Shigeru Watanabe and Fans Reminisce About Royal Space Force on Japanese Twitter

So in my previous article, I said the next thing I was going to put up would probably be about something from the 80s — as in some document originally published then. Well that’s not happening, but it’s worth it for this. Here is my attempt to capture a special burst of Japanese Royal Space Force discussion before it disappears into the Twitter void. I’ve translated a lot, but not the entirety of it.

Seemingly out of the blue, over a week ago, Bandai Visual producer Shigeru Watanabe has been sharing pictures of a few prized artifacts from the RSF production vault. He also shares thoughts he had during its production.

Despite my misgivings about Twitter as a platform for communication and information sharing, I would never have realized this was happening were I not active on it — I guess being exposed to the quagmire has its benefits. Also, in the interest of mutual knowledge sharing, I shared some pictures of the RSF 25 fanzine and thanked Watanabe and Hacchi (a zealous RSF fan who is largely the sole member of the doujinshi group GX Nagurikomi Kantai [GX殴り込み艦隊]) for their back and forth dialogue as it was very enlightening. This spawned into a brief discussion between Hacchi and myself about RSF fan activities.

Now, an important caveat. I’ve engaged a little in some of the conversations, but I’m certainly not a great communicator in Japanese — or English for that matter and it’s my native language. So while I write down here what I intended to say, just know that what ended up coming out in Japanese may not be completely accurate. Hopefully what I was effectively trying to say would be understood, but just slightly off so that I’d be given the luxury foreigner-get-out-of-jail-free benefit of the doubt with any accidental rudeness. In any case, the responses seemed kind enough so… I guess it worked out.

Please bear with the awkwardness of encapsulating the threaded tree hierarchies of tweets into the linear format of this static page — thankfully here I’m not on a tight character budget. I’ve attempted to group activity into separate days, but some of the discussions actually span across days. The original tweets are linked, so please consult those for precise timestamps.


February 25, 2020:

Initial rumblings begin. Shigeru Watanabe, former Bandai Visual producer who worked on Royal Space Force, treats us to an early theatrical poster for Royal Space Force.




Watanabe: The year was 1986. Here’s the 5-color print B2 size poster printed for the announcement of Royal Space Force. I asked Naoyuki Katō to draw something for the poster: the monolith Aon Kaata [?] next to Riqunni’s small hut. The posters were given out at the announcement which took place in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. The title of the movie was changed afterwards, so we couldn’t use the poster publicly anymore.


Many arguments were had over alternate titles for Royal Space Force due to pressure from the film’s financial backers, and The Wings of Riqunni was the one that Gainax initially compromised on. Later it would be changed again for its eventual theatrical release to The Wings of Honnêamise, with Royal Space Force demoted to the subtitle.

Nobuyuki Ohnishi — the artist who painted the sumi-e style art used in the film’s opening and ending credits — reacted to the poster. Ohnishi is on the left and Katō is on the right in the attached image below.




Ohnishi: The story about this poster came up in a conversation I had with Naoyuki Katō — I was surprised and wanted to see the poster for myself. I see why The Wings of Riqunni rendered it unusable.



Watanabe: Initially I was surprised when he came back to me with this human-shaped imprint on the monolith. Later it got removed. The additional spot color for the 5-color print was used to bring out the blueness of the sky. Besides distribution at the announcement and to people involved with Gainax, it hasn’t seen much of an appearance externally… I think about 10 million copies were printed.

The human imprint still appears on the monolith in the film, but in later promotional artwork with the finalized title you cannot see it.

RSF mega-fan Hacchi also contributes a picture of an unused Ohnishi painting (presumably of Riqunni) she owns — now that’s some serious nerd paraphernalia if I’ve ever seen any!




Hacchi: I’m so happy. I’ve never seen the announcement theatrical poster before. Related to The Wings of Riqunni, I have in my possession one of the Nobuyuki Ohnishi lithographs. I heard he made it for the opening credits, but in the end it wasn’t used.


Hacchi is a self-described old otaku housewife, and largely the sole member of the doujinshi group GX Nagurikomi Kantai [GX殴り込み艦隊] (more on that later). Readers may remember Carl’s comments about this group’s RSF doujinshi in an earlier article on this blog.




Watanabe: Thank you for showing me such a precious item. Several of Nobuyuki Ohnishi’s lithographs and drawings adorn my humble abode. The interior has been turned into a mini Ohnishi gallery 😊.


RSF related activity slows down to a lull.


March 1, 2020:

Starting today and continuing throughout the week, for whatever reason Watanabe decides to take us down a trip through memory lane. He starts with a bonus booklet included with the VHS release of RSF.




Watanabe: The 1987 VHS release of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise included an information book consisting of 48 pages. It’s an illustrated explanation book, authored and drawn by Takami Akai, which includes behind the scenes information. For the LD Memorial Box edition release, it was reprinted at a different size.



Hacchi: I’ve heard this bonus book wasn’t included in the first LD release, inciting anger among fans with LD players. I was wondering how true that was.💦



Watanabe: It wasn’t included with the 1987 LD release. The projected sales were too low, so we couldn’t print them for inclusion.


March 2, 2020

Watanabe tells us about a meeting with Hayao Miyazaki.




Watanabe: Even though we finished the pilot film, the path ahead for the feature length RSF film was long and arduous. I was introduced to Hayao Miyazaki through Mamoru Oshii and Toshio Suzuki’s agency, and visited him at his company Nibariki in Asagaya. He told me, “If you make it properly, I think you will be able to recoup your investment. That’s how it was for The Castle of Cagliostro.” This encouraged me greatly.



Watanabe: According to my calendar back then, this meeting took place on June 7, 1985 at 3PM.


