What it’s about? Hisone Amakasu joins the Japan Air Self-Defense Force in hopes of finding something only she can do. As a rookie working a desk job at the Gifu base, she’s still searching for a sense of purpose. When her superiors send her to Hangar 8, which doesn’t seem to exist, she discovers that the JSDF has a secret – dragons! And that dragon wants nothing more than to gobble her up… but maybe that’s the point?
Wow, what a cute, innocent little slice of life anime about a girl and her dragon. I’m sure it won’t go terribly awry in some way…
Wait, what’s that? It’s a Mari Okada original anime?
Just kidding! (Kind of.) Mari Okada, the single most recognizable name in anime scriptwriting, is many things– including divisive. But love her or hate her, she is certainly distinctive, and her works tend to have certain commonalities, many of which stem from her struggles growing up.
How well that presents depends on her collaborators, as strong directors can wield her quirks and preoccupations to build an emotionally powerful narrative, such as in The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Anthem of the Heart. Weaker storytellers end up with messy, incoherent narratives built on shaky foundations, as in Kiznaiver.
Shinji Higuchi, the director for Dragon Pilot, works primarily as a storyboarder, special effects artist, and live-action director, so it’s hard to guess how his work with Okada will turn out. The first episode is heavy on the charm, but its potentially unsavory elements make it anyone’s guess.
To begin with, our heroine Hisone is in a very Mari Okada place. She joins the JSDF in search of something only she can do, struggles to make friends, and tends to say whatever she’s thinking. She’s working a desk job, which isn’t really what she was looking for–she still doesn’t have any idea what could possibly make her special.
She is, in short, a fairly standard misfit heroine–quirky in a relatable, likable sort of way, without any real sharp edges (other than her tongue). Her blunt nature leads to some funny lines, like when she points out that the baby-faced pilot Okonogi probably picked up vaping in hope of it making him look older (and it doesn’t).
That search for something only she can do brings her to Hangar 8, where she meets the dragon that presumably makes up the second half of the title. Fans of the Dreamworks film How to Train Your Dragon, myself included, should take immediately to the appealingly rounded, huggable-looking Masotan and will probably snap up lots of adorable figures, stuffed animals, and other merchandise. Masotan seems almost cat-like in nature: capricious, picky and forcing everyone to cater to its whims. I’d be surprised that my Twitter timeline isn’t full of people declaring how badly they want to pilot a dragon if it weren’t for one thing…
To fly them, you have to let them eat you.
Yes, there’s a reason Dragon Pilot has earned the nickname, “the vore dragon show.” A fair amount of the show is spent with Hisone being swallowed, sitting in Masotan’s stomach, and then getting vomited out sticky with gastric juices. And every single minute of it, I thought to myself, “This is definitely someone’s fetish, and someone is probably getting off to this.” Not that it was overtly sexualized; you just spend a lot of time on the internet and your brain is poisoned to see certain things as special-interest wank fodder.
(While we’re at it, emetophobes definitely need not apply.)
It helps make things more palatable that instead of curvy, busty anime babes, Dragon Pilot’s designs are cute and simple. The women refreshingly wear the same olive-green coveralls as the men, and what they lack in complexity they make up for in expressiveness. The simplified line drawings allow the characters to move fluidly with their whole bodies, and feel more solidly grounded in the environments than many other productions.
Dragon Pilot, with all its charms, is simultaneously wholesome and crypto-fetishistic. It’s an adorable show, and I wish Netflix had let us watch it weekly. I feel like it would have given way to a lot of discussion.