Kantai Collection/KanColle: “The Things She Loves”

Management: A musing on a KanColle doujinshi, the KanColle franchise, and the war KanColle takes its material from, this piece is collaboration work between ZeroReq011 of therefore it is and Jaehaerys48 of the Sasami Report, a thematic analysis of あたる  (Ataru’s) “The Things She Saw.” Sentences, images, facts, and reflections were contributed by both of us in the making of this piece. Links leading to KanColle and normal historical facts about the ships/ship girls featured are featured for your reading experience.

You can find the original Japanese and the translated English versions of  “The Things She Saw” here and here, respectively.

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Do mouths gape?

Do eyes tear?

What’s the face of a girl in love look like?

So you’re reading a novel, listening to some lyrics, or watching, I don’t know, KanColle, and you gain an interest in certain things in the setting, the elements of the media you’re consuming. You read on, listen on, watch KanColle on, wanting to learn more about those said elements. Sometimes those elements get elaborated further, and sometimes they don’t, but at the end of the day, you’re not satisfied. You want more. You hunger for more. And so you do some research on those KanColle  elements you’re so interested in. You might check Wikipedia. You might search databases for articles. You might borrow some books or a documentary from the library. You might even consult an expert.

You’ve learned something new, related yet independent from whatever drove you to conduct research in the first place.

Tangential learning.

It’s a spontaneous, initiative-based process that can occur with just about any media if its narrative elements are interesting, leading, and ambiguous enough to excite curiosity. An example would be media drawing from history, like with KanColle.

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ZeroReq011: Safe to say, I’m very interested in KanColle, not least because Kantai Collection, or KanColle for short, bases its setting heavily on WWII history. There’s more to it though. Some of the research I’ve done to the side of the franchise has me excited to see what the KanColle anime has in store.

“Has in store.” Zero, you realize the premise of KanColle are cute, adolescent, anthropomorphized warship girls. They’re just going to do cute things and war things. It’s obvious that the juxtaposition of these two components will ruin the show, or at least anything that can legitimately come off as deep. This is Japan we’re talking about. At best, they’re going to sideline war for cute. At worst, they’re going to fetishize moe with violence. Girls with guns. Ship girls with guns. Ship girls with cannons and torpedoes and fighter aircraft… military moe. This is a dumb hook. This is a stupid premise.

However, after discussing some of the details of the game KanColle: The Animation was adapted, my enthusiasm towards the potential KanColle harbors was hardly abated. So I decided to consult the closest thing to a KanColle expert. Care to explain a little bit about the game Jae?

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Jaehaerys48: KanColle is an flash-based browser game in which players collect kanmusu – “fleet girls” – and use them to clear levels of enemy vessels that are vaguely demonic or alien-like in appearance. It’s completely free to play, and quite easy to get into. However, the main driving factor behind KanColle’s popularity – the game, which launched in April 2013, has over 2 million registered players – is undoubtably the nature of its characters. Kanmusu each represent World War Two era Imperial Japanese Navy warships (with a few German-based ones as well), and their historical origins are displayed in their names, dialogue, and character designs.

In the game, new kanmusu are generally acquired through drops or through construction. Almost everything is determined by RNG – the game’s random number generation – exhibits itself in such things as the amount of damage inflicted on the enemy with each attack and even the path that your fleet takes in each level , so doing well at KanColle does take a fair amount of patience, but it is by no means a difficult game to master.

The game itself has little in the way of story or plot. As such, there is no formal explanation as to what exactly the kanmusu are. Some official and fan works portray them as normal girls who are given specialized equipment, whilst others have them being individuals who are “summoned” using some sort of magic (fans of the Fate series might recognize this as being similar to the way Servants work). The anime describes them as being “chosen girls who possess the souls of the warships of ages past,” and while that is not terribly specific, it does explain the connection between the kanmusu and their real-life counterparts. By possessing those souls, the girls inherit demeanors, traits, and quirks based on the design and history of the ships that they represent.

