Two great nations — the Levamme Kingdom and the Amatsuvian Empire — have engulfed the world in war. Hoping to protect their legacy, the del Moral family offers their daughter Juana as a bride to the Levamme crown prince Carlo, who quickly proposes to the beautiful young woman. But as the war grinds on for months with no end in sight, the couple’s wedding plans come under fire (literally) when the Amatsuvians target Juana, hoping to kill her and demoralize Carlo and his people.
In order to ensure Juana’s safety, the del Moral family makes a desperate gamble: while the rest of the Levamme forces create a diversion, a single pilot will secretly fly Juana thousands of kilometers through enemy territory to the Levamme Kingdom and safety. But this covert mission falls to an unlikely individual: a young mercenary named Charles Karino who, despite being the best pilot in the Levamme forces, is viewed with distrust and discrimination because of his mixed Levamme/Amatsuvian heritage.
Crammed into a small seaplane, Charles and Juana begin their dangerous and lonely journey across the vast ocean. With no backup or wingmen, however, they must rely on each other for survival as they try to stay one step ahead of the Amatsuvian forces. Despite the differences in their social standing, an unlikely bond begins to form between the two — and possibly something more.
Confession: I fear that even as I write the above summary, I’m leading you astray into thinking that The Princess and the Pilot is more… well… just more than it actually is. Based on a 2008 light novel by Koroku Inumura and Haruyuki Morisawa, The Princess and the Pilot is, by no means, a bad movie. What’s frustrating, however, is that it’s simply not as good as it could’ve been.
The movie’s setting and world-building is certainly interesting (it’s set in a WW2-esque era, but with more advanced technology), the mechanical and airplane designs are highly detailed (which is sure to be catnip for aviation nerds), and the movie’s artwork and animation is solid and even beautiful at times (as one would expect from a Madhouse production). The storyline, however, is too slight and restrained for its entire 100 minutes.
Some sparks start to fly between the dashing young pilot and the beautiful young princess. And Juana, once she’s out of the stifling restrictions of courtly life, discovers a newfound freedom and begins to questions some of the assumptions she’s made about her life. Such developments are to be expected, though, given the basic storyline. More frustrating are the interesting angles that are left unexplored or given short shrift.
For instance, an early scene suggests that Charles is suffering from some sort of combat-related PTSD. But then it’s never mentioned again. One would think that a pilot, even one so skilled, would experience some flashbacks whilst in the middle of a super-secret, super-dangerous mission. Then there’s the callous disregard that the Levamme leaders, including Prince Carlo, display for their own troops. Which, again, is mentioned once and then never again. But given Juana’s growing independence, you’d think that learning of her fiancé’s indifference towards soldiers like Charles might give her a bit more pause.
These ideas (and more) are tossed out and then quickly forgotten. (One story angle that is developed a bit more is the surprising childhood connection between Charles and Juana, but it feels a bit too little, too late.) Perhaps director Jun Shishido and writer Satoko Okudera simply had no desire to make The Princess and the Pilot a grim war movie, which is totally fair. But by dancing around the aforementioned angles in order to keep things from getting too dark and heavy, the movie is prevented from developing any real emotional stakes, whether we’re talking about the titular pair’s burgeoning relationship (romantic or otherwise) or the movie’s inevitable bittersweet ending.
I’m a sucker for aviation-themed anime like Last Exile and Macross Plus that are highlighted by detailed world-building and cool mechanical designs. For those things alone, The Princess and the Pilot may be worth watching. Just don’t be surprised if, when the credits start rolling, you find yourself wishing that the movie’s storyline had contained just a bit more depth and ambition.