Reviewby Theron Martin,
The Wings of Honneamise
DVD - HDDVD/DVD Combo
In a world on the verge of the Space Age, an average man from an average background named Shirotsugh Lhadatt finds himself stuck in the little-respected Royal Space Force of the kingdom of Honneamise when he lacks the grades to become an Air Force pilot. Unmotivated by an occasionally dangerous profession generally treated as a joke, one evening Shiro happens across Riquinni, a poor, deeply religious young woman handing out religious pamphlets. In her Shiro finds the inspiration to strive towards space and volunteer to become his world's first astronaut. But the path to space is fraught with obstacles, whether it be justifying the funding necessary to (literally) get the project off the ground, interference from foreign powers who see the effort as a threat, or protestors and journalists unhappy that money is being spent (in their eyes) so frivolously.
First, let's get the negatives out of the way: Bandai Visual has once again shown a lack of full understanding of American market forces and done a great disservice to the body of North American anime fans in the way they have marketed this title. That they could honestly think that the 20th anniversary rerelease of this classic movie would sell best with an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray version packaged with the normal DVD version – and only available that way – boggles the mind even more than its out-of-the-reach-of-most-fans price point. Why is this title not available separately in HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, and regular DVD versions?
The marketing of this release is even more of a travesty because Wings of Honneamise is one of those rare anime titles which should be in the collection of any anime fan, regardless of your normal tastes. It holds historical significance within anime because Gainax was founded to make it (its creators needed a formal company to hold the funding), and while its original 1987 release was a financial failure, its successful video release helped demonstrate the potential of the emerging Japanese anime video market. It also, over time, established itself as an enduring classic which has impressed even mainstream American movie critics with its merits. But there's a better reason every anime fan should see it: it's just that good.
That a group of talented but unestablished young animators and garage kits makers were able to convince Bandai to give them the equivalent of $8 million (an unheard-of sum for an anime production at the time) to make an original sci fi movie with no ready product tie-ins is a story unto itself, but not half as remarkable as what they actually put on film. Every one of Bandai's yen can be seen in the faultlessly smooth and multilayered animation, extraordinary attention to artistic detail, and vibrant use of color and special visual effects. The richly cluttered backgrounds are a wonder to behold, and the sheer inventiveness of the setting has to be admired; art director Hiromasa Ogura didn't just copy some real-world culture and tweak a few details, he borrowed ideas from cultures around the world in crafting a thoroughly unique setting with its own distinctive technology, uniforms, and architectural aesthetics, down even to minor details. Character designs feature the big faces and button noses characteristic of the time period of its manufacture, and some do stray a bit into caricature, but both their features and apparel combine to create detailed and interesting looks. A quality bit of fan service (albeit in an especially distasteful scene) doesn't hurt, either.
All of the visual splendor would feel empty without a quality story to flesh it out, and in that department, too, Wings delivers big-time. Its writing is a spectacular effort of crisp detail layered with subtle philosophical and sociological underpinnings. Here can be found two intertwined stories: one involving the complexities of putting together the first ever manned space flight, the other about one man's efforts to find a purpose for his life and see it through despite the enormous obstacles that lay in his way, including his own faults. The writing does not shirk from delving into the many practical obstructions inherent in the efforts to put a man in space, and neither does it follow the well-tread anime path of glorifying effort or success through personal determination. Its lead character shows his flaws as thoroughly as any later Gainax hero or heroine does; at a loss for purpose at first, Shiro must find his inspiration from Riquinni, and one shocking scene midway through demonstrates that he is all too vulnerable to the normal foibles that plague men. But persevere he does, which leads to a climatic launch that ranks amongst the greatest individual moments ever put into any anime production. The words Shiro speak while circling the planet, whether taken in Japanese or English, provide a masterstroke finishing touch by gathering together everything Shiro has seen and experienced into one heartfelt – but by no means sappy – appeal.
Regrettably the top-caliber effort seen in the artistry and writing does not carry through to the musical score. The soundtrack isn't so much bad as only sporadically effective and occasionally even distracting. This content, especially around the climatic scene, cries out for full, elegant orchestration, but instead we get cheap-sounding synthesized music. Just to hear it, one would never guess that it was composed by a well-known figure who would become an Oscar winner for a different project that same year.
The English dub, done by Animaze on behalf of Manga Entertainment, also lacks the brilliance of most other production components but should be passable for those who normally tolerate dubs. Weakest in the role of Riquinni, it finds much better casting and performance in the key role of Shiro while placing the other performances somewhere in between. The English script only vaguely follows the Japanese script most of the time and occasionally says something entirely different, though it does not fundamentally alter any crucial aspect of the story.
The regular DVD version offers two on-disc extras: a Japanese theatrical teaser which so misrepresents the movie that it may explain why the movie was not an initial commercial success, and a 4-minute pilot film which features some scenes and characters that never found their way into the final product. The regular disc has been given a 16:9 anamorphic format with options for Japanese 5.1 or Dolby Digital sound, with the English credits following the intact original Japanese credits. Unfortunately the necessary equipment was not available to sample the HD-DVD disc, but its packaging features a different cover picture than the regular DVD case or slipcase. Included with both is an 18-page glossy booklet featuring gorgeous screen shots, movie commentary, a director's interview, and a detailed explanation of artist (and famed-director-to-be) Hideaki Anno's critical role in producing the movie's special visual effects.
It may be overpriced and inefficiently marketed, but that doesn't change the fact that this classic tale of a man's journey to becoming his world's first astronaut stands among the best anime movies ever made. There's a reason why Bandai is using “Honneamise” as the label for their deluxe releases of classic anime works, and this movie shows you why. Hopefully Bandai Visual will eventually come to their senses and release the regular DVD separately and at an economic price so that everyone can have a chance to enjoy such a quality piece of work.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : C+
+ Beautiful artistry and animation, wonderful writing.
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