Progress is indeed a wonderful thing. Nevertheless, humanity’s inexplicable desire to conquer nature comes at a cost. Do we truly better ourselves simply by dogmatically following our dreams? And is that dream worth the sacrifices we make? These are just some of the questions Wings of Honneamise throws up in the air. Moreover, it shies away from answering them, preferring to touch lightly upon each through the personal adventures of a disillusioned man at the centre of this fascinating human struggle.
First and foremost, Wings of Honneamise touchingly captures that powerful human ambition to fly and reach the final frontier – space. Viewers may be familiar with more recent works of a similar nature like Macross Plus and Planetes. I won’t insist that Wings of Honneamise captures this theme better in comparison, but neither does it do it any worse. A lot like Planetes, actually, Wings of Honneamise begins with a thorough but sympathetic look at the protagonist before casting a more dispassionate eye upon wider society and the double-edged effects of scientific progress. It is first and foremost a characterisation tale of Shirotsugh Lhadatt who desperately wants to fly but finds his efforts so frustrated that his very spirit diminishes and his sanity crumbles.
At the same time, Wings of Honneamise offers a unique fantastical setting (local cuisine includes staples like muuk and terrish, and the kingdom of Honneamise has a tongue-twisting language to rival Klingon) as well as one or two scenes of absolute splendour. Shiro’s first flight is an emotional, uplifting visual sequence during his training which defines his sense of fulfilment better than any lines of dialogue ever could. Finally, the scripting evinces an ironic sense of humour that makes it more accessible to those unfamiliar with meditative sci-fi dramas. In particular, slapstick scenes like the Space Force’s brawl with the Air Force will elicit a few chuckles.
If the movie has a significant weakness, it would be its waning sense of direction. The narrative at various junctures introduces several elements which could each sprout a story of their own and take the movie in different directions. There’s the awkward romance between Shiro and the cult girl whose culture is under threat, there’s a domestic government that wants to manipulate the Space Force in some vague international politics, also the inspirational tale of small-time scientists flying in the face of authority to put man into space, and lastly the friction caused when bloated military spending comes at the cost of social welfare. These subplots clearly matter to Wings of Honneamise’s core message but they simply don’t come together well enough at the end to give the audience a comprehensive moral picture.
What will instantly strike most about Wings of Honneamise’s world setting is the loving detail with which Gainax crafted it. This is a richly textured milieu with costumes, props, and buildings that don’t look much like ours but still feel incredibly lifelike and, I suspect, present a sort of precursor to the later milestone feature, Akira.
Even better, rather than vomiting impenetrable scientific gibberish that nobody but the scriptwriter will comprehend, Wings of Honneamise prefers to show its love of technology through awe-inspiring images. Prepare for meticulous panned shots of machinery and engineers fixing clunky, wiry gadgets, as well as training montages which are almost as fun to follow as the story itself.
The soundtrack offers music as unique and varied as the world it complements. One cheerful piano piece accompanies the key training flight while outlandish, discordant tunes blare out during a psychopathic chase scene. At intervals there will be mild instrumentals stuck somewhere between electronic and indigenous beats. All in all, this is a soundtrack perfectly suited to its subject matter and viewers will find much delight in it.
Initially, Shiro is the quintessential disenfranchised protagonist whose dreams of being a pilot have long withered thanks to banal misfortunes of the past. Later, when he finally renews his enthusiasm, he inadvertently finds himself grappling with the indirect consequences of his space project. The general gist with Shiro seems to be his powerlessness and apathy when caught between forces much larger than himself. While this makes him understandable, it also means he’s difficult to like. After all, the expectation of a protagonist is that he heroically saves the oppressed classes, defies the government, and gets the girl simply by never giving up.
In fact, Shiro is uninteresting, unremarkable, and really doesn’t care. Allegorically average, he’s frustrated with the status quo and harbours a painful desire to reach for that indefinable something up above. His frustration on one occasion takes an utterly reprehensible and disturbing turn, which might undo any sympathy the audience musters for him up to that point. And yet Shiro remains Wings of Honneamise’s most perfect creation. Tired, afraid, indecisive, and passionate, he brilliantly represents humanity in all its contradictory glory.
On the other hand, since the movie focuses predominantly on Shiro, the supporting cast are transiently amusing at best and instantly forgettable at worst. The ragtag team of the Space Force, eccentric and humorously hopeless, probably represent the best of them.
While Wings of Honneamise gives the impression by the end that it might be somewhat undecided about what it wants to be, it’s still a very unique feature that occasionally verges on disturbing and often approaches its socio-political subject matter with humour and inventiveness. As such it comes highly recommended to anyone who has a spare two hours.
Shiro Lhadatt wanted to fly jets for the Kingdom of Honneamise's Air Force when he was young, but unfortunately he didn't get the grades he needed; instead, he enlisted in the Space Force, a tiny embryonic unit that most people haven't even heard of. Embittered and disillusioned about his lot in life, Shiro takes no interest in his training - that is, until he meets and gets to know a young woman preaching God's word on the city streets. After one inspiring conversation with her, Shiro promptly sees the light; he finds his passion for flight reinvigorated and immediately volunteers to be the pilot for his unit's first space warship! Reaching that new frontier is all well and good but Shiro still faces some major obstacles: even if launching the first space warship becomes reality, not everyone will be happy to see the Space Force succeed. Suddenly, Shiro has to grapple with the complex, far-ranging consequences of his very personal decision.
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