The Beautiful Worlds of Drifting Express 000
The internet presence of Matsumoto’s Drifting Express 000 is practically nil. Before starting to read this manga I found maybe 2 short reviews of it in Japanese, and the one thing both said was that the ending was fantastic. Well, my review today will agree with that assessment. If you’re interested and don’t mind all the spoilers, have a read
The manga is 4 volumes long. The basic setup for the first 3 volumes is as follows:
The hero is Dai Oyama (a Tetsuro clone), a seemingly regular boy whose teacher, the beautiful Shizuko Hirata (a Maetel clone), is a total pervert. Dai lives with his uncle and aunt, and he runs into a mysterious woman called Maybis [I transliterated this as Moebius in another post, but I think this way is better]. Maybis physically resembles Hirata-sensei a lot (she’s a Maetel clone both physically and psychologically). Every Saturday she comes on a train called the Drifting Express 000 and takes Dai to various odd places. Eventually, Dai meets Maybis’ sisters Mayhis and Maybic, plus Hirata-sensei starts accompanying Dai on his trips. We learn that Dai has an important role to play in the universe, and that Maybis and her sisters are “shadows” from another world. We also discover that there is an evil organization led by a Professor Kitamakura, that is bent on locating the shadows’ home world and destroying it.
So far so good?
At the end of volume 3 a strange black creature comes to Dai’s room and drops off a pitch-black baby dinosaur called Kuima. Dai is as baffled as we are. And here we come to Volume 4 where all is revealed.
There are 5 Earths, not 1. Put another way, our planet exists in five separate dimensions. The world as we know it is only one of these 5 worlds. Here are my rough translations of the names of the 5 worlds: 1) Earthworld [i.e. the planet as we know it], (2) Backworld, (3) Deathworld, (4) Heavenworld and (5) Devilworld. Backworld and Deathworld are intimately linked to our Earthworld. Backworld is where the souls of those who couldn’t be born on Earthworld go to (i.e. miscarried babies). Deathworld is where the souls of those who die in Earthworld while hating the planet go to. We don’t have similar information for Heavenworld and Devilworld, but I can only think of two possibilities:
a) Heavenworld is where the souls of those who die in Earthworld with love for it go to, and Devilworld is for the souls of those who neither loved nor hated Earthworld, but were indifferent to it.
b) Both Heavenworld and Devilworld are for souls who loved Earthworld, but Heavenworld takes the pacific, lawful types and Devilworld the rambunctious, crazy types.
Whatever the case may be, the “devils” of Devilworld are not evil at all. The equivalent of a Hell in this manga is Deathworld.
Anyway, Professor Kitamakura actually belongs to the Deathworld faction [all along one thinks he's just a regular Earthling so this comes as a surprise] Deathworld is set on doing battle on all 4 worlds and destroying them. Earthworld is the key to this War and Dai is the key to Earthworld.
Kuima the baby dino is actually a critter from Devilworld. What’s been happening behind the scenes is that the Backworld shadows, the Heavenworld angels and the Devilworld devils have been negotiating a defensive alliance to protect Earthworld from Kitamakura and Deathworld. Kuima is sent as an emissary from Devilworld to check up on Dai and protect him. At the beginning of Volume 4 a very cute white cat called Zellmate shows up in Dai’s room. Zellmate is Heavenworld’s emissary, and it’s such a cute kitty that Dai asks: “Are you supposed to be powerful??” and Zellmate responds: “You’ll soon find out.”
Maybis is of course Backworld’s own emissary to Dai. And just before the great battle of the worlds Dai discovers that Maybis and her sisters were his own mother’s miscarried children, which makes Dai their brother. Even more amazing, Hirata-sensei is a relative of Dai Oyama’s too, and that’s why she resembles Maybis so much…all of these characters belong to the Oyama clan.
The Oyama clan looms very large in this. There is a great scene where Kitamakura orders his no. 2 woman, Reino, to check if there are any Oyamas in Deathworld. Reino cannot find anyone, leading to the conclusion that never in the history of the Oyama clan has one of its members died while hating his planet
THE END AS I READ IT THE FIRST TIME AROUND
The great war take place in the air and in space, over the Bermuda Triangle. It takes place aboard trains, reminding one of Galaxy Railways battles. Dai and Hirata are on the 000 while Maybis and countless others are battling the Death Forces of Deathworld. Kuima and Zellmate suddenly show up in the 000 and warn Dai that Kitamakura is on his way. Kitamakura comes inside and begins to strangle Dai. Hirata screams for help, gets none (Kuima and Zellmate have disappeared), and tries to hit Kitamakura but it doesn’t seem to have an effect. Dai prays everyone will be safe as he gets choked. All of a sudden Kitamakura turns into a skeleton and falls down. Hirata is surprised. She suggests maybe Dai’s prayer worked. Then she notices the Sun outside the train window and comes up with a new theory: the battle started on the side of the planet where the sun wasn’t shining, but in the heat of battle Kitamakura didn’t notice that the Sun was moving (or the trains were moving, or both) and exposure to the Sun caused him to be destroyed. “Like Dracula” quips Dai. The battle ends. Maybis shows up and thanks Dai for his great services. THE END
I was upset when I finished reading this the first time around. Dai didn’t seem to have done absolutely anything to achieve victory. At the same time, I had been expecting the white kitty Zellmate to show its power and all it had done was warn Dai and promptly disappeared!
I read the last 25 pages several times until it began to make sense.
THE END WITH ALL THE DETAILS I PASSED OVER THE FIRST TIME AROUND
When the battle is about to begin, Maybis says goodbye to Dai and tells him to pray for the safety of his planet. Dai prays as follows:
“If there is anything like a godlike existence on this planet, I don’t mind whichever god it may be, please protect my older sister and my little sisters. