Eccentric music in a woefully incomplete collection.
Reader review by Jon Turner
Wings Of Honneamise: Royal Space Force is considered by many to be one of the finest animated films to come from Japan, an epic tale of one man's determination to become the first in space. Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, arguably best known in the U.S. for his Oscar-winning score for The Last Emperor, wrote the music for this film. The score's orchestration is basically electronic instruments, and even though the score adopts the symphonic formula, it basically sounds more metallic than orchestral. This may turn off music purists at first, but in the film, it works well, especially since it sets in a somewhat futuristic time period. I evaluate scores partially on their reliance of themes, and thankfully Sakamoto's score for Wings Of Honneamise does just that. The "Main Theme" sets the tone for the film from the start, complete with a rocking beat and an uplifting, memorable melody that sticks in one's mind after it is over. Then there's "Riquinni's Theme", a lovely, somewhat holy melody backed by a deep bass-beat. And there's the theme for the scenes where we see our spaceman-to-be in training; it's a bouncy, enjoyable romp with all the feelings about going through training.
It is easy to identify these themes throughout the score, as they are used more than once ?Eand with a bit of variation, too. "Saint Riquinni" reprises "Riquinni's Theme", using a synthesized chorus to "sing" the theme. "Lift Off", an awesome track accompanying the moment where the rocket finally takes off, hints the "Main Theme" and the training theme (the ascending note motifs) in the midst of an ascending, uphill climbing track. "Out To Space" provides for a truly breathtaking listening experience, where we hear the training theme played at a slow tempo, with really strong, stirring motifs accompanying the scenes played towards the end. The final track "Fade" reprises the main theme, and expands a little upon it, adding in jazz guitars to provide a funky finale.
While this music may be appropriate for the film, its level of appeal is another matter. While the themes are memorable, they tend to be somewhat repetitive, making them less interesting to listen to. And there are some tracks which hold less well for listening experience than accompanying their scenes. "Fighting Noise" is appropriately noisy; it barely contains much of a theme, just fragments of dissonance mishmashed together. "Battle" is a very loud, bombastic cacophony which gets especially obnoxious when a very annoying (and dated) electric guitar, or something that sounds like it, blares through the speakers. It's got a great beat, but the heavy amount of dissonance and grittiness makes it a little hard to bear. And at one point during "Out To Space" we hear some rather annoying synthesizer electronic sounds (a descending, three-note motif that is both dissonant and baffling).
Despite its occasional drawbacks, Wings Of Honneamise's music serves its purpose well - to suit the surreal, strange, mysterious world and epic tone of a visually dazzling, if at times bizarre, animated effort. It doesn't always work as a listening experience, but as long as it suits the film, that's all that really counts.
This album, entitled "Complete Collection", however, delivers a lot less than it promises. At first glance, it looks like it may be a collection of all of the music from the film. Unfortunately, only two discs are music-only. The first of these two discs, which is approximately 15 minutes long, features four tracks, all entitled "Prototype". The first two of these "Prototype" tracks sound somewhat like earlier versions of "Main Theme", and "Riquinni's Theme", unlike the final versions that made it into the film. The next two "Prototype" tracks, meanwhile, did make their way into the film, if not in their full version. "Prototype C" features a more synthy version of "Uselessness", with the same annoying synthesizer sounds we heard on "Out To Space" playing at one point. "Prototype D", meanwhile, is a more up-tempo, upbeat rendition of the "Royal Space Force Anthem Song". (This song originally plays over the scene where Shiro is standing with the Royal Space members at a funeral.) The presentation of the tracks on the first CD is rather curious, but interesting nevertheless.
The second disc, meanwhile, contains only 14 of the 41 tracks in the film. (It's easy to tell this because in the liner notes is a diagram chart list of all the songs Sakamoto and his three colleagues - Koji Ueno, Yuji Nomi, and Haruo Kubota - had to create for the film.) The only other track on the disc, "Melody [Anyamo]", is a song that was included in at least one scene, though quietly. The song is rather curious; it doesn't offer a terribly singable melody, although it does feature a lovely soprano voice (Mitsuki Morita) and unique orchestration. Not only that, but the second disc is only about 39 minutes long. That seems like a cheap deal considering how many songs were in the film! (Ironically, this disc is identical to the original soundtrack album that was released many years ago, which is now out of print.)
The music from the first two discs makes up only about a third of the entire album. The other two-thirds, the third and fourth discs, are recorded directly from the soundtrack of the 119 minute movie. Like the Grave Of The Fireflies soundtrack, and Akira - The Original Japanese Soundtrack, these two discs contain Japanese dialogue, sound effects, and music, the way they were heard in the movie. (Yes, every single scene from the movie is on here, including the much disturbing rape attempt sequence.) Here, we have all the music from the film, but we are never permitted to listen to it alone. Of particular note, however, is how different some of the tracks are in length in comparison to the second disc. Some songs which lasted longer in original composition (such as "Fade") are condensed with either new notes to end them, or just end by fading out. Also, sometimes, the very, very beginnings of the songs were not included in the film's final form. I can't imagine why the album producers would waste two discs on recording the entire movie. I could easily do that any day. I barely listen to these two discs, if at all.
One final thing I forgot to mention is how expensive Wings Of Honneamise Complete Collection is. It costs a whopping 7000 yen, which is ridiculous considering that only two discs are music-only. Only true anime fans will be daring to blow their money just for this set (because there is, ironically, no other way to buy the music... so far at least); others may want to be cautious. I personally am quite satisfied to have the music to listen to on my own, but I can hardly call this album complete. Especially since at least one of these discs could be used to fit all the tracks, not just 15, of this eccentric achievement of a soundtrack.