You may notice in the June 7 block, after the aforementioned Miyazaki meeting, he was scheduled to attend a wrap-up party for Creamy Mami — specifically Creamy Mami: Curtain Call, one of the OVA projects which had just been completed.

A couple of users take notice, and describe their memories of RSF.




@aramaaaa: In 1987 (I think) prior to the film’s release, at the awards ceremony for the Osaka Film Festival, Miyazaki addressed the audience and highly praised Royal Space Force. I recall him asking everyone to please go watch it.



@rito_star: I recall seeing the The Wings of Riqunni (provisional) title in B-Club back then.



Watanabe: This was the title announced in 1985 at the press event in the Imperial Hotel. I was the one who proposed it. However, it didn’t fit the content of the movie so later the Gainax staff requested a different title. After more discussion, we settled on the title The Wings of Honnêamise.



@sum_o: I recall seeing a print of this poster hung up at General Products.

Watanabe also shares a photo of the August 1985 Space Shuttle Challenger launch.




Watanabe: This photo has been seen several times, but it was taken on August 1985. Here is the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger in Florida, the last event on the USA location scouting tour for RSF. The lights and sounds of the launch were phenomenal. The result of this trip is reflected in the movie.


And to cap off the day, here are some details about the different versions of the RSF pilot film.




Watanabe: There are three versions of the RSF pilot film. This is Type A. Type B had the same visuals, but used the song Our Space Pilot [Oira Uchuu no Pilot, おいら宇宙のパイロット] from Ominous Star Gorath [Yōsei Gorasu, 妖星ゴラス]. In Type C, Anno revised the logo, some backgrounds, and the rocket detachment shot at the beginning. Those are the three versions — kind of like Ultraman.



Watanabe: According to my calendar back then, the first print of the RSF pilot film was developed at Tokyo Laboratory in Chōfu city on May 24, 1985 at 5PM.


March 3, 2020




Watanabe: These are some of the RSF pilot production documents from 1984-1985. There are copies of the proposal, image boards, model sheets, and so forth I received from Toshio Okada and the others. I’ve kept them stored away in this folder. You can may notice some differences from the theatrical film.



Watanabe: This is an excerpt from the proposal, from fall 1984.


Parts of the proposal were printed in the B-Club special for Royal Space Force — you can see explicitly in the text that sections were excluded. When I first saw this tweet, something in particular caught my eye. The top left section begins with

Original Video Animation Market Outlook
What Do Young People (Anime Fans) Spend on Today?

Up through today, most anime — especially those released originally for the home video market — is made specifically for “anime fans,” according to these theories:

(1) If you make a popular animator work on it, then it will sell to anime fans.
(2) If mecha and girls appear, it will sell.

However, sales for some releases on the home video market clearly contradict these claims. We describe the circumstances and issues below.

Example 1) Birth, 3000~5000 tapes sold

Popular animator Yoshinori Kanada was appointed for the production, mecha and girls appear, and plenty of flashy action sequences occur, satisfying (1) and (2) above. People thought it could be a big hit.

The reality is that it didn’t even push 5000 units. One could say that they relied too much on satisfying the conditions outlined by (1) and (2), and neglected development of the story, drama, and world within. Due to this, despite the high technical quality of animation, the lack of drama to motivate the story resulted in abysmal sales. In other words, no matter how good the movement is, if there is no meaning to that movement, then (of course) people won’t be interested.

Wow! This wasn’t in the B-Club special. The case study continues in the bottom half of the picture with an analysis of Macross and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The shoddy picture quality does not motivate me enough to try and decipher the partial contents.

Also note the intended target audience in the top right: primarily middle and high school students, but also including university students. Although I am aware that RSF was intended to be for young people, in my head I always imagined that to be primarily university students — despite how I myself first saw it as a high school senior.

Expecting a “no” answer, I decided to nonetheless ask if he would mind uploading the full text — normally I would assume there’s a rights issue but seeing as he uploaded these excerpts in the first place…




Austin: Wow, this is amazing. Thank you so much. Would it be possible to upload the full text? Both Japanese and overseas fans are very interested.



Watanabe: I seem to recall one of the mooks that came out at the time of the theatrical release has the full text.



Hacchi: Excuse me for intruding on this conversation. It’s published in pages 48-49 of the B-Club mook — you may want to consult the attached images.





Watanabe: It’s been a while since I last saw this. What’s published here appears to be a summary — of the proposal I received first from Okada and currently have in my possession. The comparisons with and discussion about Birth, Macross, and Nausicaä aren’t included here.



Hacchi: In the mook, the way it’s organized is that an excerpt of the proposal is shown as the beginning. I flipped through all three mooks, but the only one that has any of the proposal’s contents is the B-Club special. Being able to see the original proposal above is giving me the energy to overcome the challenge of caring for my little one in the face of the coronavirus-driven cancellation of school🌸

Returning to the discussion of the pilot film itself, another user recounts their first time seeing it. Apparently in Osaka the pilot film was screened along with Daicon Film’s tokusatsu kaijū fan movie The Eight-Headed Giant Serpent’s Counterattack [Yamata no Orochi no Gyakushū, 八岐之大蛇の逆襲] during a limited theatrical release of the latter. I wonder if it popped up at the other screenings in Japan.




@EndBraker: This brings me back. I remember being blown away by the pilot when it was shown at the Osaka screening of The Eight-Headed Giant Serpent’s Counterattack.



Watanabe: We also made a promotional video to be shown at other movie screening events. It wasn’t the pilot, but instead had materials from the actual theatrical film set to Polovstian Dances. Shinji Higuchi put it together. However, I don’t recall whether it was the promo or the pilot that was shown along with the Great Serpent screening you saw.



@EndBraker: I believe it was the pilot. Attendees at the event were given a questionnaire asking which background music we wanted: Pomp and Circumstance Marches or Our Space Pilot. There wasn’t anything from the theatrical film — also I think it was a while before the theatrical film was made?



Watanabe: Thank you for clarifying. If there was a marching track played then it was probably the pilot film. By the way, the classical music used for the pilot film was actually Wagner’s The Master-Singers of Nuremberg [Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg].

Watanabe is clarifying that it was not Pomp and Circumstance Marches, but The Master-Singers of Nuremberg that was used for Type A of the pilot film.

To round out the day, Watanabe also shares this illustrated lyrics sheet with us. Notice our tower friend on the right.




Watanabe: Here’s an illustrated lyrics sheet of Our Space Pilot [left] and Royal Space Force Military Song [right]. This was for the kick-off party with the Gainax staff in 1986, where we all sang at the izakaya bar it was held at. I recall that Higuchi made the sheet.



Nakano: I attended that party. We were a bunch of youngsters who just belted out the songs with no regard to the people working at the izakaya bar. When we went to look at the cherry blossoms, there was also someone who climbed a tree.



Watanabe: I recall that it was at some izakaya bar in Kichijōji with raised seating areas.

Akiko Nakano was a key animator on RSF. Since then she’s still primarily been a key animator, but has also occasionally stepped into other roles such as animation director, episode director, screenwriter, and storyboarder — recently she’s also tried her hand as the topmost director too.

I’m actually going to skip ahead a day, but I will come back to it later.


March 5, 2020

I thought some of the Japanese RSF fans might find it interesting that there’s exists a doujinshi about RSF published in the West — namely, the RSF 25 fanzine. In retrospect, I should have explained that it wasn’t a fan comic and had several contributor articles, so it wasn’t exactly a one-person effort.




Austin: As far as I know, there’s only one doujinshi about RSF released in the Anglosphere. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of RSF, a huge fan made this. You can really feel his passion towards RSF. It includes a Japanese translation of the foreward. I would like to know more about RSF doujinshi in Japan closer to the time of its theatrical release.









Austin: Over the past few days, I’ve learned a lot of things that were unknown to English speaking RSF fans thanks to Watanabe and Hacchi’s dialogue. I’m so grateful.🙏



Hacchi: This is the first time I’ve seen any RSF doujinshi from overseas 🥰 Unfortunately as far as Japanese RSF doujinshi are concerned, in summer 2017’s Comic Market [Comiket] there were only two: Gonta’s and my own embarrassing submission. Outside of that there haven’t been any recently. I’m aiming to submit another one for Comic Market 98, but it’s uncertain how it will pan out 😫

Gonta’s group, G Platoon [G Shōtai, G小隊], put out a doujinshi called Royal Air Force: Another Story of The Wings of Honnêamise [Ōritsu Kūgun Another Story of Oneamisu no Tsubasa, 王立空軍 Another Story of オネアミスの翼] — unfortunately it is no longer in print. It features a side story focused on — as you can probably guess — the air force in RSF. You may recall in the film that the air force members end up brawling with the space force guys.

Hacchi continues with her perspective.




Hacchi: Gonta’s doujinshi has some wonderful mecha action illustrations✨It was sold again in winter 2017’s Comic Market, but afterwards distribution — including via mail order — ended. I paid a high price to get it on the second hand market ( ノД`)… 20 years ago it was also the case that besides my own, there was only one other RSF group in attendance.



Hacchi: Perhaps there were some more groups around the time of the theatrical release, but when I started my doujinshi activities in 1998 the scene was on the brink of extinction. I’ve amassed about 10 RSF doujinshi to date. It’s a pain point that my doujinshi have nothing but my shoddy illustrations, but I like doing these RSF derivative works so I’d like to keep drawing them.



Austin: Ah, if it’s okay I’d like to ask one more thing. Your group is GX Nagurikomi Kantai right? How many people are in the group? Is it just yourself?



Hacchi: For the most part it’s just me. Sometimes I get my other friends who are involved in doujinshi activities to help draw something, and if I get selected for attendance at Comic Market I’ll go with a salesgirl. However, I live a meager lifestyle so I can only make a small number of copies (^^; Due to family circumstances, I typically have a few years break in between my participation at Comic Market — both as a doujinshi group and as a regular attendee.



Hacchi: It would be great to make doujinshi together with other RSF fans, but the number of people who will draw that subject matter is itself limited. The number of Comic Market regular attendees that want to see RSF doujinshi groups is also a low quantity. With my current schedule, I’ve been working on a 20 pages or less submission for Comic Market 98.


March 6, 2020




Hacchi: Suddenly more obstacles have surfaced in the way of working on my submission for Comic Market 98. I’d like to work more quickly but… due to school closures from the coronavirus outbreak, I have fewer days available to work on this. I have no more energy after taking care of my little one. The weight of reality is dragging down my spirits 😫 I tweet when I manage to find a spare moment away from taking care of my kid 😭



Watanabe: Keep up the good work. Here’s the itinerary for the February 1987 Hollywood premiere campaign. The small venue where the premiere originally took place has since been renovated and now the Dolby Theater stands there — the venue for the Academy Awards ceremonies.


For those who are unaware, RSF actually premiered first not in Japan, but in Los Angeles under the name Star Quest. Zimmerit has a good article which covers the details. I’ve formatted the itinerary above into a table.