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ZeroReq011:  These literal ship girls might have been mere figurative ones before they were anthropomorphized for the player’s use, but the literal ship girls have memories, don’t they? Powerful memories drawn from the past that bleed into their personalities and belie a rich sense of drama and even tragedy behind all that fair skin and cannonade. Akagi and Kaga, for instance.

Jaehaerys48: Definitely. Given the game’s patently absurd premise, one can be forgiven for believing that the developers of Kantai Collection paid little attention to the details and records of the real-life counterparts of the kanmusu. However, digging into the dialogue of KanColle’s characters does reveal a bevy of historical references.

KanColle’s producer, Tanaka Kensuke, is a bit of a history nerd. He actually originally intended to make a game about the ships themselves before altering it to feature anthropomorphic characters, and he’s stated in interviews that it is his desire to inspire people to learn more about the ships that the game uses at its basis.

As anyone with any familiarity with 20th century history can tell you, Japan was on the losing side of the Second World War. As a result of this, the majority of the Imperial Japanese Navy, one of the greatest fleets in the world prior to 1941, found itself at the bottom of the sea by 1945. KanColle’s developers chose not to hide the tragic history of the IJN, but rather, they used it when creating many of the kanmusu.

This is clearly heard in the library intros of many kanmusu, which frequently provide an overview of their wartime service. Many of them are upbeat about their “past,” such as Kiyoshimo:

“I’m Kiyoshimo, the 19th and last of the Yuugumo-class destroyers. I was born in Uraga, you know. And goodness, what a horrible situation it was that I was born into too. I wasn’t around for long, but I took part in several fleet actions. Leyte was, of course, appalling to see, but I even took part in Operation Rei-Go! How’s that?”

However, some of them are less cheery. Hatsukaze’s library line is quite memorable:

“Kagerou-class destroyer, Hatsukaze. Myoukou-nee-san and I crashed into each other at Bougainville, and my bow got torn off. Crippled and unable to move, I was the target of concentrated fire, and then… I’m scared… Myoukou-nee-san, I’m so scared…”

The carriers Akagi and Kaga participated in the Battle of Midway in June 1942, a disastrous operation for the Japanese that ended up in their loss, mention their tragic fate not just in their library lines, but throughout their game dialogue as well:

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Akagi:

  • Attack: “Second attack squad, launch! or Hurry with the equipment switch!”
  • Minor damage 1: “Straight above!? Directly above!?”
  • Minor damage 2: “Aah! …Stop sympathetic detonation!”
  • Moderate damage: “I cannot let the pride of the first Carrier Division be lost here…”
  • Sunk: “My apologies… Please… scuttle me with the torpedoes.”

Akagi was bombed by US aircraft whilst her deck was full of planes that were refueling and rearming. This resulted in numerous secondary explosions and fires, putting her out of action. She was scuttled by torpedoes from the accompanying destroyers.

Kaga:

  • Minor damage 2: “The deck is on fire… That can’t…”
  • Moderate damage: “A direct hit on the flight deck… Impossible…”
  • Sunk: “Akagi-san, If you’re safe then it’s fine… I’m going first… I will be waiting…”

Kaga was scuttled on June 4, 1942, the day before Akagi, after being crippled by multiple bombs.

By this point, you should be familiar with the fate of the Japanese carriers at Midway. Attacked from the air whilst their decks were full of fuel and ammunition, they went up in an inferno of flames and explosions.

ZeroReq011: Ikazuchi is no exception. Now, here I was prowling the Internet underbelly of Japanese comics: doujinshi, or self-published, often amateur, manga works. They can be original, or they can be derivative from some franchise. Kancolle doujin have gotten to be pretty popular as of late, rivaling even the doujin behemoth that is Tohou. A lot of it is hentai, and badly scripted hentai at that (“hentai logic” is a running joke at this point), but there are some pieces of doujin, explicit or not, that are worth taking a read. This example, however, isn’t prurient:

あたる  (Ataru’s) “The Things She Saw,” in English and Japanese.

