The cast really looks ready for action at the beginning of this episode of Miss Pilot:

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But as Kunikida (Saito Takumi) points out, they really don’t need to be – this is an optional exercise to practice being in a depressurization situation where they’ll have to put on gas masks.

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Even though it’s optional, they all go for it. It’s certainly a great way to start the episode – really gets the mood right to see these guys looking like pilots.

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Somehow, Kotori (Koyanagi Yu) goes out of it before they’re at a pressure where they should even need a mask – 4000 feet. That’s around what cabins are normally pressurized to in-flight, so they’ve all been breathing it already. Why did Kotori have trouble here? No idea. They don’t explain it at all. I guess it was just played for laughs because somebody had to have trouble with the lower pressure – you don’t show something like this and just have everyone get through it smoothly.

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Later, Taiji (Mamiya Shotaro) tries to get Tezuka (Horikita Maki) out on a date to the zoo, but she misinterprets it as an invitation for everyone, and when she tells the team, they turn it down. That Taiji, though . . . he’s sort of worrisome in his complete inability to stay with the girl he’s supposed to be with.

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The team aims to convince Kunikida to spend Christmas with them . . .

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. . . but he’s not the only extra guest who will be joining them – Suzu (Sakuraba Nanami), Rinko (Nanao), and Kanoko (Fujisawa Ema) suddenly show up. I guess Suzu’s senses were tingling (as were Rinko’s, no doubt), and they used Christmas as an excuse to invade.

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So they had a cozy meal, but apparently with Kanoko present they opted for a Japanese-style meal and gave Roy (Bob Sapp) the night off.

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The two boyfriends sense that Suzu and Rinko want to keep a excessively close eye on them, and decide to enforce a rule which forces to two intruders to stay on the girl’s side of the house, which means they end up sleeping in Tezuka’s room.

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Well, they sure seem to end up rooting for her the next day – that good old Tezuka charm, I guess.

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The trainees are now in the middle of instrument flying certification – testing their ability to fly using only the instruments without relying of visual input through the cockpit windows. This is essential for bad weather, when all pilots are likely to see is clouds, and night flying.

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To simulate this, the instructors place a cover on the windshield, removing it when the plane is about to make a landing (at which altitude the runway should be visible even in a storm.

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It’s nice to hear that Tezuka has added “roger” to her English repertoire. In fact, we get to hear more English this time than in any other episode (which means more flight training and practice, by definition).

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Suzu wrongly believes that Taiji is after Oda Chisato (Aibu Saki) when he’s clearly interested in Tezuka. As a result, she goes to Tezuka for help . . .

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. . . and this leads to a conversation between Tezuka and Taiji that they each take in different ways, so that Taiji now believes Tezuka likes him!

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Oh, dear. Looks like they’re advancing the romantic subplot, but will anything come of it?

Thankfully, the three invaders decide to return to Japan after Christmas so that the trainees aren’t too stressed out when it comes time for the instrument flight test.

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They have two chances to pass the test. The weather conditions are poor – though not so bad that they would be grounded. And when you think about it, poor weather is exactly when they’d be flying by instrument anyway.

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We see some of them in-flight. Kotori has trouble focusing on the instruments. Oda continues to be perfect until she gets rattled by a bird strike (a bird smashing into the windshield – that would ruin any pilot’s day).

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Tezuka still isn’t good at keeping things steady, which is sort of important when you’ve got passengers.

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As it turned out, only Taiji passed on the first try, leaving everyone else in a tough position.

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None more so than Chisato, though. After all, she had been perfect up to that bird strike, and this is the first time she’s had any reason to lose confidence. Is it just the same thing as what happened with Tezuka a few episodes ago, or is there something else going on?

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Tezuka asks Kunikida to cheer Oda up, but he has trouble getting started. He ultimately tells her not to get hung up about the perfect score.

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After that, Oda decides to hang out with Tezuka to loosen up. Tezuka tells a little white lie – that she didn’t tell Kunikida to have that talk with Oda. I guess that’s fair, but it might lead to another romantic misunderstanding with Oda thinking Kunikida has feelings for her.

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I’m not sure why we suddenly jump to two minor characters in Japan (the focus should only ever be on major characters, and neither Suzu nor Rinko qualify) . . .

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. . . but we turn back to the trainees quickly enough, and the team decides to go running together.

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They realize that they’re each good at different aspects of instrument flying, and try to help each other. Ah! There’s that vaunted teamwork Kunikida took such pains to instill in them!

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Oda and Tezuka get some good simulation time in, with Oda continuing to look more relaxed.

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That hurricane in the news . . . it has no chance of spraying any rain on North Dakota. I love the description of it as SSE of North Dakota when it’s a thousand miles away – almost the length of mainland Japan.

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There’s enough rain to give them more time to prepare, though, so Tezuka and Oda take the opportunity in possibly the best scene of the series so far. Certainly their best sister-to-sister moment.

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As the sky clears, it’s time for them to figure out who has the right stuff to be a pilot and who doesn’t.

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So, we have a definite spoiler to avoid in this episode: will they all be able to pass?

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There was also a side issue running throughout the episode – will Shinozaki (Iwaki Koichi) continue flying or retire?

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I guess that’ll sort of depend on how the next generation of hopefuls shapes up.

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It was definitely a much more interesting ending than we’ve seen in this drama so far, and a more compelling episode overall. The pacing was good and the characterizations were solid.

As has been true, this series continues to be at its best when it’s the story of the two almost-sisters – Oda Chisato and Tezuka Haru – and the reason this episode worked was because it largely focused on that relationship.