Sky rockets in flight
In a world without oceans or seas, humanity survives in settlements scattered across a vast wasteland, eking out an existence through trade and mutual cooperation assisted by a network of dirigible airships that transport essential goods among the outposts of civilization. But in this arid, desert world, lawlessness is commonplace and the skies are swarming with pirates ready to pillage and plunder, so bands of roving mercenaries take jobs protecting the shipping lanes in World War II-era prop-driven fighter planes.
This is the setting of The Magnificent KOTOBUKI, an original TV anime with direction by Tsutomu Mizushima (Girls und Panzer, Shirobako) and animation production by Gemba. One part cheerful Mad Max, one part high-flying Wild West adventure, and one part stealth “parallel world” fantasy, the series follows the exploits of the titular KOTOBUKI Squadron, an all-female group of crackerjack fighter pilots, as they guard an enormous blimp called the Hagoromo, take down sky pirates, and try to earn an honest buck.
The Magnificent KOTOBUKI is pure popcorn entertainment, characterized by a whip-crack sharp sense of comic timing and some of the best aerial dog-fighting action sequences that you’re ever likely to see on a television animation budget. The characters aren’t terribly complex (Reona is the stern leader, Kylie is the foolish but gifted pilot, Zara is the older sister type, Chika is the tiny firecracker, etc.) and the themes that are explored aren’t terribly deep, but the plot moves along at such a brisk clip that the story grabs hold of your attention and refuses to let go.
One compelling element is that while the KOTOBUKI Squadron are extremely skilled pilots, they aren’t invulnerable, and their members get shot down and grounded with surprising frequency, especially when a mysterious plane adorned with a serpent insignia joins the fray. Mizushima and company have built a reputation for obsessive attention to technical detail, and the amount of care they pour into animating the fighter planes and the other heavy machinery of this strange world is impressive even if you’re not a dyed-in-the-wool military otaku.
The setting of The Magnificent KOTOBUI is intriguing without getting too bogged down in its own lore, and the central mystery of the “Yufang”—a group of heavily militarized invaders who appeared out of the wilderness one day armed with airplanes and then vanished just as suddenly—suggests dimensional rifts and transportation between parallel worlds.
The only place where The Magnificent KOTOBUKI stumbles a little is in the animation department, which often switches from 3DCG character models to traditional 2D animation and back again, sometimes within the same animation cut. While this contrast of animation styles can be jarring, the visual dissonance that results is not as glaring as something like the 2016 Berserk TV series, but it happens frequently enough that I’m left wondering whether this is a quirk of the production or a deliberate artistic choice.
If you’re a fan of shows with a Wild West atmosphere and an upbeat sense of humor, or if you simply enjoy witnessing a well-dressed dodo mascot (who may actually be the captain of the ship) and a protagonist who is obsessed with pancakes, then it’s definitely worth checking out the adventures of these strong-willed young women and their magnificent flying machines. At the time of this writing, I don’t know whether the series will remain a breezy bit of light entertainment, or whether in its closing episodes it will take on a more serious and somber tone, but whatever happens I’m along for the ride, and I’m sure that Mizushima’s latest take on cute girls piloting complex military vehicles will remain magnificent right up to the very end. Recommended.
Studio/company: Sentai Filmworks/HIDIVE
Rating: Not Rated