Why have taken life as Fleet Girls? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Why were we born?
That is the question Yamato poses upon herself and the others as she and Fubuki gazed upon the starry sky that is illuminating the vast and quiet ocean. The waves recede back and forth as if it is alternately revealing and concealing the answers being washed ashore from the ocean that has become their life, their battlefield, and their graveyard – whether real or imagined.
Why do those ships exist in the first place? Is it just to grace the surface of the ocean with the merits and service for a short period of time just to spend an entire eternity at the bottom of the ocean after? Within the relatively short period of time of their service lie their hopes, expectations, exploits, triumphs, defeats, and regrets. Even though we still remember them in our history books, attached in our memories of them are the regrets that accompany the lamentations over the hopes that sank with them. And with those hopes, desires, memories, and regrets, they are reborn as fleet girls (kanmusu; 艦娘) giving rise to the world of Kancolle (艦これ: Kantai Collection; 艦隊これくしょん), one of the top web browser games in Japan, developed by Tanaka Kensuke, Kadokawa Games, and DMM.com.
Due to the great success of its web browser game, an anime and movie adaptation were made and produced by Kadokawa, A-1 pictures, and Diomedia, to give us a glimpse of the dynamics of the world that KanColle players have grown to love. The story centers on Fubuki (吹雪), the lead-ship of the Special-type destroyers (特型駆逐艦).
It begs the question on why the ship – that has not done anything significant (IJN Fubuki just acted on support roles during naval skirmishes during WWII) to fulfill the high expectations that were placed on her, especially she was the most powerful destroyer by the time that she was introduced. It could be the Capital ships like Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, Mutsu, Yamashiro, or Kongo. Fubuki’s service record and fate pale in comparison, both in volume and texture, to those capital ships. However, it is with that concept of fate that the story reveals on why Fubuki is pivotal. The story hits home with a slice-of-life on the contrast and cycle between hope and despair. That cycle is a cruel one.
Fubuki appears upon the backdrop of the endless cycle of battles between the fleet girls and the mysterious fleet that surfaced from the abyss called the Abyssal fleet, which in reality are the same type of entities resurrected from the bottom of the ocean, only with different human state that manifested within them. The fleet girls are resurrected through the positives while the Abyssal ships are being cultivated from the negatives. In these series of battles, the fleet girls are bound to repeat their fate all over again, and as they sink over and over again, and as they sink over and over again to the bottom of the ocean, the regrets and despair envelop them as the hope seems lost in the place devoid of light and eventually convert them into Abyssal ships where their pent-up negative emotions and longing are being directed to wreck havoc on living things. It is only upon sinking them that the negative emotions will ever be rid. And now free from those emotions, they can be revived as fleet girls again. And that is also how it is with life. New life blooms and blossoms from the old ones, as the cycle of life bridges death with a new life.
Realizing that their enemies are just juxtapositions of their fallen comrades manifested by corrupted emotions channeled into malice, Mutsuki wails to the cruelty of their world and the endless chain of battles, especially that she is always threading anxiety every time that she sees off her sortieing friends, afraid that they would suffer the same fate as her sister ship Kisaragi, who has sunk early on the story. Kisaragi has returned to them, although her transition in the cycle is not yet complete, and as much to her horror and her friends, she is turning into an Abyssal.
Like how the living sends off the dead into order to move on with their lives to finish the cycle of life, Kisaragi must be sank again in order to be released from the shackles of being an abyssal and start anew as a “new” fleet girl, putting Mutsuki and her friends in a dire situation. In the utilitarian perspective, sinking Kisaragi again may be the best decision, but one cannot assert moral ascendancy over that decision, with the horror of reducing one’s life to a number or statistic when in reality, carrying even a single life in one’s hands is too heavy of a burden already.
Their grief and devastation over the initial and then looming loss of Kisaragi prove that their war with the Abyssal fleet is not a showcase of disease within human nature where battles and conflicts are their raison d’etre and source of elation, but rather is a showcase of their vehement longing for peace and harmony. For the Abyssal fleet, since they came from the ocean, maybe it is their right to claim the ocean and strip it away from mankind, and that kind of normalcy and domination is what they would deem as peace. Mankind and the fleet girls think otherwise, thus conflicts arise, as conflicts always are from differences in interpretations and viewpoints.
