Sky Crawlers

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Hesse's avatar By Hesse on Aug 21, 2011

Story

Sky Crawlers takes off with a stunning action sequence; two fighter pilots engage in a dogfight as speeding bullets rip an aircraft's backside. Don't let the dramatized trailers fool you, this film is anything but a adrenaline-pumping thriller. On the contrary, many will find Sky Crawlers snooze-worthy due to its sluggish pacing and introspective plotline. Indeed, the movie's melancholic tone and bleak, listless characters will leave some confused or bored stiff. With that said, I loved this film.

Sky Crawlers doesn't subscribe to the tried and true formula of entertainment we expect as viewers. It's decidedly slow and it refuses to spoon-feed its themes to the hungry anime masses. Instead, much of the movie's meaning lies beneath the surface of its dialogue, revealed through the actions and unspoken thoughts of its characters. Pilots drink and smoke like fiends, indicative of their apathy for their own health - a moot point when one hangs on the edge of death. From the start, we aren't privy to the information surrounding our protagonist or the endless war he fights, lending an air of mystery to the narrative. Events unfold aimlessly in the first half, and long periods of dreary silence dominate in between battles. However, by the film’s powerful conclusion, the details are slowly pieced together and Mamoru Oshii's message lingers long after.

Some take Sky Crawlers as social commentary on the nature of war and peace, and the philosophical questions it poses are debatable. The more palpable theme, I would argue, would be the loss of innocence. Pilots, or "Kildren", are perpetually young and immortal unless physically killed; they're disturbingly anchored in adulthood through war, sex, and violence. When Commander Kusanagi is labeled "immature", symptomatic of being a child, Yuichi counters, "for people who might die tomorrow, do they have any need to grow up?". Neither children nor adults, these pilots are stuck in an eternal limbo, one in which all hope of change has been abandoned. The anime questions this growing culture of jaded youth, and in turn, boldly asserts that we do something about it. Fortunately, Sky Crawlers isn’t simply a film about war, but rather, a film about humanity.

After the devastating (yet rewarding) conclusion, I could easily forgive the dull, meandering first half. If anything, the lack of a concrete timeline enforces the anime’s overarching message. However, clocking in at two full hours, the movie could trim some of the fat; several long, drawn-out silences and superfluous scenes eat up the time. Not to mention, there's an unceremonious info dump towards the three-quarters mark. That said, watching Sky Crawlers is like peeling a tough fruit; if you have the time and patience to shed the layered skin, you’ll reach the meaty core.


Animation

99.9% of the time, CGI in anime sucks. The awkward overlap of 2D objects over 3D backgrounds never ceases to make animators look lazy. Sky Crawlers is a noteworthy exception. Production I.G. rendered each exhilarating aerial bout in CGI, and the result looks fantastic. Planes don’t just explode; their tails are ripped apart, engines are blown to smithereens, and smoke trails slash the cloudy skies. At its best, Sky Crawlers' animation looks photorealistic. At its worst, the 2D-3D overlap lasts for a couple of seconds. Purists would ask for hand drawn dogfights, but frankly, the CGI doesn't take away from the overall experience.

The art is stylistically bleak, oppressive, and drained of all color - think Pale Cocoon. Character designs are straight-laced, and for the most part, motions are fluid. The muted color palette suits the cynical atmosphere of the anime, never overpowering the main focus of Sky Crawlers: the story.


Sound

Instead of using standard seiyuus, Oshii acquired live-action actors such as Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) as Commander Kusanagi, and Ryo Kase (Letters from Iwo Jima) as Yuichi Kannami. I was impressed with Kikuchi’s brilliant portrayal of the cold, professional Kusanagi; her voice projects a sense of desperation and pain that suggests the flawed world of the Kildren.

On the soundtrack side of things, nothing is strikingly remarkable; music is sparsely used and only one orchestrated motif is memorable. For a better score by Kenji Kawai, see Seirei no Moribito or Oshii’s seminal Ghost in the Shell.


Characters

Do you like the taste of vanilla? Well that’s exactly the flavor of Sky Crawlers' characters. They are essentially blank slates with little to no personality or growth. And yet I felt sympathy for them, only because they were pawns in a much larger game. Unlike mainstream movies, Sky Crawlers' story drives its characters, not the other way around. The lack of three-dimensional personalities may hurt the plot more than help it, but depending on your reaction to the story, you'll either sympathize with the protagonists' plight or not care about them entirely.

