This place really hasn’t been living up to its claim of “theoretical 80s nostalgia” lately. To make up for this transgression, here’s a translation of an article about the music in the legendary movie, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. One could describe the setting of this great movie with the word “theoretical.” The author, who goes by the moniker Haramaki Neko, has a regular column: One Thousand and One Nights of Soundtracks. In this column he discusses and analyzes the soundtracks to many of our beloved Japanese cartoons. Some outbound links are to Japanese resources. The footnotes are my own additions.
Music into Another World ~ Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise ~
Hey it’s Haramaki Neko  here. The next soundtrack DJ event, Mission #37, has been scheduled at the Soundtrack Pub. It’ll run from 3PM to 8PM on December 15th. As always, it’ll take place at Studio80 (Ottanta) in Kamata. The featured events will be The Rivalry of the Great Anime Soundtracks of the 80s, Final Canyon Chapter and The Soundtrack Front Line, the latter of which will introduce some albums  you’ll want to pick up. These albums are slated for release in November and December. Currently we’re looking for soundtrack DJs. DJs without prior experience are also welcome! Applications will be accepted until the end of November. Please consult the link below for more details.
Today I’d like to talk about the 1987 feature film Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (the title during its original theatrical run was The Wings of Honnêamise: Royal Space Force). Many then-unknown names were involved with the production, such as Hiroyuki Yamaga, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Hideaki Anno, and Shinji Higuchi among others. These industry rookies got together and created what is considered today to be a legendary feature-length science fiction animated film.
Taking place in the fictional Honnêamise Kingdom, young officer Shirotsugh applies for the position of humanity’s first astronaut. This story portrays the events up until the flight into outer space.
One of the major highlights is its depiction of another world. The design and setting are extensively detailed, down to the language, religion, culture, architecture, customs, daily necessities, and even industrial tools. Up until November 11th, the Royal Space Force: Wings of Honnêamise — A Creative Path to the SF Animation Film exhibit  put on display the production materials and conceptual art for this movie. I did rush over to check out the exhibit and was blown away, however I was a bit disappointed at the lack of production materials related to the music.
While this film was the work of a bunch of rookies, Atsumi Tashiro was the sound director and Mitsuru Kashiwabara handled the sound effects. These two are the same veterans that worked on the original Space Battleship Yamato. Even from the perspective of the casting, we see an impressive array of talented live action and voice actors, including Leo Morimoto as Shirotsugh. While the film was produced by a bunch of newcomers, it was firmly supported by the work of veterans in the sound department.
For any discussion about the sound of Royal Space Force, inevitably the topic shifts to Ryuichi Sakamoto. For Sakamoto, Royal Space Force is a movie he worked on after Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) and The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986). Royal Space Force immediately precedes The Last Emperor (1988), a movie for which he received an Oscar for best music and original score.
Although Royal Space Force set in an alternate world, a lot of focus is placed on being grounded in a sense of realism. In that regard, the staff wanted music that could conceivably come from some actual civilization, but was also not like any existing music made for movies. Sakamoto is deeply knowledgeable about many genres of music, spanning from modern to tribal. He was also a member of the technopop group Yellow Magic Orchestra which took the world by storm. He’s truly the perfect choice for creating the kind of music sought for Royal Space Force. The result is music with an air of exoticism and modern lyricism, yet untied to any particular country. Indeed, this music was the result of Sakamoto’s brilliance.
Also, sound director Atsumi Tashiro supposedly sought a “non-anime” performance from Leo Morimoto and the other actors. This “non-anime” take is shared as well by the music. The music surpasses the archetypes such as “the melodramatic track played during the sad scene” or “the exhilarating track played during the action scene,” instead opting for a more restrained, unique sound. This aspect in particular I think is what makes the music still feel fresh even 30 years after its debut.
Sakamoto composed four themes  that serve as the core of the lineup. Centered around those themes, four composers were tasked with composing and arranging the music for individual scenes of the film. Those composers were Ryuichi Sakamoto himself, Kōji Ueno, Yuji Nomi, and Haruo Kubota. While on the surface one may get the impression that the soundtrack is a disorganized mishmash of different styles, this is in fact what comprises a colorful, multifaceted whole that complements the world building in the film.