America Tour Itinerary

Japan Timezone
18th (W) 17:00 Assemble locally
(check names)
19:00 Depart from Narita Airport
Dinner and lunch on the plane ↓ airplane
 
America Timezone
11:30 Arrive at Los Angeles airport
13:30 Arrive at Los Angeles downtown Hilton Hotel ↓ bus
(city sightseeing check-in) ↓
Free time (dinner left to individuals)
 
19th (R) 8:00 Depart from Hilton Hotel
9:00 Universal Studios tour ↓ bus
Burbank Studios tour (30 people only)
12:00 End
13:00 Arrive at Hilton Hotel ↓ bus
Free time
17:30 Depart from Hilton Hotel
19:00 World Premiere (Hollywood Chinese Theater) ↓ bus
Press coverage fee @ 50000
21:00 End
Elderly guest seating 22:00 Arrive at Hilton Hotel ↓ bus
Free time (until 22:30 for Roosevelt Hotel reception attendees → bus arrives at 23:30) → invitation
 
20th (F) 10:30 Depart from Hilton Hotel
11:30 Roosevelt Hotel lecture (Syd Mead) ↓ bus
(light lunch)
15:00 End, depart from Roosevelt Hotel
16:00 Arrive at Hilton Hotel ↓ bus
Free time

I couldn’t help but ask:




Austin: What did the RSF staff from Japan who were present at the Star Quest premiere think about it? As far as American RSF fans are aware, the script and performance were quite different. Supposedly it was so bad that it was as though the SQ dubbing studio didn’t understand the original work whatsoever.



Watanabe: There wasn’t enough communication between the Japanese side and the dubbing studio, leading to delays that set the production behind schedule. The audio was finished on the morning of the premiere. We went to the premiere with the unedited film and the audio reel which need to be synchronized. However, we couldn’t check beforehand so it was sink or swim. Due to the abysmal results, we decided to dispose of the audio reel. We never put it out on home video. All that remains is the ADR script. The English release currently in circulation is a redone, separate creation.

Going by Rob Fenelon’s characterization — as told by Walter Amos — of situation with Go East Productions (the dubbing studio for Star Quest), my description of the situation could have been more charitable. I was looking more for reactions from the Japanese side that stood out to Watanabe, but I wasn’t about to go twist the knife after his reply.


March 4, 2020

And now we return to March 4 to round out this article.




Watanabe: It’s been 33 years since the release of RSF. The financial costs have been recouped, but this still seemed like just a mere dream in 1987. However, in that same year I talked to three middle/high school students over the phone. They told me unanimously, “I saw the movie and let go of my suicidal thoughts.” In this moment I felt the investment was more than repaid.



Hacchi: I’m starting the morning off in tears. Thank you for the story! ✨ Norishige Kanai saw Royal Space Force and then later became an astronaut. The day after the garden party, he was with his wife at the Royal Space Force exhibit in the Hachiōji Yume Art Museum.



Watanabe: At the time of the theatrical release, the future was bleak. There were so many adults 🧑 who ridiculed the work of these young, unknown creators. It was a very depressing time, but I think I was saved by those three young audience members. Occasionally I think about how they’re around 50 years old now.

What a punch to the gut. This anecdote exploded on Twitter, prompting others to share their own experiences with the movie. Not only did the movie reach the aforementioned intended target audience, but it also left an impact on elementary schoolers!




@u1ro_ishikawa: I think I would have cried on the spot if someone told me that… Surely beyond those three, hundreds and thousands more were saved.




@mogumogu77: It’s worth at least 300~600 million yen for Japan’s future. It’s similar to how a firetruck costs 100 million yen, and is worth the investment if it saves a person’s life!




@Daihachi_Kuruma: So it wasn’t just me after all.




@luckyhuppycat: Seeing this tweet brings back the memories of that time — I could cry. I was a university student that was also saved by RSF.




@DerazF: I too was saved by this movie. It ended my lethargic middle school days. I was headed towards a meaningless high school life. However, after watching this movie, instead of reaching for outer space, I set my sights on a national university. By the time I graduated middle school, my academic abilities reached the point where I had a difference of 40 points on testing. Somehow I managed to make it. I am thankful for Leo Morimoto’s line: “If we stop here, then we’re just fools!”




@ainetos: I saw Royal Space Force as a 6th year elementary student. Thanks to this, my future career path was determined. Since then it’s been about 30 years, and I’ve spent about 20 of those years in a space agency. Even now Royal Space Force remains one of my launching points. Thank you so much!




@ProducerKUMA: 33 years huh. When I saw it in the theaters, it hit me silently. I was a middle schooler that understood nothing of commercial matters, but I got Shirotsugh’s message. I don’t think I’ve rewatched the movie once since then, but it’s due for another viewing.




@k_kaseijin: In 1987 I was a high school senior and I went to the theaters three times to watch this movie. I decided that I’d leave my hometown and go somewhere to live independently. As soon as the soundtrack was released on CD, in a moment of defeat I used my scholarship money to buy and listen to it.




@hilarionxx: I’ve seen Royal Space Force I don’t know how many times now. I was a high schooler at the time of its theatrical release. Every time I watch it, my perspective changes. I love it.




@sbjaktas: I didn’t have suicidal desires, but after watching this movie I decided to live life.




@yasutakakubota1: I saw this movie after failing university entrance exams a second time. At the time I felt that it realistically captured this end of youth feeling I couldn’t articulate.



@yasutakakubota1: I thought that even if I didn’t pursue medical school, as long as I do some kind of work to live by then I’ll be happy. I did end up becoming a psychiatrist though.




