Arpeggio of Blue Steel, vols. 1-2

Monday, November 2, 2015  By  Nic Willcox     No comments

98-coverSeventeen years ago, strange, ghostly ships and submarines appeared all over the world, quickly decimating the navies of every country on Earth. Dubbed the Fleet of Fog, these ships are nearly indestructible. They rule the waves, shooting down aircraft and even satellites, disrupting shipping and communication.

But the Fleet of Fog isn’t quite invincible. The AI systems of powerful Fog vessels can manifest “mental models,” which look and act like humans; all females, they are sentient to the point of displaying human emotions. Japan has captured one Fog submarine/ship hybrid, the I-401, and Iona, its mental model, has since become devoted to her new human captain: Chihaya Gunzou, nicknamed Blue Steel.

I-401 is powerful enough to take down other Fog ships, and her loyalty to Gunzou means that she’s willing to fight for humanity’s cause. However, the government of Japan isn’t sure whether to trust Gunzou—after all, his father stands accused of betraying humanity to the Fleet of Fog. But now, Japanese scientists have invented a new technology that could turn the tables on the Fog… if they can get it to America, the only country that can manufacture it. That means crossing the Pacific, and the only vessel that stands a chance is I-401.

This is a fairly straightforward shonen manga packed with lots of action. Naval combat and subterfuge are central, featuring lots of futuristic technology like Compulsion Wave-Motion Armor and Super-Graviton Cannons. Subs and ships square off and are sometimes sunk, but there’s no gore factor—the Fog ships do not seem to have crew, unless you count their mental models.

A note from the creators at the end of the first volume explains that the series was inspired by news of a new torpedo technology and their next idea was to “Throw in some gorgeous girls! Yeah!” Despite this origin, Iona and the other mental models are not blatant fanservice. They are varied, powerful, and interesting characters with different agendas, none of which include panty shots. There’s even a reasonable rationale for their gendered identities: tapping into human communications, the Fog heard ships referred to as “she” and assumed that they were supposed to be female.

The artwork is detailed, yet easy to follow, making good use of light and dark for contrast and clarity. For example, the sea may appear from above as a rippling gray expanse, but when I-401 dives, the water quickly darkens to black, making the submarine stand out in the panels. The characters are distinctive and settings like sub control rooms and the decks of ships have a similar level of detail, making the manga visually rich.

Gunzou’s crew is a handful of good-hearted oddballs. The characters aren’t highly nuanced, but they’re loyal and brave with a fun camaraderie, and they’re also quite good at their jobs. There’s a touch more complexity in the political characters who quarrel over the handling of Gunzou and I-401, creating a source of conflict that’s less clear-cut than “humans versus the Fog.” Yet despite its clear enmity towards humankind, the Fleet of Fog remains mysterious in its intentions and even some of the ships’ mental models seem unclear about their mission. Readers will enjoy seeing these plots unfold, and shonen fans will find it easy to root for our heroes as they battle to save the human world.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel, vols. 1-2
by Ark Performance
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781626920682
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781626920767
Seven Seas, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

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