The Princess And The Pilot (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 100 minutes approx.
Very much its own story, albeit one which has been told before, The Princess And The Pilot is a sentimental romantic tale set in an alternate world where the Levamme Kingdom is embroiled in a long standing war with the Amatsukami Empire. The future Princess Consort Fana del Moral accepts a marriage proposal from a rich noble man who will strengthen the del Moral’s position and future fortunes. However a year passes and with her betrothed fighting in the war Fana becomes a target for a sneak attack by the enemy.
In order to secure Fana’s safety in her journey to her future life, the unusual step is taken of having her flown in secret by a regular San Maltilia Airforce pilot. The chosen man for the job is a mixed blood – a bestado – mercenary named Charle Karino whose exemplary piloting skills and knowledge of the kingdom make him the only real candidate. For Fana this is a world away from the comfort of her privileged and sheltered life and the experience will be quite the culture shock – if they survive the journey.
For the record, despite sharing an aviation theme, this film from studios Madhouse and TMS Entertainment appeared two years before Hayao Miyazaki’s swansong The Wind Rises and is based on the light novel from Koroku Inumura, so accusations of rip offs or cash-ins are unfounded and wildly erroneous.
The little rich girl taken out of her comfort zone to mix with the lower classes only for a potential romance to blossom is a story as old as the hills, but Inumura’s aviation action allows for a fresh approach towards this age old premise. One could argue it serves as a distraction from the flimsy plotline while for many it will be the main attraction but in fact the characters are strong enough to engage the audience and carry the story.
While Fana and Charle may appear aesthetically to hail from the cookie cutter school of anime tropes, they have been fleshed out with a significant background story which is revealed during flashbacks. More than just a convenient hint of a past forbidden acquaintance between two opposing social classes, this is a critique of social discrimination and class prejudice. Thankfully the pure hearted Fana hasn’t picked up these unpleasant traits and treats everyone with the same courtesy and respect, including Charle, who is victim to such ignorance even from his fellow pilots.
The treacherous journey to a secret meeting point where Fana will be picked up by a sate cruiser is of course a huge learning curve for both travellers. Charle initially takes the job for the reward promised to him and approaches the task with professionalism and a stoic determination, all the while remaining polite towards Fana. She at first is timid and of little help until Charle suffers an injury during an ambush and has to step up to keep things moving when they arrive for a scheduled pit stop. Feelings predictably grow between the two but while it’s an expected development without question it is one which is taken in a very interesting and unexpected direction.
And this is where the film is likely to jeopardise overall favourable opinion of it the bittersweet ending doesn’t really resolve anything. At the risk of straying into spoiler territory we are left with a conclusion that teases but doesn’t deliver and may either be seen as a refreshing change from the norm or a disappointment. However it is lyrically enchanting and a delightful spectacle so to question it feels somewhat churlish.
Whether it was by design there is a sense watching this film that Madhouse and TMS had aspirations of producing their own Studio Ghibli film. Much of the artwork, the mood and the wondrously lilting Joe Hisaishi-esque musical score give credence to this but it might just purely be coincidental. Ghibli’s works may be untouchable for many anime fans but they are a certainly a worthy measuring stick to aspire to. Regardless the animation and artwork is both top notch and look superb in HD, and even of the conventional character designs do nothing to spoil the visual beauty of this film.
Nothing is made clear but the design gives us plenty of hints of an East European influence of the setting, the landscapes resplendent with their luscious green vistas, beautifully structured architecture, clear blue skies and shimmering waters. The lack of technology, aside from some Steampunk alterations to the aircraft, and the Victorian attire support this but with so many modern anime relying on modern high school settings this is a welcome change.
The real highlight however is the exhilarating flight scenes which incorporate some stunning and nail biting aerial dog fights. The planes are failry conventional in design with some inventive tweaks, noticeable some having twin propellers at the BACK of the craft, and hidden bomb carriages under the wings and torsos. The animators have clearly studied genuine aerial displays and replicated these with immense care and attention. The effect is a rewarding one that will dazzle on a visual scale while excite the senses with the drama of the battle scenario.
The Princess And The Pilot has a lot going for it to make it a satisfying enough viewing experience for many anime fans. It has a very accessible and easy to follow story with a romantic thread to appeal to the ladies while the aerial action while delight the males. The production values are high and the whole presentation sparkles with class and passion.
The only setback is the story isn’t deep enough to provide the same nourishment as the visuals, seeming largely functional for the aviation aspect. There is a clear message confronting social attitudes towards class distinction which is well made but could have been stronger.
Ultimately these issues are easily excused and this film can be enjoyed without having them cloud the overall viewing experience of this whimsical joy ride of drama, romance and breathtaking action.
Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
15 Second TV Spot Action (Roadshow)
15 Second TV Spot Tragic Love (Now Showing)
15 Second TV Spot Tragic Love (Roadshow)
Preview neutral (textless)
Trailer neutral (textless)
Rating – *** ½
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