@hogeroh: I saved up my allowance and bought the laserdisc release, but I didn’t actually own a player. The memories of going to my friend’s house to watch it…




@ig882: In my high school days, I saw this movie through to the end and it blew my mind. It was the only movie to do so. ( ´ ▽ ` )ノ




@madai92174767: This was back in the day when they showed the same movie all day at the theater. It was double featured with Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. I killed so much time watching these movies that by the last week of its theatrical run, I went to the theaters every day and saw it 27 times. Even now it remains an important work.




@tamamokitune: Ahhh, those were my university days. No one around me was interested, so I went to the theaters alone. I bought it on VHD too. Watching it today, I view it somewhat differently than I did back then.




@f_bloodman: The goal of the club I joined in unversity was to watch Royal Space Force (and Big Japan [Pro Wrestling]) on a projector. After achieving this, the club disbanded and has since faded from my memory, but I will never forget watching RSF on that projector.




@nagasakiwind: A lot of people around me are saying, “It brings back memories but it wasn’t interesting.” But I was struck by the unique world and music which didn’t belong to something which actually existed. It’s an unforgettable work.




@5ZPxfR4U1Tsja1V: The Wings of Honnêamise, what a great film. The personalities of Shirotsugh and the other characters, the world, and more left a deep impression on me. I was a middle school student in 1987. It hit me in my adolescent heart.




@shinmegane1974: As an elementary schooler, The Wings of Honnêamise was the first time I watched a movie with a classmate of mine at the theaters. I remember on the way home we discussed our impressions of the film over beef rice bowls at fast food — it left such a striking impression on me.




@topomatasu: I think the first time I watched it was 26 years ago. I didn’t own a VHS player, so I went to the video rental store to rent and watch it (you could do that back then). It is a magnificent work.




@shoumatigger: This is what got me obsessed with Leo Morimoto…… back way before his soothing voice was frequently used in narration for commercials. This was a great casting choice for Shirotsugh!




@manbow1026: A bonus booklet for the home video release? Or maybe a magazine article? I’ve forgotten the details, but somewhere I saw that the monolith in the movie is based off of the PL Peace Tower as a reference. Back in high school (a public school near the PL academy), every time I saw the PL Peace Tower, it reminded me of this work. That much time has passed since then huh.



Watanabe: Yamaga told me that the PL Peace Tower served as the model. He met with the people at the PL Academy and asked to cooperate with them for publicity. They gave him a VHS tape titled The Great Peace Prayer Tower [Dai Heiwa Kinen Tō, 大平和祈念塔]. It was a making of the tower documentary.

The Great Peace Prayer Tower, known colloquially as the PL Peace Tower, is “a cenotaph tower designated for all war victims in history, regardless of race, ethnic group, sovereign state, border, religion, religious denomination and creed,” or so Wikipedia tells me. It was built in August 1970 by the Church of Perfect Liberty — one of the many new religious movements of Japan.

A tweet from March 2018 has a good side by side comparison of the monolith and the PL Peace Tower.




@shinabamorotomo: Actually, it’s possible to visit an Honnêamise tour spot. The colloquially known PL Peace Tower (in Tondabayashi, Osaka) is a mysterious tower which resides out in the sticks not far off from the Osaka University of Arts — the school many of the Gainax staff were enrolled in.



Former Gainax staffer Takami Akai, who served as an assistant director and also did design models and color design for RSF, also weighs in.




Akai: Takafumi Horie said that when he saw RSF as a middle schooler, it made him aim for outer space.



Watanabe: Yes he told me the same thing when I met him at Livedoor. I’ve sinned 😊



Akai: I think it’s wonderful that RSF‘s reach still continues to expand. Please, please be proud of what you’ve done.



Watanabe: I would say the same to you 😊 Thanks to good fortune, we were able to make it together.



Akai: Thank you. I am who I am today thanks to all the many things I learned working on Royal Space Force.

Akiko Nakano had never heard the story either. It seems not many people knew until Watanabe shared it with Twitter.




Nakano: This is the first time I’ve heard this story. I’m so happy.



Watanabe: Thank you 😊 I’ve only told this story to just a few of the staffers on RSF. Back then, external calls to the company phone number were connected to a switchboard and then routed to the relevant internal line. I was the person in charge of this project at the company, so I personally picked up the calls routed to us. This was direct inward dialling — cell phones still belonged to the age of science fiction.

RSF also had an impact on creators who went on to work in other industries.




@kazuyuki_shindo: In my childhood I vaguely thought, “I want to become someone who creates something like this.” I don’t know if other audience members received the same shock that I did at the time, but this is deinitely one of the influences that affects my current work.

Kazuyuki Shindō works in the video game industry and is the director of English version of SaGa Scarlet Grace Ambitions (2018), where he also served as a field game designer. He’s also worked in a different capacity on Final Fantasy XIII (2009), Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (2007), and Legend of Mana (1999) to name a few more.




@yuutobino: I love the The Wings of Honnêamise. Now that I think about it, something like RSF is the setting for all the stuff I write. I get the feeling that this movie has influenced me considerably.

Yuu Tobino is a fantasy light novel writer. None of his work has been released in English as far as I’m aware, but a list of his work in Japanese is available.

And lastly, here’s a bunch of miscellaneous responses to Watanabe’s anecdote.




@shangahai_shu: At the time I was subscribed to Comic Box magazine. One issue had a special feature on Honnêamise. In a discussion between chief editor Saitani and Yamaga, I couldn’t comprehend the editor’s interpretation. He thought that Riqunni’s last scene in the movie was a religious depiction of someone like Nausicaä… “No, the intent is to show that after the rocket launch, (cont.)



@shangahai_shu: nothing has changed,” explained Yamaga. I thought the same way. The other interpretations in the article were so awful that I ended up canceling my subscription to the magazine. I was a university student back then, but it’s still a mystery to me why — in an otherwise a great magazine — that particular issue was so far off base.



