Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise
November 28th, 2011
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise is the 16th episode of Anime Abandon, and the first positive (critical) review of an anime since Ghost in the Shell. The episode was originally released to That Guy With The Glasses on November 28th, 2011, and later to YouTube on July 9th, 2014.
In this episode, Sage takes a look at an often-forgotten GAINAX classic: their first feature-length work, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise. This is one of Sage's favorite movies because of how it mixes various themes within the framing of a science-fiction epic.
(Anime Abandon opening, and we fade in on Sage.)
Sage: There’s something romantic about the prospect of space travel. Perhaps it’s the notion of going where no man has been before or perhaps it’s the more abstract thought of exploring the fringes of the known world and beyond. It’s this mixture of romanticism and high science that endears me to space travel and astronomy (holds up today’s subject)…and by extension, The Wings of Honneamise.
(Cut to the film footage with the soundtrack cut, “Out to Space.”)
Sage (VO): I can’t think of another movie—let alone an anime—that so thoroughly mixes the compelling trappings of science fiction with the equally compelling human element of a character study. If Wings were just about the trials and tribulations of making the first manned space flight, then I think it wouldn’t be this compulsively watchable. It’s at once a coming-of-age story, a political thriller, and an anti-war film on top of being a meticulously designed sci-fi fantasy epic.
Sage: Wings of Honneamise is this close to being my favorite anime film of all time, I really like it that much. Now…I realize that me talking about this film in-depth would probably negate my overall message of getting people to see this film. I mean, after all, why would anyone go see a film when they already know what happens, right? So I’m only going to keep myself to talking about the overall film and paying attention to only specific scenes here and there in no particular linearity. I guess the best place to start would be…hmm…of course, the plot.
Sage (VO): Honneamise follows the story of Shirotsugh Lhadatt, but he goes by Shiro for most of the movie. After barely graduating from school and failing to make it into the navy, Shiro finds himself in the Royal Space Force, which is not as impressive as the title makes it sound. Most of the Space Force’s members are either lethargic bums or frustrated old scientists and officers. Almost no one takes the Space Force seriously, as few see the practicality of having a space force in the first place, given that the government, the eponymous Kingdom of Honneamise, is mainly an industrial nation that thrives off the current war economy.
The societal apathy takes a toll on Shiro, and after attending the funeral of a fellow cadet, he becomes rather disillusioned with his position in life. That is, until he happens upon a woman named Riquinni handing out religious leaflets. Hoping to find some kind of deeper meaning to his existence, Shiro befriends Riquinni and bonds over his being in the Space Force. Unlike most that Shiro has met, Riquinni is genuinely interested in the Space Force, and the future it can lead the world to.
Riquinni: Then you’re a soldier?
Shiro: Right! Well…yeah, sort of. We don’t fight, though. They’re supposed to send us into space.
Riquinni: The stars? Could that really be possible?
Shiro: Yeah, that’s what they said.
Riquinni: Oh, what a wonderful job!
Riquinni: That’s so beautiful! An untouched place among the stars, to be completely free of all the troubles that are plaguing our world!
Shiro: (gulps) I guess our Force is…unique.
Sage: That little speech right there probably took otaku aback when they first saw it. I mean, for the longest time, female leads in anime—at least the ones that made it Stateside—were never portrayed in such a way! Most of the time they were either like this…
(Cut to Angel Cop)
Angel: Don’t look so surprised, I’m yer fuckin’ backup!
Sage: Or…let’s face it, any given female character in Mad Bull 34. Now for those of you that have seen Honneamise and feel compelled to bring up a certain scene to contradict what I’m saying here…I’m gonna bring it up myself, so please, don’t waste your time.
(Cut back to the film, with some footage from Rocky II interspersed)
Sage (VO): To be honest, I can’t help but draw parallels between Riquinni and Shiro’s on-screen relationship and Adrian and Rocky’s from Rocky. Riquinni and Shiro never become romantically involved—(smash cut back to Sage)
Sage (somewhat annoyed): Again, I’ll bring up the scene, just be patient!
(Cut back to Rocky II, and later to Honneamise)
Sage (VO): But they do follow the same kind of arc Adrian and Rocky went through. Much like how Adrian gave Rocky purpose and support in his otherwise bleak and downtrodden existence, so too does Riquinni provide the same kind of support and drive to compel Shiro to take pride in his job, and better himself. So much so, in fact, that he’s the only one in his entire division that volunteers for the dangerous duty of becoming the new test pilot for their as-of-yet built rocket. Needless to say, his reputation for being as unprofessional as all the other cadets precedes him.
General Khaidenn: You’re…uhh…you’re uh, Shir-uhh…
Shiro: Shirotsugh! Shirotsugh Lhadatt, sir!
Khaidenn: Ah…yes. Lhadatt…and…is there anyone else? No. OK, very well then!
Sage: That’s another thing Honneamise had that no other anime did way back when: subtle humor. As culturally-based and subjective as humor can be, anything that isn’t immediately obvious can be lost in translation. So credit to the dub for keeping intact the subtlety and nuances of the movie’s more lighthearted moments.
(Cut back to the film)
Shiro: I’ve lost my concentration as well, I can’t think, I can’t eat--(shrieks as a spider climbs up his arm).
Sage (VO): On a side note here, for those of you who that thought I was stretching the Rocky and Adrian allegory from earlier, just wait until you see the training montage.
(Cut to said montage, with the appropriate Rocky music, and then cut back to Sage)
Sage: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t make this episode to poke fun at the movie, but…when the opportunity presents itself like this, I gotta take it.
Sage (VO): As Shiro prepares to be the first man in space, he’s reluctantly thrust into the role of national icon, not because of what his planned flight means for the country, but rather to distract the public from the immense amount of money being spent on the project…which only slightly works. As the face of the expedition, Shiro is pounded with harsh questions and words from the public who believe the flight is a waste of resources that could go towards providing for the struggling citizens of Honneamise. Additionally, the fact that the money going towards this project is coming from dubious sources weighs heavily on Shiro. And if that weren’t enough, he’s also become a target for sabotage and attempted assassination by Honneamise’s enemies.
He spends less and less time in the barracks and more with Riquinni and an orphan that she takes care of named Mana. Unfortunately—and much to Shiro’s chagrin—it seems that Riquinni wants their relationship to remain platonic.
Shiro: Can’t you have fun? I think that by now you and God should’ve worked out some kind of compromise.
Riquinni: Oh you do?!
Shiro (a bit taken aback): Come on, be reasonable!
Riquinni: What do you mean, “be reasonable?” The world is all messed up because…because of that kind of compromise!
Shiro: What is so bad about that?
(Riquinni gives a heavy sigh, and we cut back to a cringing Sage. It seems the time has come for the scene in question.)
Sage: All right…I guess I can’t avoid it for much longer. Remember when I said that Honneamise was this close to being my favorite anime film of all time? Well…there’s this one…particular notorious scene that keeps it from being my favorite. Spoilers ahead, by the way.
(Cut back to the film and the scene in question)
Sage (VO): With the situation rapidly deteriorating around him, Shiro abandons the Space Force to ostensibly squat at Riquinni’s home. His mounting frustration finally takes hold of him one night and he forces himself onto Riquinni. He manages to stop himself, but Riquinni justifiably clocks him in the side of the head.
Sage: This scene obviously stirs up some vile feelings in the viewer, not just because of the violent act itself, but up until now, we’ve come to see Shiro as a good person; certainly not someone capable of sexually assaulting a woman. To see such a reprehensible act committed in such a spontaneous way is nothing short of puzzling.
(Cut back to the scene)
Sage (VO): In analyzing this scene, I don’t want to come off like I’m defending its presence, but I do want to understand its placement in the narrative. We see afterward that Riquinni feels remorse for hitting Shiro and apologizes, but when Shiro insists he should be the one asking for her forgiveness, she won’t hear of it.
Riquinni: I’m so sorry, I can’t even believe I did that. You are such a good person. I didn’t hurt you, did I? Shiro, you have to accept my apology. You-you will, won’t you?
Shiro: Huh? No, it was me!
Riquinni: No, Shiro. You have to find it in your heart to forgive me, or otherwise I’ll never be able to forgive myself. I have to go.
Sage: Initially, I felt this was akin to a battered housewife mentality, but the more I thought about her and her religion, the more I think she’s trying to atone for violence.
(Cut to a scene where Riquinni and Shiro are looking at the stars. Soundtrack cut is “Fade.”)
Sage (VO): Throughout the film, she’s heard lamenting on the violent world that the both of them live in, and hope for a brighter and peaceful future that she believes Shiro can guide people to through the Space Force.
Sage: I like to believe that she’s not apologizing so much for hurting him, but resorting to the type of behavior that she detests so much. She longs for forgiveness, not only on a personal level, but also on a global scale.
(Cut back to the same scene)
Riquinni: I think I understand now. From out there, stars can’t tell the difference of what we’ve done. Please forgive us. Dear God, can you ever forgive us for showing the stars the fires of so many wars?
Sage: As for Shiro not being able to control himself, I think this makes much more sense, characteristically speaking, when you consider what happens in the next few scenes.
(Cut to a chase scene towards the end of the movie)
Sage (VO): Shiro is relentlessly pursued by an assassin, to the point of being chased by a street sweeper.
Sage: OK, more than a little silly, but keep with me here!
