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This Week in Anime
Is Dragon Pilot Worth Watching?

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan has finally dropped on Netflix. This week, Nick and Steve find out what Shinji Higuchi and Mari Okada's unconventional dramedy has to say about workplace woes.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @itsbonedaddy @vestenet

Nick D
Steve, we are still deep in the trenches of the bi-annual Netflix Dump. But we're finally getting to my most anticipated anime of the year, and I can't wait to take a BITE out of it!
I'm just gonna say that this column is my comeuppance for making one too many jokes about vore.
C'mon dude, you can't tell me you don't want to sink your teeth into this show!
But yes, after months of me pounding on Netflix HQ's door, they've seen fit to release DRAGON PILOT, the latest original project from Studio BONES and Attack on Titan live-action director, Shinji Higuchi.
It tells the charming story of Hisone, an aimless new adult who joins the Japanese Air Force basically just to have something to do, and on her first day gets eaten by a big ol' dragon. The end.
Jokes aside, I was looking forward to Dragon Pilot a lot too! Just based on the previews, I was drawn in by its more cartoony art style and the involvement of one of my favorite and most divisive anime writers, Mari Okada. And the result is predictably weird and kinda all over the place. But there's a lot I like about it, and one of those things is Hisone herself.
And all of her many wonderful faces.

I cannot overstate how strong the face game in this show is. It's ridiculous.
It's honestly worth watching for that aspect alone. But Hisone is also a great and unconventional anime protagonist. For one, she's an adult woman, which is always nice to see. But more than that, she has a motor mouth combined with no filter, so she spills all of her thoughts as they arrive to her. It makes for countless awkward situations (and more good face fodder), but her brusqueness is endearing.
It's a delicate balance, but you never get the impression that Hisone is trying to be hurtful or mean. She just throws out every stray thought without considering how to phrase it, which makes her difficult to approach but also a queen of ice burns.

Yeah she's not a bad person by any means. She's just awkward as hell. and that's pretty much a requirement to be a dragon pilot. They're all outcasts in their own way, and a big part of the story is them finding companionship and solace among fellow weirdos. As someone who has built up an entire friend group by talking to other people on Twitter about anime, that's something I can relate to.
And I for one can't think of a better metaphor for bonding over weird hobbies than being eaten by a giant slobbering lizard.
In case those gifs earlier weren't a giveaway, the way you "pilot" a dragon is to crawl up in their gullyworks and punch their insides to tell them where to go.
Yes, and these dragons have existed within Japan for centuries as a closely-guarded secret.
Thankfully they've updated the disguises over the years.
Given that premise, you might think this would be a weird gross-out comedy, or a quirky family show about having to keep the dragons hidden and them sneaking out of their barracks or something. Instead what we get is a meditation on the many conflicting stresses of becoming a working adult.
Like I joke about the whole Dragon Vore thing but being swallowed whole by an inscrutable creature everyone keeps insisting you're destined for is a fantastic metaphor for taking on responsibility.

