Girly Air Force
When the Xi attacked and just about obliterated everyone in his homeland, Kei Narutani and his childhood friend, Minghua Song, had to flee China and settle down in Japan. On route, he is saved by a mysterious jet fighter with an odd coloring sceme, and whose pilot is a mysterious young girl.
As it happened, the two would meet again at their new living area, and Kei is quickly swept up in the war, where humanity's hope is reliant on special fighter jets piloted by "daughters", young girls created through scientific means.
My interest in fighter jets seems like one of the odd fringe ones that I'm actually not sure when I picked up. I already had a vague interest in it when I was drafted for our country's mandatory millitary duty, where I pretty much dealt with fighter jets. No, I didn't become a pilot -- if you don't already know, becoming a full-fledged jet fighter pilot is one of the hardest careers you can try for in the millitary, where even things you can't control can work against you. As in: are you a tall person? Just that works against you. No, my own career were basically manning radar stations or lookout posts. At any rate, even after I finished said millitary duty, my interest in jets still remained, which followed me into my interest for movies and videogames. Yes, I have watched the Iron Eagle movies, and Top Gun for that matter. (And yes, we didn't realize how hilariously homoerotic Top Gun could be at the time.) For videogames, I did buy one of the early Ace Combat games on the PS1, but the series wouldn't really impress me gameplaywise until Ace Combat 6. But weirder than that, I also went for N-Gen Racing, a surprisingly good racing games where you use fighter jets instead of cars, bikes or other land-based vehicles.
So when I read the concept for this show, I was both intrigued and horrified at the same time. My lingering interest in jet fighters made sure I had to watch this, but I wasn't sure what to think of what pretty much felt like a harem show, or at least a show based on the "male character solves the problems of the female ones" concept that's both kinda sweet and kinda sexist at the same time, depending on how you pursue it. Partially because it tends to make for the blandest characters, or the most irritating ones.
Girly Air Force sort of teeters dangerously close to it too. Neither Kei or Minghua made the best of first impressions, as Kei kind of carried with him a childish streak, and Minghua filled the "nagging shrew" part of the relationship, with a potential tsundere streak. There is some more depth to it, thankfully, as the show plays out their roles as fugitives quite well -- from the chaotic attack on a private transport ship, which shows us when Kei and Gripen first met, to the eventual spot where Kei meets her again in a millitary base and finally understands just who, and what, Gripen is.
Which brings us to the anima and their daughters. I was initially under the impression that the girls themselves morphed into fighter jets, but that proved to be somewhat incorrect. We don't get a lot of insight into how the anima are created, but their plane bodies and the "daughters" -- basically separate humanoid bodies -- are two separate beings of oddly-colored fighter jet modelled after real-life jets and teenage-looking girl. The plane bodies are basically just mechanical bodies that have the same needs as regular planes in regard to maintenance and fuel consumption, and aren't themselves sentinent, while the "daughters" are the teenage girls who function as their pilots because of the fact that they aren't afflicted by a regular pilot's greatest enemy (aside from thing we label enemies in situations of war): the G-forces. As the show points out, too much of that stuff will kill a regular human being, so the anima are an invaluable weapon against the Xi, because they can fly like no human being can.
Of course, the science that created the anima isn't an easy one, so the Japanese Defense Force only have four anima at their service, which is possibly also the largest group owned by a single nation. We don't really learn how an anima is produced, though, so it's unclear whether Japan ended up with three American and one Swedish fighter jet in their fleet by chance or if they have any agency in choosing which jets they want. What we do learn, however, is that Gripen is somewhat of a failed project. She has a tendency to fall asleep in the middle of battle, as if she was suffering from narcolepsy of some kind. As it turns out, that time limit somehow gets extended if Kei is nearby, which fosters a codependency I'm not sure how I feel about, mostly because it gives Gripen very little agency in her own life outside of making her want to keep Kei around, which just makes the lesson the show imparts later on even more bizarre.
The main quandry the show has is this: the anima and their daughter were created for a specific purpose, granted, but each of the anima in question still have distinctive personalities which marks them as living beings more or less -- they clearly have emotions, even if Gripen is more of a deadpan sort, and, like the needs of their jet fighter parts, they partake in regular human necessities like eating or sleeping to keep themselves healthy. Yet, the first crisis of the day once the Kei/Gripen relationship has been established is saving her from being commissioned by the people who created her; the upper echelon who wants results. That's why Haruka Yashirodori is quite happy to find out about Kei's mysterious narcolepsy-inhibiting effect on Gripen. He calls Kei her "Prince Charming" (even if she was the one who kissed him on their first meeting instead of the other way around) and immediately railroads him into helping Gripen find her place in their fleet.
