For reasons unknown, though most likely economic, Japan privatized its armed forces. Only media companies have finances to invest, hence the air force has become an entertainment industry. Now manufactured girl groups and boy bands fly jets and sing songs (at the same time!) in bizarre talent contests staged on live TV, occasionally breaking off to defend the nation from foreign invaders. Gutsy fly-girl Satsuki Toreishi (voiced by Kotono Mitsuishi) along with older sisters Kanna (Sakiko Tamigawa) and Yayoi (Yuri Amano) and younger siblings Uzuki (Fumie Kusachi) and Mina (Hekiru Shiina) make up the Hummingbirds, the newest jet-fighting girl group on the scene thrust into the spotlight by ambitious showbiz mother Hazuki (Mika Doi), whose air ace husband disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Already struggling to hit those high notes and pull off complex aerial maneuvers, the girls find their lives further complicated by intense media scrutiny and a rival team out to sabotage their career.
Japan's obsession with virginal idol singers probably began around the mid-to-late Seventies with the hysteria over singer and actress Momoe Yamaguchi, for many the J-pop idol to end all J-pop idols. Then came disco duo Pink Lady, then Eighties superstar Hiroko Yakushimaru, anime voice idol Mari Iijima, scandal-mongering Seiko Matsuda, pouting sex goddess Rei Miyazawa and so on. By the Nineties, idols were omnipresent in Japanese pop culture and ripe for satire. Detractors charged the bubbly schoolgirl archetype embodied all the vacuous values of the bubble economy age. The most extreme examples of this antipathy were demonstrated in underground horror 'satires' where perky idol types were routinely and quite brutally deflowered and dismembered by virile maniacs in an odious, often pretentious attempt to reassert masculine authority. Such films reveal a lot more about the neurotic male psyche than the idol phenomenon. By contrast Hummingbirds offers up a satire that is both more benign and more pointed in that its target is not teenage girl pop singers so much as the media machine that exploits them.
Top Gun meets The X Factor is a crazed concept only a Japanese anime could conceive, so its no surprise there were two serials where cute idol singers flew jet fighters released around the same time. Despite being directed by Project A-Ko (1987) co-creator Yuji Moriyama, Airbats (1994) took the silver medal for lesser film. Created by Hitoshi Yoshioka, the brains behind similarly satirical slacker sci-fi saga Irresponsible Captain Tyler (1992), Hummingbirds, or Idol Defense Band Hummingbird to use the full Japanese title, is not high art by any means but an engagingly silly spoof. For all its cutesy scenes of girls-being-girls (pillow fights in their underwear, gossiping about boys, etc.) aimed at sating young male otaku the anime shows Satsuki and her sisters to be more than competent fighter pilots. They would have to be to pull off such flawless harmonies in the midst of a dog-fight! Hazuki might be a tad too youthful and glamorous to convince as the mother of five teenage daughters but does convince as a fair-minded, formidable business manager adding a pleasing, if subtle feminist layer to counterbalance the cheesecake content. The male TV hosts and showbiz wranglers may call them 'bimbos' but the Toreishi girls stoically endure every indignity heaped on them by the manipulative media barons. Incidentally, the Toreishi girls are a take-off on the Tracy family from Thunderbirds. Hence the anime throws in a number of montage sequences with hi-tech super-jets styled after Gerry Anderson's seminal Super-Marionation favourite.
While the original Japanese release ran to four episodes only the first two were packaged together for an eighty minute video release. Interestingly Hummingbirds was a rare anime whose sole western release was in the UK rather than the USA. As satires go it is undeniably mild and slowly sheds its initial bite to indulge in time-honoured clichés from the shojo romance and sports anime genres. Satsuki develops a crush on her father's top student who is hired to coach voluptuous rival idol duo the Fever Girls, whose managers plant explosive devices on the heroines' jets. Yes, not only do you get idol singers flying fighter jets but disarming bombs too. Along with the high-flying musical sequences there are mock videos and concerts where the girls perform in bikinis or sexy showgirl outfits. Catchy and pleasant, the tunes remain strictly for fans of sugary J-pop though it is unlikely anyone otherwise inclined would ever watch this.