There are two different soundtracks released for Royal Space Force. The mini-album The Wings of Honnêamise (Image Sketch) (released in February 1987) contains the prototypes of the four different themes composed by Sakamoto, and preceded the theatrical release of the film. The album Aile De Honnêamise – Royal Space Force (released in March 1987) contains 15 tracks, and came out in parallel with the theatrical unveiling of the film. Both albums were sold by Midi Records, a record label established by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Akiko Yano, and others in 1984.
Why don’t we have a listen to the latter album. The tracks are as listed below.
- Main Theme (M-1)
- Riqunni’s Theme (M-B)
- The Defense Ministry (M-21)
- Uproar (M-4)
- Futility (M-8)
- Song “Anyamo” (SE-1A)
- Dr. Gnomm’s Funeral (M-19)
- Sacred Riqunni (M-17)
- Distant Thunder (M-24)
- Shirotsugh’s Resolve (M-31)
- Final Stage (M-34)
- War (M-35)
- Liftoff (M-36)
- Out To Space (M-37)
- Fade (M-38)
In parentheses is the M-number  of each track. Side A of the record contains tracks 1-8, while side B contains tracks 9-15.
As you may infer from the M-numbers being out of order, the ordering of the tracks on the record do not correspond to the order that the tracks are used in the film. Side A contains music that establishes the feel and worldview of Honnêamise, while side B is more orthodox in the sense that the tracks proceed in order towards the climactic rocket launch.
Track 1, Main Theme, is used for the opening scene and the following opening title sequence . This is Theme A, composed and arranged by Sakamoto himself. It is quite Sakamoto-like in that it repeats a simple, short phrase throughout. While the album contains the full 3 minute and 40 second long track, only the first 2 minutes and 30 seconds were used in the movie before fading out.
Track 2, Riqunni’s Theme, is the theme for our young heroine Riqunni. The M-number M-B is not a misprint, but refers to Theme B. The track on the album is actually not the track used in the film itself, but a version arranged for the album. While largely the same as Prototype B on the Image Sketch mini-album, this version features an actual flute and clarinet, giving it a more rich, colorful feeling.
Track 3, The Defense Ministry, is used around the middle of the film in a scene where the leader of the Royal Space Force is meeting with the aristocrats . This track fits none of the aforementioned four themes, and is an original piece from Sakamoto.
Track 4, Uproar, is another original piece from Sakamoto. This ethnic track plays near the beginning during the scene where Shirotsugh is riding into town at night, making a ruckus along the way . Were this a typical movie, a jaunty piece would be played during this moment. However, the abnormality of this piece is what makes it both Sakamoto-like and Royal Space Force-like.
The following is written in the liner notes included with the record: “this music seeks the intrigue of discrepancy.” In other words, this is not music that is designed to fit smoothly onto the scenes of the film, but instead aims to be slightly off-kilter to impress a thrilling sensation onto the viewer. This too is a unique aspect of the music in the movie.
This off-kilter feeling is at its peak in Track 5, Futility. It is played during the Shirotsugh’s training montage . The tune is feeble and comical. Moreover, the title is “Futility.” The combination of this track with the serious training montage  breeds an exquisite kind of humor. This is an arrangement from Sakamoto’s Theme C, by guitarist Haruo Kubota of the band The Pearl Brothers.
Track 6, Anyamo, was composed as a more realistic piece . It sounds somewhat folkish, balladic, and classical, but also like none of those at the same time. Even the lyrics are written and sung in the fictional language of Honnêamise. This track was composed and arranged by Yuji Nomi, who also worked on The Adventures of Milo and Otis. After Royal Space Force, he handled the music for the movies Whisper of the Heart (1995) and The Cat Returns (2002), as well as the TV series Bokurano (2007).
Track 7 plays during the funeral of Shirotsugh’s superior Dr. Gnomm , leader of the Space Travel Association, and is a synthesizer piece. It’s an original composition from Kōji Ueno, who was part of the band Guernica. For a funeral song it has an oddly humorous tune. However, as an expression of Shirotsugh’s complicated mental state, it’s a perfect fit. This intentionally designed imbalance in the composition is true value of Ueno’s contribution.
