Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta has a fascinating setting, a world where islands can fly, where learning to fly, and being part of a grand airforce is part of growing up, and a world that holds many mysteries about its formation, and where the people that inhabit it come from. But, the world of Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta is also empty, one devoid of life, passing us by in the night without ever being fully visible. We are provided glimpses of the world that this story takes place within, a world with revolutions, wars, fabled civilisations, and mysteries yet to be uncovered. It is a fascinating world, with the potential for fascinating characters such as Kal-el Albus, a deposed crown prince who must learn to live a relatively normal life in order to survive. His story has many fascinating facets, such as his hatred for Nina Viento, who he perceives as the perpetrator of his parents death, largely due to his young age, and lack of understanding about his countries situation and the problems that everyday citizens faced. Similarly we are given glimpses of Nina Viento’s past, discovering that she is actually Claire Cruz, a figurehead without any powers, one who is used as a symbol of the wind revolution, without any true freedom, and suffering from the guilt of putting so many to death as she perceives it.
These central characters present us with a fascinating relationship that encompasses all the important aspects of their countries current situation, but it is kept at arms length, never being fully explored or put into context or perspective. One gets the impression that there is a very important reason why Nina Viento has been positioned as the puppet governor of Isla the floating island, but at no point are we given any indication as to why this island and their quest are so important. The characters seem almost pointless, whose only goal is to learn to fly, and then die due to the ineptitude of Isla’s council and their complete lack of knowledge about the sky and the peoples who live in it. Which leads us to the empty world of Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta, a world that is apparently filled with life, numerous islands and different peoples who have mastered the art of flying, and may also live on large floating islands. But this world, the world that we get to see in To Aru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku (Recollection of a Certain Airship Pilot), through Charles’s mission to transport Fana del Moral to her fiancé in secret is ignored, and sometimes even forgotten about. Why is the search for the end of the sky so important? Why must Nina Viento be pushed into exile in order to find it? Where are all the islands that supposedly make up the world? Why does this particular kingdom know so little about the world they live in, but somehow still know about certain aspects of their journey? Also, where is this world that they live in, and why are we only seeing the inside of Isla? All such questions largely remain unanswered, or unimportant to the story, they are left hanging over our heads, tantalisingly close, but out of reach.
Personally I do not mind the school life that Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta shows us, as it had the possibility to teach the audience about the world and the reasons for Isla’s current goal. If we think about it, learning through the eyes of children, or teenagers can be the most interesting as they look at the world, often without full knowledge of the politics and scheming going on behind the scenes (although as teenagers you should be learning about the politics of the society you live in). This school setting presented us with the perfect opportunity to learn more about this world, about the peoples who live in it, and about the quest to find this fabled end of the sky, and yet we learn nothing about any of this, and barely even learn much about flying, despite it being a flying school. When the world is so focused on flight, on living in the air away from the world below, mastering the necessary skills of flying airplanes of various sizes and abilities seems obvious, but we are only given brief glimpses of these lessons before the story returns to the school on Isla. In a similar fashion, the battles we have seen in recent weeks have been rather lackluster and somewhat disappointing – part of this is down to the action focusing on Isla’s new recruits, pilots who have never had to fight before and are suddenly thrust into a fight for their lives, poorly equipped to deal with the pressures of a life or death dogfight. In part this was fascinating, but once again the world of Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta seems to shrink, focussing on one or two planes, while ignoring the grand battle around them for the sake of seeing these students die.
To Aru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku dealt with the aerial combat well, showing us intimate shots of Charles as he battles to keep himself and Fana alive through overwhelming odds, while also presenting the audience with the spectacle of dog fights and battles between fighter planes and larger battleships. These battles remind me of Yamato 2199, with the giant airships acting as ships on the ocean, as submarines suddenly appearing from the depths to catch their prey. There is a sense of foreboding, of constant danger and dread in Charles’ journey, coupled with the knowledge that regardless of what he does he will always be forgotten, a nameless half-breed who is cast aside once he outlives his usefulness. Within this context the relationship that he and Fana develop is given significance as something that encapsulates the futility of war, and the sacrifices that those who are looked down upon by society make in order to survive. It is a dramatic, thought-provoking relationship that helps to flesh out the world the film is set in, providing us with a human element for a war that seems to be never-ending. By comparison, the central relationship of Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta is empty and largely devoid of meaning and substance, one that has little impact upon out understanding of the story of the conflicts that happen within, and one that does little to bring us close to the world of this anime.
Ultimately, Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta leaves an empty feeling, and the impression that the world the story is set in, and its characters have been squandered on a compressed story that ignores the potential of its setting and the relationships between its central characters. For a world with significant populations and numerous kingdoms (or so we are lead to believe), the story limits itself by focussing on a single school on Isla, thus shrinking this expansive world, and ignoring all the interconnected elements that could make it such a wonderful thing to behold. This is as bad as a world that is too expansive, such as the one found in Toaru Majutsu no Index, a world that is as fascinating as it is vast, and one of the many flaws – the world is too vast to be truly explored in a single story, and Index attempts to do that, thus diluting its story and never really developing its characters properly. Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta is the opposite of that, a world that is equally as expansive and fascinating, but one that is ignored for a human story that never seems entirely human or interesting. It is a sad state of affairs when a side story like To Aru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku, a film set in the same world, but one that focuses on a single mission in 100 minutes can develop its characters and the world they inhabit better than a series 3 or 4 times that length. But that is the impression that this series leaves me with, one of wasted potential, a story that squanders its setting and a lack of character development, focusing on a school that could be interesting but ultimately amounts to nothing of importance.