Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Against the backdrop of an alternative reality, conspicuously similar to our own and at war with itself. An uninspired pilot wannabe by name of Shirotsugh has landed himself in the ridiculed Royal Space Force. His life is a hell of monotony, an unexciting routine of daily dredge until the purity of a young religious woman sets him on course to take the reigns of the RSF's first plausible attempt at a manned space flight.
Few releases are as overdue to Madman's DVD catalogue as this. Royal Space Force - The Wings of Honnêamise was released in the USA on the then new format back during the tail end of the 90's, and since the film had been a revered (if simultaneously underappreciated) cornerstone of the Manga label that dominated the Australian anime scene for the bulk of the VHS period, everyone just assumed that the film would be released sooner or later with sooner the more likely of the two. Many people really wanted it, too. But the US release was notorious for a terrible video transfer, and Madman head Tim Anderson himself seemed to be personally adverse to the idea of releasing the film in such a state.
So here we are, nearing the end of yet another decade at a time where Blu Ray has won over its HD rival in the race for yet another standard video format, and Honneamise is finally released on the reliable and (dare we say) old DVD format.
Has it been worth the wait? Well, it kind of has been by default – this is a film that went over the heads of many younger anime fans, probably thanks to its cloying pace and muted colours. But was appreciated as a slice of gifted, mature cinema by many older fans. As the nature of time would have it, many of those younger fans are now at least a good decade older and many are likely to discover a quality they weren't able to detect back when they first wished they were watching Cyber City Oedo instead. There's also the consideration that anime's influence has spread beyond its initial niche this decade, thanks in no small part to the mainstream reception and critical praise of Spirited Away, and that there is now a level of acceptance within serious film culture that would have struggled for air a mere ten years ago. Oh, and the simple fact that it remains a masterful piece of animation: meticulous in its attention to detail, focused in its storytelling and uncompromising in its ambition and aspirations.
Typical of much of its medium's brethren, Honneamise sets itself in a foreign world as war with itself, and then proceeds to use the conflict of such a setting primarily as a backdrop for a character study rather than the concrete foundation of overall topic and narrative. The study in this particular case casts its primary eye upon Shirotsugh Lhadatt, an apathetic young man whose life has entered an early period of stagnation as a result of not having studied hard enough to make aspirations of being a pilot anything more than a childhood fantasy. Caught up in the ridiculed and practically redundant Royal Space Force, he and his equally weary chums go through the motions of whittling away each day without so much as an attempt to inject them with any sort of greater meaning or purpose beyond hitting the town to blow the odd pay packet and attempt to get laid.
It's on the town that this well-established dredge is suddenly rattled up when a young, not particularly attractive woman of religious intent standing in the middle of a bustling city trying to distribute leaflets to uncaring masses, somehow attains Shiro's attention. He shows up to a prayer meeting and is inspired in such a way that a whole new road is placed before both him and his colleagues – one on a steep slope, but with a destination worth striving for.
More than the religion itself, it is the purity of young Riquinni's wishes and concerns that inspires Shiro and gives him the drive to volunteer for the first manned space flight. Although he is never taken in by her beliefs, he admires her desires and wishes, and it is his inspiration, confusion and uncertain yet excited ambition that drives both the core narrative and theme.
The narrative is one that is told at its own pace – a pace more concerned with establishing the traits and beliefs of its familiar-yet-subtly-different world than it is with rushing from one point to the next. It was a bold move for anime then and, despite the occasional celebrated feature film output that has come along since, remains a bold move for anime today. Honneamise is, if it is to be stamped with a conventional genre, nothing more elaborate than a character drama. There are moments of action, moments of tension and moments of conspiracy, but they all help to serve this simple, but ultimately rewarding focus.
A focus on character and society brought to life through some of the most amazing animation ever seen. Perhaps, as far as Japanese output is concerned, only the revered Akira moves with a level of fluidity that surpasses what Gainax achieved with their debut feature, but even Otomo's magnum opus fails to match the loving detail and small intricacies on display in Honneamise. Characters and world alike behave with a sense of weighted believability: at once realistic and abstract, the concoction presented is a sublime unification of the visceral and the emotional. When a character walks, there is personality in their stride, and when something explodes or erupts, each and every frame feels charged with the energy of the blast.
The result of Gainax's efforts and the risks taken is a film that, while not immediately successful, has remained a revered classic. And rightly so – this film's subject and lack of diversion is unique not only in the world of anime but in that of feature film at large. Honneamise is an overdue release for more reasons than merely being late – it's a film that people should see, and one that they will hopefully at least respect even if they initially struggle to enjoy it. The quality of the transfer is acceptable and not much more, but the extras are surprisingly strong for a single disc release and those who wish their viewing experience in English will be pleased to know that the dub was one of the few from Manga's heyday to feature genuinely nuanced, enthusiastic performances.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A+
+ Beautiful animation, rich characters and sincere ambition.
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