「夕陽のコトブキ飛行隊」 (Yuuhi no Kotobuki hikou-tai)
“Kotobuki of the Setting Sun”
Everything goes roughly the way you’d expect it to. Our heroes ride off into the sunset, the day is saved, and the Kotobuki girls are closer than ever, possibly even planning to continue flying together until they’re old and gray. It’s a happy ending, to be sure, but after spending a good chunk of the series threatening the viewer with radical change and moral quandaries, it seems almost anti-climatic for the show to end so neatly. For some time now, Kirie’s been searching for a purpose. Why does she fly? Who does she fly for? And by the end, it seems that she’s exactly where she started – Kirie flies because she wants to. She doesn’t need a reason beyond that. And while it’s true that taking part in activities solely because we like doing them isn’t a bad thing, it’s strange that the series would linger on her conflict for so long if it weren’t ultimately going to affect the narrative in a significant way.
As for the other girls, their focus was greatly diminished over the course of the series, resulting in many of them lacking proper character arcs. Reona, for example, starts out as a responsible girl who takes care of the children in the orphanage with her wages. None of that has changed. Although Zara tempts her with the thought of abandoning the war against Ikesuka and living out a life for herself, she remains steadfast and dutiful. Then there’s Kate. At the end of the previous episode, I admitted to looking forward to seeing Kate’s battle with Isao, since who doesn’t like a good revenge tale, eh? Shortly after the start of the final episode, however, it became clear that Isao was going to be benched for the majority of the final battle. Not only that, but Kate never confronts him directly again. It seems she was satisfied with merely shooting him down, which brings me to another point-
Where is the tension? From what I could tell, with the exception of possibly Isao, none of the fighters are aiming to kill. Once a fighter pilot is shot down or ejected from their craft, they’re out of danger, and since there are no casualties or even serious injuries among the cast, it’s difficult to grasp the stakes. Between Kouya’s fast-paced and fluid animation, plus a nailbiting musical score, the dogfights had a tendency to feel exceedingly cinematic, yet without a sense of danger or urgency to warrant the production value, it came across as a little underwhelming.
Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai accomplished exactly what it set out to do. It wanted to be a female-led air combat show with crisp animation, excellent voice acting, and a musical score that really gets your adrenaline pumping. However, it tried to be a character-driven mystery and/or exploration of ethics on the nature of engagement versus passive neutrality, and in that, it missed the mark. The answers to the questions of Ol’ Sab’s whereabouts, Isao’s motivations, and the resolution of Kirie’s internal dilemma are all, for lack of a better word, disappointing. Instead of attempting any complexity with Isao, he became an irredeemable antagonist the Kotobuki could fight without thinking too hard about their reasons why. Too soon they dropped their doubts regarding their motivations for attacking Ikesuka on Madame Loulou’s orders.
Still, at the end of the day, this was an energetic, exquisitely detailed, and well-researched show that exceeded my initial expectations by a mile. The Kotobuki girls got along naturally, making their friendships feel genuine, and though not every man needs to be immature, greedy, or incompetent in a show led by women, it was certainly satisfying to see ladies kicking butt at the forefront of the narrative.
ED 1.5 Sequence
Instead of cute girls doing cute things (in airplanes!), Kouya sported a cast of characters who took their jobs seriously and each possessed the skills that working from the pilot seat would demand. The elements of post-isekai, though intriguing, were ultimately not the main focus, as stopping the portals from opening took priority over exploring them. It looks like those hoping to know more about the Yufang and the consequences of their visit(s) will have to keep their fingers crossed for a second season.
Until then, keep flying high, Kotobuki Flight Corps!