「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.
OP: 「ソラノネ」 (Soranone) by ZAQ