Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise is often praised as one of the most compelling creations of Japan’s animation industry. In 1987, it stunned many with its gorgeous visions of another world’s first steps into outer space, and it's praised as a monument to the creative heights that animation can reach when freed from commercialism and pandering.
It’s also one of the biggest fuck-ups in the history of animated cinema. I’m not talking about the film’s finances; it did well enough at the box office and only failed to break even because it was so incredibly expensive in the first place. No, I’m talking about the film’s drastic, ill-advised, and misogynistic detour off a cliff.
Honneamise is an amazing film at first. Set in a world that’s Not Quite Our Own and looks it, the movie follows a would-be astronaut named Shirotsugh Lhadatt. Shiro’s introduced as a goofball slacker in his nation’s ineffectual Space Force, which hasn’t gone into space and, at best, only manages to get its test astronauts electrocuted by their own urine bags. One night, Shiro meets a religious young woman named Riquinni when she’s handing out alterna-world Chick tracts in the street. Her piously supportive attitude inspires Shiro to volunteer as the Space Force’s next astronaut.
What follows is a film that initially seems far from the usual anime nonsense or mainstream family-oriented schlock. For one thing, Honneamise has some of the most amazing visual world-building I’ve ever seen in a movie. The entire setting is comparable to Asian-American nations of the 1950s, but it’s re-imagined in stunning completion, from the cityscapes and vehicles down to the coins, the spoons, the clothing, the TV weather broadcasts, and the origin myths. It’s the sort of movie that reveals new things each time you watch, because there’s too much well-animated detail to take in at once.
Honneamise is also a refreshingly sedate story. Instead of pointless or gaudy imagery, it opens with Shiro reflecting on how he just drifted into the Space Force, and it follows with a fascinating montage of this alternate world’s journey toward powered flight, set to the staccato overtures of a Ryuichi Sakamoto soundtrack. From there, the movie roams through Shiro’s humdrum life. He’s no action-film centerpiece, and his days are spent clowning around with the other Space Force goons and trying to circumvent Riquinni’s strict views on romantic abstinence.
But a problem arises for our main character. In the midst of the Space Force’s efforts to put him up in orbit, Shiro loses his confidence in the program, realizing that it’ll do little to ultimately improve life in his country. He turns to Riquinni, whose house has been bulldozed by creditors, and her passive attitude frustrates him. Clearly, he is a troubled individual, carrying an inner conflict that represents the existential turmoil every member of this sad human race must confront in some way. And Riquinni, with her perpetually self-humbling views of the world, can’t really help him.
So how does Shiro deal with this? He tries to rape her.