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Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise was the legendary animation studio Gainax's first major production and featured a lot of the high quality (mostly) art and animation that would help keep their reputation mostly strong as a unit. It's also largely different from much of their later work as it's primarily a human drama, but knowing nothing about it other than its generous sale price on Blu Ray and the fact that it was an early Gainax work is what drove me to purchase it. In hindsight, I don't think it was a bad pick.
Royal Space Force takes place in some alternate history in an alternate country where Shirotsugh Lhadatt grows up. Failing to become a pilot because of poor grades he ends up joining the Royal Space Force, seemingly a joke department of the government whose purpose is to add a military presence to space. But they mostly just bumble around. One day, during a night out, Shiro meets Riquinni, a devout religious woman/doomsayer handing out pamphlets and, having an interest in her, he visits her the next day, becomes inspired by her enthusiasm for his job to go to space and suddenly becomes the only person on his team that starts taking his job seriously (while also continuing to try to score points with Riquinni on the side). And then the team, invigorated by Shiro's dedication seems like they just might make it. Of course, political machinations start to show up when this thing becomes more than a remote possibility.
While other Gainax products might come with a lot of action and fan service, Royal Space Force is actually primarily a drama. It focuses on Shiro, but also the people around Shiro and to a lesser degree in the last act of the film, the politics surrounding the launch. The film is admittedly slow moving at parts, half of the time, I find it meditative and interesting, the other half, I find the slow moments unnecessarily draggy. More interesting is how Riquinni affects Shiro, for both good and bad. I overall think the character development is the most interesting part of the story, especially as it impacts Shiro, but there is some subtext about fear and the power of human determination. In the end, however, the whole affair was a little long, sometimes fascinating and sometimes boring. There are also some really gripping moments, both revolving a neighboring nation's involvement, where the film really gets the dramatic suspense going.
What makes it worth watching even in the boring moments however, is the art. There's a fascinating attention to detail as they create, visually, a whole new culture. From top-bound books, to dishware to the clothes they wear and the look of the technology, everything seems so well thought out that it's a very convincing new world. Furthermore, the art is often quite impressive, even if sometimes I felt like I was being overloaded with it at times at the expense of the story. Interestingly, while there's a high attention to detail in terms of design, I frequently noticed animation goofs, like disappearing and reappearing uniforms or some elements switching from the left side of a person to the right side. Although I found that distracting, I mostly managed to look past it.
The Japanese voice cast was convincing, even if I wasn't blown away by any single performance. The music was actually quite strong, even though much of it was clearly synthesized, and sometimes the score really helped to carry the meditative scenes, but silence was also quite effectively used at times.
In the end, I don't think Royal Space Force is for everyone, including shonen-style anime fans. It's very much more of a character drama with lots of great artwork, even if spotty in terms of continuity at times. However, if you like meditative character dramas, more along the lines of Ghost in the Shell, without the science fiction elements, then Royal Space Force might prove an interesting adventure. 7/10.