If you’d read my review of Area 88, you may recall that I gushed over the gorgeously depicted dogfights in that show. Since then I’ve been looking for something that scratched that itch. Not necessarily with the amount of grit that Area 88 did – but still, something that had exciting, tense fighter dogfights. The Winter 2018 anime season brought me the thing that I’d been waiting for. Specifically, it brought me The Magnificent Kotobuki, from the writer and director of Shirobako and Girls Und Panzer. Now, the series had some difficulty taking off for some fans because of the stylistic choices the director made. However, once it got airborne, in my view The Magnificent Kotobuki became a fantastic action anime.
Airships of the Sand Sea
The Magnificent Kotobuki is set on an unknown desolate planet. The society on the planet has something of diesel-punk tech level. Pilots fly World War II-era aircraft, and airships traverse the sea of sand.
The show itself focuses on a squadron of mercenaries – the Kotobuki Squadron. The squadron made up a cast of female characters who fit the various Cute Girl archetypes. There’s “wildcat” Kylie, Kylie’s best friend Emma, petite-girl-with-inferiority-complex Chika, cold calculating smartass Kate, glamorous hard drinker Zara, and leader Leona. The group works for the Oni Group, a trading company lead by Miss LouLou, are based out of the airship Hagoromo, commanded by Commander Saneatsu.
The series starts out with a pretty basic premise, with the squadron mainly going up against air pirates. As the series goes on, political tensions between the various settlements start to grow. The crux of these tensions are “holes” in the sky – portals to another world (our Earth). At some point in the past, a group of people called the Yufang came through some of those holes. They introduced a bunch of technology to the wasteland and then left. Supposedly, those “holes” stopped appearing as well. When it starts to come out that these holes starting to show up again, tensions shift from quiet disagreement into an open air war.
The dogfights are animated extremely well. The planes are rendered in CG, as are most vehicles in anime these days. However, what Kotobuki does is use this to give the fights a dynamic camera, using perspectives where the camera is locked on to the plane’s tail through various maneuvers and other sorts of perspectives that you can do in cel animation, but with a lot of work and which you can’t easily experiment with.
Even more impressive though, is the sound. This is probably the first new anime I’ve watched as it aired since I got a soundbar on my TV, and would go on to watch with my parents over their home theater system with even better speakers. Had I listened to the show over my TV speakers, the experience would have been greatly diminished. The frames of the aircraft creak with the strain of the maneuvers. Wind whistles through the guidewires across the top of the plane. It’s a gorgeous soundscape that really immerses you in the action in a way that I never really had before.
However, not everything in the show quite works. In particular, the director made a choice to animate the lead characters in CGI, while animating the supporting cast by hand, with some exceptions on both cases. Viewers have had mixed responses to
I did not have any problems with this style. Neither did my parents on our weekend anime nights. However, I have noticed that a lot of other very prominent anime critics (including Arkada) have not had the same reaction.
There are significant chunks of the show’s worldbuilding that are implied instead of shown. Director Tsutomu Mizushima and writer Michiko Yokote trust the audience to fill in the gaps. However, if you’re struggling to stay invested due to problems with the animation, you might not be up to that.