Another top pick weighs in, as Winter 2014 really starts to heat up.
OP: “azurite” by petit milady
OK, let’s get to the elephant in the room – Kal-el, really? Was the light-novelist Inumura Koruku aware of the connection? I assume that’s a yes, but if so, is he just (like Jerry Seinfeld) a huge fan of Superman or is he making a statement about the character? Of course that possibility opens up quite the can of worms, since our heroes family name is Albus (as in Dumbledore). A flying anime about a guy who’s a cross between Superman and Dumbledore? I’ll chalk it up to a whimsy because I don’t really want to consider the alternative.
As many of you know Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta is by the same author as The Princess and the Pilot, which was made into a fine theatrical feature by Madhouse in 2011. This series is set in the same universe but as far as I can tell isn’t a sequel or prequel, and at this point I don’t even see any direct links. There certainly aren’t any among the major staff or the cast. There is an unsurprising familiarity to the look and feel of the show, though obviously it uses much more CGI and is nowhere near as lavish as the movie.
I’m a pretty big fan of the movie so I went into this show with high expectations. The first half largely failed to meet them – there were some nice moments and lovely backgrounds, but it failed to move me much. I found the section half much better, not wholly coincidentally I don’t think as the foil for the main character Kal-el Albus (a suddenly much in-demand Hanae Natsuki) shifted from a girl I found incredibly annoying to one I took an instant liking to.
Story-wise, the synopsis really tells us more than the premiere did. Kal-el is presumably the “Prince who lost everything”, and he certainly seems to carry plenty of anger about it though it only surfaces intermittently. Kal-el lives with a man he calls “Father” and a girl he considers a sister but I sense that it’s not his true family. The siblings – if that’s what they are – are headed off to a piloting academy on a floating island called (naturally) Isla. I was quite pleased to see Kal-el give his “father” a hug before he left – father-son hugs are pretty rare in anime – but I didn’t get a whole lot of mojo out of these early scenes. And the sister, Ariel (Taketatsu Ayana, who’s awfully good at being annoying whether she means to or not) instantly got on my nerves. I found the sniping between she and Kal-el pretty tiresome from the first moment.
At the school, a few things become clear. Kal-el becomes enraged when he sees Nina Viento (Aoi Yuuki), who appears to be a Princess and must somehow be involved with his fall from grace. There’s an obvious divide between nobility and commoners in this world (as there was in The Princess and the Pilot), Kal-el is obviously (now) on the wrong side of it, and he doesn’t like it. We get a look at a surly silver-haired youth who’s bad at landings, Ignacio Axis (Ishikawa Kaitou), who seems to dislike Kal-el as much as Kal dislikes Nina Viento. But it’s when Kal-el stumbles across the damsel in distress Claire Cruz that the charm of the episode finally levels up.
Yes, Claire is played by the same actress – Aoi Yuuki – as the seeming Princess Nina Viento, and no, right now we haven’t gotten an explanation. Are they the same person? Unknown – but Claire is clearly a noble. After Kal-el fixes the extremely shy Claire’s slipped bicycle chain there’s an obvious innocent spark between them, and they have a very cute mini-courtship that borders on saccharine but never gets there. I admit I tend to really like Aoi Yuuki, and this seems like a role really suited to her – she trots out many of her signature non-verbal human sound effects as the stammering Claire. The chemistry between she and Kal-el is the best part of the premiere.
That said, the aerial stuff is pretty nice, too – there’s a lot of CGI and those kinds of scenes tend to all look the same no matter who’s producing them, but Toaru Hikuushi shares the same steampunk look that reached glorious apotheosis in Laputa: Castle in the Sky and draws a line of succession through the likes of Last Exile, Steamboy and the film set in the same universe as this series. The backgrounds are lovely and there seems to be a lot of “flights of fancy” potential here. The truth is I really wanted to be blown away by this one, and I wasn’t – but I was a lot more engaged by the end of it than I feared I might be at the midpoint. I like the upside here, no pun intended, and I have a suspicion this show is going to take off (pun intended) when the pieces of the plot start to come together.
ED: “Kaze ga Shitteru (風が知ってる;The Wind Knows)” by Akai Kōen