The Winter 2014 Anime Preview Guide
The Pilot's Love Song

Bamboo Dong

Rating: 3.5

Given my strong love for the Princess and the Pilot movie (available in North America through NIS America), it's not terribly surprising that I also really enjoyed the first episode of The Pilot's Love Song. Although, in my defense, I didn't know the two properties were related until aftewards, when I was researching The Pilot's Love Song. They're both based on the same series of novels by Koroku Inumura, and even though the two productions don't share too many similarities (they share the same original character designer, and both involve TMS Entertainment), there's something about them that immediately recalls a connection. Part of it is the dreamy landscape, although where the Princess and the Pilot was largely ocean and a deserted island, The Pilot's Love Song has floating islands, lakes, and a flaming red sunset that'll melt your heart.

Another part of it is something a little more intangible, which is the subtle way that both properties play with the idea of class distinctions. The first episode of the Pilot's Love Song has a deft way of bringing up the fact that yes, the world in which the story takes place is one sharply divided by socioeconomic classes, without rubbing it in viewers' faces, and without using it as an obvious chip on the main character's shoulder. Instead, it uses it to subtly set up a stage where more is at stake than just flight school and a death mission to the ends of the world.

Unfortunately, the series doesn't handle character relationships quite so deftly, preferring instead to lean heavily on sinister shots of certain characters, and uncomfortably long shots of our would-be(?) lovers gazing into each other's faces. Still, one might forgive the series for these awkward moments, considering everything else is handled with a relatively light touch. Unlike many other series these days, characters are introduced organically and without stereotype (minus a painful first minute of the quiet rich girl, who plays the shy anime girl a little too well), leading to the possibility of actual development.

Like with most first episodes though, The Pilot's Love Song obviously still has a lot to prove, but it's off to a good start. Combined with the fantastical backgrounds and its retro-futuristic aesthetic, there's a certain dreamlike quality about this series that already has me hooked. If it plays its cards right, it may just have a shot at being one of the more promising shows this season.

The Pilot's Love Song is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Hope Chapman

Rating: 3.5

Why did the writers of this anime decide to name their boy hero Kal-el? Is it just me? Am I the only one who immediately assumes you're not going to be able to get Superman out of people's heads when hearing Kal-el forty billion times in an episode? It doesn't help matters that Kal-el flies for a living. Okay, maybe that's stretching it. The protagonist of The Pilot's Love Song flies an airplane in missions for the glory of his floating sky country, or so it would seem. Along with protecting his sister, Kal-el seems to have some bitterness and revenge on his mind, perhaps tied to the fact that Kal-el may not be his real family name. (Wait, so it was by choice? Come on!) His undercover pilot exploits are interrupted, however, by a serendipitous meeting with a noble girl named Claire Cruz who thanks Kal for "holding her tight" when he takes her back to her estate later that evening. "It must be true love!" thinks Kal. "I hope nothing terrible happens to my blushing beauty, this being a fantasy anime and all!"

Setting the tepid and cliche nature of the story aside for the moment, The Pilot's Love Song is a charming watch. The environments are lush and inviting, the characters simple but friendly, and even if the romance is a little on-the-nose with bicycle sharing and splash fights between Kal and Claire, there's something gentle and heartwarming about the choice to put exposition about aerial warfare or political revenge motives in the backseat for now to let a little romance and scenery porn assuage our boredom with the aeronautical-steampunk-anime thing for a while. For whatever else can be said of The Pilot's Love Song, it's neither boring nor obnoxious. The savage battle in the opening scene implies the story is going somewhere intense in the near future, so restraining the plot to a little saccharine romance up front isn't such a bad thing: Kal and Claire's relationship is almost definitely not going to be sunflowers and splash fights from here on out. Having not seen The Princess and the Pilot yet, I'm most reminded of Last Exile when watching this show, and it's not a bad association. The forecast is smooth sailing and sunshine preceding dark clouds on the horizon, and The Pilot's Love Song may well be worth keeping an eye on.

The Pilot's Love Song is available streaming at

Theron Martin

Rating: 3 (of 5)

The Pilot's Love Song is based on a series of novels set in the same world as the 2011 movie The Princess and the Pilot, although so far the connection between the two is solely limited to the setting's penchant for emphasizing innovative designs of hydrogen-powered aircraft, including air battleships. Male protagonist Kal-el is an apparently-adopted pilot trainee who is joined by his sister Ariel as part of a squadron to accompany the floating island Isla on a grand mission: to find the End of the Sky, which may hold the truth behind the world's creation myths. While on the island he encounters a standoffish silver-haired young man and a shy but pretty girl named Claire Cruz, who also seems to be a cadet but in the nobles’ sector. (The trainee housing is divided into noble and commoner sections, you see.) They hit is off in a way which can only indicate that a grand love story is afoot. And given the battle scene at the beginning and ominous comments at the end, it may be an ill-fated one at that.

