「月夜の用心棒」 (Tsukiyo no Youjinbou)
“Moonlit Guns For Hire”

Let’s address the elephant in the room first: Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai is a 3DCG show. These are oft maligned but there’s nothing inherently wrong with computer-generated graphics, per se. I mean, Pixar have basically crafted an entire industry around themselves and almost all their films are great (though, the less we say about the Cars sequels, the better). Even in anime, which never has the same bottomless budget of Disney-Pixar, CG has been getting better and better, and while it’ll never stop looking a bit off if you’re used to the 2D, sometimes it’s actually the correct aesthetic. Mecha, of course, sees the heaviest use of 3DCG but we can also have shows like Houseki no Kuni (and, arguably, this season’s Kemurikusa) that benefit from having everything look a bit off, a bit alien. And regardless, any brush can be wielded with artistry, and although I would always prefer my 2D I suspect we’ll get used to the 3D yet.

With that in mind, my main issue with 3DCG anime is when it is so patently a business decision. I would like to be given enough room to pretend that there is some artistic merit here and sometimes it’s awfully difficult. So, take Kotobuki here. It’s neither wholly 2D nor wholly 3D, but rather a blend, with some characters 2D and other characters 3D. Some other 3DCG shows do this too (just to pick a show I blogged, Seikai Suru Kado), and the reason is plain. The important characters are 3D, the less so are not. This is because while the 3D models are easier to animate, creating one in the first place takes work and it’s generally more cost effective to stick to hand-drawing the side characters. These kind of meta-narrative considerations, though, erodes suspension of disbelief. Not only does the clash of styles distract and throw us out of the story, they’re also spoilers. Once we see that these chumps are 2D we know they’re not going to make it to the next episode and immediately write them off as redshirts. Then we don’t really get emotionally invested in them even as they’re gunned down to the man.

But let’s forget about the human characters for now. They’re not what we’re here for anyway. We’re here for the mecha! The aeroplanes! On that front, I have no complaints. There is some obvious love for the fighters featured here. Consider this: this first episode spent two minutes just for the take-off sequence. Two whole minutes! If someone was pitching an anime to me and they told me that they were going to spend 10% of the episode on Microsoft Flight Simulator I would boot them from my office. But Kotobuki gets away with it because it knows that the one who will really sink their teeth into this show — those WWII hardware nerds who came out in force for Girls und Panzer — are looking for this sort of detail and are no doubt looking for a new pair of pants after having watched the scene. And even though I’m not that level of history buff I still appreciated the research that has been demonstrated here. If an anime wants me to care they should also show that they care, and I can certainly feel the affection the producers have for their Hayabusas.

The planes in action was also damn cool (props to the sound design) but here I would like to quibble. I know that in the preview I warned against making too many comparisons to Girls und Panzer but let me do so for just a moment. I must admit that in the dogfight segment I had real trouble with keeping track of what was going on. This was, I think, simply a matter of subject matter. For one, all the planes looked roughly the same (and, of course, the Kotobuki Squadron all fly the same thing). In GuP, each tank, at least on the protagonist’s side, were unique and had personality, whereas in Kotobuki all the units blended into each other. Secondly, because we’re all of it takes place in the sky we don’t have any sense of geography either. There’s no terrain save admittedly pretty clouds, so no real blocking of shots, making it difficult to tell who was where in relation to whom. Thankfully, it was a lot better once the blimp got into the fray since it served as an anchor for the action and an objective in addition to aircraft shooting down other aircraft. Plus, I love the romance of lighter-than-air travel and giant zeppelins are just the coolest thing (this is the Goliath, right here) and I’ll take any number of them.

My complaints aside, this was a solid first episode. It was just the kind of pilot (pun unintended?) I enjoy: one that doesn’t feel the need to explain anything. These kind of action-heavy openers go to show how unnecessary exposition often is. All we really needed here is a scene establishing that our girls are ace pilots, give them an excuse to demonstrate their skill, and then it’s off to the races. That way we have more time for the action and the action lets the pilot leave a stronger impact. Everything else like plot hooks (mysterious organisation with connection to a protagonist) and setting details (implications that we’re in a floating islands scenario can be dropped in alongside the action and the minimalism only makes them more intriguing. Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai delivered what it promised: dogfights between old planes. Even though the next episode will no doubt slow down to get in some of that exposition we skipped I’m willing to show it patience. A competent action-pilot may well be a bribe to make me sit through girls eating pancakes, but the price is right. I’ll take it.


