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The Sky Crawlers is a 2008 Japanese anime film, directed by Mamoru Oshii and an adaptation of Hiroshi Mori's novel of the same name. It is a melancholy take on war and those who fight it, but with several significant twists. For one, the world is at peace; it's companies doing the fighting, in order to sate the people's taste for war so that actual conflict does not take place. To fight their endless battles they use Artificial Humans called Kildren that are stuck in a perpetual adolescence of forgotten memories.
The film follows the pilot Yuuichi as he joins a new squadron of Kildren, and becomes intrigued by his cold, enigmatic and possibly insane commander, Kusanagi, who seems to know a lot more about the reality of the war than anybody else on the base. The story is as much about the pilots' downtime and their search for meaning as it is about the stunning aerial combat scenes.
If that doesn't sound appealing, keep in mind that this film is absolutely gorgeous. Broad pans and lingering shots are used just about any time combat isn't going on, which is most of the time.
A Video Game was released in 2008 in Japan by the Ace Combat team. It was released 2010 outside Japan with the title Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces, which came as a surprise for fans as it seemed a prime candidate for No Export for You. Plotwise, it's a prequel.
The film provides examples of:
- Absurdly Youthful Mother: Kusanagi has an 8 year old daughter, but is still physically a child herself.
- Ace Pilot: Five of them are noted, though two are the same person.
- Alternate History / Alternate Universe: It's not established in what year the movie is set in, but it features old school airplanes side by side with flat-screen TVs, and apparently conventional war has been completely eliminated in favour of War for Fun and Profit that doesn't put civilians, or governments for that matter, at risk.
- Anyone Can Die: And a few weeks later they'll rejoin your squadron with the same twitches, tics and habits (folding a paper, breaking a match), but new memories.
- Bifauxnen: The hooker who sleeps with Yuuchi. Has a Toplessness From the Back shot too.
- Book Ends: After the beginning sequence and credits,the movie starts with Yuuichi landing in the base and reporting to Kusanagi. It ends the same way (in The Stinger post-credits) with Yuuichi under yet another new name and set of memories. The only difference is that this time Kusanagi responds positively to his arrival.
- Brand X: Examples abound. For example, Pops-Cola and Treasure soft drinks (with logos that resemble Coca Cola and Pepsi), Green Label beer and Leopard cars.
- Broken Bird: Suito Kusanagi.
- Celebrity Voice Actor: Suito Kusanagi is voiced by live-action actress Rinko Kikuchi, who was the mute schoolgirl Chieko in the film Babel and actually won an Oscar for it.
- Cloning Blues: It must be pretty tough working out you're a clone, but even tougher watching dozens of clones succeed each other, unaware.
- Conspicuous CG: The planes look almost photorealistic, while the humans are drawn traditionally.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Much of the film, leading to its Love It or Hate It status among viewers.
- Cool Plane: Lots of them.
- Days of Future Past: Aesthetically and technologically (for the most part) the setting resembles the 1940s, with piston-powered planes and machine guns... but then you have flatscreen televisions.
- If you take into consideration that jet fighters and missiles are very expensive and that modern aerial battles are not as spectacular as those in 40s because jets are much faster and thus hard to dogfight in, it's much cheaper to use slow old propeller planes with cheap machine guns that allow fancy dogfights.
- Did They Or Didn't They: There are two scenes where Yûichi and Kusanagi are together that may or may not have ended in sex, but the camera always fades to black before any kind of confirmation, let alone acknowledgement afterwards.
- Death Is Dramatic: Pitilessly averted.
- Diesel Punk
- Do a Barrel Roll: Of course.
- Dodge by Braking: Yuichi's signature move, which wins him several dogfights. Also the signature move of The Teacher, which turns out to be a plot point.
- Downer Ending: The protagonist is ultimately unable to defeat his "father" / original clone, The Teacher, so the cycle continues.
- The Dreaded: "Oh shit! It's the Teacher!"
- Drives Like Crazy: Kusanagi, apparently. No big deal is made out of it, but she drives extremely fast on narrow roads built on cliffside.
- Engrish: The quality of English dialogue in the Japanese version of the film ranges from "Surprisingly Good English" to "passable but thickly accented" to "LAWL".
- Everybody Smokes: It's not like they need to worry about lung cancer at later age.
- Expy: Kusanagi IS Major Kusanagi of Ghost in the Shell, even having the same last name and looking almost exactly the same. Except that she's a teenager. And completely nuts.
- Forever War: The war has no no beginning and no end in sight.
- Ghost City: Krakow looks like this, with empty streets and no streetlights in sight, though some windows are lighted. It's purely for stylistic reasons, however.
- Going by the Matchbook:
- Go Mad From the Revelation: Kusanagi did this a long time ago.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: So golden you might not realize they're hookers until it's said so well into the movie.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: "I kill my father", an abrupt revelation that the protagonist is a clone of The Teacher, and that he just kinda figured it out somehow. Also, The Teacher was once the lover of Kusanagi and is the father of her daughter.
- Ominous Music Box Tune: Kusanagi has a big music box in her office that plays the film's main tune, possibly as a Shout-Out to the director's previous work, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. It becomes ominous when it plays during Yûichi's realization that something is thoroughly wrong with his existence.
- Scenery Porn: Most of the movie.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: See Downer Ending above
- Shown Their Work: Among other things, the signs in Krakow are in accurate Polish.
- The crew actually travelled to Ireland and Poland to get a good visual feel of the place, and toured the local airforce bases and hangars for reference. In the DVD bonus features they are actually shown photographing some house radiators and electric sockets so that they look accurate for the region the movie is supposed to be set in.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The story is on the cynical end; it has been directed by Mamoru Oshii, anyway, and the original author intended it to be like this, too.
- The Stinger: The movie ends with another pilot arriving -- basically Yuuchi with a new name and memories).
- The Stoic: Kannami. Pretty much nothing can faze him, and whatever emotions he has, he keeps unseen.
- Suicide Pact: It turns out that Kusanagi killed Yuuchi's predecessor; she suggests to Yuuchi that he kill her this time. He doesn't go for it.
- Surprisingly Good English: All the cockpit chatter is done in decently understandable English, though with a couple grammatical errors.
- Unfortunately due to the muffling gas masks along with the howling wind and machine gun sounds, it's still barely comprehensible. Some subtitles would have been nice, no matter how good the language technically is.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Teacher is introduced by shooting up an ejected pilot. This is also how the Teacher finishes the final battle. The fact that he didn't do this to Kusanagi is a plot point.
- This Loser Is You: According to some interpretations, it is saying that the audience (i.e. apathetic Japanese Otaku) are Kildren, and this is the message.
- Alternatively, the audience are the shallow, dull tourists who express vague pity over the dead Kildren even as they take amusement in their meaningless battles. At least this is something that the director himself vaguely hinted at.
- Translation Convention: Averted, if a bit strangely. The main cast speaks Japanese for most of the time, but speak English while in the air, and with tourists, and the few locals seen in Krakow speak passable, if accented Polish. The odd thing is that the whole movie is set in Europe, yet it's never questioned why there are so many Japanese military contractors around.
- The English dub averts this trope entirely by, of course, having the main cast speak in English all the time and re-dubbing the more Engrish-y lines with native English speakers.
- United Europe: The European Confederation, mentioned a few times in the passing, where the film takes place - Ireland and Poland, to be exact.
- The Un-Smile: Yûichi gives one to a nosy tourist videotaping him.
- War for Fun and Profit: The only kind of war that happens anymore.
The videogame contains examples of:
- Alternate History / Alternate Universe: Like in the movie, it's not established in what year the game is set in, but it features old school airplanes side by side with flat-screen TVs, and apparently conventional war has been completely eliminated in favour of War for Fun and Profit that doesn't put civilians, or governments for that matter, at risk. Also, it's obviously set in Earth, but the places the game have oriental-sounding names instead of European ones, like the final mission, which is set on Normandy and is instead called "Karasu Bay".
- Charge Meter: In the form of the Tactical Manuver Command system (or TM Cs). Since the game has no missiles to speak off, a special guage fills up when you stick close to an enemy. When executed, it plays a small cutscene and positions your craft just right behind your enemy. However, just like missiles, there is the chance that your attacks can still be dodged despite this.
- Foreshadowing: Look at the nose art of the player character's plane...
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Your character eventually becomes The Teacher from the movie.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Orishina
- Red Baron: The player character. Starts out as "Lynx", gets promoted to "Cheetah" and finally attains legendary status when the enemy fighters nickname him "Black Cat" for his black panther head design in his plane's tail which he still keeps in the movie, only with a full body version on the side.
- Tempting Fate: In the first mission, Ban muses on the short lifespan of fighter pilots. Three missions later, guess who gets shot down?
- White-Haired Pretty Boy: Ukumori.