’s true, if only because it’s one layer of the franchise we may not pick up unless we’re paying close attention.

Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- Cadenza was certainly a fun but flawed film. Many of the character elements were lacking compared to the TV series and the first film. Added on top of this, much of the story felt as though it was meant for a second season of a TV series rather than a film. However, the action scenes were spectacular and kept the film from becoming too dull. While the musical annotations and terms were a minor aspect of the franchise, I enjoyed their use in the titles of the respective anime series and films. Granted, I didn’t touch on the term “Arpeggio,” as I felt the latter terms had more bearing on the narrative. Although this wasn’t the best film ever made, it was a fine conclusion to the Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- anime series. However, I recommend refreshing yourself with the story by re-watching the anime series or the first film because some of the plot points in Arpeggio of the Blue Steel -Ars Nova- Cadenza may lose you.

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