Sky Crawlers – Mamoru Oshii Art Book Review

Posted By yonghow on April 16th, 2009

I have to confess I wasn’t too impressed by Oshii Mamoru’s “The Sky Crawlers” after a recent viewing, but having just flipped through the sumptuous concept art book I’m rather tempted to revisit it again. Clearly the mood and pacing of the film is closer to say, “Jinroh” or “Patlabor II” rather than GITS, so anyone hoping for an adrenaline packed shoot-em-up action anime will surely be disappointed, as I was on my initial viewing.

The artbook is divided into three main sections, mecha, character and background design, with approximately 80-100 pages of material dedicated to each section. There are a couple other Sky Crawlers “visual guides” books out there but this is the one to get if you’re only interested in the concept art. (as opposed to say, interviews and plot synopsis, etc.)

(above) Some painstakingly detailed drawings of the various fighter planes that appear throughout the film, probably used as modeling sheets for the 3D department.

Very comprehensive collection of character sheets and costumes, props. With such great attention to detail its a pity the quality of the animation in the film couldn’t be more consistent, ( animation work was spread between various studios ) something that also happened in GITS – Innocence.

For some reason scenes featuring the main characters in various stages of tobacco consumption is a recurring theme; and fittingly we have concept designs for cigarette packaging.

Most of the the background plates are noticeably drab and rendered in muted colors, adding to the solemn mood of the film.

“The Sky Crawlers” is not a film everyone will enjoy, but the concept artwork is undeniably top notched, and definitely worth a look, fan or not.

You can buy a copy of the book here.

Anyone of you guys watched Sky Crawlers yet ? Thoughts ?


13 Responses to “Sky Crawlers – Mamoru Oshii Art Book Review”

Andrew Hake

I enjoyed much of Sky Crawlers, but there were many things about it that just drove me insane.

While I didn’t mind the ridiculously subtle and slow paced story telling, the one thing that I couldn’t stand was some of the character design. The main character just looked completely ridiculous if not entirely lifeless. I don’t know if it was the stupid hair style, lifeless expressions, or what, but man I hated it. Many of the other characters felt perfectly fine to me.

What were incredibly fun to watch were the scenes of dogfight action. The film just left you ridiculously excited to see the next dogfight, because they really seemed to capture the overall feeling. It is a shame the rest of the film couldn’t have maintained this sense of life. Although it did a fine job with the simpler and more subtle scenes, it is just an odd choice to make an animated film that is about 90% scenes of very little action and movement.

Anyway, although I think there is a lot that could be improved upon, there are definite bits that standout and really feel top notch so I say it is definitely worth a look.

steiner from mars

I´m really in love with this movie, it was totally beyond what I expected.
Love the sensibility, the rythm and the designs. In fact I find particullarly interesting the fact of the slowliness at the beginning of the film because you are as lost as the main character but then…THEN…well, it´s just beautiful.
The only thing I´m not very fond of is the integration of the computer graphics but besides this, the palette is gorgeous all the time.
I already have this book and all the designs are gorgeous, people and thing, the planes are amazing. I can´t wait to have a look at storyboard too.


beautiful – though I don’t understand why the characters in the movie are so void of facial expressions… they looked like ghosts

More time/money/effort should have been put into character designs – not secondary costumes, not cigarette packaging, not internal combustion engines – which we see only sparingly, but hair, skin, lips, and all of those things that make up people and main characters – which have more screen time and therefore are more important.


I’m looking forward to this movie! I can’t believe you already have the artbook. Honestly, I’ve never expected any Oshii movies to be the action-fest that most of my fav animes are. I’ve always walked into his movies expecting to sit through a slow, thorough exploration of the visual themes and the underlying plot.

Out of curiosity, did GITS innocence disappoint you with aspects of the animation like this or was the comparison’s context is that the animation was spread to different studios?

Tim Maughan

Wow – this book looks AMAZING.

@Andrew – I know what you’re saying, but I think the simple character designs for the Kildren where purposeful. I think Oshii was trying to convey the monotony, bored and repetitiveness of the emotionally stunted clones (and perhaps mainstream anime in general). Similarly, the rest of the film is deliberately dull in comparison to the dogfights to suck you in, and put you in the shoes of the voyeristic, war-demanding public.

