Set on an alien planet not unlike Earth, The Wings of Honneamise tells the story of Shirotsugh Lhadatt, a young man who wanted to enter his country's air force, but was rejected. Looking for the next best thing, Shiro entered the Royal Space Force. The Space Force is allegedly supposed to be establishing a military presence in space, but that's pretty much just propaganda, because on this world no country has managed to so much as launch a satellite.
Shiro is not particularly motivated until he meets a religious woman named Reiqunni. Her simple faith seems to inspire Shiro, and it just happens that Shiro's country has become serious about putting a man into orbit. Shiro becomes the top candidate to go into space, but it may be that his country is using the space shot as an excuse to start a war with a neighbor.
The Wings of Honneamise is a landmark of Japanese animation. This movie is a rarity even today, a completely straight science fiction story. There are no aliens, no giant robots, and very little in the way of action. But the ideas put forth are fascinating, and the characters are consistently interesting. I have found most Japanese sci-fi underwritten, but this is a happy exception.
The story, however, is almost overshadowed by the production design. Taking place in a completely alien culture, everything seems original yet still feasible, from the rod-like coins to finished spacecraft. A lot of detailed backgrounds are used, complete with a consistent architecture. It's this kind of sweeping imagination that typifies the very best science fiction.
As good as this movie is I would have wished that Manga did a great job mastering it to disc. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. The image is slightly fuzzy and it looks like it is lacking detail. The colors seem a little pale. The disc is very watchable, but it is still a disappointment. The disc also includes an English soundtrack, remastered to Dolby Digital 5.1, and the original Japanese track, in Dolby Surround. Both sound fine.
The English subtitles are fairly readable, but somebody forgot to subtitle all the sequences that feature dialogue in the fictional language of Honneamise's rival country. So if you want to know what they are saying, you're going to have to switch to the English language track for those scenes.
Besides the usual Manga Video promotional material, there is a gallery of conceptual art work. The gallery is huge. It runs with uncut cues from the film's soundtrack. The whole thing is around 75 minutes long. Also included is a four-minute short, sort of like a trailer, that Gainax created to get funding for the full movie. It covers the highlights of the movie, though some of the character designs are a little different. A deleted scene from the movie is also included.
In what is probably a first for an anime, Manga recorded an audio commentary for this disc. The two participants in the track never identify themselves, but they are director Hiroyuki Yamaga and assistant director Takami Akai. They speak Japanese, so the whole track is subtitled. I wish I could say it was really interesting, but the two participants spend most of their time congratulating themselves on how innovative the movie is, and gossiping about the animators. There is almost no discussion of the plot, or the themes they were trying to address by making this film.
Scott Hamilton, 11/25/00