[As I hope the title makes clear, I am writing specifically about the anime adaptation. I do not doubt that the game source material has a much stronger story and detailing on its ships]
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?
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, into the blandest anime girl archetypes possible to flash panties at the audience for some lazy ecchi appeal:
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:
And the girls themselves have little apparent visual connection to the spirits of the ships they possess:
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:
To be fair, I guess they do sometimes fight with swords and bows while skating across the flat sea like roller-bladers:
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.