Girly Air Force
Episode 7

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 7 of
Girly Air Force ?

It's definitely becoming apparent that Girly Air Force's particular military-minded worldview means it's not really for everyone, and I'm starting to think that includes myself. On some level, this is necessitated by the subject matter; series like Girls Und Panzer and Kantai Collection also came up with ways to effectively merchandise their military machines while downplaying the grim specter of war. So GAF sees a novel solution in having different jets from across multiple eras and nationalities coming together to take on one-dimensional foes. But due to the nature of how those conflicts play out, the author's feelings about conflict, war, and militarization do shine through.

We experience this to a few different degrees this episode, across multiple sub-stories, starting with the mock-battle challenge Kei issued Phantom. Phantom's previous victory against the other characters was presented to make her seem unpleasant and underhanded, cheating her way to victory in the conviction that any action you can take to win in a given situation is valid. The way Kei and Gripen take her down this time is certainly less ‘cheaty’ than Phantom's own tactics; their plan relies on making her think they intended to cheat, only to reveal that plot as a smokescreen to obfuscate the real switcheroo they utilized. But it still falls into that pragmatic, ‘win any way you can’ mindset and feeds into the development afterwards. Phantom pushes for Kei to pilot the actual aircraft while Gripen herself focuses on shooting and monitoring, simply because she's incapable of operating at optimal ability otherwise. It feels like backtracking on the development Gripen got during the "prove yourself useful" storyline that also didn't sit right with me, all in the name of presenting a situation where she defers to both Phantom and Kei in the name of winning the operation at any cost.

The idea of one's own value being rooted in fighting ability is palpable through all the portions of this episode. The mock fight and the real one are broken up by Kei visiting the hangar and talking with Gripen, sleepless with anxiety over the coming battle. Of course, since the Xi are basically a non-entity, Kei's issues have nothing to do with any question of morality, but more fear that he may fight ineffectively and end up dying. For anyone not engrossed by the mindset of sacrificing your all to defeat a pure-evil enemy, the conversation between Kei and Gripen takes on some uncomfortable tones. At one point, Gripen's motivational speech includes the idea that she's ‘blessed’ because she has the ability to shoot down her enemies, mitigating Kei's fears in the way that not having any ability to fight reduces one to a useless bystander.

I'm not so naive that I'm going to argue that a series like Girly Air Force (nor any conflict with an enemy that is uncompromisingly set on your destruction) needs to include token attempts to ‘reason’ with their enemy. To their credit, the Xi feel more like a simple excuse for cool jets to fly around blowing stuff up rather than any coded cipher for an audience member's perceived enemies. But it still leads to a reductive view of war when coupled with all the story's other elements, especially its glorification of real-world weapons. So pointedly shifting a character's possible worries away from ‘concern over the morality of fighting others’ over to ‘fearing they have to kill or be killed’ seems at least like a reductive way of looking at the conflict.

I feel like I'm doing a greater degree of analyzing Girly Air Force's ideas on conflict and militarization than the show expects of its audience. I can't help it; much of this episode just left a bad taste in my mouth. You've got Yashirodori, ostensibly Phantom's ‘father’, giving Kei permission to get rough with her to ‘bring that tomboy back in line’. You've got some paint-by-numbers storytelling, like Kei explaining the plan to beat Phantom out of earshot of the audience two scenes in a row, just so we know it'll work when we see it in action. And we get some other obvious foreshadowing in the form of a fourth ‘Daughter’, a special plane called the Viper Zero that gets explained but not utilized yet, calling our attention to it before the arc where it's actually relevant without actually building much anticipation.

Girly Air Force has worked best as a mere story of a boy, the cute planes who like him, and their cool-ass dogfights. Too much discussion of the moral dilemmas for all these characters in their effectively one-sided conflict lies just calls attention away from the fun-factor of the premise. The complexities of someone like Phantom made her interesting to follow compared to the more boilerplate harem members, but now I'm wondering if it's possible to go back to that simpler version of the show. The thematic points being repeatedly hammered home this week aren't really necessary in a story about cute girl planes shooting down drones.

Rating: C

Girly Air Force is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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