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All the ship girls have stories.

But before I get into analyzing this doujin, I mentioned this earlier to you Jae in private, but some of the words and imagery in “The Things She Saw” reminded me of a couple of scenes. Cutscenes in the video game Valkyria Chronicles, Segments from the movie Letters from Iwo Jima.

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Valkyria Chronicles takes place in a continent that looks very much like Europe, during a war that’s very reminiscent to WWI and WWII especially. Europa (the name of the continent), is thrown into a massive between the forces of democracy and autocracy: the Atlantic Federation and the East Europan Imperial Alliance. The neutral Gallia is invaded by the latter for the mineral resources it requires to power its industrial war machine, resulting in the formation and mobilization of a Gallian militia to supplement an existing Gallian army.

Separated from the rest of their squad by a surprise assault and dense miles of forest, Militia Cpt. Welkin Gunther and Sgt. Alicia Melchiott take shelter within an abandoned cottage to avoid enemy patrols.

So naturally, they’re found by the enemy, a bleeding husk hole of an enemy soldier that they’d have shot at themselves if they didn’t notice was already badly shot. His body hurts more, his eyesight gets darker, and he cries out for his mother. Alicia pretends to be his mother in his final moments, clenching his hand as tenderly as she can manage. Once he passes on, the two of them decide to burn the rest of the night burying him in the yard where they’d be more exposed to enemy patrols.

So naturally, an enemy patrol finds them and surrounds them, undoubtedly to either take them prisoner or kill them if the patrol’s superior didn’t notice one of his men’s helmets sticking out of a sub-machine gun of a grave marker.

His name was Fritz. The soldiers in his squad used to call him a mama’s boy.

The enemy superior asks Welkin if he has a family. He replies he has a little sister, and that he considers his soldiers the same.

The enemy superior offers in kind. He has a wife and daughter back home, and his men are like a second family to him as well. And so he and his patrol make off, leaving Welkin and Alicia behind.

Video clips of the cutscenes can be found here and here.

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Letters From Iwo Jima chronicles the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese, soldiers drilled by their military code to kill any and all enemies they come across as they defend the island from US forces surging past the beachheads. A group of them manage to injure an American and drag his wounded prisoner self back in the cave they’ve fortified themselves in, expecting to do what other armed brethren have done before them: a thorough, torturous interrogation, with some torture afterwards for good measure.

The Japanese superior approaches the American, lying on a stretcher, bandages barely concealing the artificial cavity in his right chest, asks him, in English, his name. He asks him where he’s from.

He discloses a little bit about himself to make him feel more comfortable. He’s been to America before as a Japanese participant in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and he takes out a picture of back then to share with him. His name is Takeichi.

The American says he’s Sam. He’s from Oklahoma.

Not long after this conversation, Sam passes away unnoticed in his sleep, and noticing that he’s gone somewhere where he can’t continue their conversation, Baron Nishi Takeichi takes out a letter folded next to the dead soldier’s side and, translating the English for his men, reads the contents allowed.

It’s a letter from his mother.

Video clips of the segments can be found here and here.

In light of these examples, what is Ikazuchi’s story?

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Jaehaerys48: An Akatsuki-class Special Type destroyer, Ikazuchi’s career resembles that of numerous other Japanese destroyers – she was used heavily in actions across the Pacific until she was sunk in April 1944 with full losses by a US submarine.

However, Ikazuchi is notable for the events of March 2 1942. The Second Battle of the Java Sea the day prior had ended in a Japanese victory. The Royal Navy heavy cruiser HMS Exeter and destroyer HMS Encounter were sunk by gunfire, whilst the US Navy destroyer USS Pope was sunk shortly afterwards by dive-bombers. In broad daylight on the Second of March, Lieutenant Commander Kudou Shunsaku, captain of the Ikazuchi, risked attack by enemy submarines in order to rescue over 400 survivors from the Exeter and Encounter. Ikazuchi’s sister ship, Inazuma, rescued 376 survivors from Exeter and 151 from Pope as well.

