Arpeggio of Blue Steel Vol. 1 (Seven Seas)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel v1
CREDIT: Seven Seas

Rating: 3/5 – Prepare to Submerge in this Formulaic Manga.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.

In the not-too distant future, Al Gore’s predictions come true when the Antarctic ice caps melt, and the Earth loses a significant portion of its land mass. Before you can say “Kevin Costner”, strange alien battleships, termed “Ghost Ships” by the populace, form a massive Fleet of Fog and begin asserting dominance over the oceans. Humanity, now permanently landlocked, must find a way to fight these powerful vessels, or possibly co-exist with them. To date, humanity has been successful at neither.

Sounds fairly interesting, doesn’t it? Throw in a Ghost Ship submarine that has defected to help humanity via its “Mental Model” – a young silver-haired girl who serves as the spirit of the ship – and give that ship a crew of characters who live up to pretty much every manga trope you could name, and you’ve got just that…a fairly interesting book. Not an amazing book. Not one that you’ll immediately rush out to order the next volume. Not even one you’ll likely remember after you finish reading it. It’s just kind of…there.

If this were your first manga, you might think differently. These characters, from the handsome future love-interest captain to the genki-girl engineer, are all cut from a very formulaic model. If you’ve read enough manga or seen enough anime, these characters are not new to you, and frankly you may end up tired of seeing them show up yet again in another story.

Which is a shame, because the book is beautifully rendered by the Ark Performance team. Say what you will about these characters, they look good. Unfortunately that’s about the best I can say for them. They’re not particularly well-written or well-rounded, and I have no investment in learning anything further about them. The submarines and battleships are eye-candy for the tech set, but that’s not enough to carry the book.

Perhaps the most telling thing I can relate to you about this book was when I gave it to a colleague who likes anime perhaps even more than I do. At a glance, she tried to guess (and pretty much nailed) the foundation of each character, what they were about, and how they behaved in the book…all without opening the cover. It’s a given that manga, perhaps more than many sequential art forms out there, is a genre given to tropes and expectations. Indeed, it’s when a book can move beyond them that it creates something truly special. Arpeggio of Blue Steel tells a solid story but stays submerged in its tropes, never rising above to make itself feel special.

Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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