published in Empire No.75, Sydney
Being the only major nation in the world to be refused an active military since the American-Japan Security Treaty was signed in 1952, Japan has continually projected unique flights of fantasy in its cinema and anime when it depicts itself possessing and deploying an army or air force. Futuristic military anime – a very large subgenre in anime – abounds with all manner of spectacular regimes, conflicts, warfare and aftermath. Yet always, Japanese anime’s view of the war machine is profoundly opposite to American and subsequent western images of the explosiveness of war.
This opposition to the dominant western imagining of war is wryly and sensitively handled in one of the genre’s seminal works now available on DVD: The Wings of Honneamise. Shiro Lhadatt is attached to the Royal Space Force: a slap-dash depleted department hemmed in by governmental restrictions and weighted by ritual and bureaucracy. In essence, it is a symbol of Japan’s own ossified forces. Shiro appears acutely aware of the ineptitude and ineffectiveness of this regime, yet he still clutches to his dream of flying high into space. When the RSF announces it is implementing a new phase of research into manned orbital travel, Shiro volunteers despite the rickety means by which the RSF has conducted similar ventures previously.
Shiro’s changing temperament is keenly moulded by his wavering relationship to his colleagues, his superiors, and to the orphaned pacifist with whom he develops a protracted yet heartfelt kinship. As the RSF’s space programme gains momentum, it becomes both the pawn in global politics and international diplomatic affairs, as well as the means by which Shiro is transformed from a nonchalant bumpkin into a withdrawn media star. The charm of Shiro’s characterisation is framed against Honneamise’s distinctive illustration of a future world caught somewhere between Stalinist Russia and rural Japan. The attention to technical detail and imaginative design enhances this wondrous and monumental story.