Eat your heart out, Itano Ichiro

Itano Ichiro would be so proud.

Roger Ebert has said of Top Gun that the “air scenes are brilliant and the earthbound scenes grimly predictable.” Sentou Yousei Yukikaze fortunately proves entertaining enough on both fronts, featuring brilliant dogfights as well as keeping you guessing. Plot-wise, I would compare this to the American film Stealth, but that would be something like saying Lord of the Rings is comparable to Eragon; there is considerably more meat, depth, and more coherence in Yukikaze (not to say that it is in any way coherent). Perhaps a better comparison would be Blue Submarine No. 6, also by Gonzo, which faces the same sort of length restrictions in exploring the setting.

Yukikaze finds the forces of a presumably united Earth facing down an extradimensional alien threat known as the JAM and follows the action from the viewpoint of a pilot involved in the conflict, Lt. Rei Fukai, and his A.I. partner, the air-superiority aircraft Yukikaze. Part of what makes the series very open to interpretation is that the true nature of the JAM is never fully expounded; to be truthful, very little of anything is explained in Yukikaze: with five episodes ranging from 20 to 40 minutes each, the emphasis is very much skewed towards the beautifully animated aerial dogfights. The aesthetic style is perhaps not for everyone (no moe-blobs here, definitely) and is sometimes a little rough around the edges, but it’s effective and immediately stands out.

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It is decidedly rare to see a recent anime (or heck, anime in general) focused completely on air combat; I can perhaps count the examples on a single hand (Area 88 springs to mind, as does The Sky Crawlers; now if only we could get an Ace Combat series anime…). Part of the difficulty I think is in choreographing a very complex three-dimensional battle in a way that the audience can intuitively grasp.

One could perhaps make a case for the Macross metaseries featuring elements of air-to-air combat, but it’s really more of a mecha hybrid. I think Macross in general illustrates the tensions involved in creating a fighter anime – not only is the choreography difficult, but the general affectations of an “aircraft” series are already very close to mecha – a few tweaks here and there, and boom! Fighter jets that transform into robots, perfect for selling to any demographic. The distinction however grates on my real-robot sensibilities – if it has legs, it walks; if it has wings, it flies – when I’m watching mecha, I want to see them walk (or run, or roller blade, etc.). If I want air/space combat, give me something specialized for it.

Macross Zero is a good example of this – I found the initial F-14 duels quite enjoyable, so much that when the first enemy Valkyrie shows up it looks altogether far too conspicuous, like a plastic toy in the middle of a real war. Certain Gundam series can be quite guilty of this as well, with mecha effortlessly maintaining sustained flight (in the atmosphere, no less – at least space is a zero-G environment!) simply with sheer booster power (SeeD is perhaps the most guilty of this, but nearly all Gundams trespass here to a lesser degree)

In this sense Yukikaze is a breath of fresh air(craft) – a futuristic air combat series about air combat; and at the very same time it is able to interweave some interesting questions about the nature of cognition and comprehension. Perhaps the end result is pretentious incomprehensibility, but at the very least it’s quite the ride.

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