Lady Fana Del Moral has been promised to Prince Carlos, and on meeting her he is so struck by her beauty he cannot wait to wed. Nonetheless, he asks that she wait a year for their marriage so that he can fight in the ongoing war against their rival nation. When a year has passed and the war has shown no signs of abating, top pilot Charles is recruited to ensure Fana’s safe passage to Carlos through a sky full of danger.
Charles is a good man who has been treated badly all his life for his lower class “sewer rat” status. Upon meeting Fana, he instantly recognises her from a time when he worked in the gardens of her estate as a child and she sweetly consoled him after he was bullied and beaten yet again for his lower position in society. Fana to begin with is a quiet and obedient lady, and Charles is professional and honourable, so at first all their interactions are polite and restrained, which means it takes longer for the emotional investment to build. The real turning point of the film occurs when Charles and Fana are put increasingly in danger from enemy planes and have to land on a nearby island, and Fana transforms from a demure lady to a more extroverted and active character.
The narrative smoothly balances the tense action moments in the sky with quieter, more intimate interactions between the two when the plane has to land. Although the animation can be on the more static two dimensional side, the plane scenes are impressive with giant looming bodies ominously appearing from the sky. Charles is often forced to make daring and risky manoeuvres while Fana tries to help, and her innocence and his honour and heroism combined with the appearance of the planes created a very Studio Ghibli vibe at times.
The Princess and the Pilot takes a little time to really get into the swing of things, but I enjoyed this movie and would definitely recommend it if you’re a Studio Ghibli fan and enjoy sweet, chaste love stories. It would have been an even more satisfying ending if more had been made of Fana and Charles’ respective characters and emotions – Fana in particular feels quite two dimensional for too much of the movie. I was also disappointed that the elements of racism against Charles, and the overarching war narrative were not resolved – it is possible that these were addressed in greater detail by the original novel by Koroku Inumura. However, what Charles and Fana mean to each other and what they give each other is still communicated well enough to make the ending a beautiful tribute to two young people torn between obligation or following their heart.