There are few shows in recent memory that I disliked more than Sakura Wars. A limp, poorly-executed OVA series if there ever was one, I loved the steampunk setting but hated virtually everything else. Finding out that the same folks were responsible for Virgin Fleet didn't exactly put me in a good mood...and with a title like that, I was afraid I might be getting into a fan-service fest with even less potential than Sakura Wars. To my surprise, some lessons were learned, apparently. Although Virgin Fleet still has a few too many cast members and an embarrassingly stupid premise, our lead character here is interesting and clear, and the decent action sequences combined with strong character development make for an enjoyable, if not superb, night of anime.
In an alternate history of Japan, the island nation was under attack by the Federation. (Who are the Federation? It could be the Allies of WWII, but it's never clearly stated. This is an alternate timeline, after all.) Right before they were about to decimate the country, an unknown Japanese fleet appeared in a brilliant ball of light. The Federation, caught completely off-guard by this secret force, agrees to a cease-fire rather than to face the mysterious Japanese weapon.
Fast-forward fifteen years. The cease-fire is still in place, though there's grumbling that the Federation is no longer worried about whatever the Japanese have cooked up. Enter Shiokaze, an intelligent and beautiful adolescent attending a special training academy for girls. It's at this academy that they teach young women how to harness and use the power of "virgin energy". Shiokaze is not sure that she's really into defending her country however; she's simply fulfilling a promise she made to complete school before marrying her fiancé. Besides, the men of the armed forces think the Virgin Fleet is a joke. But Shiokaze has the power like few others do, and when the Federation once again becomes a threat, her control of the "virgin energy" may make or break her country's future. But is she willing to lose the fiancé she loves as part of the bargain?
Just from the description, the problems with Virgin Fleet should be readily apparent. The concept of "virgin energy" is beyond ludicrous, belonging more to the genre of tentacle hentai than to straight anime. If you can't get past the whole concept, then forget it--don't even bother. Meanwhile, the Federation is a faceless enemy with no known vision or purpose other than the domination of Japan. And a plot surrounding a young girl facing her future? Yeah, that's original. And there are a few other issues. There are a few too many side characters we don't get to know. Although the show belongs to Shiokaze, there are several other classmates that factor into the program, and we only get to know one of them in any detail. The rest are just there for show, I guess.
But that's not really being very fair, because I found Virgin Fleet to be quite fun. The character art is unique enough to be a draw, and I enjoyed the retro plane designs and dogfights. For a comedy, there's a bit of serious drama that's played well, and it straddles several genres effectively. Shiokaze has a real character arc, rare in a show with only three episodes. And though it's not fall down funny, it's amusing on a variety of levels. For my complaints about the plot, the holes are in the background. The central plot has less to do with the invasion and more to do with Shiokaze discovering who she really is. And it's also one of the few "female empowerment" shows that really delivers the goods in an entertaining fashion. It also has a minimum of fan service, which considering all was a welcome surprise.
Virgin Fleet is not everybody's bag. Several of my reviewer friends, such as Mike Toole at Anime Jump and Andrew Shelton at the Anime Meta-Review, have thoroughly thrashed it. And though I understand the rationale for railing on the series, I think they are missing the point. Virgin Fleet is a character story at heart, and that part of the show is great. So the details of the warfare are lacking. So what? It's not a perfect show by any means, but I think too many people have written it off as a Sakura Wars clone. It's far better than its predecessor and a good show in its own right.
Virgin Fleet -- violence, adult concepts (though never discussed in detail) -- B+