The release of The Princess and the Pilot (2011) on North American Blu-ray marks NIS America’s first foray into distributing anime feature films. To confer their usual Premium Edition treatment on a single, feature-length film may seem like an overextension of resources at first, especially since they had only previously presented episodic anime series in their oversized Premium Edition collector’s case with art book format. Even I, who have thus far only ever been impressed with the company’s output, was a bit skeptical about the move. And yet, I have to say that with The Princess and the Pilot, NIS chose their first feature most wisely.
Adapted from Koroku Inumura’s light novel of the same name, The Princess and the Pilot is a take on 1953’s Roman Holiday set against the backdrop of a war between two empires: the Levam Kingdom and the Tozou Empire. The bulk of the narrative follows mercenary pilot Charles Karino’s attempt to deliver the Levam prince’s bride-to-be, Fana del Moral, across enemy territory to her future husband. Amidst the ever-mounting tension that their plane might be spotted by the enemy and the ensuing aerial combat between spectacular, fictional aircraft, the two develop feelings for one another– feelings that the filmmakers allow to remain implicit and therefore open to audience interpretation.
Of course, even if the characters are indeed legitimately in love, a relationship between them is impossible given the extreme class divide between them. After all, she’s a Levam royal and he’s a Levam/Tozou half-breed, making him the focus of the film world’s most violently racist attitudes. More so than the brilliantly-animated dogfights or the inherent appeal of such a tale of star-crossed lovers, this racial component makes The Princess and the Pilot a standout feature. It adds a fatally tragic overtone to a romance already complicated to the point of seeming unfeasibility by class and warfare. And yet, through this extreme depiction of an impossible relationship between two extremely polarized characters, the film achieves a universality that speaks to audiences (so much so, obviously, that it was adapted from a light novel into a film) with themes about the transcendence of love and rising above one’s societally-imposed limitations. And that the film isn’t wrapped up in some neat little, idealistic bow in the end treats both the subject matter and the audience’s intelligence with great respect and honesty. Sure, some viewers might take issue with the seeming lack of a conclusion here, but what we’re given in the end is realistically all we can expect lest the film veer into the realm of straight melodrama.
NIS’s Premium Edition of The Princess and the Pilot on Blu-ray comes packaged in a beautiful, 8”x11”x1” (WxHxD) hardboard case, with artwork on the front and back, and the title displayed on two of the three spines, which allows for a multitude of display possibilities. The case houses the single Blu-ray in a slimline case and also contains a collectible hardcover artbook, entitled The Princess and the Pilot Flight Log. The Flight Log accounts for the majority of the bonus content included with the film and offers incredible insight into its creation. The book features a write-up on the film by anime critic Ryusuke Hikawa; a brief piece about the screenplay by screenwriter Satoko Okudera (Summer Wars, The Girl Who Leapt through Time); interviews with director Jun Shishido, character designer Hidenori Matsubara, mechanical design artist Katsuya Yamada and the light novel’s author, Koroku Inumura; as well as 20 pages of artwork featuring concept art and sketches. The disc itself boasts Japanese commercials and theatrical trailers for the film.