Twenty years have passed since Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise was released. During the span of those two decades people have discussed the film's quality at length and the definitive answer to this debate is you'll either love it or hate it. In all of my years I don't think I have watched an anime project as polarizing as this one.
I begrudgingly have to admit that sitting down to watch Wings of Honneamise for the purpose of this review was my first time doing so. I heard about it frequently over the years but never went out of my way to check it out because I didn't like all the negative comments about it lectured to me by friends. I suppose it's only fitting that I took the opportunity to watch the film later in life because I have found my tastes changed recently. The movie once sounded dreadfully boring to me but now that I have actually given it a shot I have to say that I'm completely enamored.
The funny thing about Wings of Honneamise is that it features a very straightforward plot. The film takes place on a distant world where mankind has evolved to the cusp of space exploration. It's not necessarily Earth and many aspects are different but to reference our own timeline I suppose you could say that it takes place after a great world war. There is a surge in the economy and the focuses of people's lives are still bent on person gratification and destruction. In between all of this turmoil a ragtag group of aspiring astronauts is looking forward to the future and the stars. This is a tale about the first man to make it into orbit alive but Wings of Honneamise is a far cry from being another Apollo 13.
When the movie begins we are introduced to Shirotsugh Lhadatt who is a cadet for the Royal Space Force. Shirotsugh could be best described as listless when compared to the rest of the Force. He is lazy, disobeys orders, and generally does whatever he wants to without a care in the world. When one of their ranks dies in an attempt at reaching the stars he begins to do a little soul searching.
On a random night out with the boys Shirotsugh comes across a girl (Riquinni) who is handing out pamphlets denouncing humanity's violent ways and trying to get everyone to repent for their sins. Naturally considering she's surrounded by whorehouses and characters of questionable moral integrity nobody really pays attention to her. Shirotsugh does though. For some reason he's transfixed by the girl and grabs her leaflet as kind of a way to get closer to her.
Through his relationship with Riquinni, Shirotsugh begins to see himself as she views him. He strives to become the man that the world needs and grows up in a sense. From his actions he unlocks his sense of duty, applies himself in every facet of the Force, and volunteers to be the next to attempt space travel. This happens early on in the film and the rest of the run time is eaten up as the world reacts to his unabashed bravery. He gains a lot of attention, becomes a hero, and eventually a target.
As the launch date moves closer and closer, enemy forces close in and even send an assassin to deal with Shirotsugh. This may all sound climactic and riveting but to be quite honest there isn't a lot of passion behind it. Wings of Honneamise deals with these violent acts as a matter of fact and though the action may be nice during the confrontation with the assassin; the most compelling aspect about it is how Shirotsugh reacts. This entire scene is less about the fighting and is used as a metaphor for Shirotsugh's growth as a man. Like his transformation from lay-about to hero he turns the tide in the fight and emerges victorious.
In fact, the whole of Wings of Honneamise is really more about the hidden meaning behind things rather than the story at hand. Sure Shirotsugh is trying to get into space but it's the development of the world around him that will draw you in. You see our own sins within the actions of these people and this film seeks to shed light on these flaws to show the error of our ways. It's a deep and emotional premise that is very engaging and memorable though I do have to admit that it felt a little too preachy for my taste. (Yes, I get that we're all bad people and I know that going into space isn't going to make us better, so why don't we all just shut up and get along?)
In addition to the preachy atmosphere the pacing is another point of fault for Wings of Honneamise. The aforementioned lack of effective climax and slow development makes for a very awkwardly paced feature. This holds especially true a good chunk of the first half of the film where Shirotsugh still has a lot of growing up to do. Once his character begins to get more focused so does the picture. From that point Honneamise becomes as powerful as it is.
Now, I'm not going to say that Wings of Honneamise is a film that absolutely everyone must check out. You really need to have an appreciation for storytelling with an underlying metaphor, you have to tolerate a slow pace, and not mind when everything is dictated by words rather than actions. Even then the preachy atmosphere may grate on your nerves. However, if you approach the film with an open mind and peer deeply into its meaning you'll find a heartfelt and engaging tale that succeeds thanks to the simplicity of it all. I loved Wings of Honneamise and it's an experience I won't soon forget.
Now, this is the area where this release of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise gets the most spotlight. You see, from a high definition standpoint there is very little anime on the market here in the States. Thankfully Bandai Visual has been taking the first steps at reversing this fact as we see here with the DVD/Blu-ray combo pack.