Track 8, Sacred Riqunni, is the last track on side A of the record. It is an arrangement of Riqunni’s Theme by Yuji Nomi. It plays during the scene where Shirotsugh reads the holy book from Riqunni , presenting the religion of Honnêamise to the viewer. This is an important scene where Shirotsugh’s feelings for Riqunni grow stronger. The synthesizer that provides the holy tunes are not like the other off-kilter pieces, but fits straight-on and enhances the scene.
Side B starts with Track 9, Distant Thunder. This is an original, lyrical piece from Kōji Ueno that plays during the scene where Shirotsugh goes to find Riqunni and accompanies her back home during the sudden rain shower . In a previous article on this column I wrote about Ueno’s work on Fantastic Children . Similar to the music of Fantastic Children, this beautiful piece has a delicate feeling of clarity. The tune changes in accordance with the progression of the scene, and is an expression of the feelings of Shirotsugh and Riqunni. This particular track is very popular with the fans of the film. The feelings of those two characters don’t end up intersecting in the film itself; that vexing feeling is a unique characteristic of the piece.
Track 10, Shirotsugh’s Resolve, was not used in the film. To avoid interference from foreign adversaries, the Royal Space Force is ordered to expedite the rocket launch. During the ongoing commotion, Shirotsugh calmly says, “I’ll go.”  The original plan was to play the track during this scene. This original composition from Haruo Kubota begins with a spirited fanfare. Overall, overstrung performances were excluded from the film, and one could infer that this overly energetic track was not used for the same reason.
However, from the perspective of the album lineup, Shirotsugh’s Resolve enables the following tracks to unfold in much greater fashion.
Track 11, Final Stage, to Track 15, Fade, comprises the music that is played from the climax to the ending of the film .
Final Stage (composed and arranged by Yuji Nomi) depicts the urgency of the rocket launch preparations. It is then followed by War (composed by Haruo Kubota, and arranged by both Haruo Kubota and Kōji Ueno) . The war scene that this track accompanies is a major moment in the film. As this track differs completely from all other anime music composed for war scenes, it may sound bizarre to ears accustomed to anime music. It’s both rock and modern, with an exotic melody and sound. Initially sounding a little unexciting, the piece gradually transitions from a simmer to seething blast. This music gets stuck in your head. If film music existed inside of the world of Honnêamise, it would sound like this. This is one of the album’s highlights.
Kōji Ueno arranged the next track, Liftoff, which accompanies the actual rocket launch scene . This track is based off of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Theme A and Theme C. Although it runs 2 minutes and 30 seconds in length, only the portion after the first minute is used in the movie. Originally the first minute was going to be included in the movie as well, but it was later decided to have no music play during the moment right before liftoff. This moment with no accompanying music and no sound looks like documentary footage, and feels absolutely thrilling (the animation is great too). It’s interesting to listen to this track and think about how that scene would be different if the first minute was played over it.
Out To Space is played as Shirotsugh looks upon the Earth from the spaceship in orbit , and Fade accompanies the ending credits . Ryuichi Sakamoto composed and arranged both. In Out To Space, after a variation on Riqunni’s Theme, it transitions to a variation on the Main Theme. After that is another transition to a classical composition for the latter half that plays during the flashes through the history of mankind.
And then Fade, which adorns the ending. The pent up emotion is finally unleashed all at once in the beat of this technopop piece. It is an arrangement that is fused with the main theme. Indeed, only this piece could conclude the film. This exhilaration rivals that of Patlabor 2: The Movie.
In the past, Ryuichi Sakamoto has indirectly expressed dissatisfaction with the music in this movie . Regardless of what the composer thinks, the music really is quite substantial. It successfully rises to the challenge of creating music of another world, and as theatrical music it is both fascinating and unique.
