Girly Air Force
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Girly Air Force ?
I will admit that Girly Air Force picks up the plot it prolonged last episode better than I expected. Gripen's stay of execution still feels artificially extended, especially as some beats repeat themselves, but she and Kei pick up their interactions naturally enough this week. The strongest part of this arrangement comes when Kei runs back to the base to find her at the last minute, knowing to look in her under-bridge hideaway from episode 2. It's a sharp bit of relationship-building continuity that an ostensibly romantic show like this should be built on, and schmaltzy as the apologies and reconciliation that follow are, they make the show's storyline feel more complete and attentive.
I've also got to compliment the action scene late in this episode. It's mostly CGI again, but the series' direction is using its concept of fantastical flying to craft something more visually unique than I've seen in a while. There are some technical plane tricks, namely the air-brakes maneuver that Kei teaches Gripen, but it's explained effectively enough, even pointing out how outrageous it would be in real life, that it reads just fine for a layman audience. The progression of the fight plays well off the development we've gotten for Gripen and Kei's relationship dynamic, with Kei's established flight abilities coming in handy for inspiring Gripen to show off her true power. Yes, we knew pretty much as soon as the idea was jokingly floated that Kei would end up flying up with Gripen to assist her, but this effectively shows how their chemistry will work, all set to a pretty nice song.
So I had to get those nice things out of the way first, because the rest of this episode had a lot of issues. First of all, there's the introduction of Eagle. After dropping in to stop the story dead in the middle last episode, she ends up barely appearing in this one, with only the faintest vestiges of a personality hinted at so far. She also continues the infantilization trend, though in a different way from the helpless Gripen; Eagle simply acts like a little kid most of the time. Thus far she's contributed hardly anything to the plot or character dynamic, save for setting up a scene where Minghua gets jealous of her clingy behavior around Kei, giving us some fairly stock harem antics. But after just a couple scenes establishing her rambunctiousness, she virtually evaporates from the episode, popping in around the ending battle scene just to establish that Gripen and Kei have come in to save the day.
Unfortunately, between the decently heartwarming below-the-bridge reunion and entertaining battle scene, the ideas behind Kei and Gripen's reconciliation and the plane subsequently proving herself end up pretty weak. This all hinges on a point that's been around for the past few episodes, that Gripen must prove herself as a non-defective piece of hardware or face being scrapped. It's a callous deadline that's never sat right with me, and it comes to a head this week as she and Kei discuss how she must make herself ‘useful’ lest she be destroyed. It's a utilitarian philosophy that I can't personally endorse, and I'd previously found Girly Air Force's pragmatism toward its android heroines refreshing, but with the climax of this arc hinging on Gripen's assumed lack of personhood, I find myself wishing they had gazed into that navel more.
To Kei's credit, he does end up wanting to take Gripen himself and hide her from the JSDF to let her live regardless of how she's evaluated, but there's still some sketchy discussion prior to that with him insisting that she can make herself ‘useful’ enough to deserve a second chance at life. Having to provide some service in order to justify your own existence is a philosophy I can see appealing to the show's more military philosophies, but it still feels more utilitarian than I'd like from this particular story. That's not even touching the fact that Gripen is being used as an instrument of war (as much as that can be handwaved in this case as ‘protecting humanity’). Heck, when Gripen and Kei do return to the base to help during an attack, Yashiodori's initial instruction is for her to go on a suicide run. The most ‘useful’ thing she can do is to die to protect her country.
Shows like Girly Air Force where the characters are representations of literal objects will always walk a fine line in cases like these, splitting the difference between the characters as people with personalities and the real-world useful objects they represent. At least once Kei and Gripen get into the air, their dynamic sweeps the episode up into the strongest version of itself. There's even time to use the concept to finally deliver some aircraft trivia, letting me know about the real-world Gripen's adaptable runway abilities. But the poor introduction of what should have been an interesting new character and the disagreeable themes lurking under the surface leave a bad taste in my mouth at the end of this initial arc.
Girly Air Force is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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