As it turned out, the three different anima you see the most often -- Gripen, Eagle and Phantom -- don't have the best of personal relationships between each other, at least at first. Granted, Eagle just has a massively childish and competive streak, so you're going to have to take her attitude with a pinch of salt, but Phantom is perhaps the biggest mystery of them all until you learn that she was basically the first anima to be created. (Which honestly makes me wonder why she wasn't designated as Barbie 01 instead of Gripen since, for a long time, she was the only fighter anima they had.) Phantom does come across as the most mature at first, but that's just until you learn how she turned into the massively cynical girl she is today, which of course Kei shakes her (at least partially) out of because the show is what it is.
Either way, people being at each other's throats seems to be a big theme here. Eagle is the strongest here, as she's more than happy to remind you, and if you disagree with that, you better be ready to be challenged. So of course, when Phantom makes her eat those words, she throws a huge hissyfit as befits her childish personality. Meanwhile, Phantom herself has her own ideas how things should be done, and she will be more than willing to go against any superior officer to see it through. They do mellow out a bit as the show goes along and learns to work together, of course, but not without completely abandoning their primary character traits. And by "working together", that will occasionally mean things like Phantom taking advantage of Eagle's tendencies to trick her into doing what she wants.
Granted, harem shows or romance shows primarily for teenagers -- or action shows with teenage protagonists -- tend to vary greatly on the maturity scales, and sadly, that does extend to Girly Air Force. Kei isn't really a bad person by any stretch of the definition, and to the show's credit, his desire for revenge over the Xi is portrayed as somewhat immature, even if it's understandable from his point of view. Confusingly enough, Minghua -- who's the biggest contributor to this opinion -- does come across as more than a bit condescending at first, not helped by the fact that the show then proceeds to torpedo most of Kei's attempts to socialize with her, presumably for comedy. Coupled with Eagle's childish version of being competitive and Phantom's snotty rebuttal to said attitude, Girly Air Force becomes one of those rare shows where the adults are more mature than the teenagers most of the time. It's an odd levelling of the scales, because yes, the teenage characters in the movie do act immature from time to time, but more or less on a level where I can get annoyed with them, but not so much than I think them a lost case. Weirdly enough, Kei even occasionally turns to one of the adults -- mostly Yashirodori -- for advice or help, or maybe even just to hear an alternate opinion on a dilemma of his. And Girly Air Force is even decent enough to show that adulthood doesn't necessarily mean maturity, as some of the later characters will show you, both to its credit and detriment. It often puts me in that situation where I feel annoyed at the show, and then I feel annoyed that I should feel even more annoyed at it.
Does this mean Girly Air Force is a good show? My answer to that is... "sometimes". Aside from the aforementioned oddly realistic approach to the topic of maturity, the whole setup does come across as somewhat intriguing, particularly with the existance of the Xi, and the resulting invasion of China causes an understandable reaction in Kei, if not necessarily a mature one. The clearly nonhuman antagonists serve pretty much the same purpose as... say, the Neuroi from the Strike Witches franchise, and their origin and motivation are never really explored to any extent outside of the final story segment, which is also sadly the worst part of the entire show despite the complete lack of the show's normal brand of comedy. It simply feels too fillerish; an attempt to get into the Xi mind that doesn't really go anywhere, and feels starkly contrast-ish with the rest of the show. This was not helped by the fact that it took one of my favorite characters in the show and threw her under a bus, basically, and eventually lead to one of the most nonsensical justifications in the entire show.
This does mirror the confusion over some character motivations earlier in the show too. The plot of Girly Air Force is mostly centered around Kei bonding with Gripen and the way their yet-to-be-explained bond that somehow gives Gripen the ability to stay awake for vastly longer amounts of time. In fact, the first story arc is about Gripen's fight for continued existance, as she faced the possibility of being decommissioned. The show doesn't come out and say it, but it's quite clear that it basically means destroying her completely. While she is the more deadpan member of the group, both Gripen and her two "sisters" are clearly sentient beings -- they need to eat and sleep to survive, just as any biological beings, and Gripen even seeks solitude at times to sort out her thoughts about various difficulties in her life -- although their lives are also, supposedly, tied to their airplanes, even if the "daughters" don't have to be in physical contact with their planes at any point. Sure, each of the girls were technically created by scientists, which makes their individuality -- varying levels of maturity aside -- an amazing feat of science, but you'd have to be a pretty cold and cynical person to think that someone should be able to end that on a whim once they're created and given life. But since the show isn't big on clear answers, it's hard to tell what stance it has on this. Particularly since we don't really know for sure if the "daughter" will live on if their non-sentient airplane body is dismantled, given that they work as pilots as much out of necessity as any personal desire on their part, although Eagle does at least seem very happy about her position.
