The story of The Sky Crawlers: Yuichi Kannami is a new pilot transfer for the Rostock Corporation, who are at odds with an enemy called Lautern. In an era where large corporations hire fighter pilots to battle against one another to maintain peace, Yuichi settles himself in with his new peers and home. Eventually, he begins asking his supervising commander, Suito Kusanagi, what happened with his predecessor and why he has strange, lingering memories. She doesn’t answer him, leaving Yuichi to find out who he is and how to reconcile with his unknown past.
Plot and Story
With recent news that Mamoru Oshii is coming back to work on an anime, it’s the best time to talk about his last animated feature effort The Sky Crawlers. Released in 2008, this film was selected for the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals to moderately good reception. Based on the eponymous novel by Hiroshi Mori (known also for The Perfect Insider), The Sky Crawlers, like Oshii’s other works, examines the human condition and explores the world of adolescence and war. The additions of the Kildren – immortal beings trained to be fighter pilots – points to those themes. Yuichi and Suito are Kildren themselves, with the latter struggling to accept how she and Yuichi must repeat an endless cycle of war and the fact that they can’t age or die.
As fascinating as it is to interpret the film’s philosophy, I wouldn’t recommend watching it if you’re looking for any fast-paced, action scenes. Although there are a good amount of airplane dogfight scenes, they don’t make up the crux of the overall story. The film requires a good amount of patience because it’s right around two hours long and there are many small details to unpack. The story is a slow brewing character driven drama that takes a while to understand after watching it. Though some later revelations made known are somewhat confusing, things start clicking together as the film progresses and we get more details on the depth of Yuichi and Suito’s history. The last act of the film seemingly ends on a whimper and has a post credits scene worth waiting for. One of my favorite moments during this sequence is when all the characters wait for Yuichi’s return, only to realize his unfortunate end by silently leaving one by one. The cycle of fighting never stops for the Kildren and it disheartens those that know such a fate is sealed.
Scenes in the film can go without dialogue for a while. Subtle animation movements and silence are instead used to evoke the feelings of each of the characters. The film is at its best when we see characters like Yuichi and Suito interact and muse about their existence and place in the world. He ultimately comes to terms with who he is and wants to experience new things in the next life he lives.
On the technical side of things, The Sky Crawlers features some impressive 3D CGI by Polygon Pictures that pairs well with Production I.G’s simple character animations. It’s nice to see this quality of work being done in 2008 as compared to now where such productions are more present in the anime market. The sound mixing by Skywalker Studios is also stellar, especially in shots when the planes are flying and shooting down stuff. If you liked watching the sky battles in The Magnificent Kotobuki, you’ll find just enough high flying moments in this film too. Veteran composer Kenji Kawai also shows off his musical talent in a score that’s used in sparse moments and is really effective in the few scenes you hear them. You’ll definitely be reminded of Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell.
The Sky Crawlers offers many fresh perspectives to be taken from it, provided you can stomach the long runtime and complex character interactions. It does drag on a bit in certain moments, but I found myself invested with who the Kildren really are and where Yuichi’s lost memories led him. If you’re a fan of Mamoru Oshii, The Sky Crawlers ranks in the upper middle tier of his illustrious filmography. Track down a DVD copy of it if you can.