Girly Air Force
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Girly Air Force ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Girly Air Force ?
How times have changed. If you'd shown me Girly Air Force ten to fifteen years ago, I'd probably have assumed it was based on a visual novel, since dating sims were so hot to adapt at the time. Its gaggle of multicolored girls in orbit around a nondescript protagonist in a world that goes out of its way to justify their proximity definitely feels in-line with that kind of thing, but of course it's 2019, so this is based on a light novel instead. It's a pointed distinction, because unlike a game, this story comes to us credit of a singular author with their own vision: the desire to smooch cool airplanes.
Girly Air Force is another in the long line of personifying things as cute anime girls, in this case military fighter planes. The only one introduced thus far is the JAS 39 Gripen, a Swedish jet who's become bonded to main character Kei. The hows and whys of the bond between the two hasn't properly been explained yet, with even the JSDF group that recruits Kei admitting they have no idea why Gripen has latched onto him so hard; she kissed him when they first met, and she functions a lot better when he's around, and that's all they have to go on. It does lend an interesting air of ‘black box’ technology to Gripen's android existence, so at least that's an appreciated concession to the fantastical connection of boy-meets-plane.
Indeed, the actual world-building of Girly Air Force is a cut above what you might expect from a series with such a title, easily its most appreciable asset. Kei and his gal-pal Minghua being actual refugees from China provides an angle I feel like I don't see often enough in anime, and the context of the enemy fighters is left nicely ambiguous. Yes it would seem obvious that they're alien in nature, but no one yet knows where they come from, so they're treated simply as an enemy army of mysterious origin until detailed otherwise. Finally, all this context gives Kei himself more to work with than your average harem protagonist (despite generically looking the part to a T). Kei has a desire to fight the Xi and liberate his homeland, as well as avenge the death of his mother. It lends more weight to his desire to help the then-unknown pilot of the Gripen that saves him, and it makes his later fixation on the plane feel more natural and personal than some blank-slate anime protagonist simply hyper-focusing on some girl he saw. Within the first episode at least, Kei demonstrates more agency and initiative than you might expect from a harem protagonist.
This makes it all the more frustrating when the second episode falls back on a much more expected route. Theoretically, this is the right time for the episode to settle in, properly introduce Gripen, and develop her relationship with Kei. But after all that solid setup, this part just isn't that interesting yet, because Gripen still doesn't really have a defined personality. There are flashes of cute entertainment value, notably a scene where she keeps forgetting to get things at lunch and Kei points out that she's the scatterbrained type, but that trait never really appears again; she just defaults to monotone blandness the rest of the time. The only other time we get anything out of her is when they're eating again later in the episode, but a personality based on reacting to food isn't exactly original for anime. That's not to mention how much of her appeal seems to come from infantilizing the way she eats and how Kei has to take care of her. I expect these otaku-aimed magical-girlfriend stories to follow familiar tropes to some degree, but any kind of hook or originality beyond occasionally remembering that this girl is a Swedish fighter plane would take the show much further. Maybe not being a military hardware otaku is keeping me out of the loop on this one; is Gripen's existence as an unreliable scatterbrain with a yawning void of personality tied to any factoids about the JAS 39? If so, then you may get more out of this than me, but I was simply left wishing some of the other girls would show up to give the story more to do.
We'll have to see where Girly Air Force goes from here. The first episode shows off some high-flying dynamic combat of the sort I might expect from a Satelight production, and while the dull second episode came up lacking, we might be back in the air by the next episode. I hope the show works better at following up on the interesting parts of its premise and backs off on the blandness evident in its second episode. Just because a show is made up of predictable parts doesn't mean it has to be so uninteresting.
Girly Air Force is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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