originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/726209...

Animation Night has been getting kind of short lately, huh? Gone are the days when we’d marathon three films in a night… for now. Next week is Animation Night 169, and @mogsk has been helping me cook up quite a program to act as a sequel to Animation Night 69. It’s time to find out just how much Twitch will let me get away with.

Gif source: @roseillith

But what about tonight? Well, tonight I figure since we’ve been talking about Anno this week, it might be fun to put a short program together to show some of his earlier works - as an animator. Truly long-time viewers might remember watching Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise and Gunbuster all the way back on Animation Night 29. But this isn’t exactly a reprise of that. We’ll revisit Gunbuster on another day. Tonight the subject will be Metal Skin Panic: Madox-01 and Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise.

So here’s a brief timeline (largely leaning on SteveM’s video here lol). Anno’s work on the Daicon III film got him a foot in the door in the industry by impressing Studio Nue enough to invite the Daicon III team to work on Macross. Nue were also in large part fans turned animators, many of them Gundam doujinshi artists. Anno joined what became known as the ‘mecha unit’ at Artland, working alongside the legendary Ichirō Itano - where he was known for walking around barefoot and talking loudly to himself. A couple of years after Daicon III, the Daicon team reassembled to create a followup film, a lavish effort packed with a ludicrous density of pop-culture references.

Gif source: @unequivocallyotaku

Not long after this… Anno dropped out of university, and started bouncing between animation studios in Tokyo. The next big break came when he applied to work on Miyazaki’s Nausicaa, a production which was rapidly transforming the outsourcing-oriented studio Topcraft into a gathering of some of the best animators in the business. At Topcraft, Anno’s reputation was 'the primal man’, sleeping under his desk with the cockroaches and not wearing shoes. But despite his inexperience, he made a good impression on Miyazaki, who assigned him the crucial finale cuts of the God Warrior.

Here we see what is sometimes called the 'Anno explosion’, where the laser sweeps across and a massive explosion follows after a beat. Anno was able to handle the complex shading and multiple layers with aplomb…

Gif source: @swardball

…if not entirely on schedule. (One anecdote has that he tried to use his work on this sequence to pick up women. Which, to be fair…)

So in the mid 80s, Anno has established himself as a skilled mecha animator who can handle some ludicrously technical scenes. Besides Nausicaa and Macross, you will see him in Megazone 23 Part I, Giant Robo: The Animation, Baoh, Birth - and even Grave of the Fireflies. Any time you wanted mechanical animation or explosions, Anno was definitely a guy to get on the phone. And of course one of his most significant projects was on SDF Macross: Do You Remember Love? where he animated… you guessed it, lots of missiles and explosions.

With all this experience under his belt, Anno was almost ready to return to the newly founded Gainax - what had been Daicon Film. But first - lets check out Metal Skin Panic! MADOX-01. This OVA, made at AIC and Artmic - who made so many of the classic OVAs from this period, it’s nuts - was the directorial debut of Shinji Aramaki, whose later CG films we covered back on Animation Night 152. Even back in 1987, Aramaki’s love of intricate mechanical detail was on full display - and luckily Anno was on hand to make that vision work, along with the even younger 14-year-old prodigy Kōji Akimoto. (I’m not entirely sure what became of Akimoto. He only has one other anime credit, much later.)

Gif source: @garth-naut

Anno’s scenes here prefigure the later similar hyper-detailed mechanical animation in works like Patlabor 2. But what’s this OVA actually about? Well, it’s a pretty simple story: a mechanic gets trapped inside a mecha suit, and accidentally ends up on a rampage as he’s chased by the military (remind you of Roujin Z? or Stink Bomb in Memories?), hoping to unite with his girlfriend Shiori. Ultimately he ends up in a confrontation with an American soldier Lieutenant Kilgore. They fight! Really, we’re here for the animation.

