Anime Impressions is a weekly column that will run each Tuesday for the first month of the anime season. Resident GGA anime content writer Jane Y. Auman brings you the best of the new crop of shows, choosing one to highlight each week. This week that show is the high-flying action adventure series “The Magnificent Kotobuki”.
There’s a lot to talk about with The Magnificent Kotobuki. Both in terms of strong points and caveats. First though, the premise: Kotobuki is a show centered on airplane-to-airplane combat. Dogfights, essentially. The core idea here is that the series takes place in a world in the waning days of air piracy. Our protagonists–the titular Kotobuki squadron–are hired to protect various people and airships from said pirates. If you ever played original Xbox cult hit Crimson Skies, you’ve got a decent handle on what’s going on here. Kotobuki‘s premise is a vanishingly rare one in the medium and would be interesting on that merit alone. Thankfully though there’s more to the series than just novelty.
Let’s get the obvious caveat out of the way first, though. Kotobuki has a very odd art style, and one that will seem doubly so to relative anime neophytes. The series mixes CGI and traditional hand-drawn animation in a way that is going to scare off some viewers. The general rule of thumb seems to be that the main characters are drawn in CGI most of the time, but will switch to traditional animation when something involving particularly difficult character acting needs to happen. Conversely, minor characters are usually traditionally animated regardless, possibly to save money on designing CGI models (which can be rather expensive). It’s admittedly kind of a weird look.
That, combined with the fact that Kotobuki was licensed to comparatively obscure streaming service HiDIVE means that it’s going to lose some people right away, which is a genuine shame. Despite looking unusual, Kotobuki doesn’t really ever look bad. There’s an occasional odd angle on the faces, but the show’s first two episodes have been remarkably well-done. Ultimately both the CGI and the traditional animation are pretty strong for the most part. Kotobuki is only the second series by its studio, GEMBA. And certainly, it’s a marked step up from their prior work on the infamous 2016 Berserk anime.
So an admittedly unusual visual style makes it a hard sell, but the rest of the show is very much worth it. Kotobuki has a big cast and not every character has gotten a chance to show off just yet. But the couple that have had that opportunity have really sparkled.
This is most evident with Kylie/Kirie (various sources transliterate the names differently. I’ll be using the former spelling from here on out), the protagonist. Kylie is kind of an idiot. She has a big heart and as shown by her love of pancakes a big stomach. However, she’s not the most mindful person and we learn in the second episode that she has a reputation for making mistakes and showboating.
In a more serious anime this might be treated as a serious character deficiency. However, Kotobuki has remained relatively light so far and as such it’s mostly just amusing. I will admit, I do have a soft spot for this sort of character (other examples include Akko from Little Witch Academia and, last season, Asuka from The Girl In Twilight). The other characters are great too even if the show hasn’t gotten around to highlighting them yet. There’s Kate for example, who is an odd, awkward math genius.
The other main draws are pretty straightforward. For one, the series has memorably snappy dialogue. As is usual with these things it’s hard to know how much comes from the original and how much is the product of the translation. Regardless though, it really elevates what is usually not a strong point in these sorts of shows.
Secondly and perhaps most importantly, there’s the dogfights themselves. For a certain kind of person this alone will be enough to get them interested in the show. It is also interesting to note that despite not taking place in the real world (fictionalized or not), the show does use real plane models.
The dogfight sequences are wonderfully dynamic and make use of a lot of interesting camera-work. The CGI modeling on the planes is also quite detailed, and that attention to detail carries over into depicting how they actually work. The first episode in fact, depicts the startup and take-off sequence for a Hayabusa fighter in full.
Where the plot is headed is still very much up in the air right now. However, it’s easy to see even this early on that Kotobuki is a show that knows its own strengths very well. It’s been surprisingly charming and exciting to follow and if you’re looking for a show that might otherwise–pardon the pun–fly under the radar, Kotobuki is one to keep your eyes peeled for.