(Cut back to the chase scene)
Sage (VO): He manages to get on board the hood and take on the assassin, but instead of going for a kill shot with his knife, he instead targets a non-vital part in his leg. He initially cannot bring himself to kill someone, even when that person is after his very life.
His action mirrors Riquinni’s, as both are hesitant to lash out, even towards people who are physically threatening them. But it’s only when a gun is shot at him does Shiro go for the chest with full force. We get the impression that Shiro is a man of moral principle…but he is capable of caving in if the pressure is great enough.
Sage: Still…I can’t deny that the scene itself is jarring and…worst of all repugnant. It’s an ugly scene in an otherwise beautiful film. And it’s because of this beauty that I can’t let one scene ruin an otherwise great film. Would Honneamise be better without this scene? Undoubtedly, but it’s there and there’s little we can do about it. You know…outside of a fan edit.
(Cut to scenes showing off the world of the movie)
Sage (VO): One of the more subtle effects of Honneamise is how well the story is able to sell its setting. It’s easy to see that this is not the world that we live in, but the many eccentricities and oddities that populate this world are as identifiable as everyday objects in our world. While the setting can be labeled “steampunk,” there’s an element of clashing futurism to it as well. Cities are bathed in neon lights, but computational mechanisms run on analog input.
The setting mirrors the society of Honneamise: it is a culture that has the cold and purely intellectual understanding to create mechanical marvels to pursue profitable battles and wars, but lacks the creative spirit and imagination to achieve wondrous feats of exploration. If there is no practical use, then it’s simply not created.
(Cut to a Ken Burns of Albert Einstein)
Albert Einstein once wrote in his book, Cosmic Religion,
“I believe in intuition and inspiration. Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”
(Cut back to the film)
Though I don’t completely agree with his assessment—after all, without knowledge, imagination will only stay imaginary—inspiration and other intangibles are fundamental to the scientific process. It’s this idea that drives the wonderment and, in a strange way, the theological impact of Shiro’s physical and emotional journey.
Over the course of the film, we see Shiro evolve from a directionless, alienated drifter to a driven and learned man. At first, he’s only able to understand the basic theory of his trip in a broad, simplified thought experiment.
Shiro: It’s common sense: you throw a rock, it falls to the ground. You throw it harder, straight at the horizon, it falls to the ground again, but…further away. You take another rock, and you throw it even harder, and then it will reach a speed that won’t let it fall. That’s when the rock has an orbit…above the atmosphere, falling always, along the curve of the planet. Even a slight deceleration…and it’ll fall to the ground.
Sage (VO): But by the end—and going into spoiler territory here—he leads the entire team into going through with the launch, even when the armies of Honneamise’s enemies are within distance of shooting the rocket down. As the rocket lifts into the sky, the fighting on both sides stops, and every soldier and citizen watch with wonder as Shiro becomes the first man to pierce the heavens. All alone in the realm no man had touched before, he sends a broadcast to the entire planet, and says a prayer to ask for God’s forgiveness.
Personally speaking, I’m agnostic and I hold no real belief or deity, but I can understand how powerful and necessary faith can be to people. To Honneamise’s immense credit, the religion that Riquinni preaches and Shiro adopts is pretty universal, and its history and principles are only marginally detailed. The film doesn’t force the need for religion to guide humanity to peace, but offers it as a possible avenue, along with a pursuit of science to better mankind.
This final triumph marks the end of Shiro’s arc and the end of the movie. While we are left uncertain as to what effect Shiro’s message has on the world, whether it was heard and took to heart or ignored, but we are also left with the iconic image of his satellite still in orbit over the world. A figurative watcher in the sky, looking down on the people too small to see.
Sage: Honneamise has the most complete and fulfilling story arc I’ve ever seen in an anime film. The message and religious themes can be seen as a little hokey, and the voice acting can be uneven, but I cannot help myself from loving this film.
(Cut once again to the final scene)
Sage (VO): I know that a lot of what I talk about on this show is mainly bad shlock titles that are either so horrible they’re hilarious or so horrible that they’re just painful to sit through, but there’s a reason why I keep coming back to this era of anime over and over again. It’s movies like this that remind me of why I first saw anime in the first place, and it takes me back.
(Cut to Sage, holding up the Manga Entertainment DVD release)
Sage: If I haven’t made it clear by this point, see this movie. See. This. Movie. You owe yourself the favor, trust me.
(Sage puts the DVD down and reaches for something else)
Sage: Well, it’s getting to be THAT time of the year again. So get the egg nog out, and have the Pepto-Bismol on standby (he takes off his flat cap for a Santa Claus hat), because next episode, we will be tackling one of the most heinous Christmas specials that Japan has ever shat out.
(Sage holds up The Love Hina Christmas Special, and gives a heavy sigh)
Sage: ’Til next time…