Wings of Honneamise: Royal Space Force (1987 IMDb)

Categorization

Theatrical feature animation. A gritty philosophical tale of humankind's first manned flight into space, though not from the Earth we know. Very expensive box-office failure (not a dramatic flop), directed by the 25-year-old Yamaga Hiroyuki. Anno Hideaki is one of many animation directors.

Subject

A planet where every single detail except humanity itself is different in some way, and yet everything is put together as rationally as in our world, under the same natural laws. In the rough technological equivalent of our 1950s and 1960s, a mediocre deadbeat fails in his grand ambition of becoming a pilot. His name is Shirotsugh, and he joins the Royal Space Force of his country of Honneamise because it would almost be like flying, if it worked.

The little-known and cash-strapped project is run by a nobleman who has himself failed to become a historian. A fundamentalist inspires Shirotsugh to volunteer for the first manned flight into space when that's still only a distant possibility. Through the long switchback of technological development, political corruption and popular resistance, commercial exploitation, dark religion, personal problems and international intrigue that follows, Shirotsugh realizes that this is what people have always been doing.

Commentary

Almost the Citizen Kane (1941) of animation. Some aspects are mind-blowing in imaginative realism. The whole concept is great: Using high-grade animation for a long and very serious SF film that is in fact scientific (though a couple of corners are cut), but not futuristic. The philosophical and dramatic aspects fit right in, and even the music's good. The pacing problems that seemed so evident the first couple of times I saw it are no longer noticeable. Pretty much the only thing left to bother me is occasionally goofy character design. Based on a short story by the director.

This represents so much of Gainax in my mind: esoteric in concept and sufficiently ambitious in execution to give the industry a kick in the pants, though the industry felt little this time around.

References here: Daicon IV Opening Animation (1983), Gunbuster: Aim for the Top! (1988), Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988), Planetes (2003), Blue Blazes (2014), Hidden Figures (2016).

Anno Hideaki Gainax Japanese production Yamaga Hiroyuki animation movie