What happens when you mix a classic fairytale premise with World War II-style airplanes in a fantasy world setting? You get The Princess and the Pilot: a beautiful film of aerial adventure and tragic love.
While an aerial war rages above the seas of the world, the crown prince has requested that his bride-to-be, a noble girl by the name of Fana, be delivered to him so that the marriage can commence. Unfortunately, to do this, she must make her way through 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles) of enemy territory.
And when the fleet sent to bring her is destroyed to the last man, it's up to the young, yet extremely talented, pilot Charles to deliver her with nothing but his small recon plane. The film follows this journey and how the two change and interact during it.
While I enjoy complex premises and plots with twists and turns as much as anyone else, The Princess and the Pilot is one of those films where a straightforward plot helps bolster the central aspect of the film: the relationship between Charles and Fana. The trials they face on their journey are merely a catalyst for the two leads' character development. And while the majority of the movie is conversations between the two, that doesn't mean there isn't any room for adventure and excitement.
Over the course of their journey, Charles and Fana are constantly hunted by the enemy forces. From time to time, this puts the two in dogfight situations—which is especially problematic as the recon plane has a single rear-facing gun and is both less quick and less maneuverable than the enemy fighters. Watching the pair attempt to escape their superior foes through simple awesome piloting alone is always exciting.
The whole conflict comes to a head with a single one-on-one battle that is one of the most beautiful and thrilling aerial dogfighting sequences put on film. It even ranks up there right alongside those of Macross Plus.
Over the course of the journey, Charles and Fana become close and obviously begin to have strong feelings for one another—despite her impending nuptials to the Prince. Yet while this is a classic fairytale setup—the young peasant and the noble princess falling in love—there is more to this conflict than love and social standing.
She is only a princess by engagement. If she breaks it off, she is pretty much dooming her home to be abandoned to its own meager devices in the war—not to mention leaving Charles and her as exiles welcome in neither warring kingdom.
And as there is no simple solution, this makes for a great personal conflict that the two have to work through. Is true love worth so much that you would sacrifice your homeland and your way of life?
Of course, for the conflict to work, Charles and Fana's love must appear to be equal to that of her duty. For the most part it does, though it borders on being a bit too much to be believable.
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As the two learn more about each other, they find out that not only have they met before, but that they both deeply cared for Charles' mother—in fact, they were both practically raised by her and never knew of each other’s existence. And while this does make them seem like they're destined lovers, it also feels like narrative convenience just for the sake of building a tragic love story.
One of the most interesting things about The Princess and the Pilot is how it interacts with The Pilot's Love Song. The two works by the same author are set in the same world, though in different locations. This means they share the same mythology as well as the same physical/technological rules of the world.
Therefore, though we never see it, The Princess and the Pilot is in a world where magic exists and flying continents soar the skies. It also makes The Pilot's Love Song more captivating—especially when a mysterious ace pilot from a foreign land appears, saving that series' heroes on more than one occasion.
When I recommended The Pilot's Love Song as one of this season's must watch anime, I had no idea that this film existed. Of course, the moment I found out it did exist, I went out and got myself a copy to watch.
It managed to surpass my already high expectations with its beautiful animation, captivating love story, and excellent conflict. If you like planes, star-crossed lovers, or The Pilot's Love Song, The Princess and the Pilot is a must watch.
The Princess and the Pilot was released in Japanese theaters on October 1, 2011. It is currently available on Blu-ray with English subtitles.
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