OP0.01 Sequence

OP: 「ソラノネ」 (Soranone) by ZAQ



    1. My First Impression of Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai:

      – Flying the “old WW2″ Airplanes like in the old Days. The AI is their own Brain and own Skills
      remembers a bit about “Haifuri”, “Last Exile”, “Sky Crawlers”
      Also seems like the Girls are all CGI Only.. You need a bit to get used to her “movement” it is not flawless, but hey overlook it in the first.. Budget is not unlimited

      – is for “old school” Air Planes fans, that want some real skill pilots flying them. Also here they use an flaw that the “old” Zero’s had.. While in High speed and G forced, they lost the advance because the flight controls becomes heavier to use.. they did not had “hydraulics” at that time

      – A Bit “Girls und Panzer” fly with them, too. The Camera is taken right of the movie.. So a mix of “Girls und Panzer” (Camera) + “Haifuri” (Team) + “Sky Crawler” (Dogfight) + “Last Exile” (Air Carrier)

      – Until now they have some sort of “WW1 Honor” in the Fights.. But lets see, this is still young

      – Dogfight action like in “Sky Crawlers”.. What an intense start.. You got me
      Perhaps the Director is an Fan or even the Director of this “Sky Crawlers” Dogfights…
      Very good

      – Perhaps even Hayao Miyazaki would love this.. He is an “Air Plane fan” in heart, right? combined with the “WW1 Honor” (Porco Rosso)


      – Also my idea that jump into my mind, When the Hayabusa take off.. What if from the front strong Vents create more Wind for takeoff? Would they need smaller runway?
      Imagine an “Air Wind Tunnel”, that slowly speed up and the Plane inside speed up his Engine to full trust and begin to hover. What will happen, if suddenly the Vent (or even an big Turbine) go away to the side, would the Plane “catapult” right out the bat, like an Gun? (of course the G Force could put a strain on both, the Plane and Pilot)
      So even sorter Runways and smaller Air Carriers.. Perhaps this is better for Air Drones
      Also of course they need to secure the intakes for this Starting help, but the “outtake”.. could it not boost up the Ships movement? into the Air or Water (Bubbles?), Air Jet Booster?. I just have the idea, not the Physics wisdom

      An very good start for me

      1. On Miyazaki, I would rather say it was he who gave anime its love for flight in general. Airships, old planes, and flying islands are arguably as popular as they are in modern Japanese fantasy because of films like Laputa and, as you say, Porco Rosso.

        He’s also a pacifist, though, and has a certain disdain for anime, so I don’t know what he’d say about this show.

      2. @Passerby

        How about Nausicaa? It had planes and a fair bit of air combat too. The plot got kickstarted when one of those large transport planes crashed in Nausicaa’s homeland.

        Magnus Tancred
      3. @Magnus Tancred
        Nausicaa as well, of course. Miyazaki’s fascination with flying machines runs through his work, up to the name of his animation studio. This is why I’ve always argued that The Wind Rises was autobiographical.

      4. @Porco Rosso

        There they have also Air Pirates. But yes, as i said. it is to young to see what kind of “honor” there would be..

        But seems like a bit of “Sky Crawler” is here.. dispensational Pilots

  1. … nothing inherently wrong with computer-generated graphics …

    Except, for some reason, (human) characters never seem quite right, IMHO.
    Same w/Pixar – non-human CG is fine, but human(-ish) is a challenge that has
    not been completely solved. That is their movement seem “too perfect” for
    lack of a better explanation.

    The only one that seem to really nail (for me) it was “Arpeggio of Blue Steel.”

    Anyway, it wasn’t bad in this episode, my only question is “Where’s the story?”
    Cause, I didn’t see the story at all. Also, did anyone die? Many were shot
    down, but are they gone? Did they all live to their moment of impact? Not one
    was hit in the cockpit. No blood, no glory, I say.

    So, mechanically and choreographically, it was beautifully done. The sound
    was great, too. I’m not necessarily down on the episode and I think it’s worth
    giving it a few more episodes…

    1. Well, there where 2 Planes tumble to Ground while her Wings are Damaged. All others had “only” Fuel Leaking, Motor problems so far

      And seems like they let them in peace when they retreat from the battle.. except this Girl.. Perhaps she has an story with this Plane… But Lucky he or she was Low on Ammo and perhaps also on Fuel.. But i speculate “low on Ammo”.. So he/she said “Goodbye until next time” and begone

      1. Yeah, though with “motor” problems, you couldn’t glide back to
        your base, unless their base was basically right below them.

        So it looks like a gore-less series, unless it decides to get
        dark later on …

        That’s the cool thing about Anime. No rules. There’s nothing
        that says a series can’t start light and fluffy and end up dark
        and intense — or anywhere in between. There’s isn’t any real
        indication of where this one’s headed. Still worth the 3 episodes …

  2. My biggest surprise of the season.


    I can’t praise the sound effects enough. The director of this is the same one as Shirobako I believe? and the scriptwriter is pretty solid. And it’s an original. Meaning the producers have complete control of the narrative. Yay.

    Best of all, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. These 3D model planes fired at my ancestors for crying out loud.

    I mean, a Dodo(an extinct bird) as a captain, I can’t help but laugh.


  3. This was pretty good. Yeah, there was a feeling of discontinuity in the animation styles, but it was still quite enjoyable. And the sound effects really helped make it come alive. The various noises in the cockpit; the creaks and groans as the girls take their planes through high-stress maneuvers; all of it helps make the dogfights feel more real. And taking it back to oldschool planes, where there are no missles, no radar, the only way to detect an enemy is with the unaided eye, and they’re only likely to realize an enemy has gotten behind them when bullets start peppering their plane… it really makes it quite an experience. This is real dogfighting from the days when aces were really aces.

    I’ll be following this one.

