This is yet another film I saw thanks to the JICC and I went to it since I'd always heard good things about it but people never mentioned details. I knew that there was a struggle in the end with the older characters giving up and the younger ones advocating pushing on (and that I only know because of some folks saying those roles should be reversed) but that was it, people just weren't selling the movie to me! So let me do the job instead and say: this was a fantastic film, everyone shouldn't just want to see it, everyone needs to see it.
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise is a fictional biopic, or rather (since all biopics are semi-fictionalized), it's a biopic about a fictional person, country, and world as he becomes their first astronaut in the first space program. With real biopics I often have a sense of uneasiness about them, knowing that once it's over I'll be dying to look up the real history and see what was changed, but since here everything is fictional to start with I didn't have that problem! Nothing is extraneous in a fictional story (or should be anyway), every part should contribute in some way to the greater story so in that sense having fictional biopics makes perfect sense, of course the "camera" would be in this place at this time to capture what turned out to be an extremely important event! But this story isn't filled with climatic speeches and events, instead it's an intensely personal story about Shirotsugh Lhadatt and the people he works with.
For me the story faltered at first, Shirotsugh starts off as someone who has lost all admiration for the Royal Space Force (which is a military branch of the government that he belongs to) and stumbles through his job not out of a sense of wonder or nationalistic pride but to collect a paycheck. This changes very fast and that's where my problem lies, it seems as if he hears one speech from an religious fundamentalist and suddenly he's very gung-ho about this space program. He's so inspired that he volunteers himself to be the first astronaut and surprises everyone around him when he shows up to their lectures now standing straight and with a freshly ironed kilt.
But it does the job and gets the story rolling and I should say that it's not the story that I adored so much as it is the movie's obsessive attention to detail (although I liked the plot itself!). I want to sit down practically everyone who's ever thought of telling a story in visual form (comics, movies, etc) in front of this movie and go "THIS is how you build another world, yes the characters are all human but look at their hairstyles! Clothing! Buildings! Interior rooms! Did you look at a single shot in this movie and think 'oh they just cribbed that from real life'? This is what it means to do world-building, not telling everyone the long and complicated backstory of an empire but to have it affect what a bar looks like!" I have never seen another fantasy story that is so thorough in it's execution and in many ways I'm not surprised that this was one of Gainax's early works (their first commercial work it looks like). This feels like a story that was bubbling inside of people for a long time and that they had exactly as long as they needed to fine tune every piece and place them together. It is almost the ultimate "passionate first work" that I sometimes talk about and puts so many others to shame.
The storytelling itself felt unique to me since again, there are few "climactic and dramatic" moments in the movie. Sure there is tension and uncertainty but almost every important plot detail comes through casual conversation between characters, there is an info-dump or two in the very beginning but beyond that if I had to describe this movie very quickly it would be "it's made up of those little character development scenes that people tend to cut out." It gracefully crams in character exploration for a good sized cast, a plot, subplots, tensions, and history into a single movie and it makes it look so easy. Again, this is fiction so of course the "camera" would be listening in on these two characters at this moment where they articulate their thoughts on why they're doing this crazy thing, of course that makes sense! And it makes sense because that's how real life goes, it's the shared moments, often private, between you and others that define who you are and who you act, not a rollicking series of plot points. This movie felt authentic and inspiring in a way that few, real-world non-fictional works make me feel and I want to show it to practically everyone I know.
The story does stumble in a few places, again the beginning and I was never sold on the romantic subplot either, Riquinni was just too weird of a character for me and I just didn't understand Shirotsugh's infatuation with her (but again, I'm ace, I typically don't "get" that). Plus there is that one scene of more or less attempted rape, I sort-of saw it coming but still didn't get why the creators thought it was necessary.
On the flip side however, holy cow Gainax was ambitious with the animation here. There's a scene towards the end with many, many moving gear parts which was far more intricate that anything I've ever seen animated either traditionally or digitally (not the exact moment but this level of animation) As I've already said the art design is wonderful enough to make me recommend it on it's own but I don't want to diminish the story here, that was terrific and very accessible! I don't know if you could call this a "gateway anime" since hell, where would you even go from here, but I think that you could introduce this movie to a lot of non-anime but still sci-fi fans and have them adore it too. Currently my plan is to buy the blu-ray and then have my mom and step-dad watch it next time I go home (since they both like anime to a degree) and hopefully they're not the only ones I can introduce to it! (apparently it's on hulu so maybe I can get them to watch it even sooner....)