Kusanagi is the only memorable individual, solely because there is more to her than meets the eye. We start to see the chips in her cold armor as she grows intimate with Yuichi, whittling herself down to a self-destructive, emotionally bankrupt person. She is as perfectly capable as she is flawed and fragile. Although I didn't connect with her character, I pitied her numb existence; trapped in a static world, Kusanagi's reality bars her from experiencing humanity.


Overall

Those looking for light entertainment should steer clear; Sky Crawlers is a dense, moody film that's best when not taken at face value. Some will likely fall asleep from the ambiguity; others will be intrigued by the mysterious atmosphere, long enough to engage with the surprisingly profound plot. The snail-like pacing and flat characters make this movie a hard sell for any anime fan, but for those in search of food for thought, Sky Crawlers may prove to be a welcome feast.

7.5/10 story
8/10 animation
6/10 sound
5.5/10 characters
6.5/10 overall
CrazyAce01's avatar By CrazyAce01 on Oct 31, 2009

Story (5/10)

 

Sky Crawlers leaps into action right out of the gate with a heart-pounding dogfight. Mesmerized by the dramatic battle and excited for more, I was let down by the abrupt, lengthy lull in plot. The movie lives up to its name – the story crawls along at a snail’s pace. While giving the viewer a few interesting tidbits to chew over here and there, it moves so slowly and gives so little in return for attention that it becomes laborious to stay focused.

 

Centering on a small airfield with only a few pilots, the plot slowly limps towards a hazy destination. The story gives few details concerning the setting, which leads only to apathy and confusion. The few details the viewer can painstakingly gather hardly satisfy. A slow story can be excellent; Serial Experiments Lain comes to mind; while slow paced, it is brimming with rich psychological content to keep the viewer engaged. This is where Sky Crawlers fails, coming off as vapid and lazy rather than gentle and stimulating. It is certainly not a complete failure - but this time could have been used better.

 

In the last portion of the movie, the director came to a sudden conclusion: “Oh, right, we are supposed to be going somewhere with this!” The war, which remained contextually vague until almost precisely an hour and a half in, is suddenly explained. The origin and purpose of the characters are thrown in your face. And, of course, the philosophical message is mashed into your head with impromptu dialogue. Despite the spur-of-the-moment delivery, this final section, with plot that was actually discernible, was very enjoyable; I just really wish they didn’t feel the need to waste most of the movie on nothing. The ending ties in all of the small bits and pieces lying around throughout the anime, and it was, in all honesty, very original and surprising, but the captivating finale does not justify its tiresome conception.

 

Animation (9/10)

 

From the intricate trimming on wallpaper inside an elegant house to the fiery explosion of a bomber plane, the animation was superb. The fight scenes used a wonderful mix of classic animation techniques and computer generated images, and many of the set pieces were also computer generated – but I hardly picked up on some of it with the graceful interaction between the 2D and 3D. Character animations could have been improved with a touch more detail here and there, but nearly all the backgrounds were without any flaw.

 

Sound (10/10)

 

I would swear those planes were right in the room with me as the buzzing from the propellers zipped by. Every firing bullet, every dog bark, and every creak of each door opening meshes perfectly with the movie, and most of the sound effects were easily the best I’ve heard. Actual musical pieces are rare, with footsteps and car engines creating, quite successfully, the bulk of the sounds, but when they did appear they are orchestrated wonderfully. Voice acting, while occasionally bland, was appropriate, the blandness coming off oddly appealing rather than standing out as a fault - rather than make the story melodramatic, or even annoying, this quiet, monotone calm pervades the movie, lending a sense of mood. There was not one single moment of sound I did not like.

 

Characters (6.5/10)

 

The characters were either intriguing or the boring, at least until the last half-hour sprint. The main character, Kannami Yuichi, was colorless, and while this is justified by the ending it was hardly enthralling to watch him do nothing for minutes on end. Much more eye and mind catching was the commanding officer, Kusanagi Suito, toward whom many hints are directed but few facts directly revealed. This makes her character an interesting mystery to be solved and it is the sole thing that works well with the strange pacing. The other characters are not heavily investigated and became cogs in the machine of the plot, which wasted quite a bit of potential.

