Grotesque, strong enemies called "Siren" have suddenly appeared from the sea. In order to fight against them, a navy group called Azure Lane has formed. They were successful in stopping the attack from Siren for a moment using warships. The different ideals from the people who formed it have shown. The story is about girls fighting the strong enemies that they've never faced before while dealing with the trouble in each camp. (Source: MAL News)
The Azur Lane mobile game is a Chinese creation that was, unsurprisingly, inspired at least in part by the success of the Japanese game Kantai Collection. Indeed, after watching the first episode of this anime adaptation, it’s hard to perceive it as anything other than a blatant rip-off of Kantai Collection. In fact, I am hard-pressed to think of another case where two unrelated anime series conceptually resemble each other as much as these two do.
The fundamentals of the two series seem to be exactly the same: various characters are Ship Girls, the embodiment of various WW2-era warships. They can manifest miniaturized components which resemble their affiliated ship’s design as bulky apparel and weapons and can skate across the seas (if necessary) to do battle. The Ship Girls exist because of an alien force which has ravaged the seas, but in this case the alien force has already been successfully beaten back and the action has moved to the next stage. Hence the one new spin that this series adds is that the warfare is not against an inscrutable enemy this time but instead against a rival faction, creating a rough equivalent of an American/British pairing against a German/Japanese pairing. Hence they’re still basically fighting out World War II but just coming at it from a different angle.
The interesting detail here is the shift in focus. So many characters are dumped out in the first episode that determining who the main ones will be is difficult. However, what is clear is that the American and British forces are going to be the good guys here and the Japanese forces are the enemy who’s made some kind of pact with the aliens. That’s a stark contrast to Kantai Collection, which did the exact reverse. That shift might make the series more palatable to Western viewers who aren’t hardcore otaku, as the writing is already showing that esoteric references to the American and British ships are going to be a thing; referring to the Enterprise – the most successful and decorated warship of WW2 on the American side – as the alliance’s strongest fighter seems appropriate, and it even uses the Enterprise’s nickname of “Grey Ghost” (so earned because the Japanese claimed on multiple occasions to have sunk it but it kept coming back to battle). Details like that were the hidden treat of Kantai Collection, so using them here was a wise decision.
Of course, much of the appeal here is supposed to be the moe draw of watching the girls engaged in combat, and the first episode devotes a considerable chunk of its running time to that. In fact, this is the most action-intensive opening episode that I’ve seen in a while, with extensive use of CG featured throughout. Even though I’m not crazy about the exact visual style here, the production team went all out to make a fast-moving, splashy visual and auditory impression and succeeds at generating a fair amount of thrill factor. Those productions values also seem to be shading a bit more in a fan service direction than Kantai Collection, for better or worse; it is not blatant yet but is there if you look for it.
While I’m not sure about the series as a whole, it delivers enough on the action component for me to give it at least a middle-of-the-road grade. Whether or not it’s worth attention for the long haul will depend on how its character development shakes out. You can also free Azur Lane anime watch online and free download.