“The Wings of Honneamise: Royal Space Force” showcases the strengths and weaknesses of Japanese adult-oriented animation, which has about as much to do with Disney-style cartoons as “The Seven Samurai” has to do with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It’s a whole different ballgame, which will appeal to committed fans and may attract some new ones. It’s not, however, the crossover film Japanimation boosterskeep hoping for.
Pic is something of a Holy Grail among stateside fans of Japanese animation, or anime. It had but one public U.S. showing in 1987 in a hurriedly dubbed version with numerous changes, then vanished into the nether world of pirated tapes. Manga Entertainment and Tara Releasing finally acquired U.S. rights and produced a newly translated script and soundtrack. New prints have had bookings around the country since November, with dates scheduled into spring, at both fest and arthouse venues.
While animated effects are impressive, story meanders across two hours, combining sci-fi elements with ill-defined spiritual and political issues that are likely to confuse the uninitiated. Story centers on the Royal Space Force, a group of losers in a mythical kingdom not dissimilar from present-day Japan. But this planet has yet to achieve manned space flight, and film’s hero must overcome self-doubt and assassination attempts from the neighboring republic in order to realize his goal.
While the film boasts several bravura sequences, narrative is flabby and underlying philosophy seems adolescent, with more fervor than meaning. There’s even an attempted rape by the hero, with his victim’s forgiveness (she accepts the blame herself) apparently crucial to his maturity.
Examples of Japanimation such as “Honneamise” continue to impress with their attention to detail. Images are more like animated “graphic novels” than American cartoons, and are clearly intended for older audiences. Until the writing matches the visuals, though, it’s likely that pix like this will remain in the realm of the cultists.