Girly Air Force
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Girly Air Force ?
Well hot dang, Girly Air Force. After ten weeks of episodes that were so succinctly ‘alright’ and ‘okay’, we finally have one that was really good! Apart from last episode's simple setup, this one has multiple payoffs already kicking off, but more importantly, it also has some surprises in store. Girly Air Force has jumped around in genre a few times already, entertaining sci-fi military action and harem hijinks interchangeably. This episode, however, brings in a lot more strong mystery and suspense flavor. It's an element the show's been playing around with in those dream sequences for the past couple episodes, but they've opened it up more effectively this week. In hindsight, it seems only obvious that this show about planes was just missing some atmosphere.
The first half of the episode is more straightforward in what we expect from the show at this point, though. There's a few more detailed run-downs of the plan to retake Shanghai, so the show knows we're definitely aware of all the ways it can go wrong, there's some lovingly-detailed catapult launch sequences for the mechanical enthusiasts in the audience, and we get to see those A.I.-controlled Brawler units make their big debut. Even with all the new kinds of ships flying around in a large-scale dogfight, the presentation keeps things from being too chaotic to follow. There's even time for nice little touches, like the way characters like Eagle get to wiggle around to express their personalities even in jet form.
These sharp touches keep us engaged enough to be attentive when things predictably go wrong. There's the arrival of a cool new parasite-fighter model of Xi, then what appears to be a jamming signal, which turns out to have taken control of the Brawlers. It's frustrating because a couple of weeks ago, when the conceit of the Brawlers was revealed, I immediately predicted some accident causing their A.I. to go rogue like the automated aircraft from the infamous 2005 film Stealth, but I stopped short of writing that reference into the review because practically no one would get it. But now it's inevitably come to pass, which is the perfect excuse to get Kei, Gripen, and Rhino on the ground for the dramatic second half of this episode. I'm grateful at least for that development.
The much-needed atmosphere hits hard the instant our separated crew sets foot into the abandoned Chinese airport. The title of this episode alone sells the chilling concept at play here, ‘A Homeland With No One Home’. Instead of being derelict or dilapidated, the airport looks to be in pristine condition, just minus any actual humans, sparkling with an odd sheen as if in suspended animation. Kei, Gripen, and Rhino's cautious-but-curious exploration of the area ends up contrasting with the high-octane dogfight in the first half for maximum impact. It's a situation where this could have simply been a matter of sticking two disparate chapter-chunks from the novels together, but in this case the direction leans into the choice to really make it work.
This has been such a straightforward show so far that it's surprising to see it excel at conveying the general unease of this whole situation. The tension builds from Gripen being struck by some mysterious malady to the oddly ominous clinging noise following Kei around, and a cliffhanger that genuinely had me wishing the episode wasn't over yet, something I've never found myself doing with Girly Air Force before. But the real MVP of this episode is Rhino. She's turned out to be an excellent addition to the cast, skewing the Kei/Gripen dynamic as an effective third wheel who we're still not 100% certain about, even as she keeps opening up to Kei about her curious sociological fears. I find myself feeling concerned for the character and where this episode's cliffhanger will leave her, which says a lot about how successfully the show has presented her so far.
It feels weird to be gushing about an episode of Girly Air Force, especially so close to the end of its run. The show's never been bad or anything, but this is the most confident and truly unique it's felt all season, which at least somewhat vindicates all the setup it took to get us here. If the show's team can stick the landing on all this, it might be enough to elevate Girly Air Force to something more above-average than I'd previously given it credit for.
Girly Air Force is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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