Thousands of years in the future, the only planet left for mankind is Zion. Unfortunately, Zion is the focus of attention of mysterious and hostile aliens, named Victim by humanity. Mankind has set up their final defensive line around Zion based around the five gigantic mecha called Ingrids. Various people from the non-planetary colonies dream of becoming Ingrid pilots and among them is the young and enthusiastic Zero. As he comes to the training academy for Ingrid pilots, a chance accident will have him perhaps getting his chance sooner than he ever dreamed.
I always like to say that being formulaic isn't in itself a bad thing in and of itself, but rather it is all about how you use the formula. Pilot Candidate is, to be blunt, one of the most formulaic mecha shows to come out in a while. You get mysterious aliens, a school setting, a final line of defense, one plucky teenager of unusual ability, a conspiracy thrown in for good measure, and other such common elements in the mix. They even got their token Judeo-Christian reference covered by having the planet named Zion.
I wanted to like this show, I really did. Despite all the somewhat cliched elements, I was willing to give it a chance in the hope that it would turn out a bit better toward the end as it did seem to have potential. Unfortunately, this show pretty much goes nowhere and at the end of the TV episodes nothing significant has been revealed or resolved. I do not know if this was because the show was cancelled or because they originally only scheduled that many episodes to begin with. I strongly suspect that because they ended up producing the direct continuation OAV episode later that the show was prematurely cancelled.
I'll also admit to a certain level of irritation regarding unnecessary internal plot inconsistencies. I found it odd that they make such a big deal about basically only men being able to be pilots (hence why all the repair staff are female), but then they turn around and have the main Goddess pilot be a female. They did remark on it being unusual, but it just was a bit jarring to me. If they were going to do something with that plot thread, they gave only the barest hint of it, and it ended up just being another strike against the writers. The more internal inconsistency a piece of fiction has, the more difficult it becomes to suspend disbelief and be immersed in the universe.
I had great hope when I finally got my hands on the OAV episode that perhaps it would bring a bit more closure. I'll say this, it does resolve the central mystery of the nature of the mysterious female apparition that Zero encountered, but the rest of the plot, the nature of Victim, the reason Zion is the only planet left, and various other plot threads are left completely and totally open. If my curiosity about the plot was like a large wound, the OAV episode was just a quick band-aid placed over that wound.
Normally I'm a bit more willing to forgive open-ended plots, but that is if I felt the characters were particularly interesting or the themes involved in the show were intriguing. I find that I just did not particularly care about most of the characters in this show. I've never been partial to the plucky stubborn young teen leads to begin with and most of the other characters seem to exist to only fill various required archetypes. I suppose it is telling that the best character development seemed to go secondary characters like some of the maintenance girls though I was a bit irritated at the total randomness of having one be a cat girl. They never did really explain it or even begin to at hint at an explanation. Since she was the only non-human (well excluding Victim) in the show, I thought they should at least give a quick throw away line as explanation. Maybe I missed it, but I doubt it. It just felt thrown in like someone figured a cat girl would be cool, so they figured they should have one.
Since I felt the characters were a bit unappealing and the plot doesn't go anywhere, we're left with the themes and ideas of the show itself. Unfortunately, they don't tend to really rise above a few bits and pieces about what competition can do to otherwise good people, working hard, and a few other typical school related ideas. I had sensed some potential greatness with the idea that there was only one planet left for humanity and had figured perhaps there would be something interesting ideas about man despoiling the galaxy or maybe something about Zion being particularly special for another reason (religious, evolutionary, or something similar), but unfortunately they just didn't bring anything interesting forward in that regard.
Visually, the show actually looks good. The character designs all tend to be good, if a bit generic at times, and the artwork overall is pleasing to look at. The Victim and the Ingrids are all done with CGI. Even though I liked the design of the Ingrids, unfortunately the CGI isn't integrated well with the rest of the look of the show. It doesn't help that those space combat sequences aren't particularly fluid either. I'll give them credit for the effort, but this show is not the one to hold up as a great example of CGI's contributions to anime production.
The music is a mixed bag. Most of the background music is appropriately atmospheric and I thought the end theme was pleasing to the ear and fitting with the show. The opening theme, well I can't say it is particularly a bad piece of music, but it just reminded me more of the opening of some Fifties' Christmas special or something rather than of a dramatic science fiction mecha series. I don't know, it just did not fit the visuals or the feeling of the series well.
I really had high hopes for this show, but it collapsed under its own weight, and after promising far too much, it pretty much delivered none of it. The only significant and interesting character development occurred with the some of the side characters, so I found that I just didn't care about the leads. Perhaps if this show had a full run, it would have found its stride in the next set of thirteen episodes, but as it stands, even including the OAV episode, I'm just thoroughly disappointed by Pilot Candidate.
This show had a lot of interesting potential but unfortunately did nothing with it. I've seen a lot worse in my time, but this one ended up being one of the more disappointing titles I've seen in a while. Go ahead and add a star if you really like mecha or cat girls. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: There is a lot of anti-Victim fighting going on and the occasional fist fight between the hot-blooded pilot candidates, but most of it is pretty bloodless and quick, though there is an emotional character death later in the show. They don't show really anything sexual, but there is strong implication of sexual relationships between some of the pilots and their repairer partners. Given their young age that might be of concern to some, though I don't think a child would really be able to understand that was even going on given the way they handled it in the series. Overall, I would say this is safe for older children and above.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Pilot Candidate © 1999 Sugisaki Yukiru / Wani Books / Bandai Visual / Candidate for Goddess Production Committee
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