@shangahai_shu: (Sorry, I was a senior in high school at the time) Saitani failed to comprehend the motivations of young people who put so much effort into a film where the heroine has no character growth. Excuse me.




@BlueSUMMER04: Even today I think this stands out as fresh and new.




@twi_tontokaimo: I’ve been waiting all this time for Uru in Blue [Aoki Uru, 蒼きウル]… ( ;∀;)




@milkypia: The DVD release was region free, which was rare for the time. I bought and used it to spread RSF overseas lol. Even now it’s one of my prized possessions🎶




@rxjun: Even now it’s one of my favorite films, live-action or animated.



@toyoshin3488: Ah, let’s recommend it to the kids with all this free time on their hands now that school is canceled. We could lend them our discs.




@memoxxxman: At the time of its 1987 theatrical run, I wondered… Why didn’t they make Riqunni cute, or alternatively beautiful?

The same could be said for
Superman‘s Margot Kidder
Titanic‘s Kate Winslet
Spiderman‘s Kirsten Dunst
Star Wars: Episode VIII‘s Kelly Marie Tran




@spacenoid: Royal Space Force is a masterpiece among masterpieces. To me, even now there is no film that has surpassed this one.




@MasakiTsuruoka: I continue to watch this movie over and over again 😆 When I was young, I first saw it on satellite broadcast, although I didn’t know why I took to it (haha). I really do love this movie.




@tanaka_ichiroh: The excellence of this work cannot be articulated into a few words. Even the words “RSF is great” would unreasonably frustrate me.




@Rui_Pentax: How timely. I just rewatched it on DVD yesterday. It motivated me to look ahead and walk forwards.




@greysnow21: I’m an ignorant person, so I didn’t find out until recently that this was a parody of The Right Stuff. How embarrassing.




@s0g0project_s: What is this thing. I don’t know of any work — with this much energy — before or since from this country.




@maru3nn: Today’s middle and high schoolers, go watch this. Of course there’s the inherent glamor of the work, but Eva‘s Hideaki Anno was still young at the time. His fiendishly transcendent animation (the scene right before liftoff) is the highlight of it.




@rabbitover: We’ll probably never again see another work that exceeds RSF and its extravagance. The abundance of talent and all their energy realized this overwhelming world. In addition to Akira, I think now it’s become a legend shrouded in nostalgia for an era gone by.




@ssd291: While I wouldn’t say I want it to air on Friday Roadshow as much as Nausicaä does, I would like it to hit the terrestrial airwaves as much as Rebuild of Eva does.


March 13, 2020 (Bonus)

For anyone that actually made it all the way down here — whether by reading or skipping ahead — I’ll actually close out with this last bit. Royal Space Force hit theaters in Japan on March 14, 1987. March 14 also happens to be White Day in Japan, a holiday where men are supposed to return the favor to women from whom they received Valentine’s Day chocolate. Appropriately — also inappropriately given what occurs in the film — it turns out there were Royal Space Force chocolate goods. This might be the only other thing I can think of that gives the Grave of the Fireflies Sakuma drops a run for its money — although Morinaga chocolate does not actually exist in the world of Honnêamise.




Watanabe: Pictured here is the box for candy manufacturer Morinaga’s chocolate which also served as a display piece. There were three kinds of chocolate inside. Of course there’s no more chocolate inside anymore, but I still have this leftover box. This came about because the film was released on White Day 😊




Riding on the intentional mismarketing campaign of RSF, the blue text at the top reads, “Setting off on a new journey of amazing romance.” The white text in the blue box just below Shiro’s face reads, “The miracle of love chocolate.”

Hacchi brought up this tweet from January 2020 by another user which shows the wrappers inside the box.




@ota_konaka: These are the wrappers for the chocolates.




The yellow text at the top of the wrapper reads, “The birth of a grand, young bible dedicated to the new generation.” The description below “honnêamise” reads, “Do you believe… in the miracle of love? The birth of an amazing romance. The Wings of Honnêamise / Royal Space Force is a gigantic animated original movie for the modern times, where dreams are fading away. A spectacle of love and youth like nothing before unfolds in a vast, alternate world. This is the arrival of an amazing romance movie, possibly the bible for young people.”

… Right.




Watanabe: Oh it’s been a while since I saw the wrappers ^ ^ I was mistaken earlier when I wrote “three kinds.” There were only two wrappers: red and black. A box had five of each color inside the box, totalling ten chocolate pieces.

Happy 33rd Anniversary to Royal Space Force.


I have to give a big thank you to Shigeru Watanabe for this out of left field burst of RSF discussion. What’s he’s up to these days? He’s now a producer at Skyfall, which has helps plan and organize exhibits. They organized a 2019 Syd Mead (who sadly passed away not long ago) exhibit, and are currently working on more Syd Mead projects for 2020.

4 thoughts on “Shigeru Watanabe and Fans Reminisce About Royal Space Force on Japanese Twitter

  1. Dear Austin,

    Thank you for this fantastic article, and I apologize for not coming across it before; I can only claim distraction from certain world events ^_^” There are so many wonderful details here!

    The Wings of Honneamise~Royal Space Force Completed File was one of the first things I ever acquired related to the film, when I visited Japan in the summer of 1987—my first trip there. I bought it at the Animate in Ikebukuro; this was before Akiba or Nakano became known as anime otaku grounds (although Akiba was already a good place to find anime soundtracks and video soft at places such as Ishimaru Denki). The movie itself had already left theaters by that point, but there were still some goods in the shop, such as that book, a pack of cassette labels, a pencil board, and a shopping bag, all of which I picked up (shopping bags used to be a common type of anime merchandise, but I feel as if you don’t see them much anymore).

