The Wings of Honneamise (hoh-NAY-ah-meez) is set on an alternate earth in the kingdom of Honneamise, which has just begun exploring the possibility of sending a man into space. The general public thinks such an endeavor is fruitless, and the government wants to use it to lure a rival nation into war. Shirotsugh Lhadatt, a directionless slacker, has been part of the space program. After the death of a colleague and a meeting with Riquinni Nonderaiko – a young girl with a strong faith in god – he is inspired to see the space program succeed. However, a series of major setbacks tests his faith in this vision.
This film premiered in 1987, over 20 years too late to coincide with John F. Kennedy’s challenge to America to go to the moon. The lunar landing was done with, and the space race concluded, by then. From an American perpsective, I’d say The Wings of Honneamise is almost a nihilistic story. Unfortunately, I’m not privy to the Japanese perspective. Is it inspiring? Is it optimistic or hopeful?
I find the film’s treatment of space exploration odd, and more than a little gutsy. Shirotsugh is a down-and-out bum, basically. The film may be about his struggle to find value in his mission, but it’s also about the struggle of an entire nation to do the same. No matter how history has romanticized our own space race, you’d at least think a good portion of Americans believed space exploration was a noble venture. The message I got from the ending was not an inspiring or hopeful one. It felt like a downer. The intention, I can only guess, was to do the opposite. Despite this, Shirotsugh’s speech was carefully worded to cancel out whatever sense of triumph he (and his country) should rightly be feeling. Even the ending montage seemed like a condemnation of humanity’s history rather than a celebration of it.
So what’s the deal? Why should I sit down in front of a screen to be lectured about our civilization’s follies? Honestly, I shouldn’t. The story being told hinges on Shirotsugh’s awakening, which is supposed to parallel that of the human race. Except it doesn’t, and I ended up feeling a bit cheated. I appreciate that The Wings of Honneamise tells a different kind of story – a more honest, more mature depiction of the struggles of a downtrodden man in an apathetic world. But in order to succeed, the story has to show that people can rise above their wrongdoings. Without that crucial reassurance, it’s all for nothing. That’s what I think this movie is: pointless.
As a film about hope and vision, The Wings of Honneamise doesn’t hold up. It’s much more suited as a work of nihilism. There are two moments toward the middle of the film where Shirotsugh, despondent from a critical setback of the program, acts violently toward his benefactors Riquinni and Manna. These events are brushed aside immediately, and I found that extremely unsettling. The fact that the world can go on, business as usual, no matter what wonderful or terrible thing happens, unnerves me greatly. That, ultimately, is the effect of this movie. I like to think that the entire world listened to Neil Armstrong’s broadcast from the moon. It was an event that defined a generation. Now go see The Wings of Honneamise. Could you honestly say the same about Shirotsugh reaching orbit?
Although the anime features the entire staff of the eponymous Royal Space Force, the three main characters are Shirotsugh, Riquinni, and Manna. Shirotsugh, who volunteers to be rocketed into orbit, is a reversal of the traditional astronaut stereotype. He’s not noble, confident, or even very likable. The film is about his journey to find the maturity and conviction to follow through with the mission, and that part is done admirably. Just to be clear, I think Shirotsugh is very bland for the leading role. But he is an everyman in the truest sense of the word, and that’s something you just don’t see much of in film. His rise from being a nobody to being a national celebrity is interesting, and is treated with care and a sort of frankness.
The motivating force behind Shirotsugh’s transformation is Riquinni, who spends her days warning people of god’s judgment. She doesn’t really believe in the goodness of man, but sees space as the way to a world without boundaries. Essentially, it’s big enough for people to leave each other alone. This vision, this optimism for the future, is what ends up driving Shirotsugh to accomplish what he does. The only problem is, going back to my plot evaluation, it ends up being wrong (or at least it’s suggested to be wrong). This shows the contrary nature of the movie. Riquinni’s hopes are meant to be adopted by the rest of the country, but this ends up having very little effect. Riquinni herself is supposed to be the purity of ideal that spurs Shirotsugh to greatness, yet even she is not immune to the result of his desperation. I could live with these layers of complexity if they had a greater purpose, but they seem tossed in out of the blue and forgotten about.
The last main character, Manna, is an orphan girl who lives with Riquinni. She’s mostly mute and isn’t very friendly to Shirotsugh for most of the film. I’m not sure what to make of her, but she does seem to share Riquinni’s wonder for the cosmos. She is mostly an extraneous character, but at one point is on the receiving end of Shirotsugh’s depression. Again, this is an instance of Shirotsugh acting out the darker part of his psyche, yet he never has to pay for it. Why? Manna serves to demonstrate that as a symbol of self-improvement, Shirotsugh is unsuitable. But the event does show that Shirotsugh is right in his thoughts about the space mission: despite the magnitude of this accomplishment, mankind is no closer to shedding its imperfections. The act of leaving earth might have had a momentary impact, but humans can never leave their nature behind.
What really irritated me about The Wings of Honneamise was the score. It grated on me while watching, as it is a tuneless 80s mashup of synths and percussion. Although it gives the movie a distinct character, I think the sound is hideous. Thankfully, much of the movie is without music of any kind, leaving only dialogue and sparse background noises. I’m not a fan of the sound design but at least it wasn’t saturated with that awful music.
The visual production is solid. The alternate earth felt truly alternate, showing an industrialized society just on the cusp of the modern era. The animation is solid too, though most of the on-screen movement is fairly pedestrian. Character designs reflect the 80s style, and it got difficult to tell characters apart at times. I believe the designer was Sadamoto Yoshiyuki, who we all know is capable of great things.
Another area in which the production falters is the voice acting. It’s just something about the quality of the recording along with the performances that sounds low-budget. Typically, Japanese voice actors are still pretty solid even on their worst days. This time, a lot of the performances seem lifeless or forced. Morimoto Leo, Shirotsugh’s voice actor, sounds especially like he’s phoning it in.