Despite a lengthy period of production and a staggering cost of eight million yen, Gainax's ambitious sci-fi tale of a cadet struggling to become his planet's first astronaut was a commercial bomb in its 1987 theatrical release; not even turning a profit until seven years later. Part of the gradual success comes from screenings of the film handled by Manga Entertainment, with a dub produced by AniMaze, inc. This is not the only dub to have been made. Back in the '80s, when Anime was all about hack and slash compilated edits, Wings of Honneamise was released as "Star Quest" (just Miyazaki's Nausicaa was retitled and edited as "Warriors of the Wind"), which not only cut the picture down by multiple minutes, but was so badly received that it has been forgotten. Luckily, the currently existing dub is uncut, so no problems there.
This is one of Animaze's earliest dubs, dating back to 1994, so there are some technical issues to be had. The sound quality is a bit lacking in clarity at times, as the dialogue can come across as sounding trebly. (Part of this may be due to an audio mastering fault; according to sources, other dubs from AniMaze from this period have not sounded this scratchy.) Then there is the occasional stilted line and/or less than stellar reads. Even so, considering that it is from a period when dubs rarely achieved stellar results, Wings of Honneamise holds up surprisingly well as an early dub, showcasing some bits of quality that future efforts from the studio would bring.
Before I start, though, I should mention that the film has some of the hardest-to-pronounce names I've ever listened to in a long time! As such, the "correct" spelling of the characters' names will probably give readers the wrong idea on how they are supposed to be pronounced, and I'm not sure if the dub gets it right. As such, it is important to take these names with a grain of salt and see them as face value. Another point of contention is that half of the cast doesn't have their names revealed when they're onscreen. As such, only the principal characters will be fully reviewed.
SHIROTSUGH LHADATT (aka SHIRO) (David A. Thomas, Jr.) -- When we first meet the main character of this tale (pronounced as Shiro-tsgu Ladatt), he is a cynical, lazy young man who goofs around with his buddies at the Royal Space Force, where the idea of "crossing into the stars" is, at best, laughable. His character undergoes the most growth, from his spark of inspiration after meeting Riquinni, to the fit of depression (which includes a very shocking -- and to this day controversial -- rape attempt scene), to his eventual maturation into a stable, eager hero who ends up reciting his priestess' friends prayers when he orbits the Earth for the first time in a successfully launched satellite. David does an excellent job of conveying all these aspects of Shiro's character without venturing into cartoonish territory. He delivers his lines very naturally, like a real person in a civilized territory trying to find his way. Which isn't to say that he remains soft-spoken for the film. When he stands up to volunteer as the first man in space, he raises his voice to a earnest, gung-ho level, only letting loose (without overacting) when he refuses to call off the launch when an invading army threatens to disrupt it. And his final monologue at the end of the film is delivered with a quiet, understated manner filled with a new wisdom. This "low-key" approach is one of the many reasons why this dub is very solid, as this is an "adult" drama rather than an escapist fantasy (where the kind of mellodramatic dialogue is appropriate). David's Shiro reflects that atmosphere very effectively.
RIQUINII NONDERAIKO (Melora Harte) -- Considering that her character is the major motivation behind Shiro's growth, one would expect Riqunni (Rikinni) to have a bigger part. Instead she only appears in select scenes; even so, her relationship with Shiro is one of the driving conflicts of the film. Whereas the latter appears to her out of false aspirations of courtship, Riquinni only treats Shiro as a friend, shooting down potentially romantic ideas (she brings along her adopted companion, Manna to see the stars with Shiro instead of going alone with him) while handing him "holy books" containing depressing stories as a method to "help" him. Riquinni is also overly religious and sometimes priggish: she doesn't want to read to Shiro "out of fun", simply because that would go against her belief that "the world is all messed up because of that kind of compromise!" Probably the most confusing aspect of her character is why she would beg for Shiro's forgiveness for smashing a vase over his head when the latter attempted to assault her. Is it her way of brushing him off? Or does she subscribe to the belief that two wrongs don't make a right? Whatever the nature of her character, one cannot fault Melora Harte for what she brings to her part. She has a fairly pleasant voice that works in favor of Riquinni being a down-to-earth, religious person, and her "preaching" scenes are handled very well. At other times, however, she does come across as a bit jittery and inconsistent, particularly the scene where she first meets Shiro and when she turns down his invitation to read to him. Her screams during the rape attempt scene also vary from genuine shock to forced. Despite this, Harte's performance is overall very solid and serves as a nice contrast to David's Shiro.
