Girly Air Force
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Girly Air Force ?
This week's episode of Girly Air Force actually has even less action than the last one's lopsided detour. But as much as I enjoyed last week's trip into stock romcom territory, it's impossible to deny that this episode has much more going on in terms of plot and theme development. Despite my propensity for writing off its more ‘predictable’ tropes, the direction of the show has proven difficult for me to predict, so I don't want to commit too hard to speculation. But given the way things are set up in this episode, I get the feeling we're gearing up for the last arc of the show at this point.
It all starts in the episode's opening minutes, with a surprisingly moody sequence by Girly Air Force's standards that eventually gets revealed to be a dream. At this point, it's all vague portents about how Kei and Gripen's bond ‘actually’ works, complete with literal blank spaces in the dialogue to be filled in with shocking revelations later. But the sequence looks and feels nice, and it uses those gimmicks to ramp up the intrigue. I genuinely haven't a clue what all this is about yet, but just the hint that Girly Air Force could have one or two big reveals left in its pocket before the end keeps me engaged. The show's storytelling has always been at least functional, so I shouldn't be too surprised that it knows how to start teasing for the big finale.
Everything else in the episode is more straightforward arc setup. Kei literally gets dragged off the street to go to another base to meet another scientist, and it's American ones this time! William Shankle and Rhino are mostly around to be morally ambiguous and keep us guessing what the real conflict is going to be, and to their credit they play that role well. Rhino in particular works well as an enigmatic character with some impactful facial expressions, who's not really what I'd expect when a harem show introduces an ‘American’ character (especially since Eagle already filled that niche). Rhino proves to be surprisingly reflective as a character, most notably musing on humankind's propensity for perpetual conflict and worrying that Anima could fall into the same cycle. It's a grounded far cry from the show's more reductive look at militarization and conflict resolution in the past.
Opposite Rhino we've got her handler, DARPA scientist Shankle, who isn't outright antagonistic yet, but he definitely seems to be in opposition to the show's sympathetically-positioned leads. Currently his plan is to attempt an operation to retake a portion of Shanghai from the Xi, with the assistance of these unmanned fighters he's so proud of. He spends so much time cockily going over how well they work that it only seems obvious they'll end up failing. Of course, the other main reason these things are brought up is to highlight the difference between him and Yashirodoori. As Gripen enlightens Kei, her ‘father’ doesn't actually see a difference between humans and artificial intelligences like Shankle's drones. On one level, it's a nice way to finally explain that Yashirodoori does view the Anima as ‘people’ with all the granted agency that entails. Then again, this explanation also seems to put him in conflict with Shankle's plan to use the unmanned drone fighters. It's a nice sentiment on the surface, but feels harder to debate when it's a question of sending humans or drones into a major life-or-death situation like this one.
Shankle's other contribution near the end of the episode is more theoretically interesting but still feels wanting in execution. He's got this detailed computer program for working out ways to deal with Xi attacks and ensure humanity's survival, an advanced simulation that—okay, it's RISK. It's just RISK, and we get a whole scene of him watching Kei play RISK over and over to try and glean any new strategic information. Technically, I get what's supposed to be engaging about this part. We're watching Kei closely for any revelations about the Xi versus humans struggle just like Shankle. There should be a moment of epiphany, but in practice it's just several minutes of watching our guy click around a RISK board on a computer screen. It does give way to some payoff eventually, as Gripen excels at the simulated board game, with some interesting implications raised in the process. But it still feels like a whole lot of time padded for the mere ‘revelation’ that the Anima are more mysterious than think at this point. They're black-box fighter-jet robot-waifus, so yeah, no kidding, and the shorter dream sequence at the beginning of this episode did a much more effective job of conveying that mystique.
My frustration with this silly computer-game sequence doesn't really sink my opinion of the episode, though. Girly Air Force is still doing its job just fine, and this week that job was to drive up my interest in what comes next. Whatever the mystery may be, there's still just enough clues to make me curious about the answer. Add to that more nuanced analysis of the show's subject matter, and you have a pretty solid episode.
Girly Air Force is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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