What’s it about? Kei and his sister Minghua were evacuating from Shanghai when their ship was attacked by the mysterious alien Xi. They were saved by a mysterious red plane, which Kei was unable to forget. Tracking it down to the Komatsu JASDF military base, he learns that the plane is part of a special program made to fight the Xi—and that he has a special calming effect on the plane’s humanoid AI.
I don’t think I’ve watched something with this much of a boner for the military since the last time I sat through a Michael Bay movie. The credits list the series as being “supported” by the JASDF (Japan Air Self-Defense Forces), which could mean a lot of things—possibly funding, but equally possibly tours, consultants, etc.
What I do know is that this premiere feels like it’s practically giving a tongue-bath to the military-industrial complex. Bystanders gasp in awe at the sight of military planes flying overhead. The main story takes place in Komatsu, a town that’s also the name of a major corporation that manufactures military equipment.
Kei excitedly rattles off details about joining the JSDF Air Academy, like its location, the free tuition, and how “you even get a salary!” He browses search results on his phone that include message boards for how swell the JSDF is. When he bikes to the military base, they pan over to the highway sign, so you can be really sure where to find it in real life. They made fighter jets into cute girls who’ll mack on you as soon as they meet you, for cripes’ sake.
Obviously there are a lot of reasons why individuals join the military. For example, I come from a lower-middle-class background, and my brother did a long service stint because that was the way he could feed his kid. That’s not my point. But there’s a huge difference between a nuanced story that treats service members like human beings instead of faceless villains and a show that’s clearly glamorizing the military at every possible opportunity. Even the one dissenting voice, Kei’s sister Minghua, is ultimately shuffled off-screen so that Kei can reunite with that cute plane.
There’s also the fact that the opening sequence involves a Japanese plane heroically flying into Chinese territory to save the day. There are a lot of uncomfortable historical connotations there.
There are other uncomfortable elements inherent in the premise too, like the fact that these cute girl war machines all seem to need male handlers in order to achieve their full potential, or that the opening credits has one of the girls hanging all over the decidedly middle-aged Director. But they all feel like background noise to the shrieking, unsubtle promotion about how the audience can also, perhaps, Be All They Can Be in a Cool and Heroic way.
It’s all wrapped in an extremely pretty package, particularly the aerial dogfights. And unfortunately, that will probably be enough to let the troubling elements zoom right over people’s heads.
Thanks so much to Chiaki Hirai for consulting and fact-checking on this review.