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Wings of Honneamise Blu-ray Anime Review (2019 Edition)

14 min read
My favorite film of all-time works an alternate world space race that’s a master class in world-building and complexity.

My favorite film of all-time works an alternate world space race that’s a master class in world-building and complexity.

What They Say:
The movie Royal Space Force Wings of Honneamise, directed by Hiroyuki Yamaga is set in a world eerily similar to our own, a war between the Kingdom of Honneamise and its arch rival, The Republic, seems inevitable. But even as the two nations’ rapidly evolving technology creates new ways to wage greater and more deadly forms of warfare, a small group seeks to use those same advances to propel mankind forward into the future and into space in their world’s first manned spaceflight program.

For astronaut candidate Shirotsugh Lhadatt, it’s not just a journey beyond the reach of the atmosphere, but a personal odyssey as he grows from an aimless young man into a leader willing to put everything on the line in order to move the human race forward and away from the brink of Armageddon. Prepare to witness the legendary film that revolutionized the anime industry, launched the careers of dozens of today’s animation superstars and put Studio Gainax forever on the map as one of Japan’s premiere production houses. Staggering animation, brilliant storytelling and a scope that goes beyond epic combine to produce an emotional powerhouse that will send your spirit flying towards the stars!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is quite good as we get the original Japanese language track done in a 5.1 mix while the English language dub that was made years ago gets a stereo mix, both of which are encoded with the lossless DTS-HD MA codec. Having been done with the English mix years ago, we watched this in its original Japanese form and really enjoyed the 5.1 mix that it had. There’s a lot of good use to the rear channels throughout the film, from music to sound effects and some surprisingly good dialogue moments as well. The feature has one of the best scores out there and it shines throughout, really having a pumped up feeling to it. Enough so that I had to dial it down a bit on the volume just from the opening sequence once it got rolling. But there’s an immersion you get with the film because of the audio here that really serves it well, making you feel the big, sweeping moments through the music as well as the rockets and other action pieces. But the dialogue is expertly done as well with some strong placement and a great bit of depth that really enhances many scenes. With the dialogue covering every range of conversation here, it captures it well.

Originally in theaters in 1987, the transfer for this film is presented in its original pillarboxed form in 1080p using the AVC codec. The transfer here feels very much like the one we saw with Bandai Visual several years ago and is likely working off the same source materials but with a different encoding of it. The film is certainly showing its age in some ways because of its film origins where there’s a good deal of speckling and film grain in general, but that has been part and parcel of the presentation for years. The detail of the film is still striking with how much there is to it and how much you can notice when pausing it. Colors are a bit muted in many places due to the design of the film, but when it wants to shine, it strikes out in a very big way, particularly in the end sequence. While this may not look as sharp in some ways as modern films, I still find that it holds up very well in comparison in terms of actual animation and design, more so in some respects. And the transfer captures much of it, which it richly deserves.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard size Blu-ray case as there are no frills associated with it as we saw in the past. This edition avoids the usual theatrical poster cover and gives us Shiro in his spacesuit as he’s on the motorcycle, with the camera looking down on him. It’s one of the iconic moments in the film and capturing it in illustration form here is beautiful with how it looks, a minimal piece in some ways but rich in detail. The main visual that we get as the background has Shiro in the ship which is a bit murky but works well. The premise is layered over it and with the thin white text, it’s clear but a touch hard to read since it’s so small. Add in a few shots from the film and a good look at the production credits and you have the usual aspects here. The bottom fleshes things out with the technical grid which covers everything cleanly and accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release is quite appealing as it uses something that I haven’t seen before where we get a young Shiro on his bike looking over the lake where we see one of the ships against the sunset background. It’s from there that we get the plane flying off of it as an expression of Shiro’s dreams and hopes. The colors are great and the overall look subdued but very appealing. The navigation strip along the bottom has a nice bit of an ornate nature about part of it but otherwise has a clean and properly thematic look that comes across well when you use it as the pop-up menu as well. Submenus load quickly and easily and selections are easy to make.

