Hisone Amakasu has always been a loner, ever since high school. Despite being extremely kind-hearted, she has always found it hard to be social, due to her habit of speaking her mind regardless of whether she ends up hurting people. To detach herself from society, Hisone decides to enlist in the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Stationed at Gifu Air Base, she learns about the JSDF’s working relationship with OTFs…Organic Transformed Flyers, or Dragons. When the one stationed at Gifu chooses her to be his new pilot, Hisone’s outlook of life is changed forever. According to the legends, dragons are thought to possess the key to unlocking the future of the world.
Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan originally aired in Japan with 12 episodes between April and June 2018. Produced by Bones (My Hero Academia, Full Metal Alchemist, Eureka Seven) and directed by Hiroshi Kobayashi (Kiznaiver) with Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan live-action, Shin Godzilla, The Wings of Honneamise) as executive director, Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan is an original show written and conceived by Mari Okada, who appears to be the creator of the moment right now, after having huge success with her directorial debut Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms across the world. I personally thought that Maquia was too melodramatic for my liking. Dragon Pilot doesn’t fall victim to any melodrama, though, as the focus of the show is on the two main characters, as well as Hisone’s colleagues at the base. When the show premiered in Japan in April, and aired episodes at Anime Expo in Los Angeles in July, it quickly gained a loyal following, and even from the very first episode, you can understand how and why.
I was already aware of how oddball comedy would be a major part of this show, so after watching the trailer that Netflix pasted together, what kind of show is the viewer who isn’t familiar with Dragon Pilot to expect? Well for some reason, they really decided to play far more on the whole military theme of the show instead of what it is meant to be, and have instead made the show look and sound much more serious than what it actually is. I joked on Twitter that this Netflix trailer could make people unfamiliar with the show think that it is something like “Top Gun with dragons”, or something along those lines. Well, you’ll be relieved to hear that Dragon Pilot is far from that…thankfully.
As the show begins, you grow to love Hisone straightaway. She was stuck with no career goal at high-school, and pretty much only wrote down “Japan Air Self-Defense Force” on her school career sheet after seeing jet planes fly outside the window. It’s a decision that she doesn’t really regret, however, as she doesn’t feel tied down to her job, like what some salarymen and office ladies are, and she has since found it a relief that her habit of being a blabbermouth doesn’t really affect anyone at her airbase. Being a blabbermouth and chatterbox is something that still bothers her greatly, though, and her relationship with the OTF stationed at Gifu, which she later names Masotan, ends up helping her make the better out of situations where she says inappropriate things, as Masotan can’t really answer back.
But why did Masotan choose her? He had been rejecting pilots for years, and then out-of-the-blue, he decides on this rookie who mostly works behind a desk at the air base’s main building. Hisone isn’t initially too thrilled with being chosen either, as she wasn’t looking for a career with that much excitement. This is, however, a question that we find ourselves asking for most of the show, however, in the end, you as the viewer do not really see that as a bad thing. In time, other D-Pilots from other airbases come to join her, and as they all undergo training, something very important and ominous called ‘The Ritual’ begins, which involves not only the dragons but their pilots.
Her fellow colleagues and D-Pilots all have their own commendable character design. They include the likes of Nao, the reserve D-Pilot who, despite ultimately warming to the others, finds herself incredibly envious of them all because they all have OTFs that have chosen them while she is just a reserve. There’s also El, who joined the Air Self-Defense Force at a young age with the dream of becoming an actual pilot of a fighter plane, only for an OTF to choose her, thereby developing a sense of self-hatred inside of her, and making her think that she is nothing more than a caretaker for a dragon. Another notable character is Okonogi, one of the more prominent maintenance guys for Masotan; as the show progresses, we learn that there is actually more to him than meets the eye.
The humour in this show stands out, but it isn’t thrust in our faces like some other anime shows are. The jokes in the script are all intertwined with real events that happen at the airbase and beyond. I mean, right in the very first episode, just as Hisone is chosen and is transferred, we wouldn’t expect to see an instructional exercise video about correct positions while piloting an OTF. Sure on paper as I write this, that probably doesn’t sound that funny, but I suppose that can’t be helped as this is a very visual show. Interestingly, what Dragon Pilot is able to do is take these characters and turn them into people that we can not only laugh at, but greatly sympathize with. For instance, when the D-Pilots and their OTFs are sent on special training to a remote island, we feel sorry for El who has wanted to prove everyone wrong by being a fighter pilot. She is initially very angry that she was chosen, and sometimes takes out her frustration on the others. In the end, this time spent on this island with her fellow D-Pilots teaches her that life isn’t often fair, and that we usually end up having to make the best of what we’ve got.
But after all that I’ve said about the comedy in this show, there is still something subtle and more ‘serious’ in Dragon Pilot – something that I would actually expect from a talented writer like Okada. The military (regardless of wherever it is in the world) has had a bit of a reputation of being rather misogynistic. Times have changed since, though, and armed forces around the world have taken huge steps to welcome women into their ranks, as well as any minority groups. With the main pilots, who are all male, having their own often negative opinions of women holding such important roles at the air base, usually turning to how attractive they look instead of how skilled they are at their jobs, Hisone, Nao, El, Liliko, Mayumi, along with their superior officer Kakiyasu, all find themselves having a tougher time trying to impress their male superiors, some of whom have the rather outdated impression that piloting is a job that can only be done by a man. Impressing the commander is one thing, but making yourself a voice to be heard is something else, and it’s quite enjoyable to see these girls give it their all and show them how well they can become D-Pilots and valuable members of the Air Self-Defense Force. It’s certainly an interesting and subtle topic to introduce in this show, but then as Okada is behind this, I am ultimately not surprised.