    The quotes that appear in the RSF 25 fanzine from the film proposal pitched by Gainax to Mr. Watanabe are indeed taken from the excerpt that appeared in the Completed File. As you mentioned, the Completed File notes it was only one portion of a longer work, and it was very interesting to see more of it here. It makes sense that the proposal would offer an analysis of anime video sales, since Bandai was in that business. You probably know this already ^_^ but although Dallos was the first OAV from the Emotion label, it was not the first Emotion anime home video release–the month before Dallos, they issued a small but solid selection of anime movies and TV shows on video cassette that included Space Adventure Cobra (the film), the Miyazaki episodes of the 1977-80 Lupin III series, and several episodes of Minky Momo and Macross. In December, the vol. 1 release of Dallos was accompanied by more TV anime releases, including additional Macross episodes and some Future Boy Conan.

    Now that I think about it, the fact Emotion had already released some of Miyazaki’s work must have served as an additional point of connection before Watanabe spoke with him about Royal Space Force’s prospects. I had also forgotten that Animage did a two-page color spread on the Daicon IV Opening Anime in late 1983, including info on how fans could contact General Products. The info didn’t include purchasing details for the opening anime, but of course, General Products was selling it, and Animage must have known that. I feel it’s worth pointing out because sometimes people might get the impression that because Daicon III and IV used so many of other companies’ characters (and presumably many without formal permission) it was done behind the back of the industry or had to maintain a low profile. I don’t really think that’s quite the case, and the fact Animage covered it in the same front section as regular industry releases would seem to indicate it was not considered illegitimate by the leading professional anime magazine of the day.

    You wondered about the reaction of the RSF staff from Japan who were present at the Star Quest premiere. For some reason I can’t find it at the moment (it may be back in the Forbidden Zone–aka, my office), but Toren Smith attended the event as well, and I wrote down some notes on what he told me. If I recall correctly, Okada, who I believe was the only one of the principal Japanese staff who spoke English, was clearly upset as the film ran. Toren said that at the reception afterwards, he followed the American person in charge around the room, glowering. As I guess he might have, because voice casting and performance quality are one thing, but making such radical changes to the script (including flipping Riquinni’s and the Defense Ministry’s motivations 180 degrees from their original stances) was another.

    The notoriously misleading promotional campaign for the film in Japan (it never occurred to me before your article that the release date was also White Day, or that they would actually take that as a cue to release “Miracle of Love” chocolate!) must have already been on Okada’s mind–I can imagine him thinking after “Star Quest” that any possible English-language release had just been sabotaged too. Furthermore, the movie he’d labored so hard to make had just been shown in such an altered version at a Hollywood premiere, including to people in the audience from the world of SF that I’m sure Okada personally respected (he had attended the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles, which is where I first met him as a kid). In short, it must have hit pretty hard. I’m also curious about the 50,000 “press coverage fee” noted (presumably in yen—or perhaps it was dollars? The “Star Quest” event, if nothing else, must have cost a substantial amount of money to set up).

    I shouldn’t be inclined to argue with Mr. Watanabe, since he put the LD Memorial Box together ^_^, but my copy doesn’t have the 48-page information book by Takami Akai (assistant director on the film, natch). Instead, it has a different book, the size of a laserdisc jacket (i.e., about 12.25” on a side)—it’s 28 pages, including covers, with essays by critic Emiko Okada and SF translator Nozomi Omori—Omori was also, incidentally, Studio Proteus’s agent in Japan. The book is designed by manga artist Kamui Fujiwara’s Studio2B (who drew Mamoru Oshii’s Kerberos manga released here under the title Hellhounds: Panzer Cops), who uses the film’s concept and development art in a highly dynamic and interesting layout.

    Thanks once again,
    Carl

    P.S. Do you know if Hacchi would like to receive a copy of the RSF 25 fanzine? I would be glad to send her a complimentary one. I didn’t see a mailing address in any of my GX Nagurikomi Kantai doujinshi, but the most recent one I have from the circle is 2004, so it might not be valid now in any case.

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  2. Hi Carl,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments and insight. They’re always appreciated not only by myself, but surely other readers as well. Before I address your comments, I’d like to add some extra tidbits.

    I attempted to stitch together Watanabe’s miscellaneous musings into a cohesive article, but the fuzzy chronological ordering was the best presentation I could come up with — I imagine a better writer would have packaged the contents better. Some of Watanabe’s thoughts were (in my view) either too brief, too tangential, fell outside the brief window of time I selected, or otherwise were too disruptive to what little flow is present in the article, and hence didn’t make the cut. However, some of them are worth mentioning here in the comments section (perhaps better suited to a separate addendum).

    The article above does not convey the extreme stress Watanabe was put through during the production of RSF (looking over RSF 25 again, I see mention of a 1995 interview where Toren Smith has previously described Watanabe as having suffered a nervous breakdown in the hospital). My impression is that he can look more fondly upon it now, only after decades of separation from the production. Here’s some first person perspective:

    In one tweet he remarks, “[Working on RSF] was the hardest struggle of my entire life, but it ended up being worth it.” (ref: https://twitter.com/nihonmatsu7/status/1234485765410680832 )

    In another, he recalls his first time attending a production committee:
    “The first time I partook in a production committee was during the production of Akira. The attached images here are of the screenplay shown at the meeting. Still suffering from the sequela of RSF, shortly afterwards I took a leave of absence. The one and only time I attended the committee meeting took place in 1987 at the Edmont Hotel in Iidabashi” (ref: https://twitter.com/nihonmatsu7/status/1236193565593632769 )

    He expands upon this through a Tomorrow’s Joe metaphor:

    “On the verge of burning out after the theatrical release of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise, what lay ahead of me was Akira and Char’s Counterattack. I fought José Mendoza and burned out — how pitiful. This ‘white ash’ bastard returned to Fukushima for seven months. However, Shin Unozawa lifted my spirits over the phone, and I returned to work on Disney home video projects that were struggling.” (ref: https://twitter.com/nihonmatsu7/status/1236235038473080833 )

    In response to another user’s comment on historical value of the Akira screenplay mentioned earlier, he refers to it as “mere burnable trash 😊,” (ref: https://twitter.com/nihonmatsu7/status/1236243052739448833 ) although I think he’s just being tongue-in-cheek there.