Anyway – I loved the film:


Andrew Hake/trees – I think I agree with you on most of what you say, though I didn’t find the character design that distracting, but rather the quality of animation.

steiner from mars – I believe the storyboard were drawn by Oshii-san himself, and well…let’s just say he’s not as graphical expressive as say, Miyazaki-san. If you’ve seen the storyboards for GITS you’ll know what I mean. :]

weigy – Both, I guess. The quality of animation varies from scene to scene in both films. For example, animation during the recurring dreamlike sequences that Togusa and Batou go through are less than fantastical, but the final sequence where Batou and Kusanagi fight the droids are absolutely amazing.

Tim – I think you’ve explained the point that Andrew bought up beautifully – Now I wonder when the US blu-ray will be out so that I can watch it again ! :]

Tim Maughan

The US (and UK, i hope!) is out on 26 May, if I remember correctly!

steiner from mars

Well yup, but I´m more interesting in the developement of the flying scenes than in the art itself.


the smoking and drinking is just to demonstrate that though they are kids, they do adult activities very casually.

i noticed the inconsistancies of the animation.

though innocence was outsourced, i felt the quality of animation for the most part were pretty high.


I’m not really an anime fan (or rather one with little experience), but I thought much of the film was “jaw-droppingly” (sic) beautiful. I thought Oshii’s choices were spot on, despite the potential “clash” between the classic anime look and the near photo-realism of the CGI.

What I also found interesting, again from an inexperienced perspective, was what I perceived to be three different visual styles that were often overlayed. The most obvious is the anime level, which we are drawn to because that is how the characters and much of the background are visualized.

The second is was I would call “three-dimensional” animation, which can be seen in many Pixar or Disney films. By this I mean, the perspective, depth, and shading are all completely accurate as the camera “moves” through the scene, but there is no obvious attempt at photo-realism.

The third, and most impressive in my opinion, was the “near” photo-realism of the flight sequences. Oshii’s decision (which I assume was one based upon realizing a concept as opposed to budget or technology constraints) to avoid actual, tack-sharp, realistic images gives the impression that we are viewing a painting that is “moving”. Yes, I realize that movies are “moving pictures”, but what I meaning is that Oshii has a achieved a look that has the depth of a beautiful painting, but dynamicism of a motion picture.

I did find the character animation rather flat, but I sort of expected that given the genre’. The only thing that bothered me as when characters were walking and we could see their feet in relationship to the ground. There was often obvious “floating” of the character (i.e., the compositing processing that combines the various images to produce the final scene, didn’t adequately “ground” the moving character animation to the relatively static background).

The English language soundtrack was excellent and did not sound like they just grabbed some English speakers and asked them to read a translation, despite the fact it doesn’t match the sub-titles.

A final observation on the film’s theme and pacing. While this seems to be a film targeted at a “youth” audience (which I assume would be the majority of anime fans), the character and plot development was more suited to a mature audience (which I would be considered). The characters had real depth, and as Oshii explains in one of the featurettes, was the starting point of his conceptualization for the film. He started with characters and how they would feel, then built the visual elements around them.

This is film is a magnificent example of the genre. I hope it gets a wider audience interested in Oshii and other’s works.


I think that’s the point of leaving out the details of the individual characters… as if to say their lives aren’t as important as the ongoing war in the movie. In order to maintain peace in the world, these pilots must sacrifice a normal “human” life… hence the expressionless un-human-like visuals.


i first heard about this show when i was given a flyer for the japanese film fest in LA. i wasn’t able to attend, and never thought about the movie again until maybe a few months ago. i watched it and was rather blown away. i like slower paced “moody” films more than action packed ones. it was also a bit puzzling, which i was attracted to.

when it really hit me as a great movie though was when it had time to mull in my brain. i was thinking about particular scenes, and it formed some nostalgia up in my mind. i then bought the dvd with the soundtrack. soundtracks are pretty hit and miss with me, and i wasn’t particularly drawn to this one while watching the movie. on listening, it didn’t stand out much either. but there was a time in my life when i didn’t really feel like listening to /anything,/ especially any normal music that i normally listen to, so i always just had this turned down low while i drove. after a while it grew on me, and i’ve probably listened to it for a total now of over 24 hours.

nowadays, on weekends when i’m writing or relaxing or painting or daydreaming or talking on the phone late at nite, i’ll have a few drinks with this on in the background. it’s so soothing and beautiful. the music makes me smile now as well now.

it could be that i’m rather attracted to wwi stylization and this is chock full of it. enough people have already debated the “meaning” of the movie, so i won’t reitterate what has been said; but it’s nice to notice new things each viewing.

this is my hands down favourite animation, but you have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, i believe.


I liked Skycrawlers quite a bit. Reminded me of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.