The Magnificent Kotobuki is an original anime series by the famous anime-creating duo of director Tsutomu Mizushima and screenwriter Michiko Yokote. It depicts girls who work with single-propeller fighter aircraft in a setting which resembles a Spaghetti Western world.
In the near future, the ocean has dried up and land is totally desolate. The world had once opened up and aircraft were brought to Ijitsu by the Yufang people. Now people can’t survive without aircraft. Goods are transported by merchant zeppelins which are often targeted by air pirates, and squadrons of fighter pilots are hired to protect them. One such squadron is the Kotobuki Squadron, which is made of six beautiful girls including series protagonist Kylie. The girls keep fighting against the pirates with their beloved Hayabusa fighter aircraft to save the goods from theft.
The Magnificent Kotobuki is a unique sci-fi anime that adopts a Spaghetti Western world and piston engine aircraft. MANGA.TOKYO invited the anime’s producer Ryoya Arisawa to ask how this one-of-a-kind anime was born.
How did you come up with the idea of single-propeller fighters flying around a Wild West-like world?
Production company Digital Frontier suggested Bandai Namco Arts (then Bandai Visual) a plan of making an original anime TV directed by Mizushima that includes computer graphics. It was an idea made from scratch, and we had series of meetings with Mizushima and Digital Frontier. We knew Mizushima loves piston engine aircraft, so we were considering an anime with them from the start. CG is an excellent tool to depict fighter aircraft. It might be better to say that it’s impossible to depict them properly without it. So, we decided to create an anime which involves fighter aircraft, or to be more accurate, piston engine aircraft.
Our decision wasn’t influenced by Mizutani’s past military-themed works. It started from the fact that Mizutani loves aircraft and wanted to draw them as much as he liked.
Generally speaking, it’s better to have cute girl characters in anime. Also, military anime with cute girls becomes a new genre nowadays. We didn’t have any problem with that.
We thought that we needed a setting that makes girls flying piston engine fighters seem natural. We got together and had many brainstorming sessions to discuss what setting allows characters to fly around piston engine fighter planes instead of jets. After these sessions, we decided on a vast wasteland where no land transport exits. We thought that piston engine fighters with a smell of engine oil would perfectly fit the setting. It would give a convincing reason why they must fly as well. An aircraft can cover much greater distances than land transport, even it isn’t a jet. For instance, a piston engine aircraft can fly from the middle of Tokyo to the edge of Kanagawa in no time. We needed a vast location for this anime, so it was a good idea to choose a vast wasteland for its setting.
The girls don’t talk much during air battles.
It was directorial decision, so I don’t think I’m in any position to comment on that. If I may, it signifies their professionalism. The Kotobuki Squadron is actually a formidable team and much stronger than others. We need to convince viewers that they are much tougher than they look. They don’t talk much because they are concentrating on battles.
There were surprisingly few lines in Episode 1.
Episode 1 is the most edgy and experimental episode of all. We made it in quite an unusual way. Director Mizushima believes that anime characters must be real and believable even though they do unbelievable things. In the real world, we hardly talk to ourselves audibly, do we? His belief influenced the entire series.
There are not many descriptions about the world where the story is taking place.
Because of the same reason, they don’t explain everything about their world in words. However, viewers should understand the world because there is enough information in the series.
What was the most important thing to consider regarding visual expression?
First of all, we really cared about the depiction of the fighter aircraft. We knew that there is a limit of what we could do, but we didn’t want to compromise as they are the core of this anime. We wanted to depict their movement which make viewers feel gravity and air. Because the aircraft in the series are based on real-life aircraft and not fictional ones, we must follow physical laws including universal gravitation. We’re very particular about how convincing they looked.
The bullet impact sound is impressive.
We use different sounds and smoke depending on impact points. People who aren’t interested in it probably won’t notice the differences. If you have some knowledge on guns and bullets, you’d be surprised by the visual and sound expressions. For instance, the shell of the Akatombo is made of fabric, which means the impact sound is light and it can continue to fly. Each fighter aircraft has different characteristics.
The main aircraft is Hayabusa. Is this due to Mizushima’s personal preference?
That’s right. We excluded Zero from the choices as military anime often center on it. Mizushima loves Hayabusa for its sharp and slim design.
Could you answer some questions we received from overseas?
ricardo_rodri_v asks: How do you know an idea is a good one to make into a story?
heathertoledo asks: What were your difficulties in figuring out the plot?
The toughest difficulty I’ve experienced while planning out the plot was creating various types of air battles. Our plan was to put an air battle action scene in every episode, which means that we need 12 different ones. It was quite a struggle as we also had to plan the storyline and characters at the same time. We made every effort to come up with various battle patterns and spent time discussing the script for viewers to enjoy. Final decisions were made by Mizushima, but we really pushed ourselves in order to create unusual and interesting air battle scenes. We also focused on the story, making it unusual and interesting. Since it’s an original anime, viewers don’t know how the story develops. So, we wanted to give them little surprises in every episode.
ali.hamza5 asks: What do you think is the most efficient approach for grasping the viewers’ attention?
