ANIME & MANGA - Review
15:00 - 6th December 2014, by Andrew Osmond

The Princess and the Pilot

The Princess and the Pilot isn’t a classic film, but it’s in a classic mould – a magnificent, entertaining romantic adventure where a young man and woman take a perilous plane journey through the heavens. The story is straightforward and guileless. It could have been told as a popular Hollywood film 70 years ago, though then it would have lacked the formal graces of its title characters, and the epic images by the Madhouse studio (Ninja Scroll, Redline, The Wolf Children). Despite its 12 certificate, this is genuinely a family picture, suitable for any bright kid who can cope with fleeting bloody moments… so it’s a great shame there’s no English dub, cutting down the likely audience.

The film stands alone well enough, although it’s based on one of several books by Koroku Inumura, which also inspired a TV anime, The Pilot’s Love Song, by a different studio with different characters. Princess and the Pilot is set in a European-style parallel world where society still revolves around kings and castles, yet there are gigantic superplanes and heat-seeking missiles. It’s comparable to the Last Exile franchise, but the lush cinema visuals are more evocative of aviation classics like Porco Rosso and Wings of Honneamise. (In addition, some of the battles involving monstrous superplanes are very reminiscent of early Miyazaki, especially his manga Nausicaa.) The military uniforms lend an extra vibrancy to the palette.

However, the deeper history and politics are of no account in the streamlined story. A lovely aristocratic lady, Fana, is betrothed to her country’s Prince. The country is embroiled in war with an enemy nation, and Fana becomes an assassination target. To protect her, it’s decided Fana will be flown in secret to her future husband, across miles of enemy ocean. Her protector is Charles Karino, a flying ace mercenary with unmatched skills, though he’s despised by his superiors as a half-breed. But it’s soon clear the mission has leaked, and a whole army is chasing Charles and Fana…

Another film would have spoofed and camped the material, making the princess a bratty aristo and the pilot a hardboiled cartoon. However, scriptwriter Satoko Okudera, known for her collaborations with Mamoru Hosoda, tells the story straight and understated, with the two leads treating each other with a cautious courtesy which thaws only slowly through their adventure. It doesn’t make for a surprising, memorable relationship, but it does gives their journey charm and innocence - and what a journey! From the first takeoff at dawn (lifted on a swelling score), to a cascading supersized fantasy Niagara, to the freedom dreams of unspoiled islands, via splendidly exciting air-battles whose flair outweighs their unlikelihood, this is a truly pleasurable anime.

There are still gripes, if you want them. The CGI plane animation, while well-done, still has a synthetic weightlessness compared to the hand-drawn films mentioned above. A subplot about how Fana and Charles met before feels unnecessarily contrived (and seems to be setting up a very dodgy twist, but doesn’t). Most seriously, the last act, where the emotional barriers come down, is simply over-obvious, and the last grand romantic gesture risks ridicule. For some anime fans, the film will ultimately feel too ‘Hollywood mainstream’ to win their approval. But honestly, it’s better to go with it.

Sumptuous, charming and exciting, this is an immensely pleasurable film.
SCORE: 4/5
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