Sadly, the only extras here are the original Japanese trailers. The extras we had years ago on the old Manga Entertainment version, which were not on the Bandai Visual version in its release, seem to be lost to the ages at this point, making the Manga release very collectible for that alone with its pilot film and Japanese audio commentary.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ever since my initial introduction to the Wings of Honneamise on VHS back in the early ’90s through a comic book convention, the film has captured my imagination and heart. With every release that came out, domestic and import, I had to own a copy of it to see what new things I would discover through the visual and audio presentation. But also through the way that my interpretation of scenes, story and experiences in the film change over the years as I get older and connect with more and more people. The film, released in 1987 by a group of far too young and inexperienced filmmakers overall that defied all odds, is a testament to what Gainax was capable of and showed their potential, even if it didn’t do well at the box office. For me, it was a way of saying very early on that there’s so much that anime as a medium is capable of that none of it can be written off and it just must be experienced.

The premise of the film is fairly simple as we get an alternate world tale where things are similar to our own in many ways in terms of development, but with a wide variety of cultural quirks to it that truly breathes a life into it. Taking place at a time where we get the kingdom of Honneamise in that it’s had a space program for twenty years but is considered more of a joke than anything else, it’s a culture that’s torn between several different directions. The youth are interested in exploring the good life and all the fun that it has to offer, poverty is high in many quarters which causes its own problems elsewhere in the kingdom and then you have those that have no real direction or place to go and find themselves in some branch of the military for three squares a day and a place to exist and be. And you also have those that cannot handle all this change and clutch tightly to their religion, seeing evil in everything.

The focus is almost entirely on a young man named Shiro who had dreams as a young man to be a naval aviator, but his grades were nowhere near good enough for that. He ended up in the Royal Space Force instead, where he spends his time napping more often than not, paying little heed to his duties and doing the least amount needed to carry on, even if it costs him at times with a bit of a beating from his superiors for his attitude. He’s a good guy in general, but there is no direction here and he’s simply existing and that’s about it. While the Space Force goes through what it’s doing, with its hopes of building rockets that can really fly and someday achieve orbit, he’s enjoying life but finding it unfulfilling while others in his group enjoy the simple pleasures of gambling, drinking, and women.

What changes for him is when he meets a young woman in the busy public square handing out leaflets as part of her faith, hoping for people to come and visit her so she can engage them in it. Shiro finds himself drawn because he finds her physically appealing and it turns out that he’s the first to actually visit her (and her pint-sized tomboy girl of a ward, Manna, who barely says a word but has fantastic facial expressions). Shiro’s time with her is critical and pivotal for him because she can’t believe what he does, taking it with such seriousness and awe that he realizes that what he’s a part of really should be something amazing and he wants to make it so. She breathes life and purpose into him, which sets off a chain reaction of events that causes him to volunteer to be the first astronaut to journey into space. That life that comes from him creates a whirlwind of events that, while straightforward and predictable, is beautifully done as we see this entire program come to life around him as so many people work towards sending him into orbit to make history. And because it must be done and they feel they can do it with a hundred thousand years of mankind advancing behind them all this time. It’s completely inspiring to see how it comes together, the people involved, the politics of it all and of course the majesty of the science involved in achieving this dream.

For me, that’s a huge part of the appeal as I grew up in the Star Wars world where science fiction was definitely inspiring, especially after the era of the 60’s with the real advances made in space and the start of the space shuttle and other programs. This feature captures so much of what went into that decade of the 60’s in the US with the advances, the drama and the blood, sweat and tears of it all. The technical aspect of it all, with such a huge amount of input from NASA just gives it all some great legitimacy. You can feel that this was so heavily researched and so painstakingly crafted to come across as real and lived in that it truly does become all the more impressive as it goes on. And what works even better is that the film doesn’t restrict this kind of painstaking aspect to just the spacecraft and all but rather delves into every part of the world and culture here, from the songs, the entertainment, the costumes and so much more. It’s so fully realized in so many ways that you feel that you can understand the customs and culture in a way that most other films that attempt it never seem to come close to.

