First Impressions – Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta

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Another top pick weighs in, as Winter 2014 really starts to heat up.

OP: “azurite” by petit milady

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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.

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ED: “Kaze ga Shitteru (風が知ってる;The Wind Knows)” by Akai Kōen

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  1. t

    yeah, that is one big elephant in the room with the Kal-el.
    for a couple of minutes I thought.."how am I going to digest it exactly??".
    and now you're saying there is "Albus" too?? I didn't even notice (probably because of the shock lol). never-mind…I am OK with it (I think…maybe only for now..who know what will be next episode).

    as for the related movie the princess and the pilot.
    the connection is that both set up in the same world setting. no real relation in terms of characters as far as I am concerned.
    speaking of which, the princess and pilot was fine and good movie. but I wanted something a bit more than that.
    how do I say it…in some part of the film it felt more like in Hollywood style than anime.

    but let's not get into this now….
    the intro tried to move us with aerial combat, it was nice and reminded me some scenes of sky crawlers, but I don't like when a series tried to show off on the very beginning. whatever because ever since the planes really took off it was very beautiful. lovely visuals were revealed and I really liked the detailed aerial scenes.

    we didn't get enough info with the story except for the general explanation of the purpose of this journey. which was stated at the end of the ep "journey we could never return…we hadn't learned how cruel the world…". so obviously tough things are in front of us. maybe painful drama. but at least we'll have "epic air-combat piew piew" (:
    how is that connected to Kal-el past?who is the mysterious stalker (snape..snape..sevrus snape?)?what's wrapping all of it? not so much of info, but for now it's a very very brief one story of journey, I guess we'll be detailed later on.

    I loved the clicked chemistry between Claire Cruz (such a fluent name HaHa) and Kal-el(not so fluent anymore..) and I guess we'll have some complex in that matter (by that I mean his allegedly "sister"). I do must say that the VA are doing great work and it was combined well in that part – romance, atmosphere, VA, animation and all.

    it is one of my high anticipated anime in the winter and for now it's a good solid start.
    really looking forward to continue with that one.

  2. n

    Nicolas Cage named his son Kal-el (and possibly more Americans too… I dunno) so it's no longer a made-up name. I also found that Albus is a German family name so I'd say the name is legit. 😉

  3. t

    but I am not completely surprised (only partly surprised) about naming children after Kal-El.

    anyway, those names are…unorthodox in the anime world. not to mention in Japanese culture. and Japanese love their culture. I don't expect to find the same "phenomenon" in japanese. even crossing names for western culture is still quite unusual (THO less and less with globalization I guess)…

    Albus is indeed somehow sounds more European.
    from a quick search of "Albus" under characters at MAL it didn't found any additional results. maybe if we really search well we'll find something.
    but still…this is quite unusual name for anime.

    it's not Albus that surprised me (at first I didn't even notice LOL).
    it was Kal-El. and well…Kal-El is a code name in the culture. which is of course superman. and I really like superman (THO all recent movies of him are quite a shame). and I guess for almost all of us hearing Kal-El immediately activates superman in their head…and I found it quite bizarre here in anime (side note: it's a bird?it's a plane?well yes-no, it's superman(Kal-El) inside a plane :P).
    it's just felt weird because of my automate reaction for superman when I hear/read Kal-El and because it's unusual…

    of course that doesn't mean I hated the character or something. I was just really surprised.

  4. w

    My first thought looking the animation was Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The colour palette and character design felt quite similar here. That or I'm imagining things..

    I think Aoi Yuuki could have nailed Claire Cruz even if she was playing her as a mute. Loved all those little gasps and sighs she's tossing around.

  5. Nobody does the human sound-effect reel like Yuuki. I hate to say it, but she'd be great in H-anime…

  6. w

    NO. Well, yes but NOOO.

  7. R

    Actually it's yes but N.O. NOOOOOOOO. NO. >:T (I love Aoi Yuuki though)

  8. d

    Definitely agree with you on Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, animation wise. I knew the animation looked familiar, but I couldn't place where and that's it!

  9. w

    Awesome! Nice to know I'm not the only one who's seeing it ^_^

  10. M

    Our blond and violet . Aren't they going a little too fast for 1st ep ? Just my opinion ~

  11. l

    Was decent enough, I guess. I just hope it doesn't turn into a deathfest.

  12. t

    For me, this was a pretty boring intro to an anime. it didn't have anything in particular to draw me in besides nice art. As said above, the first half was pretty dry~ the second did ok but nothing amazing. Its like they tried to cram the story into the second half which made it feel rushed and kinda boring. I like the character Claire Cruz, but the meeting between the two felt like something out of a disney movie's love at first sight theme (though, i dont mind those at all). It just felt extremely rushed here.
    There is plenty of room for this anime to grow so ill keep my eye on it for now.

  13. m

    I def enjoyed the premiere ep, but had a very huge laugh when I saw Kal-el as his name. I was wondering if you were going to bring that up, and I def didn't catch the albus part but that oes make for a ridiculous coincidence. The fact that it was not only Kal-EL but even with the hyphen made me wonder if that was a choice by the person who did the subs or if the character name was intended to be spelled that way. I just hope he doesn't turn out to be as corny of a character as the original Kal-EL is.

    I agree that the "sister" character was pretty obnoxious at times, but as someone with a sister only a year older I found it to be a relatively realistic relationship. And I admit that I laughed a bit at the whole "otouto/imouto" back and forth. Excellent review, and I'm also hoping for a lot from this show. Without much prior knowledge the synopsis I read beforehand had me really looking forward to it, and even though I agree it was a slow start, the relationship between Kal and Claire seems like it could be a good one and they def are hinting that the story will take a dark turn.

  14. Z

    All this talk of Albus and teenage rage reminded me of this:

  15. J

    Quibble: They have an open cockpit tilt-rotor plane taking off from the water.

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