Kantai Collection is something that, at this point, almost every weeaboo is at least peripherally aware of. Even if you don’t know what it actually is, or even know the name, you’ll almost certainly recognise it as That Thing With The Girls That Are Also Boats Because Japan.
And that’s exactly the literal premise – Girls that are boats. Girls with the souls of famous warships of the past take to the seas, loaded up with equipment to do battle and take back the seas from the mysterious Abyssal Fleet.
KanColle adapts a hella-popular Japanese browser game, taking what is essentially an RNG-based time waster/waifu collector nightmare with no real story and morphs it into a fun slice of life comedy with some tense battles and darker moments along the way. When new recruit Fubuki arrives at the navel base and is assigned to Torpedo Squadron Three with fellow Destroyers Mutsuki and Yuudachi (Poi!), the training montages kick off as Fubuki learns the ropes and slowly but surely gets across naval combat.
On the topic of being based on a browser game, the show does include several nods to the free-to-play mechanics of the game, such as the base needing resources and girls that are damaged in battle having to go to the docks (aka the bathhouse) for a set period of time to repair -unless the Admiral sends an instant repair bucket for them. Fun nods to annoying mechanics we’re all too familiar with these days.
Along the way we’re introduced to a veritable heavy-cannon barrage of characters as we meet the various squadrons and all the different classes of ships – Destroyers like Fubuki, Aircraft Carriers, Battleships, Heavy and Light Cruisers – each with a particular visual style so you can always tell who is what kind of ship. The Aircraft Carriers are particularly cool designs, portrayed as traditional kyudo-style archers who fire their arrows which split off into little fighter planes. One of KanColle’s biggest strengths by far is the fantastic character design.
There are way too many characters to mention them all, but I particularly enjoyed Kongo, an English-built Battleship who speaks with a wonderfully tropey gaijin accent and mixes English into her speech, and Nagato, who effectively operates as the commander of operations. As a main character Fubuki isn’t particularly compelling, what’s happening around her is generally more interesting, but she goes through a decent character arc and carries the plot along well enough.
While the overarching theme is the girls fighting the Abyssal Fleet, the series veers off into silly slice of life situations more often than not – training montages, curry-cooking contests and domestic disputes abound. The Abyssal Fleet is never explained or given any motivations beyond a monologue in the first episode’s opening scene, they just appear and are there. Plot-wise it’s beyond paper-thin, but somehow it never really impacted my enjoyment of the show. They’re there, they’re spooky and evil and it’s up to a bunch of cute boat girls to stop them. The naval battles are fairly intense and dramatic and punctuate the generally light atmosphere with some drama and heavier themes when it’s revealed that just like actual ships, the girls can sink.
It’s all pretty silly, and you don’t have to be a naval buff to get something out of it. Kantai Collection is a fun romp, well animated with a huge but generally fairly likeable cast. Sure it’s built on getting people to whale in a browser game and buy toys, but who am I to judge? Between finishing the series and writing this review I bought the Nendoroid figure of Kongo…