So, that brings us to Royal Space Force. The origin is kinda messy. To make a long story short, Daicon Film approached Bandai, hoping to make an OVA based on new Gundam kits. Bandai (and more specifically Shigeru Watanabe) said no to Gundam, but they were interested in this idea for a scifi OVA - and they’d drop them a cool three and a half million dollars to make a film to rival Nausicaa. (Apparently Mamoru Oshii’s approval played a big part in that).

Gif source: @roseillith

So Royal Space Force, what a film. There truly isn’t anything quite like it, either in Gainax’s oeuvre or anime at large. The closest thing I could compare it to might be the near-future anime series Planetes, which similarly focuses on realistic spaceflight in the context of war and geopolitics - but the tone of these two stories is markedly different. Of all things, it actually most makes me think of the works of Le Guin.

Honneamise is set on a fictional world vaguely resembling eartly 20th Century Earth, in which a country embroiled in war is putting together its world’s first, threadbare space programme. It follows aspiring astronaut Shirotsugh Ladatt, who missed his chance to be a pilot and ended up in the sideshow space programme. But he meets a religious girl named Riquinni Nonderaiko who convinces him of the potential of spaceflight in bringing peace to the world.

But this idealism clashes with the reality of a world where the space programme is viewed cynically, a means to an end, with protestors questioning the cost of it and the higherups seeing the rocket launch merely as a means to set up an ambush against their enemies. Shirotsugh increasingly doubts whether the space programme is worthwhile at all. And he himself is definitely not a fully sympathetic protagonist; in one particularly uncomfortable scene he attempts to rape Riquinni (which in its framing reminds me of a similar moment with Shevek in The Dispossessed).

Gif source: @videoclubs

The film is as much as anything an insane work of worldbuilding, full of constructed cultures and small details that sit just a little askew of Earth while still feeling incredibly grounded. The animation in this film is fucking insane - not just Anno’s incredible rocket launch and flight sequences, based on a research trip to the States where he watched the Shuttle go up for real - but throughout, in its character animation, it anticipates the 90s 'realist’ approach to stylisation. It’s just full of loving detail, wordlessly conveying so much about its setting.

Of course, such an ambitious film faced a troubled production. Between the inexperience of Daicon Film Gainax and the difference between what this film was going for and what everything else was going for, and production meddling… it was a mess. Big name composer Ryuichi Sakamoto was pulled in to score the film, won over by its storyboards, but ended up clashing over the timing of scenes, and in the end his score was chopped up and rearranged.

And for their part, Bandai started getting antsy and attempted to impose changes, like insisting on tacking on the subtitle 'The Wings of Honneamise’. They wanted to cut the runtime, cut elements that didn’t have toy potential, and so on. They wanted something that would sell toys… and got a deliberately slow, moody art film that leans heavily on nonverbal storytelling.

Gif source: @roseillith

So it’s a weird one… and it didn’t sell in its theatrical run. But you know, all those elements that made it a hard sell at first are a perfect recipe for 'cult classic’, and for that reason, Honneamise is still remembered today.

In any case, back to Anno. He delivered the most impressive animation of his career. The rocket launch in meticulous detail of course, but equally scenes of planes to rival any in Miyazaki’s films (or The Cockpit [AN146]). Of course, he didn’t carry it alone! The great realist Toshiyuki Inoue, who’d later be famous for his work at Production I.G. such as Ghost in the Shell, was on it, working for example on astonishingly busy crowd scenes which apparently took a full month to animate. And animators like Fumio Iida, Nobuteru Yuki and Noriasu Yamauchi, brought some of the best work they’d ever done.

All in all, there’s nothing quite like Royal Space Force, before or since. So I’m really looking forward to seeing it again.

Animation Night 168 will go live shortly; films will begin at 11pm UK time and continue to about 2am UK time. (Apologies it’s so late once more, my sleep is proving troublesome to shift.) We will as usual be at twitch.tv/canmom. I hope to see you there, it’s gonna be a real sakuga feast tonight!!


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