You can pretty much scratch Toaru Hikuushi off the “maybe” list for me, based on this week’s episode. It’s been a slow build, but the series is genuinely getting more interesting every week. I have some concerns that TMS is trying to shoehorn way too much into a 12-episode run here, and that’s evidenced by the fact that the last two episodes have been a bit of an infodump – a massive influx of characters last week, and of exposition this. But what we’re getting is mostly pretty good and some of it downright excellent, so it seems like the series is deserving of some confidence.
I still don’t know exactly where this series fits into the timeline from The Princess and the Pilot, and judging by the conflicting information that’s everywhere on the net at the moment it seems no one else who speaks English does either. I think the safest course is just to treat this as a stand-alone plot for now, and if connections become apparent later, so be it. We certainly have plenty of story to carry a cour and then some, and the hints we started to see last week seem more or less confirmed by the events of this episode.
For sure, Kal-el is definitely the Crown Prince of the fallen Balsteros Empire – though we knew that already. As I suspected rather than a democratic revolution what really happened seems to have been an overthrow of one royal house by another, and the “republic” is a mere facade. The leader of the revolution was a noble named Ameriano, and it seems mainly to have been driven by a century-old feud between his family and Carl’s. The end result is the “Wind Rebellion“, in the style of the French Revolution without the idealism, which sees Carl’s father beheaded and he and his mother imprisoned. At some point not much later she joins her husband, but not before pleading with her son not to be consumed by hate and forcing him to say “I forgive them”. But he didn’t mean it. It’s here that Kal-el’s adoptive father – apparently a guard at the prison – swoops in and rescues him, convincing the warden (a little too easily) to fake the boy’s death.
There, then, is what appears to be the major driver of the series: Carl’s internal conflict between his sworn vengeance against Nina Viento and his mother’s desire that he forgive and move on. Judging from the flashbacks it seems as if the “Aldista Priestess” was at best a tool in the hands of the true villain, Ameriano, and at worst aiding him more or less against her will. Sooner or later Carl will become aware of who Claire really is, and likely re-assess his priorities then. For now, the reality he’s living in is that he’s a commoner in what’s still very much a hierarchical society, and one which is controlled by the murderers of his parents. And Ignacio Axis definitely knows who he is.
There are other practicalities at work here, too, not least of which is the mystery behind why everyone is so anxious to throw these trainee pilots into the fire when it’s clear most of them are nowhere near ready. There’s obviously some urgent danger prompting this, and the search for the Waterfall at the end of the Sky too. For his part Kal-el isn’t especially skilled as a pilot or gunner yet, and his inexperience causes him to panic when he and Claire are blinded by a fog bank. She manages to talk him down off the ledge (Claire is clearly far more experienced in matters of aviation than Carl), but when they emerge they’re lost and separated from their squadron, with a storm approaching.
I like all this as far as setup goes – if anything, as I said, the show may have too much to work with here. I’m a bit worried that many of the large cast are going to be lost in the shuffle, but for now the slice-of-life scenes at the school are working pretty well. Toaru Hikuushi continues to remind me very much of vintage Gonzo in a good way. I admit I’m a sucker both for steampunk visuals and aviation-themed animation, going all the way back to Tale Spin. Toaru seems to be a nice combination of a Last Exile-styled realistic alternate world with a bit of magic thrown in. There’s some romance, some adventure, some politics – it’s a good mix, and even if it hasn’t been explosive there’s been a feeling of simmering potential in this series right from the beginning. With each episode I’m becoming more convinced that we’re going to see a good deal of it realized, and that makes it one of the top series of the season.