 

Overall (7.5/10)

 

The surprisingly good story came in very late, making Sky Crawlers a bit of a snoozer. The last section of the movie was entertaining, but it begs the question of why the rest of the movie wasn’t as good. Still, with many interesting, unique ideas, some good things to say, and the best sound this side of Cowboy Bebop, I would recommend it to anyone – just don’t expect the best thing since sliced bread.

5/10 story
9/10 animation
10/10 sound
6.5/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
galacticdude7's avatar By galacticdude7 on Mar 20, 2010

-Story- The Story in The Sky Crawlers is a complex one, and it can be hard to follow at times, but thats what makes it a good story. It explores some of the deepest parts of the human experience, and it makes you think. The concept itself is preey good too, and the idea of corperate warfare seems like it could actually happen one day. The Kildren provide a decent perspective of the human experience, so that we can explore it from a whole new light. However, If you are into lots of action, then this is not the movie for you. This movie will bore people who demand constant action. The Sky Crawlers has a lot of quiet moments in it, and it really requires the audience to focus on the little details that are revealed as the story progresses. This movie is detail oriented and may require several viewing to see and understand all of the little details that show up through out the film. All in all, the story is amazing, and makes this movie well worth seeing.

-Animation- For the most part, the art in the movie was excellent. It made the places seem real, and they put a lot of details into the environment of the Character. The world in which the characters live in, vibrant and alive. It possesses charm and detail. The one major fault with the art is that the CGI used doesn't fit well with the traditional animation of the rest of the movie, and when we go from the CGI dogfights, to the traditional animation scenes, it almost feels like they are from two separate films.

-Characters- Thes characters are really amazing. They are believable and are very interesting to watch. They are complex and it seems like that they are real people, and not just some 2 dimensional drawing on a screen. They are really excellent. Each character stands out on their own, and makes a wonderful impression on the audience.

-Overall- The story is great, the animation is good, and the characters are excellent. This is definatley worth watching.

9/10 story
7.5/10 animation
?/10 sound
8/10 characters
8/10 overall
snakebrain's avatar By snakebrain on Nov 16, 2010

This is a really excellent anime.  I went into it basically on a whim -- I couldn't tell you why it got shuttled to the top of my Netflix queue over anything else -- based more or less on an action-packed trailer, and what I got was a surprisingly mature, engrossing, and sedate film that raises some very interesting questions.

The story is simple enough, though it reveals further complications as it goes along that I won't spoil: essentially, it revolves around a pilot, one of the immortal Kildren, who arrives at an air force base as a replacement for another fighter pilot who recently left (it's unclear in the beginning if he has died, and if so, how).  He lives in a world where there is no war; instead, the battles he and his compatriots have with rival air force parties keep the war at bay by giving the people some entertainment.  It's an interesting conceit -- that people who can't die are forced to, for entertainmet, and that this is the only kind of existence they can lead (and, of course, that we need some kind of war to be happening for there to be peace).  These concepts are problematized as the movie goes along, of course, but they form the backbone of the narrative that comes to follow.

The characters are interesting, for what they are.  We really get to know only a few of them -- I'd argue, really only two -- but they're all at least mildly interesting.  One thing they are is complex -- it's nice to see complex, adult relationships develop between mature characters in an interesting and realistic way (not that there's anything particularly realistic about what these characters go through -- but once you accept the premises of their individual identities and the world they live in, it becomes realistic in that context).

The animation is gorgeous, by the way.  Really top-notch.  I hate to emphasize the action scenes, because they're few and far between and aren't particularly given much weight until the end, but they really are staged beautifully; this is some of the best CG integration I've seen.  The characters themselves are well-designed if somewhat non-descript; they certainly fit in with the overall sedate tone of the film.

The music isn't particularly memorable, but is very nice.  I will say that this anime uses silence very well; there are stretches of silence, of little dialogue, that are very effective.

The climax of the film is rushed, and doesn't hold the emotional weight it should; indeed, most of the conflicts towards the end aren't as well developed as they could be.  This is a minor quibble, though; this is ultimately an excellent film, not the best I've ever seen, but certainly thought-provoking if you're in the right mood.  Just be wary of the trailer and remember that this is not an action movie.

7.5/10 story
8/10 animation
8.5/10 sound
7.5/10 characters
8/10 overall
sir0robin's avatar By sir0robin on Aug 1, 2011

it is a movie you have to watch more than once to fully understand what is going in in this world... still F***ing amazing.

10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall