Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!
Our quad lineup of Azur Lane starter girls, Javelin, Laffey, Z23 and Ayanami, get into various mishaps with their colleagues around the base. These are their quiet and peaceful days.
I had some hopes for the original Azur Lane anime when it was announced and later released, but while it had some good things going for it, like the sense of camaderie between the girls -- particularly the younger generation -- it was also disappointing in quite a few ways -- middling to terrible animation and a storyline that was more interested in waxing philosophical and being mysterious. By and large, it was too much of a standalone story that demanded you to be familiar with the game itself and its positively humongous cast, and even then it spent too much time holding its card tightly to its chest.
However, these are not the standards that Azur Lane: Slow Ahead needs to hold itself up to. The short comics this show was based on served as small humorous piecemeal gags for the people playing the game. While I still hold to the opinion that the main Azur Lane anime story should hold up on its own and not depend on the game to do that, side stories like this can and should expect you to at least be familiar with its many characters in one way or another if you plan on watching it.
Another thing about Slow Ahead's approach to the situation is that, unlike the original Azur Lane anime, all the girls in the game are also batting for the same team. One of the things I praised the original anime for was how it portrayed the younger allies girls', Javelin and Laffey, lack of desire to make an enemy out of the axis girls, z23 and Ayanami, and here we get to see all four of them being good friends.
Despite being animated shorts, Slow Ahead also have the benefit of giving more of the girls a chance to shine. Sure, that only means that they get to play up their most generic traits from the game, but that still leaves you with more variety compared to how the main anime mostly focused on their core cast. To some extent, Slow Ahead still does, but their interactions with girls like Baltimore, North Carolina, Taihou, Formidable, Honolulu and even Little Bel/Bel-chan still makes the peanut gallery more diverse than it was in the anime, at least for general in-show participation. It gets bonus points from me purely for including not only Honolulu, but also referencing my favorite of her alternative skins (albeit in a more fanservice-ish way; she doesn't show any cleavage in the game), and also for allowing her to smile and enjoy herself as opposed to having her be all flustered and embarrassed.
It's also worth noting that Slow Ahead is also far more fanservice-focused than the original series, and I say that despite said original's episode 6 in all its naked glory. Because even though nudity is in far shorter supply in Slow Ahead, I don't think I've ever seen so much boobs front and center in quite a while. Granted, most of the older girls in the game tend to be.... quite voluptuous to put it mildly -- and by "older", I mean "looks like they're in their early twenties rather than children or teenagers -- but going into Slow Ahead means you have to mentally prepared to see boobs being smooshed into arms, or other boobs, or just dominating the screen altogether. In fact, one of the episodes is solely centered around our lovable narcoleptic Laffey and her quest to find the boobs she referred to as "pillows" in her memories (she was suffering plot-induced amnesia at the time; don't ask) that she could sleep on, and just as I was started to think said episode was going to turn into "that one episode of the Strike Witches franchise that has to show up once every season", it also eventually managed to make me wonder who the owner of said boobs would end up being. (Spoiler: The show ended up bailing out of that revelation. Again; don't ask.)
It's hard to say whether any of this is a downside or not, because it's mostly just mindless fanservice. The cast of both Azur Lane shows are girls, and while the commander is mentioned in Slow Ahead, we don't really get to see them. It does lead to some nonsensical gags where one character strips naked and the other girls frantically trying to cover her from... her fellow shipgirl sisters? Yeah, I know it's really from the audience's wandering gaze, but it's still a weird kind of fourth wall to break when the girls otherwise act like they would when they don't have to worry about being peeped on.
I wish I could say the comedy mostly lands, but sadly, Slow Ahead is more of a mixed bag in that area. Ayanami is a bit of a gamer in this incarnation, borrowing some of Long Island's personality, and her jokes centered around that isn't anything you haven't seen before. Said comedy would also like you to believe Rodney wouldn't be smart enough to know what firing her cannons at a melon would do to said melon and the area around it (including all the BBQ ingredients gathered nearby), but weirdly enough, that lead up to a follow-up joke that was actually kind of amusing. There is also an episode at least partially centered around the meowfficers that just doesn't work.
The animation is also a bit inconsistent. The production itself is handled by a different crew than the original series. It's a curious thing, because by and large, Slow Ahead has better character animation, but worse background art. The latter is especially noticeable in episode 11, which is centered around an amusement park, as seen in the screenshot above this paragraph. As you can see, the first overview we get of said park looks almost hilariously awful, so much so that I almost thought that was gonna be a joke in itself, but the rest of the episode just continues rolling with this middling background work for all its "videogame cutscene" animated glory. Weirdly enough, said episode also had my favorite visual gag: with some of the girls deciding to ride the rollercoaster that probably holds the Guiness world record in highest starter drop. And while the character animation isn't fantastic or anything, it is still a lot more consistent than in the original TV series, although that can probably be attributed to the fact that the original show was mostly action oriented, while Slow Ahead plays out more along the lines of its name. It's a bit sad to see how little care was spent on a show's animation when the game the show is based on has been doing quite well for itself. The annoying part is that the animation might seem at first glance to be rather well done; the characters move around a lot, which honestly makes me think that people really tried to make this short humorous aside be a visual treat as well. Unfortunately, most of the movement in this game just comes across as stiff and janky, with the most care put into various scenes of fanservice of all things.
As a standalone product, Slow Ahead mostly works, but it bears mentioning that I've also read at least a fairly solid number of the comics it's based on. While said comics are easily as fanservice-heavy as this anime, the jokes it's unloading on its audience hit their comedic mark more frequently than this anime does. Still, Slow Ahead works well enough as an anime, so I don't want to be too hard on it either. If you've enjoyed the game, or even the original show, you can safely also enjoy this collection of 8 (and a half) minute slice-of-life comedy bits. Just remember to curb your enthusiasm a little bit going in.
A pretty decent Azur Lane short that weathers better than the original anime due to not having to fill the audience in on a major story event too large for a single season. It does its own thing and does it fairly well. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Lots of boob-based fanservice, some non-explicit nudity. Should be fine for most teenagers, really.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream courtesy of Crunchyroll.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! © 2021 Manjuu Co.,Ltd., Yongshi Co.,Ltd.& Yostar, Inc.／Hori, Ichijinsha／Yostar Pictures, Inc.
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