Anime Film Review: The Sky Crawlers

The Sky Crawlers is an anime film based on the novel of the same name by Hiroshi Mori. The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii, and was released to Japanese theaters on August 2, 2008. Sony Pictures Entertainment holds the rights to distribute the film outside of Japan.

The Sky Crawlers
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
Written by: Chihiro Itō
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Ryo Kase, Shōsuke Tanihara, and Chiaki Kuriyama
Run Time: 122 minutes
Rated: PG-13

The story of The Sky Crawlers is set in an alternate history, where the world is at peace. However, private corporations contract fighter pilots to engage in combat against each other, in an attempt to ease the tension of a populace used to fighting and war. The film also introduces the concept of “kildren,” genetically designed humanoids who are designed to live eternally in adolescence.

At the beginning of the film, pilot Yuichi Kannami is reassigned to Area 262. He meets Towa Sasakura, the chief mechanic, and he inquires about the fate of the pilot of his new plane, since it’s standard protocol for a pilot to meet a plane’s former pilot if he or she is not dead. Towa tells him to ask Suito Kusanagi, the base’s commanding officer.

When he meets Kusanagi and inquires about the pilot, she quickly dismisses him and simply informs him about a sortie the next day. As the film progresses, the truth about Kannami, Kusanagi, and the other pilots at Area 262 is revealed. There are also other battles that take place to keep the action moving.

The Sky Crawlers utilizes CG, some of which looks rather photorealistic, and combines it with traditional 2D animation. I personally found how these elements were combined to be a rather jarring viewing experience, and this was ultimately a distraction to me as I watched this film.

Unfortunately, with the way the film was written, I felt rather detached and I never came to truly care for any of the characters. I also felt that the “big reveal” of the mystery surrounding the “kildren” to be rather anti-climactic. Blatant hints were dropped rather early on in the story, so I had basically already figured out what was going on before the “big reveal.” I don’t know if this is a problem in the original novel, or if this was introduced when the novel was adapted for a screenplay.

Another big feature of the film is the various battles in the skies. While these had some gorgeous photorealistic CG animation, I found myself not caring about these battles, either. By the time I finished the film, I felt that there was an interesting premise being presented, but that the execution of the film didn’t do the premise any justice.

The DVD of The Sky Crawlers includes three bonus features. The first is a 30 minute documentary titled, “Animation Research for The Sky Crawlers.” This documentary has interviews with Mamoru Oshii, as well as footage of the crew doing their animation research in Poland and work on some of the early art. Unfortunately, this documentary felt more like random footage that was slapped together rather than an actual documentary.

The second bonus feature is a 32 minute documentary titled, “The Sound Design and Animation of The Sky Crawlers.” This documentary includes footage of Oshii and his crew going to Skywalker Ranch for audio mixing, work being done on the animation in Japan, voice actor recording sessions, and music recording sessions. Like the first documentary, this felt like a lot of random footage was simply thrown together, and that there wasn’t much of an effort to make this feel like an actual documentary.

The final extra on the disc is a menu of previews for properties that Sony Pictures Entertainment was promoting at the time this DVD was released.

To me, the audience who would have the greatest appreciation for The Sky Crawlers would be fans of Mamoru Oshii and viewers who are more interested in the visuals of a film than in the story being told.

Additional post about films directed by Mamoru Oshii:

One comment

  1. medievalotaku · July 30, 2014

    The curious thing about The Sky Crawlers is that I think it works very well as an intellectual piece. Many parts of it recall T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land–as I examined in one of my articles–which is pretty cool. However, it fails as a story. Sky Crawlers stands as one of the most uninspiring anime I’ve ever seen, neither the characters nor the action draw the audience into the story.

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