The Magnificent Kotobuki is anything but a gentle climb: A review

You’ll hear me say this a lot: I really don’t know….

You’ll hear me say this a lot: I really don’t know….

I don’t know. I really don’t know. Tsutomu Mizushima, director of Actas’ juxtaposing Girls und Panzer anime, hits us again with another series that attempts to blend over the top storytelling elements with real world historical war machines. Just like his previous outing, I’m left scratching my head as I agonize over whether I love or hate this show.

This time around Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai (The Kotobuki Squadron in The Wilderness) replaces tanks with historical WWII and post WWI Japanese fighter aircraft; it’s important to bring this up at this point because if there’s one thing that Mizushima does well is bring the sights and sounds of WWII combat to life, in spectacular fashion. If this is what you loved about Girls und Panzer than I can definitely tell you without a doubt that The Magnificent Kotobuki is going to float your boat in ways you can’t even imagine.

The combat is excellent, the extended dogfighting is reminiscent of classic WWII anime like The Cockpit (Za Kokupitto) and I was genuinely overwhelmed by Mizushima’s directing. Sitting and watching some of the incredible framing angles I couldn’t help but wonder how amazing the director would be should he decide to set his sights on something more historically accurate.

But this is where the gleeful comparisons to Girls und Panzer end. While his previous outing was framed within the context of a high school sporting event, The Magnificent Kotobuki attempts to set itself within what appears to be a post apocalyptic frontier society ruled by aircraft, sky pirates and aerial based corporations that move across the land from city to city in enormous zeppelin bases.

This all sounds like it has the makings of a great series, but to reiterate my earlier introduction, I really don’t know.

For new viewers, the series follows the exploits of a squadron of mercenary pilots called The Kotobuki Squadron. Every episode we follow them across the shattered remnants of the world seeking their fortunes as they take on jobs for various customers that need aerial support. As one would expect every member of the elite unit is a plucky young girl, equally skilled as they are cute. Each of them of course with their own unique traits that you’ve probably seen over a thousand times in anime before: the loud over-eater, the over-confident one that always gets into danger, the quiet and reserved leader that that racks up a huge kill count. If I told you there was a character that is always happy every mealtime while constantly screaming out “delicious!” as huge amounts of food is shoveled into her face, would you believe me? Of course you would.

This is where the series stumbles in a big way. With little emphasis on world building it comes down to the interplay between the one dimensional characters to drive our interest in the show. To be fair, they’re just not that interesting. As episode 4 rumbles past us, there seems to be nothing for the audience to do beyond waiting until the girls jump into the cockpit of their planes so the action can begin. There has been no attempt at world building, absolutely zero exposition and as characters whiz past us in quick succession I’m having a lot of trouble keeping up with names and faces. For instance, there’s a brunette character in the squadron that seems to get so little airtime that until I looked at the poster today I had completely forgotten she even existed.

And to be blunt, I don’t really care.

New viewers will also immediately notice the blend of 3D and traditional 2D animation on display, however the transitions between the two can sometimes be a little jarring. It isn’t uncommon for two characters to share the screen at the same time and one be animated in 3D and one 2D. The general rule of thumb seems to be: 1) If someone is sitting in a plane, or 2) They’re one of the Kotobuki Squadron, they’ll likely be rendered in 3D. Everyone else just seems to have to fend for themselves.

Again I’m genuinely awed by the great directing on display here, but as the mediocre reviews flood in it’s clear that the series is failing to find its audience and unless something dramatic happens in both plot or character development then the series will probably lose them altogether by episode 5 or 6.

It’s early days yet, so it’s possible that the series could make a dramatic turnaround in both quality and likability, however experience tells me not to hold my breath.

The Magnificent Kotobuki is simulcast in the United States via Crunchyroll.

- Andrew Archer