DRAGON PILOT: Hisone & Masotan – Anime Review
Synopsis: Recently stationed Air Self-Defense Force rookie Hisone Amakasu is chosen by a dragon concealed within Gifu Air Base to be his pilot. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Dragon Pilot is a series steeped in messaging and greater themes. From the very beginning the series seeks to call attention to a woman’s place in society. It talks near pointedly on the daily trials and disrespect she faces, and the casual sexism and expectations forced upon her at every turn. Later on the series takes a hard stance on the idea of work vs. love and how, particularly in Japanese society but not limited to, a woman is expected to choose one or the other, with little crossover inbetween. In that sense Dragon Pilot is a positive series, one interested in addressing one of the most unfair aspects of life many women deal with in the day to day. On the other side of it Dragon Pilot uses these examples of disrespect, these moments where men display the utmost sexism and impugning of a woman’s abilities, as gags and actively undermines its message.
Pulling back a moment, there’s no denying the series is a looker. It’s beautiful, simple, whimsical art style lends childlike appeal to the Dragons, and Pilots themselves, helping to disarm the viewer when things take darker turns. Rarely poor in quality, Dragon Pilot is often a feast for the eyes, and even the usage of CGI for some of the fighter jet sequences blends in well enough that you’ll rarely notice the shift in technique. By all counts, the surface level appeal of Dragon Pilot is on the money, and makes for a visually gripping series.
Even the basic concept itself, Dragons that transform into planes in order to keep their existence a secret, is fun and silly. The show maybe gets a little too body humor happy, and often falls back on a singular gag of Hisone, Masotan’s (the main dragon) pilot, getting barfed up. Yes, Dragon Pilots or D-Pi as the show itself abbreviates them, pilot these dragons by being swallowed whole, and commanding the Dragon from the inside. But our heroine, Hisone, isn’t terribly good at her new job, and it seems like at least once an episode gets barfed up when piloting sessions are over. This visual gag overstays its welcome, and it feels a shame more comedy on the Dragon Piloting concept itself couldn’t be explored.
Early on Dragon Pilot is more silly than deep. We meet Hisone Amakasu, a young woman struggling to find her calling in life. She also lacks tact, often speaking her mind to an insulting degree to those around her. Because her character flaw is so comical it can actually make her a little difficult to root for (No one is this bad at tact) but as the show tones down that level of ineptitude, and begins exploring its greater themes to a more direct degree, Amakasu warms as a character, and when she faces greater, more prominent challenges she’s someone you’re actively pulling to win.
The series gradually introduces more characters to explore, like Amakasu’s initial rival, Kaizaki Nao, a young woman who desperately desires to be a D-Pi, yet was never chosen by the Dragon Masotan and quickly found herself passed up in favor of Amakasu. Even later the series adds an additional three more D-Pi to the cast, although only one features as a prominent focal character with a powerful struggle centered even more so on women being taken seriously in the work place.
But women being taken seriously is where Dragon Pilot is near schizophrenic. On the one hand the series eventually addresses the idea of work vs. love, as I mentioned above. In other ways the series falls back on sexism for its comedy, and often ends up damaging its own message, especially in the first six to eight episodes. Ever often, the series has males characters lining up to take shots at the women, calling them overly emotional, or outright implying they’re not fit for a man’s duty in the military. There’s no doubt extreme truth to these views, but despite the show’s interest in its female characters proving themselves, the men who are so quick to dismiss are never served their just deserts. If anything the women merely bend in reply, and apologize, taking the unfair comments and fighting back with nothing in return. The best we get is Amakasu calling out their attitude, but nothing comes of it, and her defiance is soon forgotten. This makes the early episodes feel a bit prickly, and would be a larger issue if the series didn’t gradually phase out that overt line of comedic sexism. Perhaps it’s a commentary on the sad truth of present day gender politics, either way it feels like missed opportunity not to show greater consequences for such unbecoming behavior.
Indeed as the other D-Pi join the cast, the casual sexism focused comedy fades away, though not before one male character talks about breaking down a powerful/proud woman so he can swoop in and seduce her. Yikes. The show even goes so far as to gradually ‘retcon’ his character, turning him into an honest to god love interest for Hoshino Eru, the more proud and feisty woman of the group. When the show asks us to believe Zaitou Yutaka, our apparent love interest, is a good and upstanding guy it feels hollow, having seen him exhibit such disgusting behavior out of sight.
Another problem is how often the series has “the men were right” and the “women are wrong” mentality, at least early on. Not only do our female characters have everything stacked against them, but they’re often portrayed as straight in the wrong. But the show shifts gears. Around Episode Eight we’re given our climatic plot, several twists and turns, some romantic comedy as well as a love triangle for good measure. While the love triangle feels a tad tortured, often more for creating well-worn drama and only truly feeling like a relevant issue in the show’s ultimate climax, the rest holds up quit well, and helps the series build towards its ultimate point of women being fully capable of balancing both work and love. In fact it’s that back half of the series, and greater effort put into addressing the sexism that the series has showcased from the beginning, that helped to soften my disappointment from early on. The series feels poignant and meaningful, especially where we are, as a society, today.
Netflix’s dub works overtime to adjust some of Dragon Pilot’s weaker writing, at times instilling stronger dialogue, or altering less crucial lines to better service the show’s ultimately positive message. (Though there are occasions when it makes the sexism more overt.) The series is by and large more ‘backwards’ and less ‘progressive’ in Japanese, honestly at times almost undermining its more positive tone. The dub’s cast itself is also a highlight, with near every voice fitting the characters to a T.
Ultimately Dragon Pilot is a good series, though maybe not a great one. Perhaps a bit confused with itself early on, never managing to address its early missteps, and a love triangle that feels borderline unnecessary work together to hinder the series from being truly special. But what’s here, especially the deeper one goes, is endearing, and seeing our heroines succeed when so many seem ready to cast them into failure, is heartwarming. The cast grows on you, even some of the smaller characters, making for one of Netflix’s stronger anime offerings.
Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan is available for streaming via Netflix.