The Princess and the Pilot is a sweet film about a noble girl betrothed to a prince and the pilot who has to ferry her through enemy territory to get her to safety. Taking place in an oceanic world inspired by the 1940s, the movie has an unusually modern setting for a star-crossed love story involving class systems and royalty.
It begins with Prince Carlo proposing to Lady Juana del Morel. He’s a good-looking young man who seems quite taken with her, and promises to end the war between the nation of Lavamme and the Amatsukami Empire within a year so he can safely marry her. However, a year passes and the war has not ended. Worse, the enemy has learned of the nuptials and targets her island home and bombs it intending to kill her.
Though she survives the bombing, her father does not, and it’s determined that it’s too dangerous for her to remain on the island. A fleet is dispatched from the mainland to bring her to Prince Carlo, but unknown to the public, the fleet is destroyed en route. The portion of the Lavamme Air Force stationed on the island hatches a plan to get her past the enemy blockade, where she can rendezvous with the sole remaining ship of the 8th Naval fleet. It will make for a good story, with the lone survivor returning victorious with the princess safely on board.
The problem is getting her there.
That job is given to Charles Karino, a biracial pilot ostracized for his mixed blood. He is half-Amatsukami. However, he is given the job because he’s clearly the best and the men in charge aren’t so blinded by racism that they are willing to risk Juana’s life. Charles is instructed how to behave himself in front of Juana, because under ordinary circumstances he’s not someone who would ever come in sight of her, and they will be traveling together in close proximity, in a two-seater reconnaissance plane called the Santa Cruz.
The Amatsukami have had technical superiority in the air with their Shinden fighter aircraft, but the newly designed Santa Cruz just might be fast enough to evade them if they can manage three days of travel relatively undetected. To aid their escape, the remainder of the island’s air force intends to serve as a decoy while they slip out.
The journey that follows slowly unravels the trappings of Juana’s life. Though her maids send her off trussed up with more padding than a kid in a car seat, she quickly loses most of that (and all her luggage to boot) on the first night when they have to unexpectedly hide from patrols out looking for them. But as Juana loses her material things, she also gains a sense of self she did not have before. Watching her grow from a caged bird into a partner capable of aiding in her own escape is one of the joys of the movie.
For his part, Charles is used to his lot in life. He likes flying because race and class doesn’t exist once he’s in the air, but on the ground he accepts the mistreatment that comes his way even when he has friends willing to stand up for him.
That doesn’t change much even when Juana is horrified that Charles is not the one who is going to be given a hero’s welcome and he will not be accompanying her to the capital after dropping her off with the navy. He’s not even going to be allowed to come on board the ship with her because of his status as a besado.
Though it’s clear there is a potential attraction between the leads, The Princess and the Pilot does not shoot for the typical Hollywood ending. It is a happy ending in its own way, but probably more of a realistic one.
Given this is a story involving fighter planes, I do have to mention that the dogfight scenes are easily among the best I’ve seen in anime. I’m not sure that some of what Charles pulls off is entirely realistic, but the animation does such a good job in making the audience buy into the fact Charles is the best in Lavamme.
The Blu-Ray also comes with a bonus art book detailing the character and mechanical designs for the movie, as well as comments from the director and the author of the original book Toaru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku.
Anyone curious about the fates of Juana and Charles post-movie can find hints about them in the TV series The Pilot’s Love Song (previously reviewed here) which is set in the same world.
The Princess and the Pilot was reviewed on Blu-Ray in the original Japanese with subtitles. The movie is also streamining at Crunchyroll (free to non-members after June 21st).
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 in venues such as Galaxy’s Edge, Crossed Genres, and Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction.