In a barren frontier where people trade goods with each other in order to help each other survive. The Kotobuki Squadron are bodyguards for hire, led by a strict but beautiful squadron leader, an unreliable commanding officer, and a true artisan of a crew chief. Alongside pilots who don't lack for personality, they take to the air in dogfights, letting the engine noise of their Hayabusa fighters ring out in the skies. (Source: ANN)
When Shirobako had an in-universe anime called “Third Aerial Girls Squad” that ended up having a surprisingly decent one-shot OVA, I became hungry for a plane-based anime. Something with adventure, suspense and great world building. I got my wish many years later with Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai.
Kotobuki is fast. Before you know it, the episode you’re watching is already over. The pacing in each episode is ratcheted up to HELL SPEED and each episode just goes through tons of character development, world building and in-universe politics in the span of 10 minutes, before cutting to another 10 minutes of beautifully choreographed dogfights. While this means the show never gets boring, it does have the issue of delivering plot critical information at an incredible pace, so much so it’s sometimes easy to miss out on what’s going on with the plot. There is almost never a moment of peace or quiet. It’s shot after shot of characters interacting with each other, dogfights, or some combination of the two. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. The brisk pace does give some charm and identity to Kotobuki that makes it stand out among other anime this season.
While the world-building is excellent (in which every event that happens has its purpose and origins) , character building does seem more lacking in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to see pancake-psycho go through her bouts of insanity, and resident goblin Chika is fun to watch too, but aside from Kylie, none of the other characters go through much character development and stay one-note until the end of the show. Kotobuki is definitely the kind of show that would really benefit from a two-cour structure, a second season, or hell even 1-hour long episodes. The writing is decent enough, so I wanted to see more character spotlight episodes to see each girl shine in their own way. At best maybe each girl gets 3 minutes of spotlight in their “spotlight episodes”, but it’s never enough. So much potential is just untapped behind it all.
And here is where I have to address the elephant in the room I guess. The 3DCG character models clashing with the 2D characters. For the most part, in action scenes and dogfights, the 3D is beautiful and fluid. With excellent cinematic setpieces that would really give you goosebumps. But what’s less impressive are the 3D renditions of major characters that really stand out when they’re interacting with the 2D characters in the story. I’ve come to ignore it after a few episodes, but it’s just so jarring to see it happen. Even more baffling is that on occasion they would switch out the 3D models with proper 2D models of the mains which look so much more fluid when animated (the beginning of the 2nd episode is a good example of this contrast). I get they’re trying to make it more seemless since these characters are always on planes and therefore need to blend in better with the 3D dogfights, but I’d seriously would have preferred if they used 2D character models for the more peaceful on-the-ground scenes and then switch to 3D models when the characters are in flight.
Still, in spite of this very jarring flaw, Kotobuki is a fun romp throughout. Fun characters, thrilling events, and brilliant cinematography all lend to an excellent adventure in the skies. All that remains is, when’s Season 2 coming out?