    1. While I agree with everything you say (and am glad there are those who appreciate anime sound design as much as I do) I do wonder if the action will be sustainable in the long run without any fancy toys. If you recall, HaiFuri basically broke out a new gadget every other episode to keep things interesting, whereas Kotobuki (probably) won’t be doing that. Perhaps the dogfights will only be used sparingly, or otherwise it might take too much work to keep things varied.

  4. You know, I never understood the ire against CGI and also dropping a potentially good show simply because its made up of CGI. Seeing the episode, making it out of CGI makes sense since it makes the action sequences more managable and also the camera work more fluid.

    Enough of that. I’ve been waiting for this since I saw the trailer and i wasn’t dissappointed. Any idea if they’re only going to use Ki 43 Hayabusa or include other planes?

    Henrietta Brix
    1. I think I read in an interview that they were going to stick with the Kotobuki are going to be all about the Hayabusas, though I’m sure other planes will get featured through other factions, like in this episode.

    1. I can attest that this felt like a Crimson Skies anime. If it really was the inspiration for this, then this will be awesome!
      (Disclaimer: Last time I played the game was more than a decade ago)

  5. Goblin Slayer syndrome is spreading I guess…an unholy mix of CGI and 2D people…ugh. They should just make everyone CGI like the Netflix revisions, or I can accept 2D people in 3D planes.

    Still, this show is scratching my air force itch, and does it much better than that other air force anime. The piston planes, the cockpit and flight instruments, the dogfight, the are just…beautiful.

  6. https://randomc.net/image/Kouya%20no%20Kotobuki%20Hikoutai/Kouya%20no%20Kotobuki%20Hikoutai%20-%20OP0.01%20-%20Large%2002.jpg

    How i would tweak this “Air Carrier”:

    – There should be 2 Decks
    – The upper Deck inside this Zeppelin would be on top and would be only for Starting Procedures.. The Nose would be on the same place. On Start the Planes would use the “Gravity” help to roll an ramp down until they Airborne outside the Carrier

    – The Landing Deck should be on the same level like the Landing Hatch. And if you can lift up the “Starting Ramp” you could extend it more or for “flying trough” procedure

    – of course some Lift connects both levels. Perhaps an middle Deck would be the Garage and maintain area

    – But of course, in reality you would have not enough body to create the Uplift for this Zeppelin.. Even with Helium

    1. – Also if you open the Front Hatch and pull the Carrier into the Wind for the Planes… Would the Carrier not became unstable? because Wind is entering the mouth into the Body, and would break its speed and put the intern Hull/skin on stress.. Where do the wind flow out to prevent that? So while start and landing both hatches are open?

  7. It wasn’t just the mook squad who were 2D. The “commander” was also 2D, and I’m pretty sure the bridge bunnies were as well (harder to tell in the dark command center, and they didn’t move much other than speaking). Same with the blonde boss lady. All of those should be major, ongoing characters.

    So it’s not just that “major” characters are 3D and expendable characters were 2D. Only the fighter squad is 3D, while everyone else is 2D. My initial impression, in the restaurant, was that the girls were “not quite human”, and that’s why there was the 2D/3D split in character design.

    As for the main girl: I was constantly feeling like she was Ruby from RWBY, except with Nora’s fondness for pancakes. Really didn’t care for the character when it seemed like such a shallow copy, and her antics against the serpent plane didn’t help either.

    I’m not a huge history buff, so the tech porn didn’t really mean much to me. I did enjoy the dogfight, though.

    1. You might have noticed that the bar staff were also 3D. It’s certainly not just the Kotobuki. In practice, it’s a matter of triaging; how many models do we have time to make, and which characters are going to be doing the most moving? You can be certain that the 3D characters are going to be much more active on screen or in the plot.

  8. https://randomc.net/image/Kouya%20no%20Kotobuki%20Hikoutai/Kouya%20no%20Kotobuki%20Hikoutai%20-%2001%20-%20Large%2006.jpg
    The air battles (and old-school dogfighting) reminded me of Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta. (OT: Which reminds me, any news if that light novel series and any expanded universe material finally concluded? Did Kal-El eventually rescue Claire from the Sky Clan in the LN?)

    The last time I saw an airship like this was Millennium’s Deus Ex Machina (and its escorts) from Hellsing Ultimate. Though an aircraft-carrying airship does have a basis in reality (the USS Akron and USS Macon), those definitely didn’t have a runway inside the superstructure. (Also, both those IRL airships crashed and the concept of aircraft-carrying airships proved unfeasible.)

    “Discount Naoe Kanno.” *ding* Man, I seriously need to properly get the names of the lead protagonists of this show instead of assigning strange nicknames…

  9. Episode 2:

    Seems like they hit again my Buttons.. The Plane Dogfight is super awesome! Alone the use of the “Girls und Panzer” Camera. Even the “air Heat fluctuations” found a way into this CGI Battle

    Love at first Episode is 99.99% Certain

    1. Part A:

      Seems like it begin to be an “do the same, repeat”

      Part B:

      Until now not every Dogfight is the same. But how long can they go?

      my comment:

      try to improve Part A


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