    Commenting on Jin-Roh:

    “Jin-Roh was originally pitched as a 30 min OVA with Oshii as the director 😊 Later it turned into a theatrical movie with Okiura instead. It cost more time and money than RSF 😅” (ref: https://twitter.com/nihonmatsu7/status/1235319628223705096 )

    “Now that I think about it, the fact that I was working with IG — with whom I previously worked on GitS — and that they had actual accomplishments to their name was reassuring. It was a much more reckless endeavor to push for Gainax — who had nothing to their name — and director Yamaga to create the RSF theatrical film.” (ref: https://twitter.com/nihonmatsu7/status/1235451832958242817 )

    Okay, if I don’t stop myself now then this comment will spiral too far out of control.

    Regarding the Emotion label releases prior to Dallos, I was actually not previously aware of them (although reading over RSF 25 again, I notice Emotion’s beginnings are mentioned — curse my leaky brain ^ ^”). The history of the label is one of the (many) gaps in my knowledge that I’d been meaning to fill, but forgot to get around to. This is just trivia, but there were two other candidates for the logo: a pyramid and a sphinx. The former was already used by some manufacturer, and the latter was too blurry in monochrome and small print. The remaining candidate was the two plain Moai statues (ref: https://twitter.com/nihonmatsu7/status/1234743545140932608 ).

    After publishing the article above, I was curious about more details regarding Miyazaki’s role in supporting the production of RSF. I found some interesting details in a 2007 interview with Watanabe (https://web.archive.org/web/20071113064142/http://www.dot-anime.com/tb/tb_emodama/016.html). You are likely well aware (and I don’t recall at the moment to what level of detail RSF 25 covers this), but the support Miyazaki and Oshii provided was not just to help get initial approval from Bandai, but also to help prevent the film from having 20 minutes cut out for its theatrical release by its distributors. Toho-Towa, increasingly facing concerns of financial viability, insisted on a version that was 20 minutes shorter on the grounds that they’d be able to fit one more screening per day and hence sell more tickets. Gainax’s reaction? To cut out all the exciting action scenes and the like — the oishii (tasty) scenes as Watanabe put it. In spite of this indirect rebellion, Toho-Towa still saw nothing wrong with the resulting product and wanted to push forward with the cut. However unbeknownst to them, during the screening of the cut version to Toho-Towa, Miyazaki and Oshii were being shown the uncut version in a separate screening room. 20 minutes after the meeting began with Toho-Towa, their comments arrived: “no cuts necessary.”

    Unfortunately, Toho-Towa was still firm on their stance, and Gainax would not budge either. Eventually the final call was left to the film’s principal investor: Bandai. Watanabe’s boss in the new project planning department, Hirohiko Sueyoshi gave him some advice but told him, “Ultimately, the final call is yours, Watanabe.” You imagined that the altered film shown as Star Quest in Los Angeles and the notorious mismarketing campaign would have likely hit Okada hard. I would be inclined to think so too. Watanabe describes a meeting between himself and Okada which took place separately after the negotiations with Toho-Towa had reached a standstill. Okada, who had always conducted himself in a very aggressive and tough manner in negotiations with Toho-Towa, found himself in tears pleading with Watanabe to push for the uncut version of the film. We know how the story ends: the uncut film made it to screens on release day.

    This interview is of modest length, so I will likely translate and publish it here at a later date — my hope is I won’t drive myself insane the way I do with some of the longer pieces I’ve put up, although with every article I put up I find my instincts to be increasingly untrustworthy. I’m not sure when I’ll get to it, but please look forward to it in the future (^ν^). Perhaps you already knew all these details but if nothing else, the emotions invested into the production by the different sides involved is an interesting lens to peer through.

    Best,
    Austin

    P.S. Regarding your generous offer, I have some good news on that front. What is the best way to contact you privately? The e-mail you used to leave comments on the blog?

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  3. Carl,

    I forgot to address your comments on the press coverage fee for Star Quest. Not knowing how much these things can cost, I didn’t attempt to wager a guess in the article as the source image is ambiguous on the currency as well. However, instead of wondering about it I realize there is a much simpler solution: just ask Watanabe directly. I am “Twitter mutuals” with him after all — which is to say, I follow him and he follows me, not something I would have ever imagined myself writing. I already feel isolated from most of fandom, so having such direct access to industry folks feels especially strange to me.

    I asked him if it was in dollars or yen, and what the nature of the press coverage was. His response was that it was probably yen, but as expected he no longer remembers the details of the press coverage (ref: https://twitter.com/nihonmatsu7/status/1242575435558342657 ).

    Austin

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  4. Dear Austin,

    I had hoped to see you at Anime Boston this year, so I’m glad we’re at least able to touch base like this. I’d like to get back in more detail later, but yes, that e-mail can be used. Look carefully at the word after the “@”…it’s really only two letters long; I spell it that way in a light-hearted attempt to cut down on spam ^_^

    Carl

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