Does the Azur Lane anime have any interest in its own warships?

The battered USS Laffey (DD-724) after combat near Okinawa. Image: NavSource.org

In April, 1945 the destroyer USS Laffey sailed north of Okinawa for radar picket duty to assist in the detection of Japanese kamikaze aircraft during the American invasion of the island. And boy did the Laffey find the planes alright — in just 80 minutes, she sustained damage from 22 air attacks, including four bomb hits and five to six kamikaze strikes (sources sometimes disagree), resulting in severe damage to the ship and over 100 casualties to her crew. But when asked if he would give the order to abandon ship, Laffey’s captain, Commander Frederick Becton, supposedly said “I’ll never abandon ship as long as a single gun will fire.” Except nearby crewmen wondered if the Laffey still had anyone left to man the guns…

If you wanted to anthropomorphize warships, I think you could make a strong case to turn the Laffey into a stern, unyielding madman with suicidal determination to match the kamikaze she shot down.

By contrast how does Azur Lane, a new fall 2019 anime premised on warships transforming into cute anime girls to do battle against a mysterious “siren” threat, depict the Laffey? By turning the destroyer into a sleepy slob who likes to drink cola to stay awake. Huh. What?

But why?

I can’t think of a less interesting – and interested – way to characterize historical warships than Azur Lane. The series turns each of its ships, most of which have fascinating stories like the Laffey’s attached to them, into the blandest anime girl archetypes possible to flash panties at the audience for some lazy ecchi appeal:

She’s a warship! She kills people! People may have died on her. Wha– Bu- Why?

If you are going to fetishize warships, I mean, like, at least fetishize the warships! Caress the guns, batten down the hatches, slip into the torpedo tubes, whisper sweet nothings into the voice pipes… *now hear this, dearest* I don’t know, use your imagination. Make it weird, like anime-girlships should be!

Instead, the ships themselves look drawn in like an afterthought:

Booorrriiinnnggg

And the girls themselves have little apparent visual connection to the spirits of the ships they possess:

What ships are they even supposed to represent?

When the girls fight, they don’t boom with their guns or hiss with their torpedoes, you don’t hear sirens blaring or dive-bombers dodging through massed anti-aircraft fire. Nah, the girls just stand on the static water and shoot at each other with lasers:

World War 2 saw the pioneering use of …plasma weaponry? And yeah, they actually just stand on the water like that. It’s boring!

To be fair, I guess they do sometimes fight with swords and bows while skating across the flat sea like roller-bladers:

Enterprise clashes with Zuikaku, I guess.

But, oh wait, the swords and bows are even stupider than the lasers!

I don’t know what Azur Lane is going for here. Why use real warships if you don’t bother to engage with their real histories? The drama of naval action on the high seas lends itself so well to the anthropomorphization of warships that even a quick scan of the Wikipedia pages for the war’s most famous ships could produce a solid cast of diverse characters if only Azur Lane had applied a little imagination.

So, uh, yeah, let’s use my imagination and try to create a few new Azur Lane characters with actual character and historical inspiration:

  • Make the battleship USS Texas an old, stubborn veteran who don’ fight so good no more but still sorties out with the rest of the girls (she was launched in 1912 ahead of WW1, a real old-timer among WW2-era ships).
  • Make the carrier USS Essex a young, swaggering, up-and-coming risk-taker in contrast to the slow, cautious Texas (to mirror the rise and eventual dominance of naval aviation over the old big guns during the war).
  • Make the submarine USS Archerfish a clever rogue noted for precision attacks and smooth getaways in hostile waters (she sunk a freaking carrier – the former Yamato-class Shinano no less – off the coast of Japan itself just 10 days after her quarry’s commissioning).
  • Make the destroyer USS William D. Porter an accident-prone ditz cursed by bad luck (she once accidently fired a torpedo on an allied battleship… that happened to be carrying Franklin Roosevelt) but also with remarkable fortune in other ways (when a kamikaze crashed underneath her, the resulting explosion lifted the entire ship out of the sea before she sunk. But somehow, the entire crew itself survived.)

Someone else who cares more about the British, German, and Japanese navies could fill in some personalities there and viola, we have a whole wacky cast of girlships instead of Azur Lane’s boring list of generic anime tropes grafted onto weird turret and torpedo-tube appendages. I dunno, maybe even dig into alternative history to make the incomplete German carrier Graf Zeppelin a mad-cackling wunderwaffe personified, whose insane machinations could drive the plot? (in real life, the Graf Zeppelin was a hopeless Hitlerian pipe dream left incomplete because of resource shortages). Again, the stories of these real ships already have so much character that the writers for Azur Lane hardly even need to rely on their own creativity to spice the series up a bit. Graf Zeppelin would make a more interesting villain than the twin fox-girls Akagi and Kaga at least…

But nah, despite the naval theme, I don’t think Azur-Lane cares two frigates about naval history when it could just tease up-skirt shots all episode instead.

Whatever…

No, dearest Cleveland, what have they done to you? The city of your namesake, the heart of the depressed Rust Belt, would never smile so. No, she should smell of sewage. She should rust and flake. She should leave a trail of fire in her wake, burning on the water. That’s the Cleveland I know!