These events can be a bit difficult to dig into, as sources conflict as to which one of the two destroyers was responsible for rescuing the crews of each Allied vessel, but regardless of those issues, the events of  that day are fascinating exceptions to the usual brutality displayed by the Japanese Navy and Army towards enemy personnel.

ZeroReq011: Soldiers may be tempted to dehumanize the enemies they’ll face to make killing them easier. Unfeeling, uncaring, they will give no quarter if you give them an inch, so you might as well carve an inch from them yourself to save yourself the trouble. You got your own life to worry about, after all. You may have relatives, and a band of brothers to keep you from being homesick so far away from the home front and on edge so close to the armed one. You have a country and people you love enough that you’re willing to fight for.

It’s quite possible though, and quite probable, that your enemies are in the same boat, that they value their lives, and love their family back home and family aboard. That they love their country and people enough to die for, but they’re drilled by ignorance, fear, and drillmasters and demagogues to think otherwise. That they’re “other.”

Jaehaerys48: “The Things She Saw” is superb doujinshi – it highlights the actions of Ikazuchi, whilst not excusing the Japanese Navy from its guilt – the Sailor’s line on how he justified his actions using the excuses of “It’s war” and “I’m a soldier” stood out in particular – which is something that I’ve seen few works accomplish.

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ZeroReq011: Not simply “the Sailor.” The doujin gives him a name, Matsumoto, right after Commander Shunsaku orders his men to rescue the survivors, and right after he personally dives into the water to save a man about to sink into the sea’s depths.

There might not even have been a Matsumoto aboard that ship, but in giving him that name, a name, his humanity was realized, a humanity Matsumoto put into words in his final moments, moments before the Ikazuchi was historically sunk, while musing allowed about his wife and newborn son, a picture of both tucked within his breast pocket. Half-desperate trying to figure out why he dove into the water to save that man, his enemy, that day, in broken Japanese, the survivor whispers:

“A-ri-ga-tou.”

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The KanColle anime may or may not take this take this kind of direction with its narrative. It may not take any serious kind of direction at all. It’ll be a shame if it doesn’t, but to accuse the show that it can’t successfully pull off serious, tragic, and moving because of its stupid premise is nonsense. All it requires is tangential learning and some imagination.

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“Imagination.” But Zero, why did it have did have to be anthropomorphic ships? Why ship girls? Why this stupid premise?

It’s partly a joke that partly capitalizes on the fact that sailors tend to refer to ships in the feminine, but its “stupid” premise also happens to connect with the two themes the doujin has addressed throughout. First, what is personification? Second, what does personification aim to do?

It is the theme or thing given personhood and made more personal for us.

The men on board the Ikazuchi thought of themselves as kin, and it was because of the Ikazuchi that they could think of themselves like that in the first place. How proud those have been on that day as to save those people. How proud they must have been to be men of the Ikazuchi.

“Together with my fellow destroyer Inazuma at the Battle of Surabaya, we rescued the survivors of the sunk enemy’s ships. I think that strength just isn’t enough you know, Commander!”

Just like the dramatic of effect was breathed in humanity, Ikazuchi was given flesh and personality. Could the significance of this familial connection be heightened if Ikazuchi thought of them in the same way? What if Ikazuchi felt a similar pride?

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Do mouths gape?

Do eyes tear?

What’s the face of a girl losing everything she loves look like?

How does that make us feel?

Management: Once again, you can find the original Japanese and the translated English versions of  “The Things She Saw” here and here, respectively.

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One thought on “Kantai Collection/KanColle: “The Things She Loves”

  1. Pingback: Noragami: A Prayer for Forgotten Gods | therefore it is

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