The Cockpit: Kamikaze Stories

Title:The Cockpit: Kamikaze Stories
ザ・コクピット (Japanese)
Keywords: , , , , , , ,
Notables: KAWAJIRI Yoshiaki
Music - WADA Kaoru
Original Concept - MATSUMOTO Leiji
The Cockpit is a series of 3 OVAs focusing on three separate stories of the tragedy of war. The first, Slipstream, follows a Luftwaffe pilot who must choose between his duty to his country: to guard a bomber loaded with Germany's final hope of victory, the world's first atomic bomb, or his duty to the world: to let it fall in flames to enemy Spitfires and be a footnote in history. Of course, things are complicated by the plane's other cargo, the woman he loves. The second story, Sonic Boom Squadron follows the pilot of an Ohka bomb, the purest kamikaze desperation weapon of the Pacific war. He once dreamt of flying a rocket into space, but instead he is to fly a rocket into an American ship for the glory of Japan. If only they would have let him live another 30 years. The third story, Knight of the Iron Dragon, is set on the Philippine island of Leyte, where a rusted old motorcycle tells the story of two Japanese soldiers who returned to a captured airfield to fulfill a promise, a promise that neither could ever keep.

[OVA, 1993-94, 3 episodes, 22 min; out of distribution and only available used on VHS tape but re-released on DVD in Japan 2007 and fansubbed from this material]

R1 Licensed by: Urban Vision
OverallArtAnimationCharacter Design MusicSeries StoryEpisode StoryReviewer
Rent 8 9 6 6 7 7 Ggultra2764 [series:1543#1552]
The Cockpit is a collection of three animated short stories focused on World War II adapted from source material written by acclaimed creator of Captain Harlock, Leiji Matsumoto. Each of the stories explore how different soldiers cope with an aspect of war with Slipstream featuring a German pilot's hesitance to do an escort mission involving a nuclear warhead, Sonic Boom Squadron's focus on a Japanese kamikaze pilot and Knight of the Iron Dragon focus on a pair of soldiers trying to make it to an air base unaware of its current occupancy by American forces.

All three shorts carry a sense of tragedy and inevitability with what the characters face in their endeavors as The Cockpit doesn't hold back any punches in depicting the reality of war and the harshness of the regimes in which the characters are entangled with. Each story accomplishes a unique take to the tragedies faced by the characters. Slipstream's lead character, the German pilot, must choose between redemption for being labeled a coward by his superiors or what he finds to be morally right through the escort mission. Sonic Boom Squadron switches perspectives quite often throughout its run between American and Japanese forces to show how each side perceives the other in regards to kamikaze methods. Knight of the Iron Dragon is the more light-hearted of the bunch with some of the silly behavior of the two soldiers as they press to reach their air base, unaware of the inevitable tragedy that is to come for them.

These perspectives of war help to paint a more human side to two of history's more infamous regimes, which also makes the film a bit controversial to more sensitive audiences who wouldn't want to see a movie that attempts to humanize these regimes despite the horrific deeds they committed in World War II. If you are sensitive to the mention of sympathizing with Nazi Germany or Emperor Hirohito's rule over Japan, then this movie will definitely not be to your liking.

Visually, The Cockpit is a well-animated anthology with nicely detailed designs of planes and naval vessels and vast shots of scenery. Aerial dogfights were nicely animated as planes were fluid in their movements and the different titles showed a nice diversity of camera shots such as first-person POV shots from the cockpit and aerial shots of a plane moving about while in action. Character designs are a bit of a mixed bag though as the shorts tend to make use of Matsumoto's drawing style for many character designs. While some characters are reasonably proportioned and drawn with proper anatomical details, others look deformed and rather crude-looking in their designs. This is especially notable in the designs of a number of characters for Sonic Boom Squadron and Knight of the Iron Dragon.

If you're a fan of war anime based on historical events and have an open mind, then The Cockpit offers some unique perspectives on two of World War II's most infamous regimes that paint them in a sympathetic light despite what inevitably happens to them.

Last updated Sunday, January 20 2013. Created Sunday, January 20 2013.
Rent Stretch [series:1543#628]
I stumbled upon a reference to The Cockpit while searching the internet for info about the completely unrelated series The Third: Aoi Hitomi no Shoujo. By chance, a website mentioned the "third" of the episodes in this collection, and when I read about an anime about WWII aerial combat, with highly realistic and historically accurate aircraft and three famous anime directors (and a five-star rating at THEM Anime Reviews) I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. While wondering why I'd never heard of this title, I immediately went looking for a copy. A couple tapes were available at for the hefty fee of around $45, and with a good deal of trepidation I closed the deal. Not since Sex Demon Queen have I gambled so much cash on a relatively short set of OVAs--pray for me...

Episode one got off to a poor start as I realized I'd carelessly bought a dubbed tape. Animation is good and the planes are very realistically drawn and recognizable, but this is definitely not the superdetailed CG animation of the present day (which would have been awesome!). The story was OK, but just reading the review synopsis had given a good deal of it away. When the main character, Luftwaffe pilot Leiters (I think) took off his helmet, exposing his long, brown hair, I though Omigod, it's Captain Harlock flying an FW-190! Leiji Matsumoto's touch is quite evident here; Leiter's girlfriend Marlene looks like Queen Emeralda. A pleasant surprise was a live-action interview with this episode's director, Yoshiaki Kawajiri--I never dreamed he looked like that! All-in-all, OK, but not exactly five-star. I was wishing it had been possible to rent this one rather than pay a small fortune for it. On to episode two...

"Sonic Thunder Attack Squadron" deals with Kamikaze pilot Nogami and the crew of the bomber that will carry him and his Ohka guided missile (guided by him) to attack the US fleet. Right from the start, anyone with the slightest knowledge of WWII history will recognize the date of the mission and realize what sort of irony is in store; it might have been better not to include it. While Nogami is drawn realistically, the character designs of the bomber crewmen are totally ridiculous, which made it difficult to take what is supposed to be a tragic story seriously. If, like me, you've seen pretty much every existing film clip of planes launching from carriers or contemporary guncamera film, the relatively low framerate being used here is painfully evident. Also obvious is that whoever translated/rewrote the script didn't know a whole lot about WWII technology, as in where fighters releasing their drop tanks is described as them "dropping their bombs". I did like the discussion of the philosophical and moral implications of Kamikaze missions--sort of a modern Japanese take on the subject. The final mission was exciting, especially the point at which Nogami argues with the bomber pilot--Nogami wants him to release the Ohka and get clear, but he is willing to die in order to make certain Nogami reaches his target. I felt a distinct thrill when Nogami's Ohka was launched from the mother plane--the point of no return. But the amount of irony at the end was distinctly disappointing--you would think that there must be countless ways that some sort of meaning, or lesson, could be attached to this story, but a writer of the caliber of Leiji Matsumoto was hardly needed to come up with the stereotypical one you get. Another minor quibble is that the American sailors somehow knew what both a sonic boom and an atomic bomb were, which is quite impossible; but this is more of an alternate history than an attempt at historical fiction. Anyway, good but not great.

You would think that a set of OVAs with a title such as this would all involve pilots, but aircraft play a very small part in the final episode, "Steel Dragoon". This one, set in the Phillipines, involves a Japanese army motorcycle courier and a fellow soldier he runs into while on a mission. Maybe if you were Japanese it would go without saying why the two feel that they must carry out an order which has clearly been rendered completely pointless and is now virtually suicidal. Either that, or it wasn't explained very well, because I remained confused as to why the two were doing this and had a hard time identifying with them. Character designs of even the two principal characters were laughably superdeformed, which again made it hard to tell how seriously this story was supposed to be taken. But it did have its good points as well, namely the dialogue between the two soldiers, and the gradually emerging significance of the motorcycle. I believe all three director's commentaries asked them about the technology in their episode, even this one, in which a motorcycle is about as technical as it gets. I read somewhere that the Japanese are very interested in technology (hence the fascination with Mecha anime), in part because it's seen as a reason why WWII ended the way it did. Anyway, Steel Dragoon was a fun tale; again, it ended with some poignancy but nowhere near the last episode of Cowboy Bebop.

To be honest, I regret spending so much money on this tape. But I'm also glad to have watched it. The Cockpit didn't measure up to the fanatical praise it had been given (at least not the dubbed version), but it was interesting and exciting nevertheless. I just wish it had been available for rent somewhere.

P.S: And now it looks like The Cockpit will become available for free! On the bright side, perhaps this review will become useful to more than a handful of people.

Last updated Thursday, December 06 2007. Created Tuesday, March 06 2007.

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