NIS’s first movie release is an interesting one for sure. As with other releases, it definitely goes in a few unexpected directions. Though the cover suggests – at least to me – something along the lines of a WWII infused Macross, it is actually a very quiet, thoughtful movie exploring larger social issues like class warfare, race relations, and decadence.
The Levamme Empire and Amatsukami Imperium have been at war for years. In the midst of battle, the Empire’s Emperor proposes marriage to Juana del Moral, Princess of the Imperium. As part of the proposal, the Emperor vows to end the war. This doesn’t sit well with certain groups, leading to an attempt on Juana’s life. To protect the princess, a plan is devised to ship her away from the island kingdom to the Emperor in a small, two-seater plane.
It falls to Charles Kirano, a mercenary pilot, to get her to safety. Charles, however, is a bestado, "half-breed" of mixed blood rejected by his fellow pilots and generally looked down upon by society. Still, he is the best-of-the-best, and is awarded the mission, but with several conditions. For one, he is never allowed to speak to the princess. Charles does his best, but the princess isn’t exactly a fan of the terms, nor does she share her peers' sentiments.
When I say The Princess and the Pilot is a "quiet" movie, I mean it. The plot is as basic as they come. There’s a war going on, but it rarely comes into play as a major set piece. There are dogfights tossed in, but these are mostly used to break up what is essentially two people talking. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the larger questions asked in these dialogue segments are never fully explored. Some interesting points are made, but are largely tossed out without much resolution. Opinions are shared, such as why racism is a bad thing, but only half-heartedly. The film seemingly goes out of its way to not explore the underlying roots, almost as if it doesn’t want to offend anyone’s personal beliefs. If this is indeed the reasoning, I can understand it, but at the same time question bringing it up at all.
Part of the problem is very little is done to give viewers a sense of the larger world. Issues of racism and class warfare are clearly a part of these characters' lives, but I hard a hard time understanding just how deeply it ran or why I should care. This is apparently by design and an active decision by the director, though I personally disagree with the decision. Volumes of exposition aren’t necessary, but more context would help.
It then falls upon the two main characters, Charles and Juana, to carry the entire show. Again, more background on the world is needed, but I actually like the interplay between the two as their adventure unfolds. Without giving too much away, the relationship between the two vastly different classes of people is touching and a bit heartbreaking. No spoilers, but I have been fascinated by others reactions to the ending. Some like it, others hate it.
The Princess and the Pilot doesn’t offer a lot of high-flying action (or, at least, not as much as I was expecting), but the combat sequences are exhilarating and completely make the case for Blu-ray. I loved the designs behind the planes and airships. All are reminiscent of WWII planes, but with a sleeker look.
On-disc extras are limited to commercials and previews, though the package does come with the same high-quality, full color hardcover book as previous NIS releases. Billed as a "Flight Log," the book includes a number of character sketches and background images, though the book's biggest draw is the collection of interviews with artists. I didn't agree with everything I read, but it is always nice to hear interviews with creators.
The Princess and the Pilot isn’t a complete disappointment, though it is a bit of a letdown. It is very easy to see where the story wants to go and its intentions at communicating some sort of message, though neither comes off as particularly strong. The Princess and the Pilot is an okay purchase if the story sounds interesting, but it is not one of NIS’s stronger offerings.