In terms of this anime, the air battle action scenes would attract viewers. They’re the core of this anime from the start and it never changed. They are the first air battle scenes of piston engine fighters with superb quality in Japanese anime and world animation history. Some viewers may notice how serious we are in depicting air battles. I hope other viewers can also enjoy the experience of watching the overwhelming scenes with dynamic sound. These scenes are sure to captivate viewers.
The story and characters continue to develop throughout the series while the air battles are taking place. I think viewers should understand what’s going on after watching all the episodes.
Ryan Kun asks: Do you have any experience in flying a plane that you used as a reference for producing the anime?
I haven’t. Director Mizushima and 3D director Hisashi Egawa rode in the passenger seat of a two-seater piston engine aircraft with Whiskey Papa Competition and experienced g-force during the flight. The name of Whiskey Papa appears in credits.
neuns_89 asks: What inspires you most?
Let me tell you about the time I decided to become an anime producer. I’ve been always a fan of anime and tokusatsu programs ever since I was a child. When our family moved to a rural area, we had fewer TV stations. Internet hadn’t become widespread in those days either. Being unable to watch the TV programs I loved stressed me out as a child. I used to visit a rental video shop and borrow videos every week. I longed to move back to the city where I could have more TV stations. I was angry about the fact that I couldn’t watch my TV programs whereas people in different areas could. I decided that I wanted to have a job that delivered fun programs to people regardless of where they lived. I also hoped to be involved in the creators’ side. The videos I borrowed in those days were mostly the works of Bandai Visual. [laugh]
At the same time, there are many anime works in Japan that are not available all over the world. I’m glad that anime fans outside Japan can now watch lots of anime thanks to the internet. However, the number of works available are so huge that they may miss out on shows that would really interest them. I’d like to deliver anime works to accommodate diverse interests. Not just The Magnificent Kotobuki but many other works too.
Tell as about the characters you like.
I like every member of the Kotobuki Squadron. I also like the crew of the Hagoromo. They don’t appear much in the anime but are unique and cute, especially captain Dodo. I was surprised that viewers readily accepted this funny-looking character. Viewers didn’t hesitate making fun of him. [laugh] They might be used to funny animal characters like him in anime. He’ll appear now and then in the series, so please keep an eye on him.
This is an original anime series of 12 episodes. Moreover, half of each episode depicts an air battle. It was apparent that we didn’t have enough time to interpret each character’s insight. However, viewers don’t need such descriptions thanks to the cast members’ brilliant interpretations. Because Mizushima was also in charge of sound directing, he gave precise instructions during the recordings. As a result, each cast member managed to highlight their character’s personality. I believe their performances make viewers want to know more about each character, whether they are allies or opponents. Needless to say, every girl in the Kotobuki Squadron has their own moments in the series.
Is there anything you thought went better than first expected?
I think we did much better sound-wise. Director Mizushima served as a sound director as well, and Shigeyuki Ninomiya, a military supervisor, was particular about the sound. We had an experienced sound staff duo in our production team who also worked for Girls und Panzer: Yasumasa Koyama who is in charge of sound effects and Takayuki Yamaguchi who is responsible for sound mixing. I think they created impressive sound and rhythm which is quite exciting for the viewers. Evidently, our animators worked hard to create wonderful visual images which are also much better than I expected as well. Its sound and visual images created a synergistic effect and resulted in this powerful and heart-rending anime series, which is far better than I first imagined.
What do you want viewers to focus on?
A huge amount of information in visuals, sounds and dialogue is compressed into this series and the story develops at a fast tempo. I’d like viewers to enjoy this fast-moving story at first, and then watch the series again and again to discover more. I think many of the lines in the early episodes might be difficult to understand at first. The characters also use a lot of jargon. I think viewers will understand what they said and what happened in the latter half, and may feel differently about the first two episodes when they watch them again. I guarantee that viewers will find something new every time they watch the series. Please watch it repeatedly.
As the air battle scenes don’t have descriptive lines, it must be difficult to fully understand what is happening during the first viewing.
I guess some of them might. I think this anime needs the full attention of the viewers.
Could you give a message to our readers?
Thank you very much for watching The Magnificent Kotobuki. Director Mizushima showed his expertise and hospitality every week with something completely new or with totally unexpected developments. This series is packed to the brim with his thoughts and his feelings towards the fans. Please watch the series until the final episode and then watch it again. You can find more information about the anime. There is also merchandise available for the series, as well as a smartphone game. Please enjoy The Magnificent Kotobuki fully and endlessly.
Thank you very much for talking to us today.
BANDAI NAMCO Arts Inc.
Visual IP Production Group
Arisawa was born in 1987 in Toyama prefecture. He joined Bandai Visual (now BANDAI NAMCO Arts) in 2011 and has produced various anime including The Magnificent Kotobuki and Princess Principal.