Released by: Madman Entertainment.
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
With Yukikaze itself now seemingly happily settled into it's new airframe it is given new upgrades as the fight against the JAM begins to change into a deadlier form. Rei himself seems more invigorated as he begins to understand the relationship he has with his plane. All this is timely as the war takes a new tack with the loss of contact with a Banshee flying carrier. This mamoth nuclear powered craft is one of two providing forward air support to the FAF - extending their effective combat range dramaticly. As such the loss of one of these behemoths would be a critical turning point in the conflict forcing the FAF into a more defensive role.
Consequently this loss of contact with the Banshee and it's subsequent shoot down of friendly units returning to it to refuel forces the special air forces to send their best to investigate. This involves Rei and Yukikaze ferrying a mission specialist to the Banshee and keeping him safe. At the same time SAF command is begining to worry about the change in tactics they have seen from the JAM and analysis of those tactics implies strongly that something nasty awaits Rei aboard the stricken Banshee.
Episode Four sees the whole tactical strategy of the FAF change as they decide to stop using strategic air superiority alone. Key in their efforts is the formation of a specialist ground attack force intended to take and hold two key JAM bases. But for some reason SAF General Cooley isn't keen on Rei, Bhukar and Yukikaze being involved in these plans. Instead they are sent on a proving mission back to Earth to evaluate a new engine design for Yukikaze. Followed by JAM forces through the hyperspace gateway Yukikaze and crew are forced to intercede before the JAM finish wiping the floor with the Earth based defenders stationed at the gateway.
In many ways the fourth episode is the most interesting of the two as it explores the very human reactions to both the JAM as an immediate threat and as the somewhat removed menance that Earth has become acustomed to. Perhaps the nicest touch is the resentful attitude the Earth forces have to their Fairy compatriots, having just watched a healthy chunk of their colleagues be blasted out of the sky with almost contemptuous ease. As Rei remarks it wasn't the FAF who attacked the force but it is very human for them to both acknowledge needing the help but resenting it all the same. A curious reporter, who we have seen before early on in the series, makes it clear that not all of Earth is quite so ignorant or complacent to the threat. It is a nicely layered approach to what easily could have been purely a high octane action set piece.
Not to say that Yukikaze doesn't deliver here, after the quieter and more spooky third episode the fourth cuts loose with a teriffic running battle between the Earth Forces, the JAM and Yukikaze. With the 5.1 sound cranked up this is just audio heaven as phalanx CWIS guns open up, missiles howl through the air and explosions ring out. I still have the niggle that I would have really liked this to be presented on a 16:9 frame visually but it is definitely an exciting fight to watch unfold. The one wrinkle is that it looks like the Japanese DTS track for this release is slightly out of sync. This is a shame as it is by far the beefier and richer sounding track than the Dolby Digital ones, mostly thanks to the expanded 768 kb data rate it enjoys, and operation four has this thrilling fight in it. Hopefully Madman will fix this slight error in a future release but at least in the meantime the Dolby Digital tracks are solid so both dub/sub fans can be happy.
What most impresses is the way Yukikaze still manages to balance the action with some fairly thought provoking plot issues. If an enemy has been held at bay for thirty years on some removed world why wouldn't the Earth get a little complacent? Not to mention resentful of the material and research effort spent on the Fairy forces. And if you can copy someone perfectly why wouldn't that copies first loyalty still remain with the FAF? Especially if the copy is unaware that it is a copy....
We also have the lingering question of the JAMs undoubted interest in Rei and Yukikaze. Is that interest the genesis of the new tactics the JAM have been deploying? Or simply a part of the shift in focus? And does the fact that the JAM seemed wholely focused on the machines the pilots flew tell us something about the JAM themselves? While these episodes do little more than introduce and pose these questions it is a refreshing change to see a traditionally action driven format (namely the top gun style air fighter.) layering it's story with intrieguing undertones. Perhaps the biggest shame is that given a longer running time, like doubling the number of episodes, we could have had more than just the posing of these questions but some exploration of them. The worst thing is knowing that one forty minute plus episode is now the last we will see of this interesting tale.