The criteria for what makes a classic anime, or film for that matter, have never been truly defined. It’s those qualifiers that change from person to person, and through the many articles I’ve read in anime publications over the years (both in print and online), it seems that many hold up Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise as being a movie that should be standing next to the pantheons of the most highly respected anime ever made. In a lot of ways, this could be sufficiently argued, but the story is not as powerfully told as people have been reminiscing.
Granted, this is an eighties title, and nostalgia can have immense control over a viewer (myself included), but despite the fact that Royal Space Force is a solid construction, it doesn’t have too much of lasting impression. It’s a gorgeous world that viewers are able to enter, albeit with the stunning production values of the eighties bubble economy (a term that is no stranger to anyone who has been interested in that “golden age”), but it falls into an art house trap: it’s too understated for its own good.
We get to watch as people live out their lives on this Earth-like, war-torn, rubble studded futuristic setting that is really a great example of establishing a sci-fi future. This is Gainax at its most quiet, at least looking at the overall film. Of course, Gainax does show that it has a random track record, but this movie in particular sure is gorgeously designed.
So the setup is great, but the characters are too distant. It’s not that they are emotionally distant, although they are, but the audience’s understanding is far enough away that it’s really hard to pick up those subtleties, only to realize it wasn’t going anywhere deeply interesting with these characters anyway. I am excluding the one controversial scene, which you can read about at a million other websites, although its placement does contribute to the film’s disjointedness. The hero is so soft spoken that we are not quite sure whether to sympathize with him or not based on his actions over the course of the movie.
The main factor is the script for Royal Space Force hasn’t aged well. What we see in animation is astonishing, but compared to all of the content we have now, it’s a film that would pass over the modern anime fan’s head had this exact same story been released today.