You will find me ranting quite a lot in the following review. But make no mistake, The Princess and the Pilot was not that bad. The problem was that it was lazy and could have been much better. (Important note: I did not read the light novel so my criticism is based on anime version only and the following discussion contain spoilers for the ending)
The Princess and the Pilot was a very good looking anime. It promised some neat aviation sequences, fantasy elements and romance which were, arguably, the typical recipe for making successful anime. Princess Fana was promised to the prince and the future emperor of Levam Kingdom. She was targeted by the rival kingdom, Tenzou Empire, and in order to deliver Fana to the prince, a covert operation was conducted. Charles Karino was the pilot chosen to carry Fana across hostile territories on the Santa Cruz, his seaplane.
The shallow, cliché-ridden, predictable story and characters
If I showed a poster for this anime to a random person and asked him to guess what would happen in the anime, he would probably guess all the key plot points correctly. Here a checklist for typical ‘romance/war’ stories.
- High born female lead fully equipped with innocence and beauty: checked
- Male lead from lowly origin but possesses good heart: checked
- The two have met before when they were young: checked
- A scene in which the boy accidently falls on top of the girl: checked
- A very romantic flower field which just randomly appears out of the blue: checked
- The boy is somehow wounded and the girl must heal him: checked
- A dual or something along that line: checked
The anime literally used all the tropes in the book! One could argue that doing so was not always a bad choice and he would be right. Only in this anime, all the clichés were lazily used so that no affords would have to be invested in creating at least decent story and interesting characters. It is okay to use cliché but that should not be all that is done. A cliché-ridden story can work when it is backed by proper amount of depths and details.
Fana’s character arch was incomplete and devoid of proper groundwork.
Now let’s take a look at our lovely lady Fana. The background of her character was even hollower. We saw that she was raised like a lady who had no voice of her own. She dressed like a doll and obediently did what was asked of her. But how did she feel about getting shipped off to some marriage? Did she receive any kind of education at all? What did she want in her life? Did she want to be free or did she want to make the world a better place? She had no character and there was nothing for us to hold on to. She was just there looking pretty and showing absolutely no conflict, internal struggle, desire or anything specific. So when she went on the Santa Cruz, her character could hardly develop because there was no ground for her character to develop from. During the final scene, we saw glimpse of Fana’s newly gained strength as she somewhat stood up to one of the bad officers. That’s certainly a small evolution of her character but it’s still far from enough.
The leading man who was shrouded in mystery
Another clear example was Charles’s character. The details about Charles Karino, the male lead, were very inadequate. I was told that he came from mixed heritage and he faced severe racial discrimination but that’s all. Why was it so bad? What hardship did he have to go through all these years aside from getting stones thrown at when he was a kid? What did he do to get from street kid to a pilot aside from just watching other pilots flew? Who was his father? Why did he stay in the place no one wanted him to be? What, exactly, was the matter with having the blood of the rival nation of Tenzou? Why were the two nations at war in the first place? The string of questions went on and on. The anime only lightly touched on these essential details about the main characters and the very world it set in which eventually dissolved all the integrity of the film. In the end, without the proper groundwork, the anime was just another mediocre soap opera.
Why did they choose the one pilot with the highest tendency for betrayal to handle their most important mission?
Here’s the problem. Charles had been the subject of racial discrimination all his life. Everyone mistreated him. This covert mission would grant him no glory or credit. Plus, he had NO solo experience as a pilot. So why did the government entrust their most vital mission to him who they never trusted and who had every reason to betray them? It’s just not making any sense. Oh well, I supposed all the talented, experienced and trustworthy pilot in this country had already been killed. Oh wait, why didn’t the mighty fleet of the princess come pick Fana up instead? You see how lazy the script was. The anime just wanted to put Charles and Fana on the same plane and expected the viewers to swallow that without asking any question!
Prince Carlo’s hidden agenda
This point was just a general remark rather than negative criticism. It appeared that Charles and Fana’s covert mission was not very covert at all. Prince Carlo, the prince and future emperor, innocently wrote love letter to Fana via military telegraph, telling her how much he worried about her travelling alone across the waters. The enemy decoded the telegraph and uncovered the whole covert operation. There were two possibilities about Prince Carlo here. First, he was incredibly dumb and stupidly put his bride in peril. Or second, he intended to have Fana killed by the enemy. So yeah, Prince Carlo were either very stupid or very evil.
Apparently this anime frustrated me in many ways. That’s because I knew that it could have been much better anime than it actually turned out. Other than the story and characters, the production of The Princess and the Pilot was really good. I immensely enjoyed watching battle scenes which were very well orchestrated and animated. The artworks in general were beautiful especially the waterfalls. And last but not least, the original scores made the scene in which the Santa Cruz took off from the airport one of the most romantic scene in the entire film.
Conclusion: The Princess and the Pilot was clearly a disappointment for me but that did not mean that the anime was bad across the board. Unfortunately, it seemed like too little work had been put into the core elements of anime-making such as story or characterization. But if you just want light entertainment to pass the time, this movie will probably be enough.
Title: The Princess and the Pilot (To Aru Hikushi e no Tsuioku)
Genre: action, fantasy, romance
Released date: October 1, 2011
Running time: 99 minutes
Director: Jun Shishido
Animated by: Madhouse
Fun facts: this anime was written by Satoko Okudera who wrote the award-winning films like Summer Wars and Wolf Children Ame and Yuki.