Wings of Honneamise Anime Review
Ouritsu Uchuugun - Oneamisu no Tsubasa
Royal Space Force - The Wings of Honneamise
US Release By
Allegorical Sci-fi Drama
In a world both very similar to and different from our own, an apathetic student, Shirotsugu Ladhatt, who aspired to join the local air force but doesn't have the grades, instead joins the Royal Space Force. Unfortunately, this space force is more of a publicity stunt by the government than anything else--nobody has ever even made it to space. However, after our hero meets and falls in love with an idealistic young missionary, Riqunni, he becomes determined to actually make something of the joke that is the Royal Space force. But as the odd collection of dropouts and aging rocket scientists begins to make progress toward their goal of a space flight, the enemy in an ongoing war decides that this new space technology could become a dangerous weapon and decides to nip the budding space program in the bud. Shirotsugu, spurred by his unreturned feelings for Riqunni, braves assassins, budget cuts, and all-out war to make his dream of traveling among the stars come true...
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Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise is a masterpiece of animation, pure and simple. The rich earth-like world is amazing in its detail and realism, the characters are subtle and intriguing, the plot is quiet but complex and engaging, and the overall theme is an extreme close-up on a sweeping tale of exploration and adventure. With music that is simultaneously alien and familiar, spectacular and beautiful art and animation, and a top-quality Japanese cast, there is hardly anything one could complain about in the entire production, save the somewhat weak dub and a story that takes its time enough that it may seem slow to some.
Wings of Honneamise is, from top to bottom, an absolute must see for those with a real sense of wonder about the world and a willingness to dig past the surface of a story.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Simply put, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise is one of the finest animated films ever made, and I would say one of the finest films ever made, period. A well-crafted story, deep and believable characters, an imaginative plot, and an intricately-realized world all combine to make this film a masterpiece of both substance and imagination.
One of the film's defining features is the sense of realism that pervades almost every aspect of the production. Of particular note is the alien, yet somehow familiar, setting--a world on the brink of either its first hopeful steps into the cosmos or devastation in a war. No simple analogy of the real-world space race, every detail is meticulously constructed and completely believable, from the politics to the vehicles right down to funeral customs and ticket vending machines. Just exploring this world would be enough to mark the movie as worthwhile viewing for fans of well-realized fantasy like myself, but that's nowhere near all it has to offer.
Another of Honneamise's strong points is its sense of humor. If you pay attention, much of the early part of the movie borders on a comedy, albeit an extremely subtle one. There are no outright jokes; rather, funny situations and offhand comments are slipped in in a low-key, deadpan style that's easy to miss, but is quite amusing if you pay attention.
The story will be too slow for some (the only major thing I can think of that one might complain about), but the pacing is steady and the relative leisure enhances the realistic feel, capturing the mundane, everyday acts that lead toward lofty goals like space flight. It also makes the characters seem that much more real; people sometimes take a moment to think, and Honneamise gives them time to do it. Partly as a result, the movie is almost as much a character study as an analogy of the real-world space race or a believable but inspiring tale of the human drive for adventure and exploration.
There are really only two main characters, and the two of them are as detailed as their world, and as subtly fascinating. On one hand, we have apathetic Shirotsugu; the embodiment of the jaded slacker, but still a man with dreams. On the other end of the spectrum is Riqunni; she has her own internal dreams and hopes, but her seemingly blind religious devotion is like a relic of a simpler time, and is as difficult for Shiro to understand as it will be for many viewers. Both of these characters (as well as a few of the minor ones) are deep, interesting, and their interaction provides much of the meat of the movie.
Memorably, this isn't a simple love story by any stretch; on the contrary, the complicated relationship is strained by the opposite worldviews, and Shirotsugu's response to the frustration of this disconnect marks him as a particularly flawed protagonist.1
The character interaction also brings another another level of meaning to the story; in the course of his journey from drop-out to the emotional leader of a grand adventure, Shiro is asked some difficult questions about human nature and the state of modern society. There are no easy answers to these questions, and Honneamise doesn't attempt to provide any--it isn't preachy and there are characters on both ends of the spectrum who have reasonable opinions. But Shiro's attempts to come to grips with love, sin, and the place of grand adventures in a world filled with war and poverty do provide a quiet illustration of the value of dreams and ambition. If nothing else, this is a story that is realistic enough to provoke a lot of thought, and a movie that doesn't shy away from bringing the hard issues to the fore.
