Girly Air Force
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Girly Air Force ?
This last episode of Girly Air Force tries to fake us out at first, but I was right to be worried about Rhino. In hindsight, the poor girl was pretty much destined to wind up the antagonist of this final arc one way or the other, so at least all her introspection last episode set her up for a decent send-off. The way this finale facilitates her heel-turn and the information it imparts about the Anima and the Xi are also the closest things we get to a resolution for this story as the season wraps up, which is to say we don't get much. As a result, this ending caps off its particular arc well enough, but utterly fails at completing the story, opting instead for a "read the novels" conclusion.
It turns out that Rhino's poignant conversation with Kei in the previous episode was her last hurrah, since she's been taken over by the mysterious force that controls the airport. That's eventually revealed to be the Xi themselves, but the revelation itself is paced out with all the effective atmosphere and mounting tension that Girly Air Force showed off so well last episode. Right away, the episode was doing well keeping me guessing, leading to Rhino delivering an unhinged monologue that presented a twisted version of her musings on the inevitability of war, all while the music rose and that creepy glass-clinking noise kept going off in the background.
Rhino's desire to keep Kei and Gripen isolated at the airport are as close to revelatory world-building as we get from this finale. The idea seems to be that the Xi exist to force humanity away from the possibility of conflict and destruction and return to simply living peacefully with nature. Forget my reference to Stealth last week, who remembers The Happening? There's still no detailed explanation of what the Xi actually are or where they came from, but tying back into that RISK game from a few episodes back, we at least leave off with a vague understanding of their motivations.
All this dialogue is really just window dressing though, as once Rhino starts shooting at Kei and the airport gets encased in evil Xi glass, the appeal is all action. Production-wise, the chase through all the glass makes for a distinct set piece, as the encroaching crystalline structures make it clear that the danger is rapidly escalating. After the characters get into the air, we're treated to a customarily strong dogfight with the glass-covered Rhino as a unique ‘final boss’. It's strong use of CGI that makes me wish for more anime dogfights (this series' seasonal neighbor The Magnificent Kotobuki notwithstanding). The fight's directed well enough for the audience to keep up, even as the speed increases with Kei rapidly strategizing the whole way. It's engrossing enough that I was caught up in the excitement even as they were preparing to kill off a character I'd really come to like. Sayonara, Rhino. At least Gripen spared a moment of grief for you.
Everything that follows is just wrap-up. Kei and Gripen get to meet back up with all their friends for a big shootout with the remaining Xi fighters. Even Viper Zero gets to be included! There's also another wrinkle of intrigue introduced with the revelation that time flows differently in Xi-possessed areas like the airport. And Kei talks with Yashirodoori for a few posthumous details on Rhino that mainly serve to flesh out the characterization of the other Anima. The idea goes that the U.S.-produced Rhino had more safeguards and restrictions put on her personality, which made her easy pickings for the Xi to take her over and unhinge her actions. It's meant to inform Gripen's resistance to the same force, as well as the functionality of her bond with Kei. I like this evolution of the old idea of love as a stabilizing influence, reflected in Yashirodoori's ethos: “Make us so important to them that they want to protect us”. But given that this was apparently the only takeaway from Rhino's demise, and that the parallel example of the Brawlers being taken over isn't even mentioned again, it does unfortunately feel like the story just jettisoning all this arc's elements now that it's done with them.
I could be wrong about that, of course; maybe the novel content that follows up these episodes incorporates more elements in the transition to a new story. But that's beside the point, as this for-now final episode of Girly Air Force leaves us with only nebulous answers to some of our questions—the dream sequences from the past couple episodes haven't even been filled in! Instead we're left with some vague musings on ‘destiny’ that mostly seem to be excusing some of the more contrived elements of the plot. This arc wrapping up so neatly as the strongest part of the show keeps it from feeling like too much of a shaggy dog story, but as a final episode, it's still a victim of the single-season limited format. We haven't arrived at our destination, we're just being left on a layover.
Girly Air Force is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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