What They Say
Meet the fighter pilots of the 801 Tactical Training Squadron, codenamed Airbats. With their sleek curves and lightning fast moves, they give new meaning to the term “the friendly skies” – and I’m not talking about their jets! The Airbats are the hottest, wildest team of female flyers you’ll ever meet, and when they climb into the cockpit, the clear blue skies of Japan aren’t big enough to contain all the aerial action these ladies get into! Whether it’s ghostbusting the spirit of a dead kamikaze Zero pilot, facing off against a team of world famous American aeronautical acrobats, or winning a year’s supply of noodles in a ramen-noodle-eating contest, you’d better believe the Airbats have the “right stuff” to get the job done!
The audio prseenation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with an English language dub, both of which are encoded at 224kbps. The show features a pretty standard stereo mix with little in the way of directionality throughout the episodes. Some of the jet fighter sequences sound better overall, presumably they acquired some new audio while at the actual JASDF base since they did this show in conjunction with them. Dialogue is clear overall, though we noticed a drop in volume on the Japanese track during the Yeger episode.
Originally released between 1994 and 1996, the transfer for this seven-episode OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio. The transfer holds up nicely after eight years with only a few minor problems when you remind yourself that it is a standard definition transfer. There’s some very minor cross coloration that shows up in a few places throughout but very minimal. There’s a fair bit of aliasing at times in the first couple of episodes, but this tapers off as things progress. Colors are done in a more “real world” palette so there’s not a lot of vibrancy, but things look solid in this area. Again, it’s not fantastic but factoring in its origins it looks pretty good and there’s that elusive “warmth” that a lot of people like myself find from this older animation that’s hard to get with newer productions.
The packaging design for this release comes in a nice double alpha keepcases as the seven episodes are spread over two discs. The front cover gives us the four main women in uniform doing the whole pride shot while a couple of jets come in behind them. The back cover provides a small collage of animation shots and a summary of the shows premise as well as a glance at some of the episodes. The discs features are clearly listed in the grid and production staff information is also here. The insert provides a different piece of artwork of a couple of the characters while the reverse side lists the chapter marks for each episode as well as the extras.
The menu features a nice little heads-up display with an animated jet being locked onto as it juts throughout the air while music plays in the background. Selections are arrayed around it with nice load times and quick access to submenus. The layout is pretty standard ADV material.
There are a fair bit of extras included here, though one piece is unfortunately missing. We get a good section of production sketches and numerous pieces of clean closings, as there are a couple of different ones, spread across the two discs. A Japanese preview for one of the episodes is included as well as a “Cast Tidbits” video section that shows some of the voice actresses (such as Aya Hisakawa, Kikou Inoue, etc) doing silly things at an ASDF base. So what’s missing? The clean opening sequence!
Based on the manga by Shimizu Toshimitsu that ran for three volumes starting in 1991, the show landed in the mid 90’s with Studio Fantasia producing it and an early pickup from ADV Films. I had seen some of the episodes on VHS but it wasn’t until the 2002 release of the complete show on DVD that I got to see the whole thing. Like a lot of properties from years ago, there’s a certain nostalgia to it but that can carry some things only so far. The Airbats OVA series is a rather nice tale, though one that likely won’t leave you remembering it as something truly special a few years down the road, but definitely a nice way to spend an afternoon. Especially if you’re a military/jet fighter fan, such as the lead character in this series.
We’re introduced to Sergeant Isurugi, a young man who’s just been assigned to the 801st TTS. His initial meeting with his superior, Kenigrame, doesn’t go over well as he keeps pushing the need to know the big overall defense plan of Japan, and Isurugi asks why that matters to the 801st. As it turns out, the 801st is essentially just an aerial acrobatic team made up of female pilots. Isurugi has been moved into the ‘dumping grounds’ as its called as their new maintenance person.
Isurugi doesn’t mind this at all since his love is planes. This doesn’t stop him from imagining the 801st is something more as we get an amusing dream sequence where he fantasizes that they’re defending the planet from aliens. He has a few of these kinds of sequences, but are mostly kept to the first couple of episodes at most. Isurugi’s introduction to the team comes in typical form, with him ending up stumbling into a changing room and a bathroom where he meets the two primary female pilots, Haneda and Mitaka.
Of course, both women quickly fall for him after their initial encounter is all settled and Isurugi has the typical hard time figuring it out and figuring out who he wants. This leads to some amusing competitions between Haneda and Mitaka, two people who seem friendly at times but at others are close to killing each other. It’s an interesting triangle relationship in general since it’s not played out to weird extremes and everyone knows that there are feelings there.
Most of the episodes after first couple tend to be nicely episodic, dealing with a particular issue such as the American Thunderbirds coming to participate in an airshow or a trek by the group to an inn to celebrate an event. These episodes do a nice job of building up the various relationships and deepening the potential romances between the three in the triangle. The supporting cast also does a solid job of keeping things somewhat odd and amusing.
Probably my favorite episode though focused on the ramen eating contest, where six of the team have gone into various stages of training and for different reasons to win the prize of free ramen coupons for what looks like a year. The training segments themselves are amusing, but it was watching the entire armed forces setting up betting pools around the country to see who would win, assigning them each nicknames and running commentary after it started.
This is also a series where the American forces once again get the short end of the stick (or are portrayed accurately, depending on your perception). Either they’re portrayed as very arrogant and brash or we see them leaning back in their chairs picking their noses. This is kind of standard throughout a number of series so I wasn’t terribly surprised to see it here again.
Airbats has a slow build towards its conclusion, and it’s admittedly not a conclusion of anything beyond the seventh episode. That one in particular is probably close to overtaking the ramen episode as my favorite, as it shines the light on two characters who don’t get much depth throughout the series, but then shifts to a somewhat dramatic mode and tells their tale. In going back and rewatching the series after that episode, it certainly changed the perceptions I had of those two characters.
Airbats isn’t a life changer, but it’s a fun little series that entertains well. This presentation of it is probably the best it’s ever looked and it’s great to have it all in one complete and really nicely priced package. And since there’s no further episodes, it’s all perfectly self-contained. I’d love to see a remaster of the original and high definition release some day since it could make out well from some cleanup and a new presentation.
Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Clean closings, Original Japanese previews, Production sketches, Japanese cast video tidbits
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: June 11th, 2002
Running Time: 175 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.