written by Laurie Tom
The Pilot’s Love Song recently wrapped up its run as part of the winter 2014 anime season. Based on the novel series Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta by Koroku Inumura, The Pilot’s Love Song is an unlikely combination of high school romance and 1930s/40s style aircraft set in a made up world with floating islands and a girl who can command the wind.
Since the novel series is untranslated I’m not sure how far the anime went through, but I would guess The Pilot’s Love Song probably contains the first book or two. This means while there is the feeling of a season ending, it’s definitely not a series ending. This is not uncommon in anime adapted from manga and novels, since much like American TV shows, production teams try not to lock themselves into a series in case it doesn’t catch on. Unlike American TV shows, Japan generally waits to see what Blu-Ray/DVD sales look like before ordering the next season. If The Pilot’s Love Song performs well in Japan, we will probably see another season in a year, give or take. In the meantime it makes me wish more Japanese novels were translated into English because I really want to read them!
The titular pilot is the unfortunately named Kal-el Albus (thankfully he goes by Kal most of the time because his name is not a reference to Superman in anything other than spelling), the only son of an airplane mechanic who also has three daughters. Kal and Ari, the youngest daughter, join Cadoques High School on the floating island of Isla as pilot trainees. Isla plans to sail on a religious pilgrimage to the fabled End of the Sky, taking with it a city full of people, squadrons of aerial knights, a flying dreadnaught, and of course the school to train new fighter pilots along the way.
In the very first episode, Kal meets a girl called Claire, who turns out to be a fellow student, but unlike him, who resides in the commoners’ dorm, Claire lives among the nobles. Still, she takes a liking to him as well, and they get along fabulously.
However, without spoiling things, neither of them are who they initially appear, and that the audience discovers who they are before they discover each other’s identities is a nice sort of tension because compared to them, Romeo and Juliet had it easy.
The story is a slow burn, choosing to build up the world and the school life before introducing any danger. Considering this is a series involving guns and aircraft, there is surprisingly little dogfighting until about halfway through, and the action scenes are more to serve the growth of the characters than being action for action’s sake.
When the fighting finally starts happening, it’s very clear that the students are ill-prepared and under-equipped. Despite being the equivalent of high school students in our world, they are soldiers on Isla, and the series does not forget that in combat, people die, and some familiar faces won’t make it through the series, even if they’re teenagers.
Though likely impractical, the airplane designs are fun to look at. The Isla planes don’t quite have the look of the fighters in WWII, though they’re metal and more advanced than WWI. Radio technology hasn’t been invented yet, preventing pilots from communicating save from occasionally screaming at each other (which probably shouldn’t work), hand signals, or having the gunner in their two-seater aircraft use the telegraph.
Oddly enough, considering that machine guns were mounted on airplanes midway through WWI in our world, the planes on Isla rely on gunners in a second seat behind the pilot, usually sporting a bolt action rifle, which makes them look hideously primitive when the enemies come out who are armed with single seater aircraft that have mounted machine guns.
Though it doesn’t make much sense, it does allow for better drama. All the pilots pair off for training in school, so by the time they get into any fighting, each of the named students has a partner to worry and care about, and when they’re in the sky they only have their partner to rely on. It gives characters someone to talk to and an immediacy that doesn’t happen between solo pilots of different craft.
The Pilot’s Love Song also gets bonus points from me for the combat uniforms. Though the boys and girls wear different school uniforms with clear analogs to the Japanese school system, when they suit up to fly the uniforms are identical for both genders. The only difference between uniforms is the scarf, which is not used to tell gender apart, but whether the pilot is a noble or a commoner.
Though I enjoyed this show, it’s such an odd combination of genres that I’m not sure I can easily recommend it. Probably the best thing for the curious is to watch one of the promo trailers and see both halves of the show. The one for the Japanese Blu-Ray/DVD release is a nice compilation of clips set to the opening theme. It showcases the four main characters and skipping to 0:52 brings up shots from the later combat scenes.
If you are entertained by both romance and early 20th century airplanes, you will probably dive right in and be perfectly comfortable, but at it’s heart, The Pilot’s Love Song is really about the love story.
Number of Episodes: 13
Pluses: old school aviation, nice mechanical detail, sweet love story
Minuses: pacing is uneven, dogfights don’t show up until halfway through, show ends on a season ending rather than a series ending
The Pilot’s Love Song is currently streaming at CrunchyRoll and is available subtitled. NIS America has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.
Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published inGalaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.