MANNA (Wendee Lee) -- The orphaned girl who stays with Riquinni doesn't have many lines, and as such it is more difficult to evaluate her overall performance. In a way, it is a very curious role for Wendee Lee, better known for more husky-voiced characters (she uses that same tone for a news reporter midway through the film). Nonetheless, her performance in this film is uneven. For normal dialogue, Lee sounds fine, raising her voice to a somewhat nasal tone in order to sound five or six years old. Unfortunately, this approach doesn't always work in her character's favor, as the two scenes where her character is bawling come across as forced and not very natural; the same is true for Manna's brief chuckle during her final scene with Shiro. Since Manna is not a major role, however, I cut Wendee some slack.
GENERAL KHAIDENN (Steve Bulen) -- In what may be one of the most infuriating aspects of the dub and the film, the character's name is not even mentioned (except for Manga's trailer). As such, it took me some research to figure out who he was. That aside, he is clearly portrayed as the frustrated, easily exasperated "leader" of the Royal Space Force. Bulen's voice for the character is a bit too nasally, but not to the point that it distracts. The only time he somewhat "drops" this tone is during a brief moment when he's evaluating Shiro's progress. Overall, it is a decent performance, even if there are a couple of lines that sound a bit stilted and/or not always well delivered.
MATTI (Brian Crayston) -- At the Royal Space Headquarters, Matti is Shiro's best friend, and like the latter, he too undergoes growth. At the beginning he is just as cynical about the whole "space program" and it isn't until the climactic launch toward the end of the film that he finally seems to have come around. Otherwise, his role is primarily to be initially smug, but always on the lookout for his friend. Brian Crayston has a very fitting voice for the character and he mostly acquits himself well, but there are a couple of lines where he does sound stiff (notably when he tells the technicians that "we're in the final stages, everyone take your positions"). Otherwise, this is a solid performance. Nothing outstanding, but appropriate overall.
DR. GNOMM (Michael Forest) -- Even though he partially functions well to the plot, this grizzled, somewhat boastful nozzle-building expert has only three scenes (and he even dies before his character has much chance to develop). As such, Michael's performance doesn't make enough of a lasting impression. Nonetheless, the vocal tone that he uses to the character is appropriate and he does what he can with the little bits of dialogue he has. (His opening line is a hoot, though.)
NERREDON (Simon Prescott) -- If there is a character that plays anything in the way of a "villain" role, it's the Vice Minister of the rivalling republic of Rimada. Even so, his role is too scanty to make an impression, and he is not necessarily "evil". Rather, he's more of a disgruntled individual who doesn't approve of violent tactics to carry out his opposition (as evidenced by his muttering of "Weapons people, they're stupid!") but only approves of them because his secretary argues that they are beneficial. His role is not necessarily effective; even so, Simon rises to the task. For anyone familiar with his more "quavering" roles as scientists in Akira and Metropolis, he doesn't apply that same vocal style to his part. He sounds more deep and grumpy, to the point where one may not realize he is the same actor. It should be noted, though, that every scene he is in is obstructed by Japanese subtitles--this is because in the original, his scenes are spoken in a "different" language, so as to convey that this is from a different kingdom. Since there is no getting around this barrier, it is a bit of a distraction, but not to the point where it harms the film.
