The Wings of Honneamise
Alternative Titles: Oritsu Uchuugun – Honneamise no Tsubasa (Japanese), Royal Space Force, Star Quest, Wing of Royal Space Troop Honneamise
Label: Manga Video
Running Time: 125 minutes
Genre: Sci-Fri, Drama
Age Category: 13+
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 travelling among the stars come true…
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, imaginative plot, and an astoundingly intricate world all combine to make this film a masterpiece in its own right.
The story is probably too slow for some (the only major thing you could possibly complain about), but the pacing is steady and the relative leisure lends a realistic feel to it, as does just about every other aspect of the production. In fact, almost everything in the movie seems realistic and almost totally believable. Even the very different yet somehow familiar setting, a world on the brink of either its first steps into space or complete destruction in a war (much like our world’s real space race) feel solid and surprisingly real. From the politics to the vehicles right down to funeral customs and ticket vending machines, every detail is carefully constructed and completely believable. It’s like travelling to another country not so much different from your own; things are definitely not the same, but it’s a real place, and real people live there. Just exploring this world would be enough fun for some of us, but that’s nowhere near all the movie has to offer.
Another of Honneamise‘s strong points is the humour. If you pay attention, much of the early part of the movie is practically a comedy (though it’s definitely not at home in that genre), albeit an extremely subtle one. The frequent humour (not outright jokes, but funny situations and offhand comments) was always executed in a low-key, deadpan style that made it easy to miss, but really was quite amusing if you pay attention.
Getting back on track, the leisurely plot is quite effective at capturing the mundane, everyday acts that lead toward lofty goals like space flight. But another effect it has is to make the characters that much more real. Real people sometimes take a moment to think, and Honneamise gives them time to do it. Partly as a result, this movie isn’t just an analogy of the real-world space race or a believable but inspiring tale of the human drive for adventure and exploration–it is also a sort of character study.
There are really only two main characters, and the two of them are as detailed as their world and as subtly fascinating. On one end of the spectrum, 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.
Note that this isn’t a simple love story by any stretch; the relationship is much more complicated than that. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet… but I wanted to mention that while the attempted rape scene was a very uncomfortable one, it was not gratuitous or unnecessary and spoke volumes about the characters: it brought forward Shirotsugu’s painfully human weakness, frustration with his life, and his hedonistic way of looking at the world. It also illustrated the honest and serious nature of Riqunni’s religious beliefs and resulting willingness to forgive, not to mention clarified unspoken volumes about the nature of their relationship. It no doubt seemed confusing or unnecessary to some, but if you really pay attention to the aftermath, you’ll probably see that it both made sense and peeled 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.
The character interaction also brings 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 this movie 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.
In all, the humour, the allegory of modern chaos versus a simple 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 it’s 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 it’s simplest form that it becomes something truly unique.
The leisure with which the story unfolded may not appeal to some, but as far as I’m concerned, the only real downside to the whole movie (and I don’t consider the slow pacing to be anything of the sort) was the last couple of minutes of the film; although the basic message of the end was clear, it was unnecessarily abrupt and unsatisfying (though that may have been intentional), and the semi-abstract imagery (which seemed to owe a little to the end of 2001, which I also didn’t like) was at odds with the solidity of the rest of the movie and seemed to serve no purpose other than 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. (To be fair, the director, in the commentary track, explains that the end wasn’t intended to be as inconclusive as it turned out.)
Technically speaking, Wings of Honneamise is gorgeous, but as subtle as the plot. The art used to depict the world, along with its visual and remarkably functional design, is always finely drawn and detailed, without ever feeling unnatural. The character designs are slightly on the realistic side of classic anime, and generally appealing. The animation itself is fluid, and always realistic – the character animation in particular is beautiful, the sole action sequence is exciting, the war scenes are on par with news footage of the real thing, and the rocket launch is practically out of old Apollo mission footage. Again, much of the art and animation is understated, but if you look closely, particularly at the character animation, you’ll be rewarded.
The acting in the Japanese version is very good. Ladhatt in particular is a standout, voiced by the well-known Japanese live action actor Morimoto Leo, who turns in a wonderfully believable and very understated performance throughout. Morimoto’s low-key delivery gives life and likeability to the character and perfectly captures both apathy and eventual drive, not to mention the deadpan humour of the story. Yayoi Mitsuki (the voice behind Riqunni and also not known for anime), although not nearly as distinctive, is still understated and believable. The English acting is somewhat less remarkable; not terribly well cast (Ladhatt in particular sounds rather nasal) and passably but not particularly well acted. The only standout performance was behind Riqunni – gentle and believable. The dialogue in the English version is worth mentioning; they were trying very hard to make it sound deep, but it was a little on the cheesy side at times, and it differed quite a bit from the original. There were no major plot changes, but a lot of the details were messed around with and most of the conversations flowed somewhat differently.
The music was scored by Oscar-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto, and although it wasn’t terribly noticeable while watching, the compositions were very much in tune with the movie and it’s world: simultaneously alien and familiar, subtly inspiring and beautiful. Definitely worth a listen. My only, very minor, complaint was the fact that most of it sounded synthesized (which seemed to be an only partially successful attempt to create sounds unlike instruments from earth, and was a bit disappointing considering the richness of the rest of the production), but that did not 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.