I guess that's Girly Air Force's biggest upside: there's actually a lot to chew on here, which is a rarity in shows like these. Its tendency to hold back on any definite answers makes the series both interesting and frustrating. The show reveals -- pretty early on, so I hope you won't consider this too much of a spoiler reveal on my part -- that Gripen and the other anima girls are made using Xi technology, which becomes the explanation to why the soldiers in the base she's residing on seem to hold her in nothing but contempt. You don't learn this immediately, but Girly Air Force makes Kei's reaction to this both believable and compelling, and it isn't entirely unrealistic to understand why the Japanese defense forces would feel about this, even if it is unreasonable. But the show also tries to play an angle where the American forces are setting the Japanese one up in what basically amounts to a suicide mission to thin out some of the Japanese anima because they have only one, while Japan has four. Yet, when Kei, Yashirodori and the "daughters" attend the party, they're met by a jovial bunch of soldiers who shared none of the Japanese soldiers' contempt for their anima, and there was not a whit of dishonesty to be found in that scene.
That doesn't mean that every decision the show makes is of the sound one, though. If you look beyond the bizarre and still unexplained ability to keep a jet fighter girl awake with your mere presence, life continues to crap on Kei by putting him in a situation where he can't even tell his pseudo-sister/wife/whatever about what's going on, up to the point where the millitary sends a black car and "kidnaps" you right in front of her, and she chews you out over it instead of going "Oh no! Someone kidnapped the guy I'm almost constantly verbally crapping on because I secretly like him! Someone do something!" And that was after many times where he had to ditch her himself, and me quoting LOTR by going "Let them have a moment, for pity's sake!" when I saw them out and about. That was even the very episode after the two have had an argument, made up, and then Kei just turned uncharacteristically rude for absolutely no reason other than to do a situational reset.
Girly Air Force is an interesting conundrum like that. It's got the blandest of casts, but puts it to relatively good use, at least when it comes to materials centered around the war. It's relatively straightforward, and its main character does give off a fairly natural feeling of someone who had to flee their country because of an invading force, and he even has interests that's personal to him. As for the girls, I guess it's kind of logical that he "daughter" girls have little in the way of personalities -- they are like they were created -- and they simply haven't had much time to develop on a more personal level due to the whole "lack of childhood" thing that's so important for normal human beings. (Except for Phantom, who is, as I mentioned, the oldest of the girls.) You'd think an action series against a relatively nonhuman enemy would be straightforward too, but that's only because you haven't reached the nonsensical last arc which nearly broke my camel's back, partially because said arc took the opportunity to get rid of a character that made a really good first impression on me, and kept up that impression the whole way through.
On the flipside, the more slice-of-life-ish parts were kind of dull overall, not helped by the fact that the animation seemed to take a bit of a dip during those moments. Part of that is because of the fact that Kei socializing with Gripen means going out on dates, which usually consists of going somewhere to eat or go shopping. It does have a potential upswing on any segment taking place at Gripen's favorite privacy hangout; an old hangar with an equally old aeroplane of the non-millitary variety with a suspicious similarity to the one Kei's mother was flying when the Xi shot her down right in front of his eyes. I suspect that this airplane might become important later down the road, at least for the novel.
The ending also being a bit inconclusive on the overall storyline, I answered the question of "do you want to see more?" with a very clear and definite "...mmmmaybe?" Because that's the kind of confidence Girly Air Force instills in me. What this basically means is that if it shows up on a streaming service I actually have access to, I'll give it a look, but if it doesn't, my reaction will most likely be "....eh, whatever." It's simply that average.
It's OK. It's got some good parts and some bad parts, and it will probably entertain you if or when it's not making you bored. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Given that the show is basically about a war, you do get some relatively mild scenes of planes being shot down, although we are made clear that China has been completely overrun and a lot of its population killed, so... still serious business.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs only.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Girly Air Force © 2019 Satelight.
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