Hisone Amakasu has a habit of always speaking what’s on her mind as bluntly as possible which ends up causing problems with how she interacts with her co-workers. She tries hard to suppress her urge to speak bluntly until she ends up being recruited JASDF Gifu air base to become a Dragon Pilot to a dragon species known as the Organic Transformed Flyers (also referred to as the OTF), which she nicknames her partner as Masotan. Together with fellow Dragon Pilots, El, Mayumi, and Liliko, they serve in the JADF to protect the nation.
Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan is an original anime that brought together several big names in the industry that have become favorits in the fandom over the years. The series is written by Mari Okada, who has made a name for herself writing some of the most popular anime in recent years like Anohana, Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans, and she recently debuted with her own self-directed anime film, Maquia. Mechanical design is by the legendary Shoji Kawamori of Escaflowne and Macross fame with animation by Studio Bones. The director is Shinji Higuchi, who has mainly done live action Japanese cinema before, most recently the live action Attack on Titan films, and was co-director on Shin Godzilla. With so many talented creative voice working on the show, does it really live up to the hype?
In spite of how the promos seemed to highlight the most dramatic moments of the series, which there are certainly quite a lot, the show for the most part is a more light hearted slice of life with some fantasy elements with the dragons. Most of the episodes seem more focused on Hisone’s ordinary day to day training on the base and how she gets along with the other girls. Hisone and El seem to get the most focus with the character development. I thought Hisone was a different type of lead character than you normally see in anime. Usually in anime, it’s the male lead that’s the hot head that acts before he thinks, so it was interesting to see Hisone’s bluntness play out and how she always tries to fix her mistakes when she knows she messes up. The dragons all have distinct designs and personalities but Masotan stands out the most as my favorite. I loved early on how they parallel Hisone’s relationship with Masotan with E.T. and even have her do the iconic finger touching scene.
One of my favorite episodes in the show was about El’s struggle to accept being unable to obtain her dream of being an F-2 pilot and being unable to get closer to her OTF. It was a well done episode because of how multifaceted it portrayed El’s complexity and how difficult it is for women to advance in their careers in the self-defense force. It’s easy to understand where Mayumi comes from when she gets upset at the cold way El refers to the OTFs. But the show does a good job of making you feel sympathetic for El and understanding why she acts the way she does with the blame always placed on the injustice of the way the world treats women rather than blaming El for why she’s so strict and serious minded. Unfortunately, one of the poorer stories I didn’t care for her as much also involved El with Yutaka, one of her co-workers who’s known on the base for his perverted sense of “humor.” The show over-plays his sexual harassment jokes which is always awkward to see and Yutaka never seems to face any repercussions for his unprofessional behavior towards the other girls on the base. His actions always seem to be written off with a troubling “boys will be boys” attitude. The show later tries to play Yutaka off as being a jerk with a heart of gold trope as he interacts with El more, but it never really comes across as convincing.
The romance of the show is a mixed bag for series. They set up this whole love triangle between Hisone, one of Hisone’s maintenance team members, and his childhood friend. I like the show portrays the childhood friend in a sympathetic light and Hisone tries her best to befriend her, and I like how they showed Hisone struggling with her feelings for Okonogi and her duties, but the love triangle isn’t clearly resolved by the end. The military officers decide they have to persuade the girls to fall in love and then break their hearts or they won’t be able to pilot their dragons for some reason. The show never really fully explains why the dragons won’t accept them if they’re in love and how they resolve the conflict ends up feeling a bit contrive and making the romance angle feel unnecessary. I felt that way about much of the show’s world building as well where they go out of their way to introduce some shocking rituals for the care taking of one of the largest dragons in the land. Again, the reasons for these rituals aren’t fully explained and are easily discarded with no real major consequences for anyone involved, which again makes the rituals feel unnecessary. In spite of the show being marketed as a more dramatic anime, I enjoyed Dragon Pilot the most when it was just focused on the cute slice of life elements around Hisone and Masotan, and I think the show would have been better if it was more focused on their bond than on the more melodramatic moments.
Dragon Pilot has a creative art style with more cartoonish character designs than typical anime that worked really for the show. In spite of my problems with the dramatic moments, the music always successfully sold the emotions of the drama, and I especially liked the opening theme song. Dragon Pilot wasn’t the greatest anime of all time or even of 2018 even though there were a lot of big names involved with the creation of it, but I still enjoyed it as whole and I still recommend checking it out. Some of how the show handles it’s male characters and the romance brings it down a bit, but it does have some interesting things to say about women in the military and work force that give it more substance than your typical cute girls doing cute things anime and it’s worth watching for it’s creative art style. I give Dragon Pilot a three and a half star rating. Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan is currently licensed and available for streaming on Netflix.