A woman who can control the winds. A fallen prince looking for revenge. A world of flying islands, holy quests, and magnificent aerial dogfights. The thematic exploration of love, hatred, and forgiveness. All this and more can be found in the excellent tale of two star-crossed lovers in The Pilot's Love Song.
For the most part, The Pilot's Love Song takes place on a floating island, traveling ever closer to the edge of the world. This makes for a visually stunning setting. Clouds regularly move across the island like waves and wide shots of the island in flight are something to behold.
But more than just the setting, it is the planes that really steal the show visually. The heroes' aircraft in The Pilot's Love Song function like a harrier jet—with engines that rotate to allow vertical take off and similar maneuvers. Then by taking these planes and putting them in combat, we see some excellently realized dogfights that never cease to be beautiful—not to mention entertaining.
The Pilot's Love Song is not an anime that celebrates war. The cast of characters are a group of teens enrolled in a flight school—they are in no way soldiers. But once the floating island begins to fall under repeated enemy attack, the students find themselves being employed as expendable scouts. Unsurprisingly, this means several of the characters die while others are permanently crippled.
Thus we see these characters deal with the loss of their friends and the horror that comes from being dragged into a war that they didn't want any part of. And moreover it's a war they have no way of running away from because if the island's defenders fail, everyone will die. This makes for some great character building and creates the backdrop for the anime's central plot of star-crossed lovers.
Often in fiction, one character has a relationship-destroying secret that must be kept from his or her romantic interest at all costs. However, more often than not, we, the audience, know that said secret likely will not blow up as expected—that the other party will accept and understand the revelation. Thus the drama becomes focused around the price of keeping the secret instead of the repercussions of the secret getting out.
The Pilot's Love Song, however, is one of the few of these types of stories where the secret really feels like one that must be kept. Kal-El, the main male lead, is the long-thought-dead son of a king overthrown in a violent revolution. His family was killed and his entire childhood destroyed thanks to the magical wind powers of Nina Viento—the now governor of the floating island. Kal-El's whole goal in the series is to kill Nina Viento, and his enrolling in flight school is just a cover to hide his plans. Of course, he never intends to fall in love with fellow pilot Claire Cruz and is thus torn between the new life he has made and the revenge he craves for the old life torn away from him.
[Skip to the next section to avoid spoilers] But then enters the world-shattering secret: Claire Cruz is Nina Viento. Claire is the first of the two to figure out the other’s identity and the resulting implications: that the man she loves (and loves her in return) desperately wants to kill her alter ego. And moreover, the series does a great job of making it feel like if she did tell him the truth, he would kill her immediately. It is a secret that has real consequences and watching her struggle to deal with it leads to great real-stakes drama in the series.
Thus, when it comes down to it, The Pilot's Love Song is the tale of a boy growing up and trying to decide the man he wants to be. While originally dead set on his path to kill Nina Viento, he comes to care more and more about Claire and the other pilots as time goes on. From the start, it is clear the big secret will eventually get out, so the question becomes will Kal-el's love grow to the point where it can overcome his hate?
[Skip to the next section to avoid spoilers.] The resolution of the conflict is handled excellently and really shows how Kal-el has grown over the course of the show. Even better, it also shows a surprising negative consequence of overcoming his past hatred. Namely, that it serves to refocus his life on his love for Claire. Thus, when she is taken away by the enemy in exchange for safe travel through its territory, he does not simply let her go. Instead, he plays on his own people's romanticism for a tale of star-crossed lovers and takes the entire nation to war to get her back. In other words, he sacrifices hundreds—possibly thousands of soldiers—for the sake of being reunited with his true love. Romantic, yes. Human, yes. But also more than a bit terrible.
After the first episode sets up the basic plot of the series and introduces the characters, the next few episodes are spent almost entirely in flashbacks with next to nothing happening in the modern day plot. While the backstory is interesting, the way it is doled out in giant chunks in the first few episodes hurts the anime overall. It really ends up feeling like the story doesn't actually get started until the end of the series' fifth episode where the big secret and its impending conflict has been fully revealed.
As I mentioned in the review of The Princess and the Pilot, these two works share not only an author but also a fictional world. Thus, The Pilot's Love Song gives us a few fleeting glimpses of the characters from that film—and that is definitely something we the audience needed.
[Skip to the next section to avoid spoilers from the anime film The Princess and the Pilot.] Narrated from long after the fact, The Princess and the Pilot ends saying that the hero of the film never appeared in any historical record from that point on and his fate was completely unknown. This made for a bit of a downer ending. Luckily, The Pilot's Love Song serves as a hidden epilogue of sorts, showing us the fate of our pilot hero and occasionally mentioning the reign of the now Empress. While never focusing on either of them specifically, knowing more about their post-film fates is an extra perk to watching The Pilot's Love Song.
The Pilot's Love Song is a truly imaginative tale filled with aerial dogfights, a great tragic romance, and a beautiful world of oceans and skies. It remains one of the season's best anime. If you enjoy romance, well-developed characters, or some of the coolest classic airplane designs this side of Miyazaki, you should definitely give this one a watch.
The Pilot's Love Song aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be viewed for free and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.
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