The Sky Crawlers is a movie about fighter pilots, which is kind of interesting in itself. Aside from several Miyazaki films, I don’t think I’ve seen any other anime movie about fighter pilots, or even just heavily featuring planes. Off the top of my head I can think of a few – Toaru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku (a movie), Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta (a TV series which I dropped) and Last Exile (a TV series) – but I don’t know enough about any of them to compare them to The Sky Crawlers.
I can, however, compare The Sky Crawlers to Patlabor and Ghost in the Shell, because what these series have in common is that they are (or were) directed by Mamoru Oshii. And, as I’ve said before, this means that The Sky Crawlers is more likely to have a similar kind of story structure, buildup and climax as Oshii’s other movies. And indeed it does. The Sky Crawlers doesn’t really have a climax, and it ends without tying together every loose plot line. I finished the movie with a ton of questions that were never answered. Had I not been used to this style of finishing stories without any feeling of finality I would probably have been angry, but I actually really liked the way The Sky Crawlers ended.
Because the most important thing about the movie was not the progression of the story but the themes and the worldbuilding. The lore heavily implies a kind of cyclical system where pilots (and presumably other soldiers) who die are reborn so they can fight again. Whereas another movie would probably show several of these cycles and have the main character gradually realise he’s trapped in a loop and have the climax be him breaking the cycle, The Sky Crawlers just shows one cycle, without going far into what happened before and what happens after. It shows a very different kind of slice of life, and I think that’s the most interesting thing about the movie.