The feature also works really well when it comes to dealing with the societal aspects of what’s going on. Shiro’s a bit of a blank slate in a way and that makes it easy for him to be drawn into what Riquinni offers him when she starts talking religion. It’s not that he becomes converted, but some of what she says does get to him and influences his choices. She has such faith in everything in that it will all turn out well that he has to admire that after his listless life. His admiration and attraction early on is tempered of course and rather realistic, but such is the case later on as we see more of who she really is and some of his crafted illusions of her faith crash down around him, which leads to the still controversial attempted rape he engages in with her. Shiro runs the range of emotions over the course of the film that seeing the way he goes at this point really does show the disillusionment he feels as he sees more of life’s cold realities around him.

I love revisiting films over the years. I revisit this film pretty regularly every couple of years as it is, quite frankly, my all-time favorite film and has always topped the rankings since I first saw it. Seeing the film in my early 20s and watching it multiple times over the next three decades (holy shit) has been fascinating. My love for it only grows and I appreciate its technical excellent more and more each time. But’s that “controversial” sequence that really still becomes the key piece. The attempted rape sequence within it has long felt like it didn’t belong to many and was just problematic for a whole host of reasons. For the longest time I never really took a position beyond saying that I agreed that it was controversial. Such material really has to be carefully used and not just be a piece designed to make the male character grow and be a better person or some such malarkey.

Revisiting it now in what’s definitely a very different time socially than before when it was made and in past viewings, I’ve come to “appreciate it” even more because it’s a key piece. We’ve seen so many of our “heroes” and those we idolize in many industries reveal their true nature and character. Having Shiro do this here, believing he was owed it for all the time he put in, has been the mindset of a great many. I’m certainly not saying all men or anything like that. But to deny a sizable segment believes it is foolish. Including it in this as Shiro is closer to becoming a hero to a nation, to show that there is side, is a risky choice. I don’t know (or perhaps have forgotten) the reason for its original inclusion. But that’s going to be framed through both Japanese social views and however you want to view the social aspects of this other-world film.

It’s also complicated by the real world side in how Riquinni deals with it, fighting back successfully to be sure, but still subject to something that has now changed who she is. That she goes back to being perfectly normal, or rather presenting the facade of normalcy the next day, is heartbreaking. That she’s doing it because of who he is, her religion, and just to protect herself from having to deal with it, alters our view of everything going forward.

And that all of this is, what, two minutes of material in general?

It used to be somewhat “easy” after that to go back to following Shiro, getting caught up in the assassination attempt on him and then the mission itself as the war unfolds and the flight takes place. We get this haunting ending, the words that Shiro speaks while taking in something for the first time, and it’s supposed to be inspiring. But that darkness of who he really is is there, and always has been. But it feels more real, more truthful, more meaningful than it has in the past. And that makes this new viewing even more fascinating and, yes, disheartening than previous times.

There’s also the aspect of how Riquinni talks so frequently about how from the very beginning of time, according to her faith, that mankind has been cursed and that only evil will come from it. That’s in no way to pass judgment on her or to make what Shiro did was right – as it’s absolutely not. But there’s something to be said with how that could get into his head over time that he himself is evil and that everything he does is – even while she tells him how noble it is what he’s doing with going into space – that it can create a real conflict on top of everything else. Having that scene happen after he learns some disturbing truths about her and how she lives her life, it just clicks part of it into place for him that allows him to disconnect and in some ways, be what it is she goes on about as mankind’s true nature.

In Summary:
I love this film. In terms of life-changing works, it’s one that stands just a hair above Star Wars for me, which may seem an odd thing to say. But that film changed me in so many ways as a seven-year-old boy that it’s hard to quantify. With Wings of Honneamise, it was one of those early works that I saw which spoke to me in a profound way with its storytelling, animation and technique, showing me that the medium could be so much more than what I had been exposed to at that time. And like a great film, it’s one that is continually changing for me with interpretations, understanding, and appeal. Every time I see this I feel like I discover some new quirk, some new little detail or character twist that wasn’t quite apparent to me before. And with my own exposure to the world, people, politics and faith, that also changes my interpretations as a young man to where I am now. Wings of Honneamise is one of those films that will stand the test of time. I do still hold out hope that we can get some sort of modern limited edition release for this with all the bells and whistles, new interviews, and so forth. But until then, I’m glad to have it back on the market as Wings of Honneamise is simply a must own work that must be revisited regularly.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Trailer Collection

Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C

Released By: Maiden Japan
Release Date: June 4th, 2019
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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