Ray suggested not too long ago that this might be right up my alley. He was right. We need more anime like this.
It’s not a surprise that this show is running on the public TV network, NHK, who have a history of showing family-friendly yet innovative shows (Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, where Anno got try out some of his later ideas; Dennou Coil more recently as well as an adaptation of Les Miserables). Well, actually, the title “innovative” might not quite be fitting for Allison and Lillia. There are shades not only of Ghibli, as Ray noted–specifically with Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso–but also Last Exile without the fantasy elements. The beginning of the story as we see in episodes 1 and 2 is a fairly standard start of an epic, with the promise of a great treasure that will Save The World and the beginnings of a longer journey ahead for the two main characters. (We have yet to find out who the Lillia of the title is; perhaps a girl from the opposing kingdom?)
What makes this show so charming is its carefree, cheery innocence and unabashed sense of fun, especially with the flying scenes. It balances the somewhat more menacing and serious moments well with the sheer thrill of flying in a WWI-era biplane (though what’s that WWII era transport doing?) and taking to the sky. This is of course something that will remind most people of Miyazaki and his love of flying, but here, unlike with Last Exile, it’s all 2D cels rather than CGI. Issues like the behavior of the war widow from the opposing side were also handled with grace and nuance, especially for a show aimed at younger viewers. From this point forward, they could easily complicate or darken the plot with genuine pathos, as in Fullmetal Alchemist, which would complete the sense of epicness that this show seems to want to build from the start. Or, they could do a meandering, pleasant adventure which would honestly be less interesting to me, but at least it would be pleasant to watch. For once it’s nice to watch an anime relatively free of exploitive elements and fan-pandering.
Might I add that the OP is beautiful, as well as the backdrops and the early 20th century-like setting. I admit I’m a sucker for these kinds of settings, which you can see in shows like Fullmetal Alchemist and movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service. I find it interesting that some Japanese animators keep returning to that Belle Epoque setting, which is largely regarded as the height not only of European civilization but also imperialism around the world. It’s probably simply a romantic and idyllic-looking setting that, above all, seems safe for children to run about and go forth into the great big world outside.
In fact, that’s what’s so characteristic about this show: nostalgia. It is, I think, key to its appeal. And there ain’t nothing wrong with a little bit of that as long as the stories that are told are entertaining and filled with the kind of wonder this show seems to possess. In the absence of a translated Kaiba, for me, this is the show to watch this season.