Unfortunately, a couple of tracks are missing from the album. One is the piano and violin arrangement of Riqunni’s Theme that plays in the scene where she first appears . Another is the scene where Shirotsugh flies on an aeroplane for G-force training . Another is the attempted assassination on Shirotsugh . These tracks are important both from the perspective of the film and as musical pieces.
According to the music production materials printed on the liner notes for the two albums, there were 50~60 tracks including the unused ones.
The US DVD release of the movie  includes the background music as an extra. It contains the 42 tracks used in the movie. However, today it’s quite difficult to find this release. If the masters still exist then please, someone release the complete soundtrack… Surely this wish is shared by all of us fans who were captivated by the music of Royal Space Force.
Haramaki Neko can be found on Twitter and also at his personal website, Gekiban Club, and Soundtrack Pub.
For opinion pieces written by English speaking fans of Royal Space Force, I highly recommend Carl Horn’s excellent fanzine which can be purchased here.
- Literally “Bellyband Cat.” Haramaki is a kind of Japanese clothing that covers the stomach. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haramaki_(clothing). To find pictures of cats being wrapped in these things, you can do an image search for 腹巻き猫.⬏
- This event took place quite recently. Featured albums include the Treasure Island Original Sound Track 「宝島 オリジナル・サウンドトラック」 and Ultra Maestro: A Musical Selection of Toru Fuyuki 「ウルトラ・マエストロ 冬木透 音楽選集」. Toru Fuyuki composed many of the Ultraman soundtracks.⬏
- The referenced exhibit was held at the Hachioji City Yume Museum, and ran from September 4 to November 11, 2018. You can see photos of the exhibit courtesy of Gwyn Campbell at his excellent site DecultureShock here: http://www.decultureshock.com/wings-of-honneamise-exhibit/.⬏
- The prototypes of these themes were released on the Image Sketch mini-album. They are unhelpfully labeled Prototype A, Prototype B, Prototype C, and Prototype D, the first three of which correspond to the Main Theme, Riqunni’s Theme, and Futility. Prototype D is the Royal Space Force Song that the officers sing at the funeral scene near the beginning of the film at 0:06:56 – 0:07:21.⬏
- I’m sure someone else knows better than me, but as far as I have found online, M-numbers are basically attached to the titles of tracks during recording. They approximately represent the order in which these tracks were actually recorded at the studio. In some soundtracks you’ll actually find that some tracks don’t have an actual title, and instead only the M-number is listed.⬏
- 0:01:30 – 0:03:50 in the movie.⬏
- 0:58:02 – 1:00:17 in the movie.⬏
- 0:11:21 – 0:11:42 in the movie.⬏
- 0:39:16 – 0:40:23 in the movie.⬏
- Personally, even if I ignore the soundtrack, the referenced training montage strikes me as being more comical than serious.⬏
- I believe this was not used in the movie, so it’s more of an image song if you will.⬏
- 0:51:51 – 0:52:54 in the movie.⬏
- 0:48:25 – 0:49:18 in the movie.⬏
- 1:10:44 – 1:12:22 in the movie.⬏
- His previous article, The Journey of Stress and Relief ~ Fantastic Children ~, on the music of Fantastic Children can be found here.⬏
- 1:36:20 – 1:37:14 in the movie.⬏
- 1:43:25 – 1:59:57 in the movie.⬏
- Final Stage plays from 1:43:25 – 1:44:17, and then sharply transitions to War, which plays from 1:44:17 – 1:47:30 in the movie.⬏
- 1:48:56 – 1:50:21 in the movie.⬏
- 1:51:14 – 1:55:57 in the movie.⬏
- 1:56:11 – 1:59:57 (End) in the movie.⬏
- More details can be found in this follow-up article here.⬏
- 0:13:14 – 0:13:33 in the movie.⬏
- 0:25:53 – 0:26:15 and 0:27:50 – 0:29:21 in the movie.⬏
- 01:20:06 – 01:25:57 in the movie.⬏
- He’s referring to the Manga Entertainment US DVD which is notorious for being a very bad release with very good extras. The referenced extra features a gallery of production sketches with the entire soundtrack played over it, all 1 hour and 16 minutes. See http://animeworld.com/reviews/honneamise.html.⬏