However, just like with their real-life counterparts, the friction that the conflict causes is incurring casualties. Every casualty is horrifying. Some lives will be lost. Some lives will be scarred. Lives will never be the same. It is the reality. Like the fleet girls, people involved at wars always keep on wondering when the hostilities will come to an end. When people reach a certain point in time during their long ordeal, they pause for a while to look back at the progress that they have done. Does finding out being halfway there would give them satisfaction as they found out that their efforts met their expectations? Will it make them feel relieved? However, the fleet girls know with Kisaragi’s situation and Kaga’s past that this war is seemingly endless and that they would suffer the same fate all over again. And even though there is a faint light of hope that Akagi mentioned, realizing their progress still entails despair for it constantly betrays expectations, which induces the feeling of powerlessness.
Upon the growing pessimism among the fleet girls comes Fubuki, who never gives in to the pessimism and despair and instead fights that pessimism and that despair with determination and hope which initially earned her a reputation to her first assigned division, the Torpedo Squadron Three (Jintsuu, Sendai, Naka, Mutsuki, and Yuudachi), and inspired them with her “soul of a torpedo girl”, without dissent, without shame, and without resentment.
Her determination was tested over time over all sorts of negative emotions. She threaded grief over the initial loss of Kisaragi with solidarity. She threaded indecision over the formation of the Mobile Unit Five (Kongo, Kaga, Zuikaku, Ooi, and Kitakami) with decisiveness. She eventually countered initial disappointment and envy over Yuudachi’s remodeling and assignment on the 1st Carrier Division with understanding. (Teitoku, you dummy. You’re making his fleet assignment for Fubuku to level up with the preemptive attacks from Torpedo Cruisers and Aircraft Carriers)
That determination of Fubuki, however, was not something that she brought up by herself. But rather, it was brought up and honed by her experiences and interactions with the other fleet girls notably with her tremendous admiration towards Akagi, which is poignant to some point, for Akagi was the center figure of the Japanese regret during World War II. Her loss was proven irreplaceable after the Battle of Midway, a battle which continued to haunt her in her dreams. That regret and the fear of committing the same mistake again and she was able to achieve her past glory again, which became an inspiration to the initially-klutz Fubuki. Their stark contrast acted as gravity between them as if their intertwining fates felt like they were falling into place.
Fubuki’s character development grew parallel with the story, as she found that the heroes that she admired were not so inaccessible at all as if they were isolated on their respective pedestals, but rather real people with their own unique personalities, attributes, likes, dislikes, habits, and screws loose, therefore she found it easier to connect, sympathize, and emulate their examples of valor. But it was with her main desire to be Akagi’s escort that her determination was tremendously uncovered to the point that it began to influence and change the fate of the fleet girls, ultimately of Akagi’s on what’s supposed to be another replay of her tragedy at Midway with the Kido Butai.
Here at this point is when I already gave my hats-off to Fubuki’s seiyuu, Uesaka Sumire. Her voice has given life to Fubuki’s struggles and determination. Her battle cries are heartfelt and her wails are tear-jerking. After watching the anime, and grinding over the game itself, I began to look forward to its upcoming movie. The movie premiered on April 2017, six months after its theatrical release, in the Philippines.
The movie takes a dark turn from the anime series and delves deeper into Fubuki’s influence over the fates of the fleet girls, as the ocean begins to turn into crimson red. From those crimson red waters, the Mikawa fleet, who rocked during their night battle, especially Choukai, has recovered proto-abyssal Kisaragi from the remnants of the transport ship fleet that they have just defeated, and as if something was taken away from it, a voice from those crimson red waters is asking it back, and as if it was trying to take what was being taken away by an unstoppable force and hate, the equipment of the fleet girls begins to experience damage. Only Fubuki remains unfazed and unaffected by the perils of those waters as she involuntarily communicates with that voice with an assurance that “everything will be fine.”
“Everything will be fine.” is Fubuki’s representation of hope, even though crisis and despair looms over the forward base of Rabaul as a massive fleet of Abyssals begins to flock over the source of the destructive waters. To counter the imminent threat, the forward base has sent most of its entire fleet, divided into four forces; the powerful Dai Ichi Kantai (1st Fleet) and Dai San Kantai (3rd Fleet), composed of 4 of the 5 Carrier fleet groups (Carrier Fleets 1, 2, 3, and 5) along with their powerful escorts, ranging from fast battleships like Kongou and Haruna, heavy cruisers like Choukai, to destroyers; the rear fleet, headed by Nagato; and Dai Ni Kantai (2nd Fleet) that will infiltrate behind enemy lines to the source of those destructive waters, composed of the vanguard, headed by Sendai, along with Kako, Yuudachi, Akatsuki, Kitakami, and Ooi..
