Arpeggio of Blue Steel was one of my favourite anime of 2013. And while it's been a bit of a wait for this feature film conclusion, it was worth it.
[Note: This review contains major spoiler for the TV series Arpeggio of Blue Steel. For a non-spoiler look at the series that spawned this film, check out our review.]
Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Cadenza is a solid end to Arpeggio of Blue Steel — which is impressive considering all the characters it has to juggle and information it has to dole out. Over the course of the film, most of the series' mysteries are laid bare. We finally learn Iona's true purpose as well as secrets about the Fleet of Fog and its Admiralty Code. We also finally learn what happened to Gunzo's father. But better still, a good amount of time is spent on the characters who must deal with the impact of these revelations.
For Gunzo, he has to come to terms with the idea that his father is a traitor — one now poised to wipe out the remains of humanity — even as Gunzo himself is the one human in any kind of position to stop the coming apocalypse.
For Iona, her revelations leave her shaken to her core, afraid to even connect to her submarine self for the fear of losing the true core of her being to another. At the same time, she is forced to wonder if she is a puppet following someone else's tune or if she follows Gunzo by choice.
The other side of the story focuses on Musashi and Hiei. As the main villain, Musashi leads the Fleet of Fog. But her drive and ambitions are strikingly personal — dealing with a hatred born of deep personal loss.
Hiei is likewise experiencing such a loss. She idolized Kongo, the TV series' main villain. To hear that Kongo went on an insane, crazy vendetta — and now roams the seas alone — is a betrayal of all Hiei admired. And now Hiei finds herself in Kongo's role, tasked with finding and sinking Iona — secretly wondering if the same insanity will take her even as she tries to be stricter than Kongo was to with the ships under her command.
By and large Cadenza is about those four: Gunzo, Iona, Musashi, and Hiei. And while the human characters remain woefully underdeveloped, that's not to say that each and everyone one of the hero ship girls from the series doesn't get her own missile-spamming moment in the spotlight. (The remaining four new enemy ship girls, unfortunately, remain little more than one-note character stereotypes.)
One of the best parts of the film (like in the series that spawned it) is the diversity of the heroes. Each of the heroes has his or her own motivations that govern their actions. In many anime, the heroes come together and unite under a single group leader. While they may argue amongst themselves at first, eventually they work as if of one mind — uniform in goal and purpose. One of Arpeggio of Blue Steel strongest aspects is that it bucks this trend.
There is little to no animosity between the groups of heroes, but in the series, they were allies of convenience. While the heroes will work together under certain circumstances, many times their goals clash — leaving Gunzo and Iona (and her crew) on their own. Iona follows Gunzo because those are her orders. Takao follows him because she's fallen in love and wants to earn his love in return. Hyuuga, does what he says, but only to win Iona's affections.
Meanwhile, Haruna and Kirishima follow not Gunzo, but Makie — wanting nothing more than to keep the young girl happy and safe. And then there's Kongo, who is simply trying to figure out what it means to be herself without orders ruling her world.
It goes without saying that the film ends with an amazing action climax filled with naval combat and personal drama. The visuals are spectacular and really highlight what can be done when the entire anime is done with 3D animation.
But if there is one tiny gripe I have with the ending, it is the after-credits scene which undermines the pre-credits ending a bit. On the other hand, it does prevent viewers from leaving depressed, assuming they sit through the credits.
All in all, Cadenza is exactly what I expected out of Arpeggio of Blue Steel's final chapter. It was full of awe inducing ship-to-ship combat, a dash of naval strategy, and a good helping of personal drama. While only touching lightly on the ideas of AI and free will, Cadenza is still deeper than your run-of-the-mill action film — and the characters far more endearing. In other words, it's a well-done ending to an entertaining series.
Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Cadenza was released in Japanese Theatres on 3 October 2015. There is currently no word on a Western release.