The humor, the juxtaposition of modern chaos and a simpler view of life, the character interaction, and the exploration of the intricate world are all microscopic aspects of this movie, but the view is so close you might miss the big picture. That macroscopic image is a sweeping brushstroke about the wonder of life and the amazing things the universe holds for the dreamers and the explorers. There are many aspects to enjoy, but at its heart this is a quiet movie for those with imagination, for people who see more than the simple hustle and bustle of the world around them, and who look for something bigger in life. Although the real-world story of the space race embodied this theme in many ways, this movie adds so much depth and complexity to the tale while distilling the essence down to its simplest form that it becomes something truly unique.
The leisure with which the story unfolds may not appeal to some, but as far as I'm concerned, the only real flaw in the movie (and I don't consider the slow pacing to be anything of the sort) is its ambiguous last couple of minutes. Although the basic message of the end is clear, it is unnecessarily abrupt and unsatisfying (which may have been intentional), and the semi-abstract imagery (which seems to owe a little to the end of 2001, an end I also didn't like) is at odds with the solidity of the rest of the movie and serves little purpose other than an attempt to seem artificially deep or artistic. Don't let that turn you off, though; up till the final moments, it is flawless in what it wants to be. It's also worth noting that the director explains, in the commentary track, that from a narrative perspective the end wasn't intended to be as inconclusive as it comes across.2
Technically speaking, Wings of Honneamise is gorgeous, but as subtle and nuanced as the plot. The art used to depict the world, along with its visual style and remarkably functional design, is always finely drawn and meticulously detailed, without ever feeling unnatural. The character designs feel appropriate; memorable, generally appealing faces with a familiar look slightly on the realistic side of classic anime. The high-budget animation is fluid and uniformly realistic. The character animation in particular is beautiful; it's understated, but if you look closely, you'll be rewarded. The film's sole action sequence is exciting, the war scenes are on par with news footage of the real thing, and the rocket launch at the finale is practically out of old Apollo mission footage.
The acting in Japanese is very good. Shirotsugu in particular is a standout, voiced by the well-known Japanese live-action actor Leo Morimoto, who turns in an understated and wonderfully believable performance throughout. Morimoto's low-key delivery gives life and likability to the character and perfectly captures both apathy and eventual drive, not to mention the deadpan humor of the story. Riqunni, voiced by Mitsuki Yayoi (also known as much for her live-action work as anime roles), although not nearly as distinctive, is nuanced and believable.
The English dub is somewhat less remarkable; not terribly well cast (Robert Matthews' Shirotsugu in particular sounds rather nasal) and passably but not particularly well acted. The only standout performance is Melody Lee as Riqunni--gentle and believable. The script in the English version is something of an issue; they were trying very hard to make it sound deep, but it is a little on the cheesy side at times, and it differs quite a bit from the original. There are no major plot changes, but a lot of the details are messed around with and most of the conversations flow somewhat differently.
The music was scored by Oscar-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto, and although it wasn't terribly noticeable while watching, the compositions are very much in tune with the movie and its world: Simultaneously alien and familiar, subtly inspiring and beautiful. Definitely worth a listen. My only, very minor, complaint is the fact that most of it sounds synthesized--this seemed to be an unsuccessful attempt to create sounds unlike instruments from earth, and was a bit disappointing considering the richness of the rest of the production, but it doesn't detract from the impressive composition.
The Wings of Honneamise is a masterpiece of animation, pure and simple. The world is amazing, the characters are intriguing, the plot is quiet but complex and engaging, and the overall theme is an extreme close-up on a sweeping tale of exploration and adventure. From top to bottom, it is nearly perfect in every aspect, and even though it might seem slow, for those with a real sense of wonder about the world and who are willing to dig past the surface of a story, this is an absolute must-see.
