Recap movie Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- has 30 minutes of new footage. But while I liked what they added, I wasn't crazy about what they took out.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel was one of my favourite anime of 2012. So I was excited when I learned that a film version, Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC-, was coming to Japanese theatres. After all, there have been excellent recap movies in the recent past -- as well as some horrible ones. Unfortunately, as re-cap movies go, Ars Nova DC is decidedly the latter.
The film actually begins on a high note with a newly added scene showing the birth of Iona, the A.I. controlled I-401 submarine, as we have come to know her. The scene is an excellent tease at Iona's past as we see a massive unknown explosion followed by the A.I. girl awakening to receive her standing orders to find Gunzo. The rest of the scene, her subsequent arrival in Yokohama and capture is interspersed throughout the opening credits and contains no dialogue whatsoever, leaving the visuals to tell the story.
Then the recapping begins. Ars Nova DC attempts to tell the entire story of the twelve-episode anime in a mere hour and fifteen minutes. What was a story filled with fun comedy, ever-developing characters, and epic naval battles is reduced to little more than a showcase of plot points. And while this is often the case in recap movies, most manage to at least keep some of the charm and soul of the original work. Ars Nova DC does not.
The film's biggest problem, however, is not what was cut, but what wasn't. Ars Nova DC would greatly benefit from cutting characters, battles, and plot points completely out of the film instead of trying to hit them all. A.I. battleships Kirishima and Haruna -- along with Maki, the little girl they befriend -- serve little to no purpose in the movie with all that is cut, but valuable time is spent forcing them in anyway. Focusing the film on the emotional states of our heroine Iona; defecting cruiser, Takao; and the main villain, Kongo would have likely created a much tighter, more impactful film.
Another major problem for the film is that it can't seem to decide on an abridging device. Many scenes are just haphazardly pasted together with little to no explanation of how one event leads to another. Other sections have minutes of running narration, dumping episodes of exposition on the viewer in short order. Everything feels like a disjointed mess -- and the film's discordant score doesn't help matters.
While taken from the series, the music almost never matches up with the visuals on screen. Peaceful moments often share the same music as climactic moments -- and with no change at all as one leads into the other. Other times the score is completely absent. The importance of music in film cannot be overstated. It helps the viewer subtly know how to feel about what they are seeing. Poor musical choices can easily leave the viewer feeling disconnected or confused -- as is most certainly the case in Ars Nova DC.
However, if there is one way in which Ars Nova DC is superior to the series, it is in its visuals. Arpeggio of Blue Steel is one of the few anime that uses 3D animation almost exclusively. While the TV series didn't look poorly animated, it was still quite obvious that the characters were being animated in 3D instead of traditional 2D. This is far less the case in Ars Nova DC. While obvious 3D still pops up from time to time -- especially in the faces of background characters -- much of the character animation has been cleaned up to the point that it looks indistinguishable from 2D animation. It really is an exciting watch on a purely technical level just to see how quickly 3D animation is evolving.
About an hour and fifteen minutes in, the film catches up to the end of the series. Yet, instead of ending, Ars Nova DC pulls the same trick as Evangelion's movie Death & Rebirth and continues for a solid 30 extra minutes. This new content adds both an epilogue to the series and a prologue to this fall's upcoming sequel film. It also does its fair share of heavy lifting and plot hole-filling.
At the end of the series, mankind gained a super weapon capable of destroying the A.I. ships with a single missile. In an instant, humanity went from helpless to unstoppable. The implied near-future genocide of the A.I. ships, however, seemed so at odds with Gunzo and the others' ideals -- especially after the battle with Kongo -- that handing over the super weapon to the Americans made little to no sense. Ars Nova DC deals directly with this and resolves it in a creative matter.
The new portion of the film also serves to de-power Iona drastically by separating her from all the other A.I. ship characters. Back to her normal strength, encountering the final Kongo-class battleship with her escort fleet seems like a real threat instead of a minor nuisance.
Ars Nova DC ends by doing the important job of introducing the villains and upcoming conflict of this fall's sequel film Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova Cadenza-. Hiei, the aforementioned final Kongo-class ship, is given not only a battle scene but a virtual heart-to-heart with Iona to build her character. The rest of the new main villains get only a sentence or two each, but those few lines are more than enough to get you excited about what is to come.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- is an inept recap movie and an exciting new episode rolled into one. The recap portion of the film fails on every conceivable level beyond the most basic paint-by-numbers version of the story. Yet, at the end of that mess is a fun extra episode of the series that ties up loose ends and gives viewers a meaty tease of what's to come. For fans of the series, this is a must watch -- just be smart and skip to the end of the recap when you watch. It's probably best to pretend it never happened.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel -Ars Nova DC- was released in Japanese theatres on January 31, 2015. There is currently no word on a Western release.