What if the Imperial Japanese Navy built their own version of Germany’s Panzerschiffe, the Unebi, and sent her to attack British commerce in the Indian Ocean? Oh yes, and what if they crewed her with a bunch of nubile women? Add the appropriate suspension of disbelief, some Yuri fanservice, stir and out comes Kurogane Pukapuka-tai (黒鉄ぷかぷか隊,)! It lives up to its name: set in ships of steel [kurogane], the tales of this unit come lightly in puffs as pukapuka implies.
Kurogane Pukapuka-tai is aimed squarely at the intersection of two fandoms: World War II naval and Yuri fanservice, and is published by the fine purveyor of such, Ikaros Publishing, who also brings us Pixel Maritan and her friends.
So, on to the story, or more precisely the characters, as this is mostly a series of vignettes about them. Kuki is the vice-captain (XO) who efficiently runs Unebi and her crew of girls. She’s assisted in this by Mamiya, a female samurai with long, raven locks and a stoic …lust for her commander (not to mention a tendency to get lost in imagination about her). However, Kuki seems oblivious to her true feelings, or at least their extent.
Chika is the bespectacled navigator who calmly and capably steers Unebi. The one man aboard is the nominal captain, a gray-haired gentleman who seems to do little more than sit on the bridge drinking tea. Obama is the gunner, and quite possibly the only crew-member interested in men. She accurately directs Unebi‘s guns whose type and history Kurihashi-sensei carefully specifies.
Unebi seeks out her prey with the long-ranging eyes of her float-plane, piloted by Kiku and Atsuko, a Mutt & Jeff pair with a long, close relationship. Kiku is the small and energetic pilot; Atsuko is the tall, quiet navigator and observer. The two make a good–and cute–team, flying their plane and looking after each other. They’re definitely an established couple, though it takes goggles to see more than deep friendship.
The Germans follow a similar strategy and have sent U-800 to the Indian Ocean as well. Naturally the two ships meet up. This submarine’s Captain Nina comes aboard and is immediately taken by
Kuki. Mamiya jealously defends Kuki from Nina’s attentions and …aroma. Crammed together in the sauna of a submarine, showers are not something Nina and her crew get for months on end. Nina has come to enjoy sharing this smell with her crew. Obama has a direct solution, forcibly bathing Nina with a deck brush, then assembling a large bath on deck for the rest of the U-boat’s crew. (You knew the author had to figure out a way to work in bathing, didn’t you?)
England naturally objects to attacks on her shipping, so the destroyer Cutlass enters the story. Aboard her, Ann and Mary (E here: Ann and Mary?! Named after the infamous pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, obviously. Kind of cute, kind of, erm, yeah. ^_^) have a considerably closer relationship than a normal Captain and XO. Mary wields a mean pair of cutlasses and guards her captain as jealously as Mamiya guards Kuki, and she needs to, as Ann has a wandering eye to go with her killer kiss. Ann goes after her prey with plenty of gusto and a bit of recklessness, especially Unebi, but also Kuki herself, as she too is smitten with her on their first meeting.
Unebi‘s adventures in the Indian ocean range from sinking individual merchant ships to attacking whole convoys and battling it out with their escorts. The latter is how she encounters HMS Cutlass and Captain Ann. Their battle takes three chapters and includes gunfire, torpedoes, ramming and even a boarding action. It draws in U-800 as well so everyone gets a chance to compete for Kuki, who seems a bigger prize than any mere commerce. Mary and Mamiya show their skill with their blades, Ann demonstrates her killer kiss and Nina shows how potent a weapon Kuki’s bare chest is. Obama finishes things with a point-blank blast of Unebi‘s main guns which blow all the upper-works from Cutlass.
The volume ends with a pair of teasers for action to follow. Ann and Mary are given the cruiser HMS Aldebaran to replace the damaged Cutlass. Ann vows to continue her hunt for Unebi and her captain. Nina asks Kuki to take on Elza, one of her crew, for safekeeping. Elza is Jewish and had attracted the attention of a Gestapo agent when U-800‘s crew was taking shore leave on Penang island.
An interest in naval history definitely helps in enjoying this series. Kurihashi-sensei knows enough to draw Unebi, fictional though she may be, with the look of a ship which may well have been the product of Japanese designers. Of course, the female crew is completely a-historical, but it is also the one big handwave that lets the manga fit on this blog. (E here: Hahaha, how kind of her!)
One of the things that drew me to Kurogane Pukapuka-tai was the naval setting. I enjoyed recognizing that it was HMS Renown that Mamiya cuts apart in one of her dreams. With the introduction of each ship also are given the data on size, speed, armament, etc. To avoid historical entanglements, the creator avoids actual ships, giving those which appear new names, though ones which follow actual naming conventions. Other than Unebi, they do belong to actual warship classes. U-800 looks to be accurate as U IXc class submarine; Cutlass seems an accurate C-class Destroyer; Aldebaran is good Arethusa class light cruiser (as mentioned), however she is drawn with the bridge used on the subsequent Town and Fiji classes. Unebi, while fictional, has accurate weapons and fittings for what such a ship might look like, though I don’t buy the line about her being converted from an existing hull at a civilian shipyard. Kurihashi-sensei is more artist than naval architect himself, but he is good at drawing both ships and women.
The Yuri here is played for laughs and fanservice, with most of the cast smitten by an oblivious Kuki. We do get to see women in uniform, and while some are of school-girl age, others are enjoyably older. I could point out other inconsistencies, but the point here is to use history to add a nice flavor to the story, not to dictate it.
Art – 8
Story – 5
Characters – 6
Yuri – 6
Service – 6-8 (depending on your particular fandom)
Overall – 7 (lower if ships do nothing for you)
Kurogane Pukapuka-tai is neither profound nor fully realistic, but I quite enjoyed reading it, chuckling frequently. My interest in the Pacific War and naval history in general added that extra bit of enjoyment for me, pushing me to buy the second volume. It also helps to be able to enjoy, or enjoy laughing at, the fanservice.
Thanks George for taking up the mission of reviewing this manga! Yes, I totally would expect the artist to cram bathing in there somehow….