Arpeggio of Blue Steel Volume 1 Review
Arpeggio of Blue Steel:
Reviewed by: Linny
Synopsis: After global warming caused sea levels to rise and large amounts of land disappeared, a mysterious fleet of ships with super weapons emerged all over the world in the year 2039. These ships, referred to as “Fleet of Fog”, attacked human ships and with their super weapons thoroughly defeated humanity, cutting off travel and interaction between the island nations, marooning humans and destroying the economy.
Seventeen years have passed and humanity may finally have a chance of winning against the “Fleet of Fog” thanks to Gunzou Chihaya and his crew mates who happen to be the only humans in possession of a “Fleet of Fog” submarine, the I-401 whose personification is a young girl named Iona.
Review (Warning: Spoilers to Follow):
Arpeggio of Blue Steel is a series that might be more familiar to readers as an anime that debuted back in 2013. For those new to either or both adaptations, know that the major differences one can tell just from the first volume and the first episode is that the manga starts seventeen years after the mysterious enemy warships appeared while the anime begins seven years later. So our hero, Gunzou Chihaya is ten years older in the manga than he is at the start of the anime and thus has spent more time getting familiar with the I-401. Other than that, I sadly cannot tell any differences as I only watched a couple of episodes of the anime when it first came out and I also barely remember anything about the show. So I was a bit apprehensive when I first started this manga as I already knew it was based on a subject matter that didn’t appeal to me. Arpeggio of Blue Steel is a battle ship centric story. There is a LOT of technical talk as the crew prepare for their missions or engage in battle, and while the technical talk isn’t something super advanced or confusing, it can be boring to read for someone who has no interest in battleship mechanics and statistics.
Arpeggio has a slightly confusing start as we watch a scene that presumably happened in the past, but after Gunzou and his crew had control of the ship. We watch as Gunzou is being chased down by some armed people and he has a young lady in his arms. There’s a confrontation on what looks like a wharf and the I-401 comes bursting out of the water and onto the wharf, leaving the chasers all shaken up and giving Gunzou a chance to escape. It’s an extremely over the top scene and should give you an idea of how action packed the rest of the story is when you have a submarine crashing onto a wharf to save its captain from pursuers in the very first few pages.
The story then cuts to the I-401 and its crew out on a paid mission, this time ensuring the successful launch of an SSTO, which is described as a re-suable supersonic transport capable of travelling through space, defending it against “Fleet of Fog” ships. We get to see how hands on and head on approach our crew takes to defending their clients. There’s not much of an actual introduction to our crew, with the story choosing to let the reader just be an observer of their daily lives and draw their own conclusions from it. If you prefer your character introductions to be more detailed, Arpeggio definitely seems content to leave its readers guessing about its cast within the story for the most part, maybe on the verge of under explaining even what the characters do in relation to their post on the ship. Thankfully, the volume does include a blurb page at the end of Chapter 2 where the characters are all given a brief bio so readers can better understand and distinguish them.
The positive news about Arpeggio is that if you like your manga action packed with lots of tactical talk and combat, Arpeggio delivers on it flawlessly. There’s a lot of mental out maneuvering and planning with other ships and even when dealing with the Government who wants to grab the I-401 so they can learn more about these mysterious new entities instead of letting it run free and wild under the control of some runaways.
The art in the series keeps up with the ongoing action, with a lot of the explosions being drawn in a detailed manner and leaving an impression on the reader. Overall, the art is competent and eye catching even though a lot of it is in black and white, it nevertheless manages to convey the intensity and severity of all the fighting taking place and the beauty of the vessels with all its intricate details.
Going back to the story in the first volume, we learn a bit about how Chihaya came to be aboard and in charge of the I-401 but as said before, a lot is left to be inferred for now. You are given enough to not be left feeling completely clueless though and compared to the rest of the crew, it’s easier to understand what kind of a person Chihaya is. This volume also introduces new and powerful enemies for the I-401 and its crew to face off against, with the clear insinuation that this enemy is a lot smarter and harder to outwit than previous opponents, raising the stakes as the crew is given a most important new task straight from the Government itself. This cat and mouse like dance between the I-401 and it’s latest new opponent makes for a gripping read, even more so if you are into combat and strategy.
The story does suffer from having some cliche over the top ‘villains’ already as the Fleet of Fog ships all have their own mental models who for now all seem to be in the form of female humans, and some of the ‘evil’ ones are drawn rather sensually and do the evil smirk/chuckle often as they hunt down and target the I-401 in this volume. It’s not a huge flaw but it’s definitely there to irk you if you aren’t particularly fond of or are tired of this stereotype.
Overall, Arpeggio is a series that might not have widespread appeal due to how particular its theme is. It goes into a bit of detail with its ships and its ship focused combat and while it does provide a lot of tension, drama and action with all of its strategy and maneuvers, it’s clear that you have to be a fan of naval ships and naval battles to truly enjoy this series. The story is rather sombre throughout with very few, if any, outright comedic moments. Great if you are tired of your characters constantly trying to pull off silly gags and want a serious tone, bad if you like your stories with regular comic relief. And while the series does have some somewhat seductively dressed/ drawn female villain characters, the fan service is tame to nonexistent. The girls are dressed in clothes that aren’t ridiculously or offensively revealing and that adds to the sombre and mature tone of the series that it would rather focus on action than trying to win over male readers with skimpily dressed female characters. In conclusion, I’d definitely recommend this series to anyone interested in a combat oriented series where the fighting is done mainly through vessels and not hand-to-hand, and a story that focuses more on sincere strategy and scheming without pandering to the male gaze with its female characters or resorting to slapstick comedy every few pages.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel is available digitally via Crunchyroll.com.