What They Say:
In a desolate world where the safest form of transporting cargo is by zeppelin; air pirates roam the sky, preying on aerial commerce and holding remote towns for ransom. Against these airborne marauders, the only defense is to hire high-flying protection of your own, and that’s where mercenary pilots like the girls of the Kotobuki Squadron come in.
Behind the joysticks of their lightweight Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa fighters, these lady falcons play a deadly game of escort, where a single mistake can end up in a fiery crash or mid-air collision. But for birds of prey like Kylie, Reona, Chika, Emma, Kate, and Zara, the danger is worth it for the chance to spread their wings and soar into the heavens. The wild blue yonder gets even wilder as every dogfight becomes a catfight!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that definitely takes advantage of the format as we get a lot of good aerial aspects to it using the forward soundstage to solid effect with the engines and weapons so that it resonates well. It still frustrates me that so few anime series get a 5.1 mix out of Japan because this one certainly warranted one. The action moves well across the forward soundstage with some really good placement here and there as well as depth during the combat. Dialogue is well-handled along the way too as it moves about as needed and feels distinct when multiple characters are on-screen at the same time. The show delivers a pretty rich sound as needed that shows the passion of those behind the design in bringing the aerial aspects to life. Everything comes across clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2019, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs in a standard nine/three format with plenty of room for it, especially being monolingual. Animated by studio GEMBA, the series is one of the more recent shows working the CG style approach to not just vehicles and the like but the character animation as well. It’s come a long way in the last ten years and while it may still feel unnatural to a lot of people, it’s improving quickly and steadily. There’s a good flow to a lot of things here and the fact that it works aerial combat and maneuvers as its main thing rather than direct character interaction helps. Not that the downtime is bad and time spent outside of the aircraft looks bad, far from it. The movements are smooth, the designs look good, the color palette is strong and the encoding captures it all well. Everything is solid throughout and the fine detail holds up very well with no noticeable problems visible.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard-sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs without hinges. The front cover uses one of the familiar key visual for the show with the girls hanging around the plane and largely on one of the wings. It’s got a lot of good blue sky to keep it bright and inviting while also giving us the six main characters in different outfits and styles with lots of colors and designs. The logo along the top is one that feels a little weird with its style in how magnificent and kotobuki are done different but I like the plane that crosses it and the red itself looks good. The framing goes for the riveted metal and that carries through from the front to the spine to the back where we get a patchwork layout. The top gives us a fun tagline with a visual while the middle breaks up into a couple of different areas. The summary of the premise is covered well and we get a breakdown of the disc/episode count as well as what extras are included. The remainder has the usual production credits to check out and the technical grid, all of which is clear and easy to read overall even with the white on brown for part of it. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is pretty nice even if it goes with standard static menus. The left side has the navigation and it’s done as part of the riveted metal with the numbers that have a breakout to the right of it with the episode titles that load over the main static image. Providing for some good plane visuals herein motion, it looks good and has a lot of detail that will appeal to fans of these kinds of machines. With the set being monolingual, the first disc doesn’t have any submenus while the second disc has the additional piece of the extras themselves. That makes for quick and easy loading times in general and smooth navigation during playback since it’s really just episode selection.
With this release, we get a few things beyond the norm. The set comes with the clean opening and closing sequences and that’s always welcome. But we also get a pair of making-of pieces from the Japanese side that clock in around 15 minutes each and lets the mechanical/military designers talk about it and how they brought the aircraft to life – which wasn’t easy as some of them didn’t have much in the way of records. We also get two of the special live-action broadcasts that involve the main cast hanging out together and having fun while talking up the show. It’s a lot of simple fluff but it’s fun watching the actors hang out and being silly as they are here while also teasing bits of the show itself. It’s one big way to make sure that the people watching feel more connecting to the show itself.