I believe that Dragon Pilot could have easily been simulcast on Netflix, thus easing worries any otaku who are still sceptical of anime Netflix have exclusive licenses for. After Violet Evergarden, we know that they are capable of doing it, so why don’t they? The answer could simply be in Netflix’s modus operandi when it comes to their shows: letting their subscribers binge-watch them in their own time, instead of individual episodes every week. This is all well and good, but if there’s one thing that anime fans like, that’s being able to watch shows as soon as humanly possible. Personally, I don’t mind the wait; I have always been a patient person. The wait for Kakegurui, for instance, was a very long one, but I had no problem with that. But there are a lot of otaku who aren’t patient people at all, with some of them turning to torrent groups and pirating shows instead, which doesn’t support the creators. So Netflix are in a bit of a Catch-22 here; they are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. I believe it will still take them a long time to convince anime fans that what they are doing is okay, despite having released some truly outstanding shows (Violet Evergarden, Devilman Crybaby, Kakegurui, Aggretsuko, etc.).
As any non-otaku may well end up trying to compare this show to something like How To Train Your Dragon, the recently-released The Dragon Prince, or even any other Western animation aimed at a younger audience, what have the English dub team done to try to prevent this…or does the dub just sound like a translated script? Well, the answer for that is actually a bit of a hard one. The dub itself is actually far better than I thought it would be, and I applaud the VA behind Hisone (Christine Marie Cabanos), who has managed to do a very good job of ‘recreating’ all the traits that Hisone has (blabbermouth, nervousness, awkwardness, bluntness). The dub team have also managed to create a military atmosphere of its own, and not just translated and replicated lines said in the original show. Additional voices include Sarah Williams as Nao, Katelyn Gault as El, Bryce Papenbrook as Okonogi, Xanthe Huynh as Mayumi, Erika Harlacher as Liliko and Carrie Keranen (who also directs the dub) as their superior officer Kakiyasu. It’s also worth noting that military ranks work a little differently in the Japanese military. While ranks like Airman, Technical Sergeant and Master Sergeant are still used, they are actually worded a little differently, and officers/airmen are almost always addressed by their full title along with their names, regardless of rank. It’s understandable that this may seem confusing initially, and so this is something that the English dub shies away from a little. And just as that Netflix trailer focused more on the seriousness of the show, we get the impression that the English dub directors took extra care in ‘recreating’ an air base environment to appear more believable.
The opening theme is “Shoujo wa Ano Sora wo Wataru” by Riko Fukutomo, and the ending theme is “Le temps de la rentrée: Koi no Ieji (Shingakki)” a cover of “Le temps de la rentrée“, originally by 70’s French pop idol France Gall, performed here by Misaki Kuno, Tomoyo Kurosawa, Maki Kawase, Satomi Arai and Kaori Nazuka. I should also add that the ending theme, along with its accompanying animation, is actually pretty damn cool, and so it’s worth not pressing that ‘next episode’ button.
I believe that the trailer Netflix made to promote Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan does not accurately reflect what the show is about, and so instead here is one of the original promo videos when it aired in April:
I was so so hyped when I heard about the great reviews Dragon Pilot had received when it originally aired in Japan in the spring. I’ll say this again: Netflix have missed an amazing opportunity to simulcast this, as I believe it would have definitely have gotten a great reception upon release. Also, I think that, just as Aggretsuko has been successful in attracting an audience not that familiar with anime (or too interested for that matter), Dragon Pilot also has the capability of attracting Netflix viewers who…aren’t otaku. I guess that has been a part of Netflix’s goal after all when they announced last year that they would earmark a considerable amount of money (US$8 billion in fact) towards creating original anime and acquiring licenses for existing shows – shows that both otaku and non-otaku will enjoy. It’s kind of funny how, in these recent years, I have found anime that appear exclusively on Netflix to be among my top shows of the year. Last year, my number one was Little Witch Academia; this year, Violet Evergarden will definitely be on the list, and so will this.
Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan is a show that blends mild fantasy and oddball comedy almost effortlessly. It chooses its topics carefully, and knows what to take seriously and what to take with a pinch of humour. And humour that isn’t too childish, too adult or too crass either. Its reoccurring message that misogyny still exists in the military is rather interesting to see, with its lead characters (all of whom are women…if you don’t count the dragons) taking charge and showing the “boy’s club” at the airbase how it’s done. With some more on-site advertising, Netflix can present this show to a non-otaku audience and succeed, like they did with Aggretsuko and Devilman Crybaby. Regardless, this is most definitely a show to watch and binge on.
With an excellent original script, good animation, impressive character designs and a unique environment setting, Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan stands out in so many ways. You will grow to love everyone and nearly everything that the show has to offer. The show becomes yet another example of how Netflix are becoming so anxious in making a name for itself in the anime community. Absolutely marvelous and unmissable.