Historical fiction is a genre I've read since I was a young dude. Be it Civil War or 20th Century fiction pieces, I find it interesting how some writers will look to the past of this country for literary inspiration. Not to say it's exclusive to American fiction, as the British (WWII, Victorian Age, etc), other European countries and all around the world has their own interesting histories to tell.
Anime is no exception. When dealing with historical fiction, one either ends with a few options: The Shogunate Era, WWII, Feudal Japan, etc. More well-known examples include Ruroni Kenshin, Peacemaker Kurogane, Grave of the Fireflies, and many others. But I'm not talking about any of those. Instead, I'm taking a look at the questionably titled "Virgin Fleet". An 3 episode OVA from 1998, this was made by Studio AIC (one of my favorite studios) headed by Ohji Hiroi, who is one of the 3 creators of Sakura Wars, another historical fiction piece, much like this OVA. This was brought to the USA by US Manga Corps, so right away it sours a bit for me.
I won't spoil this further, as I have to admit this isn't all that bad, even given the US Manga Corps license attached. It isn't great, as it seems to be too much to be like Sakura Wars. If you've seen Virgin Fleet after watching Sakura Wars TV Series, then the similarities are quite striking. Both involve girls with mystical powers piloting machines (Kubo bots in SK, biplanes in VF) dealing with issues in post WWI Japan. This is an era fondly remembered it seems, as Japan was on the winning side of WWI (nominally) and was experiencing good times in the country. However, I can see the first strands of rampant militarism that later would plunge Japan into another war. This is evidenced by the fact that all of the military are complete and utter hammy villains (apart from those in charge of VF). It also deals with heavy issues like arranged marriage (between Shiokaze and Mau) and equality (VF commander trying to get the military to recognize the unit's potential despite social obstacles: "The men must protect the women" mentality. It is very compelling, seeing Umino having a real moral dilemma on her hands. That what's makes this good, its a good character drama piece, with historical fiction taking a backseat to it. I care more what decision Umino makes then what happens with regard to the backstory: There's a conflict that is coming soon and will sweep away the complacency of the postwar age. Not that it's any less interesting, to be sure.
Also, the english dub isn't that bad either. Granted, its US Manga Corps, so your mileage might vary when it comes to their dubs, I happen to like this one. Any dub that has Jessica Calvello, Crispin Freeman, Megan Hollingshead and Angora Deb deserves some praise. They all do a pretty good job with the dub, even if some of the lines are cringe-worthy. For instance: "It is our duty to our country to protect our virginity" and "My Virginity is Special" (the last line of the OVA) come to mind for me. That and some of the villains sound really hammy in the english dub. Listenable to an extant, I must say.
The overall production is very well-done. By the late 90s, a lot of OVAs were starting to look pretty good as the introduction of digital technology made its way into the production of animation at large. In the case, Virgin Fleet looks a bit plastic and a bit rough on the edges. It still holds up to today, but that's due to the fact it looks unlike anything I've seen, well, in terms of character designs.
I'll end on this: If you like historical fiction, then check this out. It is very interesting and it has a complete story all within 3 episodes, unlike most OVAs I've previously talked about here, which due to production issues or money or lack of sales left many unfinished. But not this one. Check it out!
Until next week,
The Eclectic Dude