The Royal Space Expeditionary Force: Star Quest

Hiroyuki Yamaga’s Royal Space Force: Wings of Honnêamise celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. While the film arrived in Japanese theaters on March 14, 1987, the world premiere actually took place a month earlier in Los Angeles.

In the 1980s, anime in the U.S. was an untapped frontier. Out there beyond the success of Star Blazers or Robotech –way out in the fringes– lay the wild stuff. Films and OVAs, heavily edited for kids, dropped into bargain bins by companies trying to cash in on the new VHS market. UHF broadcasts of subtitled anime in major cities with large Japanese populations. The decade was a cautionary tale of fly-by-night companies, over-eager distributors, and whatever the hell the Gaga Communications promo reel was.

But there’s one English-language release that’s as bizarre and forgotten as it was momentous. A major Japanese animated motion picture that premiered at the iconic Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles: Star Quest.

You probably know it better as Royal Space Force: Wings of Honnêamise.

Star Quest was as much an unusual footnote in the production of Royal Space Force as it was in the history of U.S. anime fandom, except, it wasn’t really intended for U.S. audiences at all. Created by the group of fans previously known as Daicon Film, Royal Space Force was an ambitious sci-fi epic that was a dramatic step up from the group’s earlier live-action tokusatsu parodies and Daicon opening shorts. The ambitious crew had originally pitched a Gundam OVA to model kit juggernaut Bandai, but instead, company execs suggested they aim for something a little more original. Gainax, as we know it, was incorporated to produce this new, original project.

At the time, epic animated films were a big deal, thanks to the likes of Valley of the Wind Nausicaä, Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?, and others. Bandai was eager for a major motion picture success story of their own, and the ambitious Gainax crew had lucked out and stumbled into massive financial backing. Not bad for a group of fans who started their animation careers a few years earlier in a stuffy room attached to a family-owned warehouse.

As lucky as they were, the entire proposition was risky. Bandai and other sponsors had ponied up about 800 million yen for the film’s production, but unlike Nausicaä or Do You Remember Love?, they weren’t drawing on existing source material; just an all-new world created by young artists and a story inspired by their group’s own experience. With a serious amount of money riding on the film’s success, it was decided to premiere the film in America and use that accomplishment to hype up the film back home.

Star Quest vs. Royal Space Force script comparison, from Anime-Zine #2.

The U.S. premiere of Star Quest was just marketing material for Japanese audiences.

Hastily rewritten, heavily edited, and quickly dubbed, Star Quest was shown on February 19, 1987. Its existence and story seemed to carry some weight — it premiered barely a year after the Challenger disaster and a month before Japanese audiences saw it. The debut hinted at a successful future for Japanese animation in the States and offered up an inspirational story for a nation that was still uneasy about space travel, but it failed to live up to either expectation. After Star Quest was shown, it promptly disappeared.

According to the film’s executive producer, Hiroaki Inoue, the English dub was so hastily prepared that the audio track hadn’t actually been matched with the film before the premiere. Behind the scenes at Mann’s Chinese Theatre, staff simultaneously pressed play on both and crossed their fingers. Inoue was a guest at Anime Los Angeles 2017 as part of their 25th anniversary celebration of Royal Space Force, and Star Quest came up as soon as the film’s retrospective panel opened up for questions. The question was asked, appropriately enough, by a fan that had actually attended the screening.

Contemporary fandom sources tempered their excitement surrounding the theatrical showing with serious complaints about the dub, produced by Go East Productions. Shirotsugh and Riquinni were now Randy and Diane. Writing in Anime-Zine #2, Studio Proteus founder Toren Smith criticized the film’s vast differences, even going so far as to include comparisons between Go East’s version and a more accurate translation prepared by Tomoko Saito and himself. But, if nothing else, he complimented Star Quest’s impeccable lip sync.

Inoue isn’t sure what happened to the Star Quest dub. Information on the breadth of Star Quest’s release is sketchy at best, though it seems likely it was only shown for one night. It was certainly never released on video, but copies are reputed to have circulated among fans. Considering the dub’s origins as a marketing ploy for audiences back home, its disappearance is hardly surprising.

Royal Space Force went on to make less than half of its 800 million yen budget. It later received a proper English dub courtesy of L.A. Hero and Animaze Inc.

Thanks to Art-Eater for pointing out the 8 billion yen budget originally published in this article was incorrect. 

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed this or other articles on Zimmerit, please consider signing up for email notifications. You can find the form below the menu, up there on the left. Thanks!