In a nutshell, this is a great film. Although GAINAX is better known for its marvellous exploitation of established conventions, this is an anime like no other.
For twenty years, the Space Force of the kingdom of Honneamise has been trying to launch the first man into orbit of their world, without much more result than a frightening casualty count. Little surprise, then, that it is the butt of jokes, with a miniscule establishment of losers and washouts who seem to agree with the rest of the world that they are wasting time, but would rather not get real jobs. Of an evening, one of these lackadaisical space cadets, Captain Shirotsugh Lhaudatt, meets a woman who inspires him to really believe in the mission. If this were a typical anime, she would be rich or glamorous, definitely amorous, and looking for a hero. This is not a typical anime. Leiqunni is an extremely plain religious fanatic, preaching the imminent fiery end of the world to anyone who will listen, and caregiver to a sullen, potatolike redheaded child. She sees space travel as a means for the redemption of mankind and the glorification of God. Unfortunately, the leaders of Honneamise and the neighbouring Republic see it as a pretext for military action, and Shirotsugh is soon involved in a kind of race to discover if, in its own slipshod way, the Space Force can manage to get the job done before time runs out.
Some passages of the film are fast-paced, while others may seem grindingly slow. There is much reflective monologue and dialogue, but rather than seeming like window dressing as in so many anime it is clearly the driver of the action, and not the other way around. Japanese filmmakers are fond enough of cliches that it is not exactly safe to say that there are no stereotyped sequences or visuals, but in places it seems that new ones have perhaps been invented just to add to the sense that we are in another world, and in any case everything is executed flawlessly, seamlessly, so that it presents a great unity of action.
The production values are truly astonishing, higher than in any film of whatever medium I have ever seen. No effort has been spared: every item and detail of an unfamiliar world, down to the spoons, has been meticulously designed and drawn, and everything fits together seamlessly. It is easy to understand why the production is supposed to have come close to destroying the infant studio. Several scenes are even executed in an invented foreign language, with Japanese subtitles! Much animation is done "on ones", that is, at a full 24 frames per second, although a very few sequences exhibit some slight jerkiness.
The complete musical score for synthesizers and piano by Ryuichi Sakamoto is totally unlike the usual anime music, and succeeds very well at setting the mood while evoking a sense of alienness mixed with familiarity. The sound effects, produced specifically for this film, are thorough, effective, and in places inventive. Voice acting is well-cast, expressive, and considerably more naturalistic than is the rule.
The letterboxed video transfer of the film is beautiful. The picture is crisp and the colours are vibrant without being excessively saturated for film. It will test the limits of your equipment, particularly with respect to colour fidelity and time base stability, as it does those of the NTSC format. Curiously, it appears to have been made from a print, with reel change marks in evidence which leave dark spots on following frames. The pilot film appears to use the windowboxed transfer from the original Memorial Box release, and is not as sharp, pure, or stable. Supplemental material is mostly standard NTSC video, from what appears to be the original master, and is of high quality for its age.
The 5.1 channel AC-3 sound remix, as prepared for the theatrical rerelease, is well executed and makes good use of all channels. Unfortunately the soundtrack album does not provide a multichannel mix, only PCM and AC-3 stereo and analog monaural. There is not a Dolby trailer.
The booklet is attractive and intriguing, with information about the production and interviews with the staff. Almost wholly in Japanese, it contains material specific to the new edition. It does not include a lyric sheet for the military song.
Since the frames are improperly assigned, the CAV presentation is less useful than it should be. Fast play and the first few steps of slow play are fine, of course, but some scenes absolutely cry out for modes which do not behave so well. Step playback jitters dreadfully, while it may be impossible to display the exact still frame desired. It is beyond me why some never realised that a poorly executed CAV presentation is scarcely preferable to CLV. This is one film which deserved better.
For some reason BANDAI did not see fit to include English language support with this release. An English dub, which might have been put on the analog mono channel, and subtitle script, which could have been implemented by CaptionVision and/or LD+G, were available from Manga Entertainment. Given that the two companies had previously collaborated on similar features for the "Ghost in the Shell" Memorial Box, and that [as the booklet brings out] the foreign, particularly American, market was a major force behind the eventual commercial success of "Wings" this omission is unexpected.
The chapter marking leaves something to be desired, in that it does not provide quick access to significant sections of the motion picture. The only real chapter stop in the course of the film is chapter 5, the location of the deleted scene included as chapter 11. Otherwise, the movie is divided into four parts of unclear significance. Part A shares side 1 with the pilot film and side 2 with part B and the begining of part C, which continues on side 3 and part of side 4, with part D on the remainder of side 4 and the beginning of side 5. This set handles side breaks in a curious fashion: chapter 2 is carried over from side 1 to side 2, chapter 6 from side 2 to side 3, chapter 7 from side 3 to side 4, chapter 9 from side 4 to side 5, and chapter 24 from side 5 to side 6. In each case the chapter carried over furnishes only the black leadin on the second side.