Even before the season began, I had high hopes for Toaru Hikūshi e no Koiuta (The Pilot’s Love Song). Mainly because I enjoyed the movie Toaru Hikūshi e no Tsuioku (The Princess and the Pilot), which is based on an LN by the same author as this series (Inumura Koroku) and set in the same universe, but also simply because Toaru Hikūshi is quite unlike anything else airing this season. I’m glad to report that the series has lived up to my expectations so far by delivering a solid mix of romance, politics, and aerial adventure.
Episode 1 – “Island of New Journeys”
The first episode of Toaru Hikūshi e no Koiuta did a fine job of doing what any first episode should do – that is to say, it introduced the main characters of the series, displayed the world the show takes place in, and even left the viewers with a bit of character development. Toaru Hikūshi takes place on the floating island of Isla, which has been sent on an expedition by the Republic of Balsteros to discover the “End of the Sky”, a sort of floating landmass that is central to the creation myth of this society. The main characters of the series are pilot trainees, learning to fly the interesting tiltrotors that make up Isla’s defense force. The protagonist is Kal-el Albus, more commonly known as Karl, who is accompanied on the voyage by his sister Ariel Albus. The class of trainees is split in two, however, between commoners and members of the aristocracy, and the girl that Karl falls for after a dusk bicycle ride, Claire Cruze, happens to be a member of that latter category. Claire and Karl’s romance all happens a bit sudden, but as aforementioned, this show has to fit quite a lot of story into a single cour, and the romance does at least feel genuine, if a bit stereotypical. Overall, it was a solid, if not stellar, first episode.
Episode Rating: 7/10
Episode 2 – “Cadoques High, Aerial Division”
After spending quite a bit of time with Claire and Karl at the end of the first episode, Toaru Hikūshi turns its attention to the characters that surround them in its second episode, “Cadoques High, Aerial Division”. Karl and Ariel’s fellow classmates seem to be a good bunch of individuals, and are all quite friendly, with the exception of the silver-haired, ominously named Ignacio Axis. The aristocratic students, on the other hand, seem to be elitist pricks, with the exception of Claire. Claire is clearly very sheltered, and it seems that the only person who trusts her to go out on her own is her relative Luis de Alarcon, who also happens to be an Admiral. When Karl finally meets Claire at the flight school (which is taught by two quite memorable instructors), he “proposes” that she be his flight partner in a training exercise, which she accepts despite the protests of her fellow aristocrats. All in all, it was another solid episode, if nothing particularly great. The characters all seem quite good – Karl is a typical “good guy” protagonist, with a rather interesting past; it is revealed in this episode that he is the former prince of Balsteros from before the monarchy was overthrown. Claire makes for a good love interest, and Ariel is probably one of the best “sister” characters I’ve seen in anime, in that her relationship with Karl resembles an actual brother-sister relationship.
Episode Rating: 7/10
Episode 3 – “The Wind Revolution”
“The Wind Revolution” marks the beginning of three episodes that all heavily feature flashbacks, and also marks a real uptick in the quality of the series. In this case, it is Karl’s past we are examining. When rumors begin to float that the former crown prince of Balsteros is on Isla, we get an extended flashback that covers Karl’s life as Prince Karl La Hire. When he was just a kid, the Royal Family was overthrown in an event known to the people of Balsteros as the “Wind Revolution”, but what more appropriately would be classified as a coup d’etat. The event was quick – taking place in one night – and id was quite top-down, involving a rival noble family, with the aid of the mysterious wind priestess Nina Viento, using military force to capture the capital city and Royal Palace. Karl’s father, the King, was killed, whilst Karl and his mother were imprisoned for a duration of time. However, that arrangement was short-lived, as his mother was sent to the guillotine a month later. Karl is saved when the prison warden decides to report his death to the government (which was secretly trying to off him through malnourishment) and is adopted by the warden’s friend Michael Albus. This is a rather dark story, and it is delivered in a dark manner. Perhaps I am a sucker for stories such as this, but I’ll gladly admit that I was more emotionally affected by “The Wind Revolution” than by any other episode of any winter anime to date. After two episodes of decent writing, this third episode is what truly drew me into the series.
Episode Rating: 10/10
Episode 4 – “Sea of Stars”
“The Wind Revolution” ended with Karl and Claire separated from the main fleet and adrift at sea after a training mission gone wrong, setting the stage for more romantic development between those two characters and for more backstory, this time from the perspective of Ariel. As Karl and Claire bond at sea, in scenes reminiscent of the film Toaru Hikūshi e no Tsuioku, a worried Ariel tells the other classmates about how she came to meet Karl. As we learnt beforehand, Karl was not born to the Albus family, so the flashbacks focus on how Ariel and her sisters cared for the emotionally distraught boy. Ariel herself was not told of Karl’s true identity, though she discovered it when Karl was enraged by a street reenactment of the Wind Revolution. Back in the present, Karl and Claire spend the night together on a raft before being spotted by a search and rescue patrol in the morning. It is revealed that Claire to holds a secret – she is Nina Viento, the priestess who was the symbol of the Wind Revolution, and who oversaw the deaths of Karl’s parents. I initially assumed that the main obstacle in the way of Karl and Claire’s relationship would be the fact that they are of different social classes, but by this point it is clear that there are some deeper sources of conflict awaiting them.
Episode Rating: 8.5/10
In terms of production, Toaru Hikūshi is pretty decent, if not outstanding. The CG is mostly fine, and whilst the art and animation is simple, it is effective at establishing a rather clean and beautiful setting. I do like the character designs as well, which reflect the multinational composition of the Isla expedition. The OP is one of my favourite of the season, whilst the ED is quite good as well.
If these four episodes have proved anything, it is that Toaru Hikūshi e no Koiuta is a series that has a lot of dramatic potential. As this is probably the most purely plot-based series that I am reviewing this season, it is a bit too early to say whether the show will be able to deliver after these four episodes of character development and exposition, but I can certainly say that out of all of the season’s anime, this is probably the series that I am most emotionally invested in. If anything, its refreshingly different setting makes it worth a watch.
- What’s up with Axis-kun? I’m guessing that we’ll be getting his backstory soon enough, since he clearly knows quite a bit about both Karl and Claire.
- It seems a bit weird to send a bunch of trainees on an expedition of this scale, and it is certainly quite strange that they are accompanied by a person as important as Nina Viento/Claire Cruz.
- Admiral Luis de Alarcon certainly likes to make rather inappropriate comments.
- Yes, Kal-el really is his name. Well, not his real name, but his adopted name.
- Apparently, the author of these LNs has done two more series in the same universe besides Toaru Hikūshi e no Koiuta and Toaru Hikūshi e no Tsuioku. I seem to like his work, so I hope they get adapted someday as well.
- Claire is really cute. Ignacio is L-elf.