Our current examination of anime films now takes us to what is widely regarded as one of the most important movies in anime history.
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise was released in 1987, directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga and was the first film to be made by one of the greatest anime production companies, Gainax. It was actually the company’s very first commercial work. Unfortunately for them at the time it was a flop in Japan and it took ages for the company to recoup their losses. However, The Wings of Honnêamise is now seen as one of the best anime films ever made, and to some as the best anime film of all.
The film takes place in a parallel version of the Earth. It was not too dissimilar to our world at the time: for example, like the Earth of 1987, it consisted of two major superpowers that were at loggerheads with each other: the Kingdom of Honnêamise, and “The Republic”. Both were on the verge of declaring war on each other and there is fear among the population.
The lead character, lazy Shirotsugh “Shiro” Lhadatt, is a guy from Honnêamise who wanted to be in the Air Force when he was younger but failed to make the grade so he ended up in the Space Force, which is seen as trivial by most people in the country. The Space Force has seen many of their members die in botched space flights and many people wish to stop the space programme and either use the money saved to support their defence or the poor. Following the death of one friend, Shiro becomes even lazier, but then he comes across a woman street preacher named Riquinni Nonderaiko. Riquinni helps to inspire Shiro to motivate himself. Thus, Shiro volunteers for the next mission: to become the first human in space.
The story charts Shiro’s trials as he trains himself to become the first spaceman. However, it is not just the physical and mental strain. He has to face problems from his country’s politicians who want to see the Space Force’s budget slashed or to be rid of altogether; fights off assassination attempts from The Republic; and battles against protests from his fellow countrymen who wish to see the money be used for what they see as more charitable purposes. Shiro even faces temptation from Riquinni, even trying to rape her, which results in their relationship breaking down for a while but then she forgives him.
Eventually the rocket is good to launch, but Honnêamise’s government decides to launch the rocket in a demilitarised zone in the hope of provoking The Republic into war, which it does. However, Shiro is determined to carry out the mission, hoping that it will spread peace.
The Wings of Honnêamise is widely regarded as one of the greatest anime movies ever made. Just about everything about the film has been praised: the story, the animation, the character design, even the little details. For example, the technology used in this version of Earth is often commented on. They have things which we would consider to be TVs, guns or motor vehicles, all of them work differently to the way they do in our world. For example, there are motorbikes that work using a cord that is akin to that on an outboard motor. It is not like a futuristic sci-fi world. It is just our world that took a slightly different turn.
You then have the messages of the film: it is about space travel, it is about religion, it is about war and peace. You have all these different ideas played out in the space of two hours. Then you have the end sequence which sees Shiro’s whole life, and indeed the history of humanity flashing before him.
But despite being one of the most critically acclaimed anime ever, it failed at the box office at the time. It was so expensive to make (¥800million – £4.4million) that this 1987 film would not break even until 1994. Despite this in 1992 Gainax tried to make a sequel set 50 years into the future called Uru in Blue, but a year later production stopped when they ran out of money.
However, this failure led to another success for Gainax. The person who had been put in charge of directing Uru in Blue was the man who did the special effects on The Wings of Honnêamise. The man in question was Hideaki Anno, who was mentioned in last week’s column covering The Diary of Ochibi (No. 104). With Anno now freed from this project he was able to work with other people on new projects, based on Uru in Blue. The result was one of the greatest TV anime ever made: Neon Genesis Evangelion (No. 21).
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise thus should be remember not just for being a great movie in its own right, but being the foundation stone for all of the work Gainax would eventually make. Not just Evangelion, but visually-stunning mecha series Gunbuster (No. 24), the surreal FLCL (No. 7), the gross-out Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (No. 19), and my favourite anime of all Gurren Lagann (No. 50).
But if you are saddened by the fact that a sequel failed to be made, don’t worry. In 2013 it was announced that Uru in Blue wold be produced, albeit without Anno’s involvement, so it looks like we can expect a revival.
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by All the Anime.