Sky Crawlers follows the lives of several people stationed at an airbase between the raids and battles they fight. The base’s commanding officer (CO) is a woman named Kusanagi. Kusanagi is unfriendly and fairly cold to everyone, including the newest ace pilot to be stationed at the base, a guy named Kannami. Kusanagi also has a daughter at the base, who actually looks to be nearly her own age and is initially introduced as her sister. As the movie progresses, Kusanagi even occasionally seems out and out insane, as she threatens to kill Kannami.Kannami is the newest fighter pilot to arrive at the base, and he’s essentially learning the ropes and meeting the other fighters and support staff. Much of the movie involves the interactions between these people, while you’re trying to figure out what’s going on with the commanding officer. There are several mysteries centered around Kusanagi, like whether she’s a Kildren, whether she personally killed Jinro (the pilot who was there before Kannami), why she has a child, why she apparently hates Kannami, etc. You also get to see some of the bigwigs planning battles and raids that the fighters will be sent on.
Here’s the kicker and bottom line of the movie: The fighter pilots are all clones, manufactured humans called Kildren, who are created to never age beyond their teens. The world is actually at peace, but because of people’s aggressive natures, private corporations hire out to fight battles using the Kildren. It doesn’t matter to the bigwigs if the Kildren die, because they’re entirely replaceable. Whenever one is killed in battle, his clone is commissioned and arrives at the base. Kusanagi, the CO, is a Kildren and a fighter pilot, but she is apparently such a good fighter pilot that she’s the only Kildren who has lived long enough to see the same clones over again and figure out what's going on. Plus she became pregnant and had a child. The Kildren are not supposed to have children. It seems that when that happened she was given the base to run. The movie never says so, but her one-time CO was a normal human pilot called the Teacher, and she hates him and tries to shoot him down whenever possible, so you wonder if he is the father of her child.The rumor around the base is that Kusanagi killed Kannami’s predecessor clone, Jinro, and it turns out she did, at his request. Kusanagi learned the secret of the clones, including their reason for existence and the sum of their existence. Now all she can do now is watch the same people arrive, and be killed and re-commissioned and arrive again. Most clones don’t realize it because they are killed often enough and stationed at different enough bases not to run into the same person they knew before as a new clone very often. Her daughter is essentially the only naturally born human on the base. Kannami’s predecessor clone, Jinro, and Kusanagi fell in love and Jinro asked Kusanagi to kill him to try to break the pattern that rules the lives of the Kildren, but that approach obviously didn’t work.
Freaky, huh? On soooooooooo many levels. For instance, that the bigwigs are keeping a war going by growing their own soldiers to continuously fight in it. And the way they let you figure all this out is interesting. Letting you get to see characteristics of the various pilots and then pilots are killed and their somewhat look-alike shows up with their same mannerisms. The bottom line is kind of horrifying and disturbing, and makes you feel bad about thinking the CO was a nut-job all along.After Kannami and Kusanagi come to terms and start liking each other, he flies off to battle and is killed by the Teacher. You get the feeling that any clone that begins to learn too much will come up against the Teacher and be eliminated, which probably also explains Kusanagi’s hatred of him. The movie ends with Kannami’s replacement clone arriving at the base and being greeted by Kusanagi. It’s not a comfortable or satisfying ending. In fact the movie is disturbing enough to keep me thinking about various aspects of it for a long time after I watched it. But the music is wonderful (by Kawai Kenji), and I do like anime that makes me think, so I suppose I’m glad I watched it.