Review of Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan (2018)
Higuchi Shinji (director).
Seen in 2019.
Dragons dressed in airplanes serve in the JSDF by swallowing human pilots.
A contemporary-fantasy action comedy, with no relation to “The Dragon Dentist” (2014) or its 2017 spin-off.
The basic concept is weak. It’s supposed to combine the appeal of yurukyara, monsters and military hardware (mecha in the Japanese sense), all in the dragons, through transformations that recall the Japanese word for monster: 化物 (literally “change thing”, “shapeshifter”). The initial military rationale for this is predictably weak. It’s replaced by a high-fantasy rationale later on: The real reason for the JSDF to fly dragons is for use in pacifying a titanic dragon that could otherwise threaten the nation. It awakens every few generations and needs to be resettled. This is not an improvement, since it does not actually explain secrecy. The extradiegetic hardware fetish is the only reason why the dragons are secret.
I guess the real reason for the combination of tame dragons with the JSDF is the popular image of the JSDF as ineffectual: Once mighty to the point of running the Japanese Empire, now rather cute. No wonder that the titan lands with a splash that looks like a mushroom cloud. The show is not in the style of MASH (1972); it’s an ordinary workplace comedy, weak at first, but it grows into strength. There are lots of neat touches: Fine character designs, silly NGE-style plug suits, gags like the portly pilot who names her dragon “Futomomo” with a good reaction shot, the main character’s hamartia being her pathological honesty under duress, and the neatly serialized plot, complete with the dissolution of the unit. The dramaturgy is formulaic but competently executed by veterans Higuchi Shinji and Okada Mari. My favourite episode is just a sitcom: Overly plain Kinutsugai spies on her teammates for an early copy of a manga chapter, which recalls an episode of Azumanga Daioh (2002).
Dragon Pilot tries to transcend its silly high-concept origins by openly discussing the significance of an all-woman, all-single team of pilots. Iboshi, the schemer corresponding to NGE’s Gendō, says they must be out of love to be able to submit to their dragons for the bond to hold. This is just a couple of steps removed from actually admitting that the audience wants these women to be available for romantic fantasies of feminine submission, but pathologically honest Hisone ultimately rejects the sexist narrative, averting the sacrifice of a maiden. The centrally embedded “yakult” ads are a bigger problem.