Being somewhat of an aviation buff, my biggest beef with most air combat anime titles is how the genre has been terribly marred by inexcusably cheap animation techniques; completely failing to capture the essence of flight. It gets really annoying to watch modern titles that cannot even match up to classic series like Macross or Gundam. I longed so hard, and with fervent prayer, for the day to come when directors would wake up their senses and bring situation awareness to the table.
Come 2004, my prayers have been answered when the Lord spoke to the hearts of the directors in GONZO, sent them to military air bases to learn about ACM (Air Combat Manoeuvring, or plain old "dogfight" for the old school in you), and delivered the most splendid air combat title anime has to offer.
Yukikaze is the name of Special Air Force aircraft B503, part of the Fairy Air Force battle group that wages war with an unclarified alien race known as JAM. The war takes place on a planet labelled as "Fairy", accessed via a portal the JAM opened decades ago to attack Earth.
JAM is largely presented as being aircraft-based, so combat with the aliens are almost entirely in the air. And here is where the show shines exceedingly bright to showcase evidence that the animation team did get it in terms of flight dynamics. The FAF aircraft are beautifully designed, rendered in glorious 3D models and animated down to the detail of control surfaces moving according to the pilots' commands. Even the cockpits and avionic systems are painstakingly realistic to give a pretty accurate picture what combat pilots really do in flight. Frontal-cone radar with sweeping azimuth, IFF, HUDs, FLIR, target designation, ordnance delivery. With the funny exceptional incident of showing programming language source code as scrolling data, you name it, GONZO's visualised it. Accompanied with some insane thrust vectoring (we're talking about future aircraft here), we are in for a treat witnessing amazing manoeuvres and air combat full of cannon shells and missles ripping through the air.
This is flight simulation re-animated. At long last. I almost weeped at the sight of it all.
Of course, when one dedicates so much attention to re-creating the combat flight experience, something has to drop in quality. Then it should not come as a surprise that Yukikaze, indeed like that of a flight simulation game, is devoid of any meaningful story or character development.
The plot centres on Yukikaze and its pilot, Lt. Fukai Rei, and goes at length to show that the plane's AI (artificial intelligence) program is coming close to sentience and shares a close relationship with Rei. Much like a computer nerd with social deficits, Rei is comfortable only when seated inside Yukikaze and has problems communicating with people. Some effort has been made to exhibit another special relationship with his squadron commander James Bukhar, but that, as with brushes with other people in each episode, falls flat to leave hardly a dent of impression just what their feelings and emotions are really about. In the end, nobody cares about anybody. It doesn't help either to have dreamy abstract scenes invade the story only to leave them unaccounted for. The only thing that carries a real punch of emotions is the closing song, RTB (military acronym for "Return To Base"), which magically carries a warm home-coming feeling for anybody who has flown sorties and made it back alive.
All in all, one is best left to view this title like a game - an informed rendition that leads to realistic action and much sought-after situation awareness - and zero on story.
Overall rating: 6/10
High-fidelity aerodynamics and ACM; gorgeous aircraft; realistic avionics
Lifeless; unfollowed abstract scenes; uninspired alien design