This is a post that I’ve been mulling in the back of my mind since I effectively dropped Azur Lane halfway through the 2nd episode. I’m going to try to outline why I think KanColle and Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia succeeded in their first two episodes where Azur Lane failed.
Kantai Collection (2015)
For all that I relentlessly mocked the first two episodes of Kantai Collection when I first saw them, there was nevertheless a tight focus on Fubuki throughout.
I’ve just watched those two episodes again, and the series starts the way it means to continue. In essence Fubuki’s life is suffering, but she doesn’t whine (much) and then she gets back up to overcome what knocked her down. The perfect Woobie in other words.
The tight focus on Fubuki, and the scaling of the threat level to always “just more than she thinks she can handle” is a large part of what made KanColle succeed for me as a show. It’s certainly what kept me going past episode 2.
Fate/Grand Order – Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
I know that I was fairly dismissive of the earlier Fate/Grand Order: First Order anime, and for anyone that hasn’t played Fate/Grand Order I think that still holds. Since I am playing the game a lot these days I might have a different opinion if I rewatched it.
The same disclaimer applies to the new fgo_ep7 (to use the commonly accepted hashtag for it on the internet, I’m not typing out the full title more than I have to). This is a TV series adaptation of the seventh chapter of the main story in the game, and was selected for adaptation to an anime by the Japanese fans in a poll. The sixth chapter, Camelot, is being adapted as a set of movies that we’ll start seeing next year.
But even with the disclaimer that fgo_ep7 is really only for fans of the game, it is a very tight production with a lot of great character work.
I’ve just rewatched the first two episodes again (technically episodes 0 and 1) and there’s interesting things going on here. The prequel episode goes into a lot of detail for Doctor Roman’s character. In the game he was largely a joke character up until this chapter and the next without a lot of background, but was then suddenly essential in the next chapter. That did jar a bit in the game, and the anime goes a long way towards fixing that.
Much more important is the focus given to the eternal best girl of Fate/Grand Order: Mash Kyrielight. Mash has long been a favourite of the game fandom, and the first episode gave her a lot of depth of characterisation. It also called out the differences between how Mash feels versus how the Heroic Spirit she’s fused with feels. This is something that becomes very relevant later in the game.
But in terms of the theme of this post, more important is the tight focus on Roman and Mash in the first episode, then Mash and Ritsuka in the second. There isn’t a sprawling mass of characters everywhere with no clear focus. Oh, sure, other characters have cameos (and oh lordy the amount of fun Kana Ueda is having voicing Ishtar cannot be legal) but the focus is always there. The story, and the central characters to the story, are front and centre.
Granted, the cast grows in later episodes but this is still Ritsuka and Mash’s story and the focus is always there.
Enough so that whilst I stand by my recommendation that FGO_EP7 is really only for people who have played Fate/Grand Order, it may still be watchable by a wider audience.
OK, for this post I actually made myself fully watch the first two episodes of Azur Lane. And… oh dear.
The first two episodes can, charitably, be described as a confused mess born of the creators wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Whilst there’s an attempt to set up a core trio in Unicorn, Laffey, and Javelin, they don’t really get enough screentime to be the focus of either episode.
There’s an attempt to set up Enterprise as the flawed, driven hero that again doesn’t really get enough screen time.
In the meantime the attempt to flesh out (if you’ll pardon the expression) the Kanmusu (to borrow a term) of the Sakura Empire consumes yet more screen time, and further dilutes the focus of Azur Lane.
Finally there is an endless parade of other Kanmusu on both sides, many of whom are not even named, who only seem like they’re on screen to pander to fans of the game.
I will admit that episode 2 ends on a fairly convincing cliff hanger, but I’m just not that interested.
This post was quite literally inspired at the halfway point of the 2nd Azur Lane episode when I went “meh, stopped watching, and then started wondering why I’d had that reaction.
To analyse it I started comparing Azur Lane to my experience of two other game adaptations: FGO_EP7 which has been streaming in the same season, and KanColle which had similar subject matter.
In both of the latter cases I think I reacted better because the cast was kept more limited and/or the focus was kept tightly on key characters. This is most notable for KanColle where I would argue that the show is perfectly accessible without any prior knowledge; the focus is so tightly on Fubuki from the get go, and she’s learning the world along with the viewer.
FGO_EP7 is somewhat weaker, but the first episode Initium Iter does such a superb job of establishing Mash as a character you could possibly get away with it.
In Azur Lane‘s case I think that there’s simply too much going on with too many characters who have been poorly differentiated or even not identified at all.
If you’re not a fan of the source games I would rank the anime in the following order: KanColle followed a long way back by FGO_EP7* and Azur Lane** in a very distant third.
*The caveat I’ll place on that is that if you are a fan, FGO_EP7 improves dramatically relative to KanColle.
**I think Azur Lane would still be, structurally speaking, a confused mess even for fans of the game but at least they’d know who the characters are.
The lesson I see here is a need for early episodes to be structured and not overload the viewer with too many characters. If you must introduce Loads and Loads of Characters, find a way to do so that shunts most of them to the side until they develop organically.
Questions of the Post: Are there any other game to anime adaptations that have failed because of too many characters? Which adaptations do you think best have handled this aspect?