There’s something to a Studio Gonzo production that is almost auteur, if that can be said about an animation studio. There’s a finish to their work, a polish to the integration of CG into the more traditional cell animation that somehow has their fingerprints all over it. Yukikaze is no exception.
Based on a novel, Sentou Yousei Yukikaze (Good Luck Yukikaze) by science fiction author Chohei Kambayashi, the anime is a thrilling mix of personal drama, mystery, and jet fighter acrobatics that inarguably must have put the Gonzo action animators through their paces. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a high-tech version of Last Exile though. Yukikaze is a more mature story, more introspective. The lines it draws between reality and sanity are exceedingly blurred and the similarities of the Yukikaze AI to the HAL 9000 in Kubrick’s 2001:A Space Odyssey are no coincidence; the more reality comes into question, the stronger the sense that an independent sentience resides, or is developing, within the Yukikaze.
This however is only something that the main character, Rei, seems to suspect. Being the Yukikaze’s pilot he naturally has the most contact with the system, but as an individual he’s not all that socially well-adjusted and the possibility that the pressure of piloting and the threat of death at the hands of a faceless enemy have become a little too much for him is not all that much of a reach. That’s part of the fascination with this show. On one hand, there’s evidence of the apparent development of the Yukikaze’s consciousness, but on the other there is the distinct feeling that much, or at the very least part, of what is happening is all happening in Rei’s somewhat repressed mind and that what we’re actually looking at is a man on the verge of breaking. This tension between what is and what isn’t is something that makes Yukikaze more than just an animated version of Top Gun.
Of course, Top Gun didn’t have Gonzo’s creative directors, so perhaps that argument’s a bit moot. Not only is the story tense, but the art direction is sexy, dominated by greens and greys even when up and about in the big blue. The scenery on the ground is a study in shadows, where characters are isolated by large blocks of nothingness in the middle of the screen. Whether this is a deliberate narrative device on the part of the director, and whether it has any direct symbolic relationship to Rei’s dreams and the invading aliens remains to be seen but conscious or not, it has the same effect of destabilising and alienating the characters. Connecting with others is difficult, bordering on impossible, but so warm, so human that it’s also impossible to ignore. This frustration/allure embodied for the audience in Rei’s commander and friend James, who shares Rei’s isolation in his own, desperate way. There’s obviously a bond between the two of them, but there is the impression is that it’s wavering, stretching thinner and thinner with Yukikaze’s growing autonomy. Perhaps it’s directly proportionate — as Rei moves closer to the secret of Yukikaze and the aliens, he moves further away from the one person who asks him to connect on a human level. As Yukikaze takes on a mind of its own, the connections Rei is left with become increasingly fraught with danger, abandonment and confusion. What is it he’s afraid of after all – being alone, or finding out he isn’t?
Gonzo, quite frankly, have done it again. Whatever depth the source material had is reflected in the intelligence of the show, the treatment of the story, the sheer level of detail and effort gone into making this series. Madman production on the disc does justice and more to this level of quality. Sound and image transfer is sharp and bell-clear, with the kind of gorgeous menu and cover design that is the trademark of Madman releases. Worthy of note in the extras, the behind the scenes coverage where Gonzo staff actually descend on an SDF base and taxi around the runway in real fighter planes (talk about a boring job!) and the glossary, which really gives a sense that this series has come from something a lot closer to real than most other anime titles.
All in all the only issue you’re likely to have with Yukikaze is that there’s a bit of a wait on the next volume – rumoured to be sometime in March 2005, no less! (Thanks to Tim @ Madman for the info). But for this kind of quality, it’s worth waiting and really, in the end, anticipation will only enhance the experience.