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A truly unique movie, but it by far has the most in common with the realistic sci-fi series Planetes; from the casual sense of humor to the extreme attention to realistic detail to the social commentary to the exploration of what dreams and adventure mean in the real world, it is both entertaining and thought provoking, if very different in its near-future Earth setting. Honneamise also shares a richness and detailed alternate world with some very different productions; most notable are the Miyazaki movies Kiki's Delivery Service, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and Porco Rosso, though Strange Dawn and Vision of Escaflowne also come to mind. Oddly, the space-opera comedy Irresponsible Captain Tylor comes to mind as a somewhat similar story as well, probably due to its theme of finding a purpose in life despite pressures from the world around, although its comedic tack on the idea is almost completely opposite. Honneamise also feels just a little bit like the old Romeo and Juliet story Windaria.
Notes and Trivia
Aside from being the production that got the famous studio Gainax started, Wings of Honneamise also features a musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who won an Oscar for the music of The Last Emperor the same year Honneamise came out.
The film was not particularly successful when it was released, although it has since gained a great deal of acclaim. There was even a sequel set fifty years later planned, but the project was cancelled early in the production process.
One of the reasons the rocket at the climax looks so realistic is that it's based on the Soviet design used to launch many of their early orbital efforts.
The DVD extras offer several interesting tidbits of information. A few choice ones: This film is based on a short story; the writer wanted to produce an animated version, and so gathered together a group of people to produce a 4 minute short of scenes from the story (many of which were used more or less exactly in the eventual finished product). Bandai liked it and chipped in what at the time was the largest budget ever for an anime movie (approximately US$8 million). The people who produced the short, of course, went on to found none other than the now-legendary Gainax studios to produce Wings of Honneamise.
Perhaps most interesting, though, is a clear explanation of the somewhat confusing end to be found in the commentary audio track; check the footnotes if you've seen the movie and are curious.
Footnote 1: This is a significant spoiler, and shouldn't be read if you haven't seen it yet... but I wanted to mention that while the attempted rape scene is a very uncomfortable one, it is not gratuitous or unnecessary, and speaks volumes about the characters. It highlights Shirotsugu's painfully human weakness, frustration with his life, and his hedonistic way of looking at the world. It also illustrates the honest and serious nature of Riqunni's religious beliefs and resulting willingness to forgive, not to mention clarifies everything unspoken about the nature of their relationship. It no doubt will seem confusing or unnecessary to some, but if you pay attention to the aftermath, you should see that it both makes sense and peels back another layer of the characters. On a semi-unrelated note, I also found it interesting in its analysis of the act of rape; just before Shiro attacks Riqunni, he is staring at her legs, objectifying her, but as soon as he looks into her frightened eyes he again sees her as a whole person, and seems unable to continue.
Footnote 2: Do not read this if you haven't already seen the movie, but for those wondering about what exactly is going on in the abstract final moments, it's intended to be more conclusive than it first appears: In the commentary track, the director points out that though it's a common (and unintended) misconception, Shiro definitely did not die. Quite the contrary, some of the sketches underneath the credits depict his triumphant return and subsequent entry into the history books. The end of the film is considerably more satisfying when viewed in this light.
US DVD Review
As far as extras go, Manga Video really outdid itself with its original DVD release; although it's hard to compete with the piles of extras included with Ghost in the Shell, this disc surpasses it, therefore gaining my praise as the most loaded anime DVD to date, period.
To start with, we've got an interesting chunk of background information printed on the package insert, the original 4-minute short mentioned above (which, although it had no dialogue, unfortunately didn't have a translation of the on-screen text), a finished scene that was deleted from the final cut (don't worry, it's interesting but not significant), full Japanese and English voice actor credits (at long last dealing with the one ongoing issue I've had with Manga's DVDs), and a full director's commentary audio track.
Yes, that's right--although it's the first time I've heard an original commentary track (not from the dubbing staff, that is) with anime, here it is, and there is all sorts of interesting information to be gleaned from it (such as some clarification on the ending). It's a bit unfortunate that, although the discussion was very conversational, the subtitle track that translates it is rather abrupt and literal; it gets the point across, but it's not nearly as lively as what you're hearing (on the other hand, you can watch the movie with either the English or Japanese soundtrack and the director's commentary subtitles if you feel like it--you don't even get that on most DVDs of US movies).
Finally, if all that wasn't enough, there's a gallery of production sketches with background music from the movie... and we're not talking one or two partial pieces, either--this is the entire soundtrack, an hour and 16 glorious minutes long. Again, it would have been perfect if there had been chapter breaks to let you skip between pieces, but the sheer volume of music (and accompanying art) is truly impressive.
