The Pilot’s Love Song, Ep 1–7: It’s all fun and games until you go off to war

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta - 07 - Large 03

The Pilot’s Love Song has just enough going on for it that it leaves me intrigued with how the plot is going to develop, but at least for the first six episodes, it’s also much too entrenched in anime tropes and cliches for its own good.

The story takes place in a steampunk setting and centers around an academy of air force cadets, who embark on a voyage atop a floating island to discover the fabled Holy Spring. The protagonist of this story is Kal-el, the prince of a recently overthrown empire, who joins the academy in order to be on the same island as the magical priest who killed his parents, Nina Viento. Who unbeknownst to him, also happens to be the rich girl he falls in love with.  Yet for what’s supposed to be a simple expedition, the island is also heavily armed—almost as if they’re going to war…

Now with that sort of setting, you would figure that there’s a variety of things that the writers could do to explore the world and characters, and build up to the impending war where the main conflict is inevitably going to take place. But instead of really doing anything with this setting, it seems the writers decided to go the easy route and just throw in whatever anime trope and cliche they could think of; stalling for time before we get to the good stuff.

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta - 02 - Large 03

This is supposed to be an academy for teenaged pilot cadets, but it really feels more like we’re seeing a bunch of highschool kids having fun. Like when one episode starts with one of the instructors revving up the students for some serious “ground training” with all of them fully doned in military backpacking girl, only for the instructor to quickly shed off all her clothes and show off her skimpy bathing suit. By ground training they really mean swimming training, which Pilot’s Love Song ends up using as an excuse to have an archtypal beach and camping episode.

And it’s not just when it comes to military setting where they do this either, but even when actual, important plot developments crop up they still steer towards this highschool comedy. Such as in one episode which ends with some “barbarian” fighter jets entering Isla, only for the next episode to ignore that cliffhanger completely and instead focus on the cadets running a noodle shop. Within these first six episodes there’s a lot of hinting and subtle world building does go on, which teases at something bigger happening, but with each episode it inevitably comes back to the characters having fun at a highschool-like training school.

Being generic or typical with your story isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as it’s executed well enough. I think one of the better shows of the season is Nisekoi after all, and that’s the most predictable and cliche anime I’ve seen in a while. But The Pilot’s Love Song isn’t particularly well executed, and when you have such a cliche plot juxtaposed with an otherwise fairly interesting and creative setting, it makes the cliche plot stand out even more. I talked about this just recently in my last Zvezda Plot, but I was just nitpicking then and it’s actually a lot more applicable in the case of The Pilot’s Love Song.

What you can expect from "ground training"

It doesn’t help that most of the characters aren’t all that interesting. The characters of Nisekoi are at least relatable and fun to watch in spite of how archtypal they are, but the characters of The Pilot’s Love Song feel more like cardboard cutouts. Kal-el is like any other good-hearted male lead. Ariel feels much like any other sister character who bickers with the male lead. Claire is the shy and moe love interest. Luis de Alarcon feels like any other eccentric leader. And it only gets more trope-like and typical with the more minor characters. Which again, wouldn’t be so bad if only they weren’t so shallow.

These first six episodes are clearly designed to get us attached to the characters before they start getting caught up in the horrors of war, so it’s not really supposed to be the “good part” of the story anyways. And it does succeed with getting me a bit attached to a few characters (but notably none of the characters I mentioned above,) so it did something right. But still, they could have done a lot of other things than generic highschool hijinks to make me invested in the story.

I’m also not a big fan of the conflict of having Claire Cruz and Nina Viento be the same person, particularly since it seems really contrived. During the rebellion against the empire, why would the rebels have Claire assume a different persona, wearing a wig and makeup in the first place? Were they trying to protect her identity for some odd reason or was she just not pretty enough? There doesn’t seem to be much reason for this except the weird scenario of living a double life as a cadet.

Haha, look at those baka steampunk gaijins obsessing over some noodles

The fact that the leaders of Isla lead her live a double life is also a bit contrived. I guess since she no longer has her magical powers, they no longer have any use for her except as a figurehead; so maybe they’re just being generous and giving her something to do. But even if she’s just a leader in name only, wouldn’t she still have responsibilities to be around the other leaders and observe everything? Training as a pilot, I would assume, involves getting up from early morning until evening learning how to become a soldier, which probably wouldn’t give her much time to be near the leaders.

With episode 7 we finally getting to the turning point which shifts the story towards the war drama we’ve been waiting for, but not before one last thing crops up for me to complain about: the the pilot trainees seem oddly enthusiastic about possibly fighting for Isla. Sure, it’s common (perhaps moreso in the past then modern times) for men to feel a sense of obligation and pride to go out in the front lines of battle for their country, and show those Nazi bastards what they’re made of. And if you’re just sitting back on standby without doing anything, it can feel as if you’re not really doing what you signed up to do—fight for your country, and thus your pride feels tarnished. But that’s not really the vibe I’m getting with these kids, and if anything they just seem excited so they can put into use “what they’ve been training for.” As if they don’t realize the danger inherit with going to war.

Okay, for all they know at the beginning of the episode, it could just be some simple barbarians or foreign pirates they’re up against. Maybe that takes away some of the danger of the situation in their eyes, but even then they’d be going up against actual enemy human beings that they’d have to kill. Perhaps these are just some really patriotic kids who don’t necessarily care about what they’re fighting, but again, patriotism isn’t really the vibe I’m getting here. A few of the pilots have already known suspicion over what exactly the Isla government is planning to do with them, and Kal-el in particular certainly doesn’t have much reason to die for the people who killed his parents. He’s didn’t become a pilot to fight in a war. He became a pilot to be on the same island as Nina Viento.

Look how bored they are not getting to go out and find some barbarian bastards

Then there’s the scene where Claire Cruz and Ignacio getting taken off stand-by. As he witnesses this Kal-el exclaims “Why can’t Claire stay?!”, almost as if she’s getting taken away from something fun. Sure, it could also be seen as her being forced to abandon her allies and let them get killed, but then wouldn’t the people having to stay, I don’t know, be jealous or something? And why are the people taking Claire depicted in a bad light; she’s the figurehead of Isla anyways, so of course they’re not going to allow her anywhere near danger.

Maybe this enthusiasm the characters show will change once they actually see what war is like first hand, but for now it just seems odd.

Despite all this complaining I’ve done, I am genuinely interested in where the story is going to go. My biggest problem with the series is how focused so much on highschool-like hijinks, but now it should hopefully be moving away from that. I’m curious what exactly is it that the Isla government is trying to accomplish with this expedition. What does the Holy Spring have that they want, and why is it so heavily guarded by this mysteriously more advanced, foreign nation? And the second half of episode 7 certainly delivers, with all that action and drama surrounding Mitsuo and Chiharu’s retcon. It might really make much sense why they as cadets were sent on a serious recon mission to begin with, but at least now we’re getting some quality war drama.

…And that about all I have to say about The Pilot’s Love Song. We’ll see if I want to keep blogging my thoughts for the remaining five episodes each week.

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