Mamoru Oshii has become famous for his typical style of very convoluted dialogue. For the Sky Crawlers though, he went into a completely different direction from all of his other works. There are no endless dialogues here, the storyline isn’t really that complex, the action scenes don’t last forever: they’re short and to the point, the character-designs are very simple and down to earth and the pacing throughout the entire movie is very quiet. And yet it works like hell.
Basically, the Sky Crawlers tells the story of a bunch of people who are stationed at a small airbase somewhere in Europe in the middle of some war. The movie’s biggest focus is on its storytelling, because my god, the realism! Amidst the dogfights, there is a huge amount of attention to detail spent on how the characters interact with each other. The characters here really feel much more like regular people than in most other anime. Most of the drama in the movie is kept very subtle and meaningful. And that really is the biggest strength of this movie: it’s two hours long, with a story that could also be done in 20 minutes, but because of the incredibly slow pacing it really was able to show off its characters, their strengths and weaknesses in a very quiet and subtle way.
So yeah, obviously you don’t want to watch The Sky Crawlers if you’re looking for an energetic action-flick, although the action scenes that take place whenever the characters fly their planes definitely look beautiful. The CG is really well done, and integrates really well with the 2D art so that it hardly ever feels out of place.
If I had to mention down-sides of the movie, then there are two things that spring to my mind: first of all, there hardly is any background on the characters. Only the lead characters have some (very good, by the way), but the rest of the characters are all just a bunch of random pilots who happen to be in the same airbase. This of course can also be seen as a good thing: you get to know exactly as much about them if you were to meet them in real life. Of course they have their secrets, but they sure as hell aren’t going to blurt them out to any Tom, Dick or Harry.
The other flaw is most of a personal disappointment of me: there really isn’t that much innovation in this movie. It’s probably something really new for Mamoru himself, but I’ve seen the subtle storytelling done before and better. It’s of course really good for this movie to chose this approach, but I felt I saw nearly every aspect in this movie in another anime already before. Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack also pretty much sounded like all of his other soundtracks, and it didn’t really stand out as anything fresh or new from him.
Still, that definitely doesn’t take away that this is a very solid movie. It’s not Mamoru’s best work, but nevertheless consistently good and enjoyable if you like your drama to be subtle.