Stephen reviews: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987)

honneamise_1Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise [王立宇宙軍 オネアミスの翼 Ōritsu Uchūgun: Oneamisu no Tsubasa] (1987)

Starring Leo Morimoto, Mitsuki Yayoi, Aya Murata, Bin Shimada, Hiroshi Izawa, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Kazuyuki Sogabe, Kouji Totani, Masahiro Anzai, Masato Hirano, Yoshito Yasuhara

Directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga

This is the first anime produced by studio Gainax (though they did make earlier works as a different company, Daicon Film), who are famous for reshaping the entire anime industry with Neon Genesis Evangelion. It’s an art film rather than a genre film, and thus it has been acclaimed by critics (including Roger Ebert) while languishing in the commercial market. It is pretty unusual for an anime to avoid any genre alignment. Even the artsiest of anime usually fall into a genre category as well, such as the romance film Utena or the psychological thriller Perfect Blue.

I suppose I could lump it into the science fiction category since it deals with scientific content, but even that would be a stretch as the technology, though fictional, is outdated and for the most part realistic (such as the airplanes using rear propellers, a design which was seriously considered during the early days of aviation). Perhaps it fits in a broad interpretation of steampunk, but I feel uncomfortable giving it that classification either. There are some action scenes in the second half, but they aren’t central to the story really. At that point I may as well call it a romance, which is also true as far as it goes, but as with the other genres it could technically fall in, it’s just not what the film is about.

honneamise_2Honnêamise is set in an alternate world where mankind is trying to launch its first manned space flight. But unlike the inspiring years of Kennedy and the patriotic fervor of the Cold War, this world is pretty unconcerned about it. The space force is technically a part of the military, but since it has no combat abilities, it is derided as useless and mired by lack of funding, especially with war growing ever nearer. Even the personnel of the program itself are rather uninterested in actually fulfilling the program’s goals.

The film centers on Shirotsugh Lhadatt, the man chosen to be the first astronaut. He starts the film as purposeless and uninspired as everyone else on the team, but then he meets Riquinni, a girl handing out religious pamphlets around town. After talking with her, she tells him how wonderful it would be to go into the pure and unsullied vacuum of space and get away from all the sin and cruelty on the ground (I can’t really say “Earth” since it doesn’t take place on Earth). Shiro is filled with a burning passion to impress the cute girl, and throws all his energy into his impending space flight. It also introduces us to the film’s central theme, trying to rise above (in this case literally) our baser human instincts.

And Shiro certainly has his share of base instincts. As Riquinni continually rebuffs Shiro’s advances, he reaches a breaking point and tries to rape her, forcing her to bludgeon him unconscious with the household decor. And Riquinni is such a pacifist that when Shiro apologizes the next day, she instead blames herself for attacking him. I spent the rest of the film struggling to find a good explanation for why the scene was in the film. My only explanation is the obvious one: Shiro is as flawed as any other characters, and he too must rise above his nature to become a better person. But as apologetic and remorseful about it as Shiro is through the rest of the film, can you really forgive a guy for rape? Cultural differences aside, it’s a hard scene to take, and I do wish they had come up with something less repugnant as a way to illustrate the themes of the film. I wouldn’t argue with anyone wishing to bow out of this film because of that scene.

honneamise_3I suspect that for many viewers the rape scene will overshadow all the other aspects of the film, which is a shame, because that is the only real problem with the movie. The pace can be a tad slow, especially towards the beginning, but anyone heading into this film ought to know that they’re getting a more thematic experience than a visceral one. I particularly liked Shiro’s speech at the end of the film, which tied together the themes of needing something above us to strive for quite well.

On the animation front I was rather disappointed at first. Largely this is because of all the hype surrounding this film’s visuals. Honnêamise is always heralded as a gorgeous and masterfully animated film, so I was expecting something far more impressive than what I got. My other big mistake, though, was thinking this was a ’90s anime, a misconception that the animation fully fueled. It blew my mind when I finally found out that it actually predated Akira, one of the first films to spawn a resurgence of quality animation on into the ’90s. For an ’80s anime Honnêamise is quite impressive. It looks like a ’90s anime, and by that I mean the design and visual style as much as the animation itself. Some of the earliest trailers featured very different character designs that were eventually abandoned. While watching those old trailers, I said to myself, “Damn this looks ’80s all of a sudden.” Clearly, Honnêamise was one of the first to start shaping the visual design and style towards what are now typical anime features.

There’s some quality storytelling and a lot of creative designs in this film, as well as some profound commentary on humanity. It’s an overall solid film for those who want some more intellectual fare. You’ll just have to tolerate the rather disturbing fact that the hero of the story tries to rape someone. If that’s too much for you, then pass it by and save yourself the headache.

