With The Pilot’s Love Song in full swing – and with an appearance in this weeks episode that tees this review up nicely – I decided to take the time to watch Madhouse’s movie based on Koroko Inumura’s earlier work, The Princess and the Pilot.
Set in the same world as Love Song, the movie also seems to be set around the same time period, and again features WWII style aircraft in a steampunk fantasy world. In this case, we’re introduced to the two titular characters, Fana Del Moral, the future empress of the Levamme Empire and Charles Karino, a mercenary pilot who is discriminated against due to his mixed blood heritage with Levamme’s enemy, the Amatsukami. Despite being considered the lowliest of the low, Charles is the best pilot available to the empire, forcing them to trust him with the dangerous mission of transporting Fana to her future husband in a do-or-die mission covering three days.
Like Inumura’s other work, The Princess and the Pilot draws on various different themes to push it’s story forward. We don’t get an enormous amount of backstory for either character, although later in the movie it’s shown that Charles’ mother was once Fana’s maid and the pair encountered one another earlier in their lives.
In a mostly unarmed Recon plane, the pair have to dodge enemy forces to ensure that Fana gets through to her intended husband, but it becomes clear that their plans have been leaked in advance.
From the very first moment, it’s clear that the film intends to deal with some weighty themes. In the very first scene, we see a young Charles being beaten up and robbed due to his mixed-race heritage. When we’re introduced to Fana, she’s clearly a very repressed young lady, thoroughly under the thumb of a domineering father and the pressure of her society position. They’re polar opposites which, whilst predictable as a plot device, is set up nicely in terms of how this world is meant to work. The middle chunk of the film, for example, deals solely with the pair getting to know each other, and the theme that whilst they’re flying, both of them are relatively free.
Story wise, the film does a good enough job of building it’s characters that you want them to have the fairytale happy ending, which makes the fact that they don’t even more bittersweet. The pair get torn apart at the end, making for a tearful final scene. If anything, the romantic side of plot is underplayed – and to the stories benefit. We never get the big love scene, but Fana and Charles’ feelings are made clear in little tells from the animators, subtle moments that build up to heartbreak. You want to scream at them and tell them to abandon all the duty and honour stuff and run off together, and that’s definitely a compliment to the writing over anything else.
This sort of anime was always going to live and die by one thing though – it’s combat scenes. Thankfully, I can report that The Princess and the Pilot doesn’t disappoint. With the Santa Cruz being unarmed except for a rear gun, the dogfight scenes have a genuine sense of peril for the pair, with the final duel against an Amatsukami ace being a particular highlight. It also helps that there isn’t a clearly defined line of good guy/bad guys. The only people who act truly badly throughout are actually the Levamme officers who continue to treat Charles like crap even after his mission – in a text screen at the end we learn that his name is scrubbed from records to make it appear that he never existed. In stark contrast the Amatsukami ace treats him honourably throughout and after their duel
Screenshots genuinely can’t convey just how fluid the action scenes are. The level of detail madhouse have out in is astounding, and turns the combat into a genuine thing of beauty.
A genuinely lovely film that will draw you in if you allow it to, if you’re enjoying The Pilot’s Love Song, you’ll love this earlier foray into the world.