Review of Wings of Honneamise: Royal Space Force (1987)

Moving picture, 121 minutes

Anno Hideaki (animation director), Yamaga Hiroyuki (director).

Uru: 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 deadbeat fails in his grand ambition: To become 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, popular resistance, commercial exploitation, dark religion, personal problems and international intrigue that follows, Shirotsugh realizes that this is what people have always been doing.

Theatrical feature animation. A gritty philosophical tale of humankind’s first manned flight into space—though not from the Earth we know—it was an expensive box-office failure. The young studio recouped its losses through home video. Directed by Yamaga at age 25, from his own short story. Anno was one of many animation directors.

Trigger warning for the horrible crime of attempted rape, which is germane to the theme and treated with appropriate gravity. This motif has nonetheless made the film infamous in US fandom, partly because the English-language dub handled it poorly by implying the victim takes responsibility. The Japanese script has no such implication.

Originally called only Royal Space Force, this film is almost the Citizen Kane (1941) of animation. Some aspects are mind-blowing in imaginative realism; Yamaga has stated that he intended for the film to make its audience of animation geeks love reality by filtering it through an alien culture. 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.

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. In 1992, a project to make a sequel called Uru in Blue (Blue Uru) died on the vine due to profound economic problems at the studio following the closing of General Products. I can dream of what that project could have been, besides a completely unnecessary sequel.

References here: Nerd argues about distinction between fantasy and science fiction, “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), Violet Evergarden (2018).

moving picture Gainax Japanese production animation fiction