The Standard Definition DVD that is included with this package displays decent video quality that stems from a re-master of the original print. Considering the film was released twenty years ago, the fact that the colors have remained vivid and speckle is kept minimal should be something that is applauded. Even so the standard definition disc offered in this set does display other flaws in the form of grain and softness. There are times where the picture becomes so soft that it almost blurs out of focus and it seems unnatural given the film's fine production. For instance there is a scene early on where Shirotsugh is having a conversation with his friend Matti when his buddy's face goes out of focus and appears slightly blotchy for a second or two. Effects like this aren't very pervasive but they are noticeable and don't help matters considering you've just picked this set up for the high definition aspect.
Thankfully, the Blu-ray disc included in the set is a noticeable step up in video quality. The colors appear finer, the grain is less frequent, and the softness found on the standard definition disc isn't a problem here. Even though the picture quality on the Blu-ray disc is superior Wings of Honneamise still can't shake the dated appearance. Call it the age of the product or say that the master here wasn't as capably handled as it could have been, but whatever the case it's hard looking past the fact that in high definition Wings of Honneamise looks only slightly better than average overall.
The standard definition DVD included in this set comes with a 480i MPEG-2 presentation and 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. The Blu-ray comes with a full 1080p AVC MPEG-4 output, 16:9 aspect ratio, and is printed on a 50gb disc.
The video quality may show the age of the film but when it comes to the audio I was appropriately impressed. The standard definition offered Japanese and English surround tracks while the Blu-ray kicked things up a notch with Linear PCM and TrueHD Japanese offerings. The regular old surround tracks play out like you'd expect with fine audio and a decent presence on the soundstage. The quality is improved slightly with the PCM track and you'll notice the power of the audio being kicked up a notch. No matter how decent the other tracks may be, the TrueHD 5.1 selection is the best experience on these discs.
With the Japanese TrueHD 5.1 it's safe to say that Wings of Honneamise springs to life. Finer details are picked up and deftly distributed to the rear channels and the sense of immersion all around feels much more natural. While watching this track I noticed that the sound effects were more prominent all around and I have to admit to being quite surprised when my system boomed powerfully during some explosions (the rocket launch to be more specific). This cleaner quality does allude to some muddy areas that were apparently found in the source material. The audio during these rare moments is noticeably softer and muted when compared to the rest of the package. However, all around the audio quality for Wings of Honneamise is very impressive.
When I heard that Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise was being released for its 20th anniversary and it was getting the Blu-ray treatment I wondered how impressive the package would be. This curiosity only increased when I saw the heft MSRP of $79.99 slapped on to it. Once I received the set and pawed through what was included, I have to say that I was less than impressed.
For all of the hoopla, as nice as the packaging is, and despite the fact that this set offers a standard definition DVD and a Blu-ray disc, I can't believe that the only features included on these discs are trailers. Well, that is to say that there is a two minute long theatrical trailer for Wings of Honneamise and something called a Pilot Film which is essentially a four minute trailer. That's it. There are no commentaries included, no documentaries, and no interviews of any kind to grace these discs. The only other notable entry with this set is a 20 page booklet.
Admittedly this booklet is attractive with plenty of conceptual artwork and frames pulled right from the film. Ryusuke Hikawa provides some written commentary regarding Wings of Honneamise and he conducts an interview with Director Hiroyuki Yamaga. Ryusuke goes on to provide information regarding the film's production and gets into some discussion about the effects that were used. All in all the booklet is a very nice accompaniment to the package but it in no way helps to absorb the cost of this release and the fact that the discs are barebones.
When it comes to grading this disc overall I have to admit that I am very torn. I loved Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise as a film. It is a shining example of what anime should aspire to be. It is a moving, captivating experience that breaks preconceptions about anime. Sure it has some flaws that make it polarizing to some degree but it's hard to deny that this movie has a soul of its own. Love or hate it, you simply can't take that away.
With regards to this set the score falters somewhat. From a visual standpoint the age of the picture creeps in with some softness, grain, and speckle that is hard to ignore. Thankfully the audio is phenomenal and the TrueHD selection is head and shoulders above the rest of the offerings. Unfortunately this set loses its high recommendation when taking in the disappointing lack of extra features and the incredible MSRP. With an $80 price tag looming over this package it's hard to deny that Wings of Honneamise's Blu-ray combo release is strictly for diehard fans.