Classic Japanese Superversive Film: Royal Space Force – Wings of Honneamise

It’s that time of year again, so here’s something to consider when you’re out looking to spread the love. Sure, it’s another anime work out of Japan, but this one is an emerging classic whose influence is still making itself felt across the Pacific and therefore its full legacy is yet untold. That film is Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise.

This is not an action film. It’s not an adventure film. It’s a drama about a young man who becomes the first astronaut for his country, all in the hope of stopping a cold war’s immanently going hot and ruining everything. What makes it remarkable, especially for a work out of Japan, is how important religion–which, for its trappings, is Christianity is all but name–is in the arc that the protagonist takes during this film, an arc that mirrors the space program he joins and champions to its fateful first launch in the climax of the film.

As with the real American space program in the 1960s, the fictional one here hits a very low point and things almost got totally beyond the pale; our protagonist mirrors this journey, so small children shouldn’t be watching this at all and older ones should have their parents on hand for that low point, but he rejects this darkness, ultimately due to that faith taking hold in his life, and becomes a light in the darkness of his world.

If you don’t own it, rent it and share a viewing. This is one of those rare films that transcend its origins in space, time, and medium to become truly beautiful works of art. Even the English dub, done during the time when dubs routinely sucked, wasn’t bad; you’re probably safer with subtitles and the original language track just the same. It’s Japan’s take on the modern mythology we see in The Right Stuff, and it is recommended.

A Superversive Classic From Japan: The Vision of Escaflowne

It’s been over 20 years since The Vision of Escaflowne fired aired on Japan, and henceforth flew across the world to win over the hearts of a generation of fans seeking action, romance, and giant robot combat. Noble knights fighting against a wicked empire, disposed kings seeking to restore a long realm, and a girl just coming of age trying to find her place in the world- just add giant robots and airships to get this new classic out of Japan.

And yes, you better believe that this is a Superversive story. For all its doom, gloom, tragedy, and sorrow this is most definitely about shining a light in the darkness. Our heroine is not just the heart of the story, but also its moral compass; Hitomi may follow an arc typical of romance stories–the hero and the rival are her love interests–but it’s firmly the subplot of an overall coming-of-age warstory drama for both Hitomi and her hero: Van Fanel Fanelia.

Now available on Blu-Ray, as the clip below shows, the series can again (legally) be enjoyed for a new generation that is also hungry for fiction that is true to life- especially when that fiction is as fantastic as this one is.

I recommend the series over the movie for most audiences; the film takes that Darker and Edgier tone that leads to some dissonance with its Superversive storytelling, undermining the superior production values clearly present in the film. I also recommend that you want this in Japanese with English subtitles; this was just before English voie acting in anime series upped its game, and it shows. There are subtleties in the Japanese performance that are not present in the English ones (or, for that matter, in the German and Spanish ones); Episode 14’s climatic, character-defining moment for Van is far more powerful in Japanese than any other available language to date.

Take note that the living Goddess of Music–Yoko Kanno–did the music for this, following up her magnificant work with Macross Plus a few years before this series, and all of it holds up to this day against the very best Western counterpats- then and now. Without her presence in the scores and songs, the true beauty present in this series would never manifest, and it is arguable that her work–more than anyone else–is why this series acquired such a loyal following and retained them for so long.

A fairy tale with giant robots cannot be missed. Recommended. Add this to your library.

More on Downplaying the Classics

Daniel over at Castalia House has another essay called Downplaying the Classics: Further Evidence. He continues to make an interesting case for the decline in science fiction quality recently.

Some have argued that one of the reasons that the 1960s may rank so well among readers is because the best from that era has been given enough time for nostalgic fans to have forgotten the forgettable but popular books of the moment, and the cream of the crop is the only set that attracts attention. This “Classic Effect” unfairly pits a settled canon of supernovels against today’s as yet unfiltered greats. It boils down to: “The good old days were not as good as we think they were, and today’s era will be the good old days…given enough time.”

I have uncovered a tantalizing bit of evidence that appears to argue the opposite.

GoodReads, a social media site for book lovers, draws upon thousands and even hundreds of thousands of apparent user and other reviews in order to rank its books. It also contains lists of books about which the participants are particularly fanatical. The users there have a user ranked “Best of Each Decade” list that we are examining for head-to-head comparison.

My side theory to this has been that if the “Classic Effect” is true, then the most recent decade (2000-2009) should suffer from “unsettled canon” drag upon reader ratings, while the settled stuff from the 1960s should have the benefit of less political argument and more zealous “pure” fans. The Classic Effect anticipates that the now-Classics from 1960-1969 will necessarily rank higher than the unsettled recent ones.

According to GoodReads, they don’t.

Looking at GoodReads top 15 Classics from the 1960s, the novels rank an average of 4.0 stars by users there. This is identical to the GoodReads ranks of the 2000s: 4.0 stars.

The “Classic Effect” does not show up there, and, because it does not, I suspect it is not a reasonable explanation for any discrepancies that may occur at Amazon. After all, if nostalgia should have an impact, it is more likely to occur at place for book fans who don’t have to have purchased the book to opine on it, rather than a place for book buyers, like Amazon. (Note: I realize that you can rate a book at Amazon without buying it, as well, but it is weighted toward verified purchasers.)

But that calm equivalence is actually where the chaos begins.

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