What could be dark about cute anthropomorphic warships skating across the ocean? A lot, actually.

Kantai Collection, a.k.a. KanColle, is an exceedingly popular browser-based video game in Japan. A tactical game featuring anthropomorphic WWII warships, called “fleet girls,” the game was a massive cult success in 2013 when the game launched. Backed by Japanese publishing powerhouse Kadokawa, there has been a subsequent release of tons of media, including books, novels, tabletop and video games, an anime series, and now an anime movie.

[Note: This article contains spoilers to the KanColle TV anime series.]

KanColle: The Movie is a direct sequel to the 2015 anime series. During the TV series, the destroyer fleet girl, Kisaragi, was sunk during a tragic mission. The TV series itself ended with Kisaragi’s sinking left as a scar in the hearts of her closest friends, the destroyer, Fubuki, and her sister ship, Mutsuki. The new movie follows up on the loss of Kisaragi and the ongoing fight between the fleet girls and their mortal enemies, the Abyssal Fleet.

In the movie, Fubuki’s fleet is on a mission to the area near Guadalcanal, the Savo Sound–or as it’s better known in WWII history, the Ironbottom Sound. During a skirmish with enemies, the fleet encounters a strange phenomenon in a ghostly voice followed by portions of the ocean turning red and corroding their gear. During a raid on an Abyssal Fleet supply convoy, the fleet girls manage to recover the missing fleet girl, Kisaragi, who had been thought lost during the TV series. What follows is an unfolding of events that reveal the relation between the fleet girls and the Abyssal Fleet–as well as the mystery behind Fubuki’s own origins.

The sinking of Kisaragi is a pivotal moment early in the TV series. From the initial episodes, it is established that Kisaragi and her sister ship Mutsuki share a strong bond of support for each other. The loss of Kisaragi is abrupt and tears out a part of Mutsuki, leaving her broken. Still, the fact that Kisaragi’s body is not found allows Mustuki to cling to the hope that the two will be able to meet again. With Kisaragi’s return in the movie, the effects on Mutsuki are blatant and powerful, completely blinding Mutsuki to the fact that things have changed in Kisaragi.

Along with Kisaragi’s return come new revelations that completely alter how the fledgling fleet girls view both the unending battle they fight against the Abyssal Fleet and their veteran sisters-in-arms, who have continued to fight despite already knowing the secrets. Perhaps one of the most powerful performances comes from the fleet girl, Kaga, a character who is portrayed in both the game and anime as a cool, unemotional warrior.

KanColle: The Movie very much carries on the spirit of both the original video game and the TV series in that if you’re not willing to get on board, you’re going to be left in the dust. Characters will throw around names and terminology that will be completely alien to newcomers. Things happen in rapid-fire succession that would require massive amounts of explanation to the uninitiated, and there is nary a second of recap from the TV series to assist.

However, for fans who are already neck-deep in the world of KanColle, the movie is a grand adventure in a world they love and enjoy. It is also quite rewarding for fans who may have been disappointed by the TV series. Fan favorite characters that were missing from the TV series make an appearance, the action sequences are thrilling, and the story offers closure to a major storyline while also putting to rest fan theories that have been cultivated over the past few years.

At its heart, KanColle: The Movie is a movie for fans. If you have been willing to put up with the hours of abuse at the hands of the game’s randomized battle results, you’re probably hardened enough to be able to get into the strange quirky settings and logic jumps and dive right into the movie’s emotional core. As a veteran player myself, I found the movie quite enjoyable. If nothing else, the massive final mission that involves thirty fleet girls will bring a smile to the face of any player who has tried out any of the recent seasonal events in the game.

KanColle: The Movie is currently showing at theaters in Japan. The is currently no word on a Western release.

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