4 comments to Stephen reviews: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (1987)

  • Carl

    Dear Stephen,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful review of Royal Space Force. I agree that it would be disturbing if we were meant to regard Shiro as the hero of the story, but I don’t think the film is asking us to necessarily accept him as a hero. Shiro himself tells his best friend, Matti, that if his own life were a story, maybe he’s actually the villain. And while Riqunni’s attitude is hard to accept, it’s something the audience needs to confront nevertheless, because without her beliefs, Shiro would have never volunteered to go into space–to become an astronaut “hero.” The director of the film said of both characters, “We can’t be liberated from what we don’t understand.”

    If you’re interested in pursuing this further ^_^ there’s a 25th anniversary fanzine on Royal Space Force with various contributing authors. The fanzine gets into the untold story behind the making of the film and GAINAX’s motivations; the articles also confront the moral landscape of the movie, as well as Hayao Miyazaki’s personal feelings about Royal Space Force. The URL of the zine is here:

    Once again, thank you for the review!

    • You’re welcome. It’s definitely something that can be contemplated quite deeply. Shiro is certainly something of an anti-hero in the classical sense, but at the same time he is always portrayed in a sympathetic light. I think that’s where the real trouble comes in. People can easily read it to mean that Shiro’s actions weren’t all that bad. I feels like the film, not just Riquinni, is forgiving his actions, which is what is most likely to offend people.

      Actually, Riquinni’s response never bugged me. I always saw her as a Christ figure, preaching peace and forgiveness and inspiring Shiro to achieve greater things. Her actions seemed very much in line with what she was symbolically to the film.

      That fanzine sounds pretty interesting. I always like to hear creator commentary on why their creative decisions were made, especially on something as thought-provoking as this film.

  • Carl

    Dear Stephen,

    Maybe part of it is that unlike the other controversies surrounding the space mission that get discussed publicly in the film (corruption, misplaced spending priorities, inciting a war), nobody is aware of what Shiro did but Riqunni and we, the audience.

    Other moral issues get “shared” with the rest of the film, so to speak, but we as an audience are alone with the protagonist on this one, and it’s all the more uncomfortable. I notice the scene itself is shot the same way–for example, the four-minute sequence leading up to the assault is the longest period without music in the entire film; we are given none of the emotional cues or signals soundtracks often provide to tell us how to feel about a scene (tense, sad, excited, etc.).

    I do wonder if the film’s narrative is forgiving Shiro; I’ve also noticed that the next major scene after the assault is the assassination attempt on Shiro. We realize that Shiro is no action hero; now he personally learns, just as Riqunni did, what it’s like to be in sudden fear, not knowing what provoked an attack, desperate to save himself. I think the combination of the two experiences–violence as an attacker, and violence as a victim–doesn’t redeem him or balance the scales so much as it sobers him to his personal moral status.

    I personally see Riqunni as more than a symbolic character, but as an unusual yet believable person struggling with her own conception of herself, her beliefs, and the world. She’s arguably the co-protagonist, and perhaps the film’s actual hero (if the movie indeed has one). Riqunni considers herself to have done evil by her own moral system; after all, when the real test came and the violence was directed at her, she didn’t turn the other cheek, but defended herself. It may seem absurd for a person to view that as immoral, but she saw herself as living by a system of faith. Christ also forgave his attackers, but he allowed them to torture and crucify him first.

    It’s true that her religion is not literally Christianity and differs from it in some respects, but in the zine I quote a Christian anime fan who observed of Royal Space Force that while anime has often used Christianity as a sort of exotic flavoring (gun-shooting nuns, occult secrets, etc.) it has rarely tried, as this film does, to portray it as an actual human reality, and show how difficult it would be for a person to actually try and live a life true to such principles.

    In the zine, the director compares Riqunni to Miyazaki’s hero Nausicaa, suggesting that while they both have high moral principles, Nausicaa is also a beautiful princess who’s an accomplished pilot, warrior and scientist. In other words, she’s a movie heroine first and a moral person second. But Riqunni has none of those things; all she has is her morals, and to the world she just looks like a crazy girl passing out flyers on the street.

    • Of course, any good character will be a character first, but that doesn’t really exclude her from being a symbol as well. And if nothing else she is certainly a symbol for Shiro at least.

      I think you’re right on with the music and emotional queues. Maybe it’s not so much that it forgives him as it doesn’t outright condemn him. In the absence of a direct opinion being stated it is only the viewers themselves that can fill in the blanks on a scene’s meaning, and that will always vary from person to person.

      You’ve certainly given this a lot of thought, and given me a good deal to think about myself when when I watch it again some day. Thanks!

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