That covers the extras, but what about the actual movie? Well, although it's a "digitally remastered" widescreen (and anamorphic) video transfer, it doesn't really look all that good. To be fair, this is a pretty old movie and it certainly blows any VHS tape out of the water, but the video looked rather harsh. For one thing, although much of it was smooth and crisp, some of the scenes with darker colors seemed to have a lot of subtle noise; nothing severe, but noticeable if you're paying attention. Also, the video looked just a little out of focus or oversaturated; the lines weren't quite as sharp as I'd like to see. Again, this really isn't anything severe, but considering the near-perfection of the rest of the disc, it was quite disappointing. Final nit-pick: the video seems to be interlaced, which is completely unnecessary on a proper film transfer. The audio is a better story; the Japanese track is only the original stereo but is quite crisp, and it features a remastered English Dolby 5.1 score. Oh, and the subtitles are literal English, not dubtitles--quite important considering how much the dialogue differs between the two.
In all, the video gets the job done, but is far from spectacular (though if you ask me not as bad as the vitriolic outcry from the anime videophile community would have you believe.) The extra features, on the other hand, make this disc a thing of beauty for just about anybody interested in what's going on behind the scenes of an anime production, and an absolute must have for any fan of this movie.
There was a much later DVD sold in a box set (ironically, and cruelly, not as a standalone volume) with the Blu-ray and HD-DVD special editions produced by the film's namesake, Bandai's art-house label Honneamise. While it has remastered video, it actually lacks most of the special features, a huge disappointment--assuming you have a Blu-ray player to watch the high-def version, just chuck the included DVD and replace it with the old one.
Mostly suitable even for younger viewers (though maybe not to their taste) with the exception of one or two scenes. I would probably call it 13-up, though 16-up isn't out of the question.
Violence: 3 - One very realistic but brief fight, and some large-scale battle sequences, plus one attempted rape (more complicated than that sounds).
Nudity: 2 - One brief scene.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - The above scene, plus a bit of raunch in a red light district.
Language: 2 - Nothing unusual.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Shirotsugu Ladhatt: Leo Morimoto
Riqunni Nonderaiko: Mitsuki Yayoi
Manna: Aya Murata
Kharock: Masato Hirano
Domorhot: Yoshitaka Suzuoki
Darigan: Hiroshi Izawa
Tehalliehammi: Hoiji Totani
Nekkerout: Yoshito Yasuhara
Yanatan: Bin Shimada
Majaho: Masahiro Anzai
General Khaidenn: Minoru Uchida
Space Force Trainer: Shozo Iizuka
Dr. Gnomm: Chikao Otsuka
Prof. Dekro: Hiroh Oikawai
Prof. Ronta: Ryuzi Saikachi
Aristocrat A: Goro Naya
Aristocrat B: Mikio Terashima
Aristocrat C: Tetsuya Kaji
Funeral Priestess: Kazuko Makino
Man in Bar: Atsushi Goto
Woman in Bar: Masako Katsuki
Prostitute: Yuko Kobayashi
Test Film Narrator: Reiko Seno
Air Force Pilot: Ritsuo Sawa
ATC Voice: Takao Ishii
Airman A: Ichiro Murakoshi
Airman B: Keisuke Yamashita
Airman C: Kazuo Hayashi
Denta: Tetsuya Yamazaki
Other Voices: Theatre Echo
Nerredon: Willy Dorsey
War Room Announcer: Steve Felper
Intelligence Man: Don Whittiker
Secretary Fizanki Belloto
Refueling Plane Voice: William Roberts
Republic Newscaster: Dora Cotrell
Radio Comedian A: Anton Whikey
Radio Comedian B: Osman Sancon
Honneamise Newscaster: Kazuo Tokumitsu
Prince Toness: Kazuo Kumakura
Producers: Ken Iyadomi, Keiji Kusanao, Yutaka Maseba, Taro Yoshida
Director/Screenplay: Hiroyuki Yamaga
Character Design: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Animation Directors: Hideaki Anno, Yuji Moriyama, Fumio Iida, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Art Director: Hiromasa Ogura
Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Animation by GAINAX