And that is one of the two potential attracting factors that the series has to offer so far: a budding love story that will likely have to contend with some degree of class conflict and the very real potential for one or both to get killed. (And let us remember that the potential romance in The Princess and the Pilot ultimately bowed to the realities of class differences, too.) Kal and Claire are fun enough together in their few scenes of contact, and are shown clearly enough falling for each other, that rooting for them should not be hard to do. The other big attractor is the potential for involved aerial battles, one of which opens up the series. That is some ambitious animation, enough so that the very mediocre quality of the artistry in anything beyond plane/airship design is almost jarring by comparison. The presence of the silver-haired boy and Kal-el's seeming hatred for a princess-like figure offer further potential plot threads, too, though nothing extraordinary so far.

Ultimately this show, like several others so far this season, is showing some definite potential but has yet to clearly step above the level of mediocrity.

The Pilot's Love Song is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Carl Kimlinger

Rating: 3

Review: A prequel to Madhouse's Princess and the Pilot film, Love Song shares Princess’s world but precious little else. Which means that no prior experience with the franchise is necessary, but also means that we trade the proven skills of director Jun Shishido and screenwriter Satoko Okudera (Mamoru Hosoda's go-to writer) for the far more suspect skills of Heroic Age director Toshimasa Suzuki and Nyan Koi scribe Shinichi Inotsume. How that will play out is far from certain, but there are some worrying signs.

Beginning with Kalel (and no, not because he took his name from Superman). Kalel is the titular pilot. (Actually, pilot trainee). Along with his fellow trainees, Kalel is about to set out on an epic journey of exploration on a floating island city. Kalel's problem is that he's easily carried away by his emotions, which makes him moody and childish and overall rather annoying. His love interest Claire is better, but only because she's quieter and more stable. Claire is a noble-born trainee who is sweet and direct, but also cloying shy.

Of course, it's early days to be condemning the characters, or Suzuki and Inotsume's treatment of them. The show is clearly playing the long game, letting Kalel's flaws hang out before, hopefully, allowing him to grow and strengthen as a character. Ditto Claire. And there are heartening signs too. Kalel's bickering, unforced relationship with his adopted sister—who accompanies him into pilot training—rings as true as his fated encounter with Claire rings false. The show also has the wonder of its aerial setting down pat (the scene where Kalel rides a bike through the island's clouds is a standout) and plenty of secrets and intrigue to keep the plot running. The show clearly has a well-built world to explore, so give it a couple of episodes; it may yet surprise us.

The Pilot's Love Song is available streaming at Crunchyroll.

Rebecca Silverman

Rating:  3 (out of 5)


There is a myth about a mysterious place known as the End of the Sky, a place no one has ever been to but that many wish to see. In order to discover it, Kal-el and his sister Ariel have become student pilots, climbed aboard Isla, the floating island left over from the creation of the world, and set out on their adventure. Of course, Kal isn't convinced that Ari is going because she wants to and not out of some sibling need to keep him from going alone. He also has a couple of massive chips on his shoulders, at least one of which is Nina, the priestess who oversaw the island's departure – just the sight of her turned him from mild-mannered, vaguely angsty teen to a man overcome by bloodlust. He also doesn't appear to be fond of his nation's class system, as we see twice in this first episode, and he has a bit of a temper. But if he was perfect, he'd be boring, so this may be all to the good.

Aside from the fact that Kal shares a name with Superman, which kept throwing me, this seems like a fairly solid start. It is clear that there is plenty of backstory to explore, and if Ari is kind of irritating, at least she and Kal have a relationship that we can get behind and understand, even if they bicker about who is older. The romance plot that the title sets us up for is by far the least subtle element of the show thus far, with Kal and Claire's first encounter having them fall for each other almost ridiculously quickly. It's equal parts cheesy and sweet, and it indicates that the love story will be less of a developing plotline and more of a given for most of the show.

As far as first episodes go, this one feels simultaneously rushed and slow. The main plot is at this point a bit of an uncertainty, while the romance plot is going full-steam ahead. We know Kal has issues, but we don't know why, or even their specifics. We also know that silver-haired kid hates him and treats his plane very poorly, but again, there's no apparent motivation. Hopefully the distribution of plot elements will become a bit more evenhanded as things go on, but that's what's really dragging this episode down for me. There's a quiet air of unseen tragedy underlying the show, some interesting premises, and very cool monoplane designs, so it would be a shame for this not to even itself out.

The Pilot's Love Song is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

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