Flying has always been an area where animation excels and in anime more specifically as so many animators grow up under the movements of a Studio Ghibli film. This series is tied to a smartphone game app that’s coming out this year but is essentially an original work, not tied to a manga or novel. Directed by Tsutomu Mizushima with Michiko Yokote handling the scripts, it got my attention with studio GEMBA animating it as well. I love a good show that can execute a group dedicated to flying and dealing with pirates because it has so much potential. And not being tied to an existing storyline in manga or novel form means it can move about a bit more freely with its structure as well.
The show opens easily enough as we get introduced to our core group that makes up the Kotobuki flight corps as they engage in banter and drink and food together, and showing off their CG animation designs with a really good blending with the more traditional ones. If not for the setting they’d sound like young women at any modern job after hours, talking about plans and things they need to do with a few days off. All of this is taking place aboard a large airship, really quite large when you get down to the hangar and all the planes within it, and we get to see some solid action as it’s being pursued by pirates – which means a chance to tag a few more targets and show the guys that were in disbelief over their kill count being as high as it is. Like a lot of first episodes, it covers a range of characters that exist on the ship within the first half or so, sometimes with just a nod or a sentence or two, but it gives us a good feel for what exists here.
We get a good nearly ten-minute aerial battle out of this as the two teams deal with the incoming opponents. The visual design for it is solid as it captures the style of plane and its combat very well, especially against a large backdrop of the sky and stars with the clouds acting as the floor for it. We do get some brief time in the clouds and even down below, which makes for a really tense sequence, but the majority is above the clouds with a lot of solid dogfighting material. What’s surprising is how light on dialogue it is, allowing the fight to be defined more by the sound of the machines and the breathing of the pilots, even moreso than the score for the series as that’s subdued and more of a background piece.
And this is, kind of, what the series is like. This is a skilled group of pilots with some great hardware that they know how to use and get plenty of work in the world. It’s a largely episodic kind of series when you get down to it but since it operates in this particular region there’s a better sense of an ongoing series of issues they deal with. What we get, as it progresses, is a better feel for the different types of forces that are out there, such as some of the vigilante-style groups that exist, the pirates, and other forces. There’s also some good talk at times about how to bring former pirates into the world again once they’re done with that life and it’s a complicated issue to truly deal with, so it’s not one that gets a real sense of depth and truth to it. But just in talking about it at all from time to time is definitely helpful in fleshing things out.
I do like that some of the pirate groups are a little crafty in how they frame themselves, such as one that goes by the name Elite Industries and their leader is called the CEO. There’s certainly some amusement in seeing them essentially extorting towns for protection money from themselves but doing it under a corporate umbrella like that. The Rahama location certainly gets worked over well in the first few episodes before it starts to move onto other cities. And that’s definitely a plus because we get that connection for a bit but also see the bigger world. Realistically, at its core, the show focuses on the Kotobuki Squadron as defense against pirates and that’s where it delivers well. Whether protecting people or transports of fish, they’re pretty dedicated and put their all-in to do the job right. And it doesn’t always go well and there are reprimands at times for what they do. But they get to face off against some amusing pirate groups that exist.
The Magnificent Kotobuki is a fun show that works very, very, familiar character archetypes into an anti-pirate protection service with old school flying machines. There’s a fun juxtaposition that exists there while sticking to plenty of the usual anime cliches, which you can tell just from the cover in their designs and costuming. There aren’t any surprises here in terms of how the characters work because it’s largely formula as it plays off the concepts from the game itself. And that’s fine because they mix in enough worldbuilding and interesting other groups to go against so that it feels fairly rich. And having that game to build off from definitely helps. The animation is going to be the sticking point for many since it has the CG sheen to it but I love seeing how much better it gets every few years and am largely impressed with how it looks here. Fans of the show may lament the lack of a dub but Sentai’s release looks great and has over ninety-minutes of extras and that helps to compensate.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, The Making of The Magnificent KOTOBUKI Part 1 & 2, KOTOBUKI Broadcast Part 1 & 2, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 4th, 2020
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
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.