12 thoughts on “Does the Azur Lane anime have any interest in its own warships?

  1. Not sure what you’re expecting from an anime about anime girls as warships. If anything they just used real names so they could get the Kaga, Agaki, Yamato, etc. out there for their Japanese audience. The thing is that even if they went all out with relevant details, the effort they’d have to put in probably wouldn’t be worth it when majority of the people watching don’t know a lick about WW2 naval history. It’d all just go over their heads regardless.

    That said I do agree it’d be nice to get some more traditional style naval combat, with some more long range engagements. Maybe they’ll deliver on that to some degree, although I do doubt it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mean but that’s kind of my point… I’m expecting very little. It doesn’t take much effort to capture just a little of the historical character of each of the ships in the series. Just grab on to a single story like the Laffey’s or Archerfish’s or even just a simple fact like “Texas is old” or “Essex was new.” I don’t need them to go “all out with relevant details.” For most of these famous ships, you could learn enough on a Wikipedia page. Instead, Azur Lane assigns seemingly random anime-archetype personalities to the ships (the Laffey didn’t sleepwalk into that beating!) when just the tiniest amount of effort could have made each of the characters so much more compelling.

      For comparison, the 2016 anime High School Fleet took a similar silly girls-with-warships premise but filled it little historical details like the equator-crossing ceremony (plus some gorgeous locations from the real JMSDF headquarters at Yokosuka naval base). Maybe most of the audience will miss those details, but like… why not at least try?

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    2. They’d need some sort of incentive to go that route though. Just using the names doesn’t obligate them to go fully historically accurate, especially considering this takes place in some alternate world where WW2 didn’t happen because of alien invaders (or at least I assume that’s what the Siren are.. could be wrong).

      I never played the mobile games this is based off though, so maybe it has something to do with that. And if the mobile game itself does put more effort into details, then you’re probably right that they spent too much time going for fan service and the like as opposed to just translating over tidbits of information that relate to the real-life ships.

      I agree that it’d be neat to see more ties to real history, but I can see why they didn’t bother. Again though I’d really have liked to see the combat play out more like real naval warfare as you did mention, which would be much more interesting than aircraft carriers jumping into melee combat for some reason, disregarding the need for screens and failing to take advantage of their superior range.

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    3. I guess? I could think of a dozen little incentives though, from spreading some superficial historical knowledge to generating a glimmer of appreciation from fans with an interest in the ships. That has value, doesn’t it? And no, using the names does not obligate the creators to, um, use the names, but why not add a little extra depth or interest to their franchise? You still suggest that I expect a “fully historical” revision to the series. I don’t. Just the tiniest historical character homages would suffice (“Texas is old”) for such simple characters in such an overloaded cast. Small efforts do not require large incentives. This is — I hope — an attempt at art, not a commodity market.

      The franchise originated in a gacha game though, so whatever.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hm, since I have no interst in Warships I wouldn’t have known any of that. As it is, I clicked play on Azur Lane saw that uniformed girl stare pensively at the sea, while a narrator wanted to make sure that I know war never changes. There was a second warship girl who said… something? When the opening credits rolled I closed the tab and never looked back. You’re making me think that was the right decision.

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    1. I don’t know, I won’t bother making a rigorous assessment of Azur Lane’s quality because the first few episodes bored me to death. As near as I can tell, Azur Lane isn’t much more than an idol (or Touhou-esque) franchise with a massive cast of potential waifus arranged into every possible combination of personality trait, hair color, and bust size you could imagine — just with a warship paintjob. I’m sure that if you like the game or just want an uninspired ecchi / action schlock fix, it will satisfy well enough.

      But then like I’ve asked several times now, if you want to create a franchise using the names of *real* warships, why not use the *real* histories of those *real* warships for inspiration? I’ve done some more reading on the game and a few characters do well enough along the lines of the new characters I imagined above (the pre-dreadnought battleship IJN Mikasa was the best real character I found). But most of them just baffle me with arbitrary character assignments*. I don’t want to sound insulting, but if nothing else Azur Lane just strikes me as lazy. It isn’t for naval history enthusiasts at all.

      *(not as bad the Laffey, but why is USS Hammann a testy tsundere maid-girl? She sank while literally hugging alongside the Yorktown during a rescue / salvage mission. Shouldn’t that make her more kind, loyal, and caring?)

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  3. One of the things that made KanColle a better show was that the producers did just that for the ships they modeled — Fubuki _was_ a special class of DD and CL Sendai fought mostly night battles during the Solomons Campaign. BB Yamato spent much of the war in port. That, and her ice cream maker, really did get her the nickname “Hotel Yamato”. Of course, these were Japanese ships in a Japanese game, so the producers had an incentive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not familiar with KanColle (beyond this one time a drunk otaku coworker rambled about it to me at a drinking party!) but the depiction of the ships sounds much more in line with what I would enjoy. Though I think I’ve given up on gacha game adaptations — like another commenter suggested, I think I should just learn to set my expectations to zero…

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    2. It’s probably worth a one episode checkout. Unlike Azur, it packed so much game and WWII references in that one of the websites following it had _two_ separate commentaries. Think of it as Azur done right.

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