Friday, May 31, 2013

Royal Space Fanzine

I first saw Royal Space Force: Wings Of Honneamise on somebody’s laserdisc in his dorm room in what I believe is Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, GA, while en route to a wedding in Florida.  In those pre-Akira days we were always on the lookout for something to impact North America’s cultural radar and show everybody that these Japanese cartoons weren’t merely transforming robot toy ads or cutesy children’s distractions, but art with a capital A. Was Honneamise going to be that movie? We sure thought so.  It’s a unique beast, fitting neither into the narrow confines of toy-driven anime clich├ęs nor the shiny metal militarism of 80s science fiction; a thoughtful, introspective film set in a obsessively realized fictional world, asking fundamental questions about man’s relation to man and his environment, the director’s only film and the first movie from a studio that would never make anything else quite like it.  

Then; Akira, a game-changer if there ever was one. Here we are a quarter-century later in a world where anime films win Oscars and highlight film festivals, and who remembers Wings Of Honneamise? Carl Gustav Horn does. He took time out from his professional work editing manga for Dark Horse and put together this gorgeous, challenging magazine celebrating the 25th anniversary of Wings Of Honneamise, or as Carl prefers to call it, Royal Space Force. RSF for short. 

Yeah, a fanzine, an actual printed fanzine that you can hold in your hand and roll up and hit your sullen kid sister with, produced courtesy HP’s print on demand service Magcloud; filled with essays and analysis about RSF and its place in the world by Carl G. Horn and by AWO’s Gerald Rathkolb, Ninja Consultant Erin Finnegan, TOR.COM’sTim Maughan, analoghousou’s wildarmsheero, and Brian “Answerman” Hanson. Beautifully designed in full color, the zine is filled with photos of model kits and shrines to Miyazaki and Yamaga and a Bandai Monopoly set (“merge with Popy; 14,227,000 shares”), Jack Chick tracts, photo-collages, old zines, theater tickets, TDK HD-X PRO T-120 video tape, postcards, 45 singles, Kenichi Sonoda sketches,  and vinyl of Noriko Takaya from Gunbuster.

It’s a tremendously dense ‘zine. Not a lot of films can stand up to this kind of scrutiny. RSF carries the weight, though; an ambitious movie produced by people who had grown up otaku, would in fact make the very term “otaku” a household word worldwide, and now would move heaven and earth and 800 million yen to drag the art of Japanese animation forward at 24 frames a second, to break out of the ever-amplifying feedback loop of increasingly cooler robots and increasingly cuter girls, to move anime from “pop culture” to just plain “culture”. 

Whether or not they succeeded is another story; not even this zine achieves consensus, with some contributors taking the film to task for... well, let’s face it, it’s a stunningly well-realized world that we see an awful lot of, and just like our world, interesting things are not always happening. Several contributors explore the film’s mirror-image relation to our own cold war and concomitant space programs, and Horn takes a close look at 1985’s Plaza Accord, which increased the value of the yen versus the dollar and suddenly made imports of Japanese goods prohibitively expensive, as well as the film’s strange worldwide premiere at what is now the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood as a rewritten, English-dubbed curiosity titled “Star Quest”. It is a remarkable film in nearly every aspect and like any other challenging, multifaceted project, some parts are more successful than others. 

Even if you aren’t a fan of the film – there is that out-of-left-field rape scene, after all – you’ll find this zine an essential snapshot of the anime industry circa 1987, with more data about Gainax’s corporate trajectory, the Miyazaki/Yamaga connection, the incredible pedigree of talent assembled for the film, which included Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and future Evangelion director Hideaki Anno, who ditched working on 1984’s Macross movie to get back to making the Daicon IV film. Filled with these kind of priceless anecdotal tidbits, this RSF fanzine is an exploration of both high art and shameless commerce; the lofty ideals and the brutal reality of animated filmmaking. Gainax would move forward from the less-than-blockbuster reception of RSF and re-make the anime world in its image, but even at their most fanservicey or successful, they still aren’t afraid of a little failure in the pursuit of innovation. 

This 25th Anniversary Fanzine for Royal Space Force is, as I see it, nothing less than a challenge thrown in the face of everything we call ‘fandom’. It says, what’s your excuse? Why aren’t you making a zine this good about a film YOU love?  Can’t you imagine dozens of big, strikingly designed print-on-demand magazines about, say, Patlabor or Ghost In The Shell, Evangelion,  or even Galaxy Express, Sailor Moon or Mazinger Z? I can. Let’s get to work, people. That rocket isn’t going to launch itself.

ROYAL SPACE FORCE 25TH ANNIVERSARY FANZINE is available from HP Magcloud right this very minute, go get it.  

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Superdeformed said...

OOOOOOOoooooo purdy.

publius said...

I may be an anime freak (the quarter tonne of LaserDiscs on my wall shelving kinds of suggests that), but… Honneamise passes beyond the realm of "good anime", or "good animated film", to just plain "good film". It is probably my very favourite film, hands down.
If anything deserves this treatment, it assuredly does.