OFFICER TENZ KOVICH (Ellyn Stern) -- This stuffy officer only appears at the end, mainly to warn the Royal Space Force about the approaching invasion, insisting that they evacuate. (When Shiro refuses to comply, the rest of the cadets of course defy her orders.) She doesn't have many lines, but the tone of voice Ellyn uses is very fitting and almost amusing... especially when she introduces herself and her final line, "I guess the crew's going down with its ship!"
These are the only characters in the film that emerge as distinctively memorable. Many others, notably Shiro's buddies at the Royal Space Force, are either unnamed or referred to when they are offscreen, making it confusing for the viewer to identify which character is which. (Indeed, it took me a LOT of research to figure out who was who!) But just for those who are interested, Shiro's other friends include the stubbled, stout Majaho (voiced by Tony Pope, whose tone is quite recognizable), the blue-haired Domorhot (Jan Rabson), the earnest, orange-haired Darrigan (Jimmy Theodore), the smug-looking Nekkerout (Dan Woren) who purchases a new model satellite for Shiro to practice in, the bulky but soft-hearted Yanalan (Richard Epcar), the bespactled technician Kharock who gets to say "lift-off!" at the climactic launch (Arnie Hanks), and Tchallichallami (Cha-challi, as he's pronounced, strange as that may be, played by Christophe deGroot), who sets off with Majaho to the observatory to monitor the flight with a cat on his shoulders. All do passable jobs, but neither of their roles really stand out that much.
Of the elderly scientists who help design the rocket, we have the wheelchair bound Professor Ronta (who speaks in a high-pitched, quavering tone) and the more spikey Professor Dekro, both of who are more or less suspect (and oddly uncredited... or at least I have not been able to identify either voice actor). Then there are the two aristocrat guys at the defense ministry (one of who is voiced by Steve Blum), a couple of newscasters, occasional girlfriends, army soldiers in crafts and meetings, and dozens of nameless protestors. All of who are voiced by names such as the late Kevin Seymour, Doug Stone, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Bambi Darro, and many other Animaze regulars. Bonus points if you can identify who is who!
The dialogue, adapted by Seymour and Mary Mason, under the supervision of the film's original executive producer, Shigeru Watanabe (after being translated by Neil Nadelman) flows smoothly for the most part, although there are places, as mentioned, where it does fall into stilted territory. There are also a lot of places where it seems to deviate from the subtitle script. One such example is the scene where the grumpy army trainer (with a cartoonishly scratchy voice) yells at Shiro for slacking off in the training scene at the beginning of the movie.
In the subtitled version, his monologue reads like this:
"Lots of free time, eh, Shiro? I didn't realize your job here was to take naps! You know what this is? A one deem coin. It can buy you a loaf of broad or a bottle of oil. But they say a Khozel bandit would kill a man for one of these. So, if you think about it, it's worth quite a lot. Overtime pay. Getting an advance should make you weep with joy! And now from you I want 300 push-ups. And after that, I want 500 sit-ups!"
The dub rewords it to the following:
"And here he is, asleep again, sitting like a vat of basking fat, waiting for his dough to double in size! Suppose I'm the bandit in Khozel. Your life now equals nothing. But that's familiar to you, right? And my gun's in your face and your offer is one deem coin of overtime. Think, ya damn idiot! You'd be dead right now, and there's your pay. Do you ever even think?! Five-hundred sit-ups. NOW!"
Most of the other differences I detected didn't seem all that drastic or out of spirit with the original, although it CAN be a bit of an oddity at times. I can only wonder what StarQuest's was like, but if reports are any indication, then Animaze's translation will have to do, warts and all.
Since Wings of Honneamise is from the "dark days of dubbing", or at least that's what the '90s could be referred to as, it may be dismissed as another forgettable affair (as critics at the time of its release in traditional newspapers have done). Other Anime websites have been mixed, but there were several enthusiasts. Personally, I think this dub succeeds as a good starting point for AniMaze, standing out fairly well from many other dubious efforts from the early 1990's.