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.
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.
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.
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.
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.