Posted on 18 April 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai, Reviews by SuperMario

Coming to Kotobuki, there are lots of aspect that catch my attention: it’s from a famed director Tsutomu Mizushima who can turn the most trashable and genre-able concepts into something intriguing; it’s an CG show about air pilots: it has extended aerial combat set-pieces. Watching it till the end, I have to tip my hat off to Mizushima. Kotobuki certainly isn’t for the mass, nor does it ever intend to, but there’s always a clear sense that this version of Kotobuki is how Mizushima envisioned it to be. For the strengths of it are pretty clear, at the cost of its own narrative, its characters’ depth or any thematic context. The thing is, I believe this show is a success, as it fulfills all goals that it set out to do. As for those of you who didn’t follow the show, Kotobuki is about the titular Squadron, an air fighter team for hire to protects goods from air pirates and the likes. As with his previous Girls und Panzers, Kotobuki spends a good chunk of its time for the CG aerial combats. It also benefits on a tongue-in-cheek style where the show pretty much eschews all the tropey conversations we usually find in anime for more realism and natural take. Lastly, Kotobuki favors small characters dynamics as opposed to conventional developments, as the result it might not have any deeper layer, the characters might not feel that developed, they are still a constant fun to watch.

I figure that at the end of the day Kotobuki will mostly remembered for their extended CG aerial combats. Those set-pieces usually take up half the length of an entire episode, but to its credits the show makes it with styles. The lengthy aerial dogfights are well choreographed, the CG animation looks realistic and most of all, the sound designs are sublime. Whenever the bullets hit the plane, for example, we can hear the metal sound. That CG visual comes with a cost, however. The characters animation looks stiff and in some case, their facial expression and the way their heads move stick out like a sore thumb. Narrative-wise, the plot moves really straight-forward. Since it has a length flight sequences, the rest doesn’t feel flesh out enough. There are so much else that I want to know more, such as the dessert world building or the characters.

Another feature that differentiate Kotobuki show from the rest is its rapid fire dialogues in a casual manners. Right at the very first shot, we get that very sense. Characters go on and on in random topics, most of the dialogues are unimportant or have nothing to do to advance the plot or deepen the characters. So why include these lengthy conversations then? It is because it feels natural. Characters bounce off each other seamlessly, and they feel as if they’re belong to this very world. It’s also fun to see these characters having their own speech patterns, their own way of speaking and behaving interact with each other. It helps that Kotobuki’s smart enough to follow up those mini-conflicts with their own tempo (one such example: the drawing girl reappears in the Big battle to give the disloyal guy hell). The Squadron cast, like I said, doesn’t flesh out that much, but they all have their own distinctive personality traits, and Kirie or Reona can still carry the show by their own.

I’m not really sold on the final conflict, as I see the “holes in the sky” subplot kind of comes out from nowhere. But apart from that the show ties up its plot threads nicely. Kotobuki might not be a great show, but it never aims itself as one, instead it enjoys itself thoroughly.

Posted on 20 March 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Action, Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai

Welp, Kotobuki is getting really good. Normally this is the time where shows reach its final overarching arc, and sometimes it loses a bit of it magic because of that (like what I currently have with Gotobun), but with its tongue-in-cheek manner and its main storyline that is totally unexpected but weirdly fit to the narrative, I’m all in for this final ride. Needless to say the first half of episode 9 is an unusually quiet moment for Kotobuki, now that the Squadron is out of mission so that the members are taking side jobs. Again, it isn’t the story but the presentation that makes Kotobuki such a fascinating show to watch. All of these are colored by their casual conversations carried by a member of Kotobuki squad and some stranger that you could immediately tell these characters have known each other for a long time. They only leave Kirie behind the office and of course the eccentric Kirie isn’t too fond on the idea of sitting around. I’ve come to certain that Kirie is a perfect protagonist for Kotobuki the show. The show relies on rapid fire conversations, goofy but likable characters and well-choreographed aerial battles and Kirie fits the bill extremely well. Just see how she reacts when playing dead at the end of episode 9 you would understand the way she can shine in small moments like that.

And then the plot suddenly kicks into gear as Kirie takes Allen (Kate’s brother) on a sightseeing trip. He then informs about the holes that once let through the Yufang have opened up at other places and that Isao is trying to monopolize the city so that he can take full control of that hole. It has been established several times before about this hole (during the first time we meet Allen), but to think that the story would head this way is totally unexpected, but one that is welcomed. Of course, as soon as they find the hole they get ambushed by dozen air jets where they managed to shoot down some before biting the dust themselves. Allen proves that he knows more than he lets on here and proves to be a good addition to the case. By saying that nothing can beat the introduction of a new character IN FREAKING EPISODE 10 (but she’s awesome so…), Naomi, who was in a dogfight with Kirie several times before, and who is then revealed to be a pupil of Old Sab. This old dude sure is popular.

Regarding the big bad overarching plot, Julia is forced out of the council for being against Isao and she seeks asylum from the Kotobuki Squad. There are two interesting plot threads going on right now. First, what is the significant of this hole? We have witnessed it sucking the entire bombs and vanishing like nothing happened. There is a rumor where it sucks out the entire sea. What is going to happen when they go inside the hole? Will they get transported to another world (isekai material right there!!). Second is the very motive of the charisma Isao. He appears as a goofy loud character and so far he acts like a true tyrant (bombing, monopoly and whatnot) but that all has to do with the hole. So what is his relationship with the hole that he’d risk everything, even bombing the cities, to achieve? I guess in the next event he might team up to the Kotobuki Squad when the girls learn more about the hole. And that’s not a bad development at all in my book.

Posted on 6 March 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Action, Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai

Kotobuki pulls off another solid episode this week, as it surprises me in many ways. For the first time, the Kotobuki Squad faces a defeat, but by some incredible stretch they manage to get out of the situation magnificently. While the characters motion still feels awkward and off-putting at times – characters designs suffer the most when the show frames characters in profile, and when Johnny shows off his inhuman skills – Kotobuki more than makes up by its CG aerial combat craft, and exciting heist story this week. The episode represents the best the wild west tone of Kotobuki as a whole. It starts out pretty simple, our team has to protect “the golden fish” (noted that in Kotobuki’s world, real fish is as rare and precious as Swiss watch). The thieves, however, have a better idea. Instead of just stealing the fish, they hijack the Hagoromo ship, and demand Isao to resign or else they’d crash the ship to the town. Honestly I didn’t see that coming at all, and these enemies prove to be more and more formidable, almost army-like status.

But the plan to counterattack from our girls prove to be pretty entertaining, as well. This robbery is a chance to flesh out ship’s supporting casts, this time Johnny, who is revealed as a veteran shooter, and Ririko, who might or might not be Johnny’s ex-wife, that they claim back the ship with style (a bit over the top but hey, so do all the Western movies). The problem doesn’t stop there though, as the ship’s control is badly damaged and there’s explosions on board. Hence the Kotobuki has to fight a way to shoot the ship down safely before Isao’s air jets, for safety reason, destroy the ship themselves. While this episode is pretty thin on paper, we can still draw out two deeper plot threads going forward. First, it’s still unclear what the enemy’s objective is. It’s clear that they’re skilled, and they’re disciplined unlike normal air pirates. Second, while the rest of the team has their reasons to pilot (case in point this week, Reona wanted to protect the orphanage), Kirie doesn’t seem to have one. From what we know about her, she learned to flight from the old man and she loves to flight with all her heart. Is there any need for a reason to be up in the air at all?

Posted on 26 February 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Action, Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai

I’m a bit regret that I missed my chance to cover Kotobuki last week, since episode 6 of Kotobuki is easily my favorite week of the show so far. The latest episode is no slouch either, as it expands its universe considerably. Now we have a clearer sense that there is indeed an opposing organization that is on about something sinister. It’s still vague, of course, but at the same time now we have a pretty good idea what Kotobuki will head in its second half. It also shakes up a bit from its own formula as the aerial fights happen pretty early into the episodes, and then they proceed to flesh out the characters/ advance its story. I also find the CG characters are less grating, and the CG model planes are a real treat to watch. While it’s for certain that Kotobuki has its limited appeal, I still like many elements of the shows to make it an entertaining watch every week.

The reason episode 6 remains my favorite is how it fleshes out our main character Kirie, and makes her likable and relatable even though she’s the simplest character out of the cast. The way Kotobuki mixes between her memories and her present time struggles is its highlights. Her memory serves a reminder why she falls in love with piloting planes in the first place. In addition, the chemistry between her and the old geezer Sab is solid. He’s shunned by the villagers but it’s a Kirie-way to just ignore all the talks from them. Instead, her persistence eventually reaches him and he opens up more to her, even teaching her the joy of flighting in the air. While this backstory isn’t necessary refreshing, it ties up really well with her current situation when she gets shot down by another airfighter (who proves to be even more skilled than her), and finds herself stranded with a broken airjet. As she has to starts again from scratch, and as this dire situation gets more desperate, it comes as natural that her mind flips back to the memory she treasures the most. Well, this breakup between her and the old geezer could very well mean that they might meet again in this present time, hopefully not as opposing sides.

In latest episode, Kotobuki delves more into its overarching story, now that we know there is an organization behind the scene doing something evil. First, there’s a cheap gasoline around the market from Standon Oil Company that has less quality, and second these bad guys want to destroy Nanko gas station in order to monopolize the oil market. This episodes also focuses on the silent voice of the team, Kate, who wants a day off to meet her bed sick brother, Allen. She is extremely knowledgeable about mechanics, thanks for her well read, and she proves to be the mastermind behind the plan to distinguish the fire, by explosions no less. I figure in the next episode we will learn more about the bad guys, and I really hope that they aren’t just a bunch of villain who want to monopolize the world. The cast of Kotobuki has been goofy so far, but somehow they’re also endearing so it fits the show better if they don’t make villains who take themselves seriously. The chase is on now, let’s hope for an entertaining aerial combats ahead.

Posted on 12 February 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Action, Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai

It has been fun over the last two weeks of Kotobuki, where we get to learn more about two members of the squad and some more fun times with them fighting against air pirates. One thing first, I still greatly enjoy the tongue-in-cheek conversations Kotobuki employs. It’s fast-paced, it’s irrelevance, it’s silly but Kotobuki is also whole lotta fun. At this point I can firmly say that the characters aren’t supposed to be a full-fledge characters, instead they are cool and boy, did the show deliver on that. On top of that we have some really silly, goofy side characters (read: mostly men) that despite their over-the-top, there’s something charming about them. I know there’s an overarching arc that will come later on, but now I’ve warmed up considerably with this pirate-of-the-week format. One factor that needed mentioning regarding its world-building though, is that the characters are in the era where they don’t have any idea about “sea” or “bike”. Which is interesting if they can manage to explore the world building more.

In episode 4, it’s Zara (not the brand!) who takes the torch and she sure makes an impression as the experient quiet one who manages to singlehanded raids the gang and effortlessly claims back the Raiden safe and sound. She appears to know about basically everything, has her way of gaining information and beat the men in their own game (booze). Moreover, when she meets the young girl who is behind all the paintings the CEO trying to sale, she encourages her to be her own self. The CEO, although unbearable in episode 3, suddenly becomes charming as we learn that all he does is for the benefits of the girl, and naturally it gets in the way of other members of his “organization”. The way they double-cross him is a tad bit on your face, but I let it aside because it’s fun to see them got hit by our girls and the interactions between the girls are as natural as ever.

In the last episode, we have an addition cast, Isao who is the head of View Trading who has lame magic tricks. This time it’s the team leader Reona who going through some sort of focus as it’s revealed that Isao was a talented pilot and had saved her in the past, so that she wants to pay back by protecting him. Unsurprisingly, air pirates appear with overwhelming volume (air pirates are everywhere in this world, not that it’s a complaint), and the man himself joins the battle, shoots down some air jets before accidently self-destruct his plane. As I keep saying every week, while the plot itself is merely passable, and the characters aren’t what we considered as deep, it’s the confident tones and the way Kotobuki represents itself that make it a rewarding ride with heaps of fun so far. Even if this turns out to be a low-tier offering of the season, I’m still pretty much happy with its existence.

Posted on 29 January 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Action, Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai

It’s clear after the first three episodes that Kotobuki isn’t a show that focuses much on any thematic depth, nor is it a character piece. It has some nice settings, it has one core concept of these Kotobuki team members doing air combats against pirates, and it has extended well-choreographed flight sequences to back it up. It’s pretty telling how they sacrifice 2D character models so that they can go all out with the aerial combat set pieces. In terms of sound and sight, Kotobuki has its chops. It’s not in the level of extraordinary, mind you, but to animate those long battle scenes in every single episode and makes it as appealing as what we got so far is no small feat. The problems lie in the lack of actual story, or even characters that we feel worth spending time for. This week, I still don’t warm up that much to the characters. I do learn more about two of them. Reona (in red uniform), the leader of this group and the voice of reason as opposed to the impulsive Kirie and Chika last week, and Emma (the blonde) who frankly criticizes the mayor before gets rescued by him later on. I don’t mind this “you pick up on character traits as you go along” approach Kotobuk’s currently implementing, but I can see that this approach could turn viewers off because they don’t have a reason to care for the story.

It doesn’t help the case that the story this week is as bareboned as it can get. Rachma, their town was attacked by air pirates who calling themselves “Elite Industries”. The CEO, who acts as over the top as one could, is eyeing the town’s Raiden fighter, and fires off as warning once the town refuses to do the trade. I’m a bit let down by the way Kotobuki clearly makes a ruthless villain we all love to hate, and there is a clear black and white here. The other development this episode focuses on, however, is the town mayor’s indecision to make a final call. This thread works better than the punchable face CEO, but still leaves a lot to be desired. The small town villagers get a sense that they need to participate (and not relying on the girls) to protect their hometown, and the mayor, in a spur of a moment, decide to ride his Raiden and saves Emma, although at the cost of the Raiden.

So yep, story-wise and characters-wise, Kotobuki offers surprisingly very little to hold on to. What it sells so far is the presentation. CG planes look cool in motion and we can feel the impact of every hit the air jets receive. I also quite enjoy the rapid-fire conversations and clearly each girl sounds and behaves different, although to be fair it’s all style with no substance right now. The only way the show could improve is that they need to get more constructed, as fighting pirates week-to-week, quite fun to look at, gets dull rather easily.

Posted on 21 January 2019 with categories: Finished Series: Action, Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai

Many of you might wonder why I decided to blog this show, despite the first episode spent two third of its time in one single aerial combat, which can be fascinating to watch but bring extremely little to talk about. While I agree that Kotobuki has its fair share of underwhelming aspects (which I will get to that later), it’s the presentation so far that makes it unlike any other show this season. First, it’s a new project from veteran director Tsutomu Mizushima, whose has directed a modern classic Shirobako, but perhaps is more well-known for his own take on genre-anime, to a varying degree of success, such as Girls und Panzers, Another, Mayoiga, Prison School and xxxholic.

Kotobuki’s premise reminds us strongly to Girls und Panzers especially, being another cut girls with military vehicle. So far it does well to differentiate itself from Panzers. The CG visual, for example, is a bold decision and so far it’s a hit-or-miss for me. Whenever it’s CG planes hitting each other it’s a delight to watch and hear. It’s also worth mentioning that Mizushima himself is in charge of the sound mixing, and sound in Kotobuki is anything less than spectacular. When the bullets the air jet, for instance, we can hear the metal sound clashing instead of explosions like other anime tend to do. The CG character designs, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. Generally they look okay, not in the same level of Sanizgen’s designs, but not awful either. But the moments their faces move or we have a close-up from lower angle, the CG is distracting and it looks jarring and unnatural.

Narrative-wise, it’s another bold decision of Kotobuki to throw the introduction / info dump parts down the sewer drain. As a result we pick up the information as they go along, usually with rapid-fire and heaps of talking. While normally I enjoy these kinds of narrative choice, it does it at the cost of the characters themselves given the fact that I can only remember 2 or 3 characters at best and the rest is just blurred somewhere in the background. It’s certainly the show that demands our attention through its natural and quick dialogues to pick up pieces of information or character’s traits through what they say and act. Finally, Kotobuki seems to make up its mind that their central of focus is the lengthy sequence of battles on the sky and in that respect the show fulfils its beautifully. The combats are well choreographed, sometimes it can be a bit difficult to follow but it’s always success of pulling you into the atmosphere.

In term of plot, so far we learn about this Kotobuki squad that consist of 6 female team members, which Kirie and Chika are the ones who tend to do things on their impulse. In this episode Kotobuki attempts to flesh out its world building by investigating the fact that the loss of its industrial cause many abandoned cities. There’s also something going on beyond our team’s knowledge given the squads they were up against are skilled and wasn’t on the mere amateurish level, which for me this win feels like one step forward before a big regression in the future. Kotobuki’s aesthetics might be a hit-and-miss so far, but it still remains a fun action show full of spectacular moments.

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