17 years ago, mankind faced a battle against the "Fleet of Fog", sea-faring vessels of incredible power that have seperated humanity across the seas. For years humanity has dreamed of a rebellion, but only now, armed with the I-401 submarine which defected from the Fleet of Fog, do we stand a chance.
Oh, and the I-401 has a mental model avatar that takes the shape of a cute young girl called Iona. Y'know, in case you forgot you were reading a manga.
Joking aside, this is a formidable book. When I reviewed Gakuen Polizei recently, I bemoaned the lack of detail in the pages, and took a few knocks for being too picky. Well, Arpeggio of Blue Steel restores my faith in all manga-ka becuase it's stunningly detailed! The sheer amount of effort that has gone into crafting this book is simply awesome. The ships never look anything other than utterly convincing, with every porthole, rivet and panel defined beautifully. Console screens are alive with information and even the simplest of character costumes is fantastically realised. Yes sir, when it comes to visuals, this book hits your eyeballs like a corrosive missile travelling at 300 knots (read the book, it'll make sense!)
Ark Performance are right up there with Shirow and Asamiya in my eyes, and henceforth I shall be seeking out every book going with their name on it. It really doesn't hurt that they've gone the extra mile and included colour sections too.
Of course, all this would be for naught were the story not up to much. But even here the book has a real weight to it. Like Shirow, pages of the book are given over to global information, ship specifications, character bios and more - all of which help to flesh out the central conceit that battleships will use sexy female avatars if left to their own devices and terrorize humanity with extreme prejudice!
Captain Gunzou makes for a charismatic male lead - confident, world-weary and a skilled tactician, he's a welcome change from the reluctant heroes of Gundam et al. Similarly his crew are an entertaining bunch, and they sport some fairly wacky and laid back designs which pull off a neat trick of also being pretty rooted in the real world. It's a group I'd like to learn more about, and everyone gets enough pages to make them genuinely interesting.
The first book lays the groundwork for what looks to be an intriguing military and political thriller. A new weapon has been developed that may turn the tide against the Fleet of Fog, but Gunzou's government lack the means to mass produce it. His mission is to take the prototype to America - in the first book alone that requires taking on a fearsome battleship and it's mental model Takao...
This is a great book. It's packed with interesting characters, great art and a driving narrative. If it can keep up the pace, mystery and quality, it'll be one of the best books I've read all year. Highly recommended.