I mean, the show is also consistently goofy and entertaining, so it's not all poignant symbolism about finding meaning in a vast and absurd universe. But specifically, it's about being a woman entering the workforce and the double-binds that society thrusts upon you. Like, a major plot point is that it's impossible for Hisone to be a dragon pilot AND fall in love, which is ridiculously on-the-nose.
And this point is of course articulated by the evilest sounding anime character ever showing up and literally declaring war on love to ensure the Dragon Pilots can all Serve Their Country for as long as possible.
This leads to some classic Mari Okada hijinks about manipulating people's relationships, including a giant shipping chart for the convenience of the audience.
It's a weird way to go about it, but it does a good job of making the viewer feel super uncomfortable with just how much scrutiny and judgment these women endure just doing their jobs.
It's still played lighthearted enough to be entertaining, but there's absolutely anger just beneath the surface.
Yeah, outside of Hisone, El's arc is where sexism is most directly confronted. She wants to be a fighter pilot more than anything, but there are no women fighter pilots, so she's resentful of the fact that all she can do is fly her dragon. It creates friction with her fellow outcasts and with her dragon, but it's also not her fault, so you really feel her frustration.
And in general, sexism is always present in the background. Sometimes it's played for laughs, which does undercut the severity of the show's overall message, but I suppose it's a result of the show not wanting to get too heavy.
Yeah, some of the jokes, especially in the early episodes, comes across as too "boys will be boys", especially with the bullshit we see from the rest of the male pilots, even if it leads to some interesting bits. Like El's eventual love interest starts off as a pushy dick who talks about wearing her down, but we see when he's away from the rest of the airmen that he's not comfortable acting like that; it's performative to fit in with the other guys. It's not perfect, but it's a nuance that I can't say I've seen articulated in many other shows.
I also appreciate that the less central characters still get moments where we see their own struggles, like how Hitomi acts kind and patient to keep from being intimidating.
As messy as the anime can get, the core cast always comes across as genuine and heartfelt. Like, Hitomi's sentiments above reminded me of Okada's autobiography and how she had to deal with being taller than most of her classmates. She's probably writing a lot of this from experience, and it shows.
Yeah, even when the show isn't outright commenting on the topic, there's a lived feeling to a lot of it. That's saying something given that the latter arc of the show involves guiding a city-sized apocalypse dragon across the ocean.
Oh yeah, that happens. I guess I can understand why they wanted a big spectacle for the climax, especially for a show about giant flying dragons, but i don't think it meshed perfectly with the tone of the rest of the show. I wasn't really prepared for human sacrifice to enter the plot, and yet
I kinda get it. Like the logical endpoint of the establishment's insistence on making the Dragon Pilots put their job before anything else is to ultimately sacrifice yourself to serve the collective. And I was pretty impressed with how the show cut to the quick when it came to the topic.
And the punch line at the end, that after episodes of building up this lore about the great dragon and the Key Girl priestess marrying him for eternity, it turns out the entire thing is just set dressing for needing somebody to stick a peg in a hole. That felt like pretty biting commentary.
It's a bold choice for sure! I definitely appreciate the show's reluctance to mince words. As soon as Hisone finds out, she's fighting back and coming up with a way to get everyone out alive. Even if it means mercilessly trolling the lead miko.

Okay, I loved that bit. It's hilarious that the emotional climax of the show is Hisone yelling FIGHT ME.
It's also putting her bluntness to good use by telling Natsume to stop suppressing her own emotions for the sake of whatever role she's been given, which is a huge step forward for somebody who once ran screaming into the night after realizing she has feelings at all.
Hisone really grows up a lot over the course of the show, and it's super satisfying to see. In the end, when forced to choose between her career as a dragon pilot and her life outside of it, she basically goes "fuck that, i want both" and she gets it! Masotan means as much to her as her friends, and there's no reason she can't care for both. It's an idealistic conclusion, but it's a refreshing one. And super cute too.

Speaking of cute, I can't believe we haven't mentioned the ending theme.
Oh my god yes. it's a cover of a France Gall song and each pilot gets her own hip dance style to go along with it. It rules.
I have no idea how we ended up with an anime in 2018 with a 1960's Yeah-Yeah song as one of its themes but god bless whoever's responsible.
Also after one of the episodes, our resident gremlin Lilikos sings it solo, courtesy of the unique vocal talents of the wonderful Satomi Arai. It must be heard to be believed.
Lilikos is Best Pilot, FTR.
She's also literally just Ichimatsu.
Overall, I'd say that for whatever inconsistencies it might have, I'm really glad Dragon Pilot exists. It's a wholly unique entity in the 2018 anime landscape. So go ahead and give this acquired taste a try!
It's more profound than any anime about dragon vore has right to be, and I gotta admit, it really sucked me in.

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