It is a hard fought battle for the Carrier Fleets as they have successfully diverted the powerful Hoppo fleet to the north. KanColle players know how strong the Hoppo was, especially after grinding over the extra operations on World 3 and World 4, which siphoned most of their instant repair buckets. The 2nd Fleet’s job is no joke either, with Hiei and Kirishima already suffering severe and moderate damage respectively already. Yamato assumes Hiei’s lead as the remaining battle-capable ships continue on with the perilous gamble. That gamble however seems bleak as Yamato suffers severe damage which stops her on her tracks, and Mutsuki is about to get rekt when Kisaragi, almost on her abyssal form, saves her. Yamato gathers her final strength to clear the way for Fubuki to jump into the abyss.
Did I sink?
Endlessly repeated battles across eras, seas, and emotions, the regrets grow stronger with each cycle.
Who are you?
Savo Sound. Ironbottom Sound. Many ships have sunk here. And, first Special-Class Destroyer Fubuki, you are one of them. Without displaying your “special” nature or accomplishing what was expected of you, you sank, filled with regret.
Yes, you sank here. And you will keep sinking here. But you didn’t want to sink. You didn’t want these waters to be the end. That’s what you strongly wished for. The ocean with an iron bottom, and the regrets and desires lying there, they saved you…and they sank me. That how you and I were born.
You and I?
That’s right. And, within this endless circle of war, you became special. You lost all your sad memories – while leaving me to rot at the bottom of the ocean – and became free.
Curse you. Free from the shackles of an endless cycle. Instead of letting a sad fate chain you down, you live on the battlefield and alter the fates of Fleet Girls.
But that is unacceptable. We are beings meant to be forgotten, glossed over, and disappear in a sad, everlasting cycle.
***Hiei: I wanted to save them. (Hiei was crippled with a broken rudder after exposing herself with opening her searchlight making her enemies concentrating their fire on her. She became a sitting duck to enemy attacks the following day) ***
I split off from you as you gained freedom and was left with hate, envy, and bloodthirst for those above the water…
***Akatsuki: I’m cold. ***
So I’ll melt away everything on the surface, because after all, I hate them. Deep down you wanted to come back, too, right? To this graveyard of metal? Welcome home.
***Sendai: It’s dark.***
It is alright.
***Kirishima: Take care.***
Let’s fade away into this ocean together. You don’t have to work hard. You don’t have to make any progress. Let’s just stay broken in an endless despair. Let’s vanish into a closed world. And let’s wait here for the tragedy that is bound to start over one day.
The dialogue above does not need any explanation for it is already presented in a profound and a simple way, while also giving us glimpse who among the fleetgirls met their end at Ironbottom Sound.
Just disappear. Isn’t that why you came back here?! Come back and sink here over and over in this seabed devoid of light or promise. And, with everyone forgetting about you, just disappear.
Dark tethers pins Fubuki as the Abyssal Fubuki drains the life and hope out of her as Fubuki watches and listens to the voices pleading for salvation then fading into nothingness. Fubuki tries to fight back. But her Abyssal self’s grip was too strong. Tears brim in her eyes as if she was about to tip over and just give up, until…
Wait. That’s not Yamato’s fate, isn’t it? It was on Ten-Go Sakusen. She was supposed to be on Truk the whole time. But why? That’s not right. And Fubuki is jolted by that sight. And she begins to remember what they talked on the beach earlier, as she begins to overpower her Abyssal self.
I see. I’m a symbol of hope. A symbol of hope created by all of their desires…not by regret but by hope! The hope to get through this war and take a step forward.
Fubuki finally breaks the tethers.
There’s nothing wrong with change.
It doesn’t have to be an endless cycle. We don’t have to stay here. It is all right.
Don’t come any closer. Stay away!
It is fine if we go back to the surface and take a step forward into a new world.
No…If I did that…
A leg snaps.
Don’t worry. Everyone’s there for us.
Another leg snaps.
Then realization came for Abyssal Fubuki as she is the one who sustained those injuries. She became helpless as Fubuki overcomes her and they merge into one.
Flashes of light rock the whole battlefield area. The all of the Abyssals there turns into dust. But wait…all Abyssals? Kisaragi!
Kisaragi collapses as her life energy drains. Mutsuki wails even more as she is about to lose Kisaragi again. But Kisaragi bids her goodbye…or tells her that she may have come back to say goodbye. Shuffling through emotions, Mutsuki vows to find her again (once she was respawned). *I need some tissue*.
Fubuki comes to shore and begins removing her equipment like a salaryman from a hard day’s work. Well, it is a hard day’s work for her as her as the others. Inside of her, she carries her Abyssal self on which she is constantly calming her rage and despair with an assurance of hope. And the credits roll and show that Teitoku has managed to grind Kisaragi back again.
The credits further roll to reveal that a second season is on its way. Yay.
[Author’s Note: I’ve been writing this since April. I still haven’t finished this. I’ll add some later on]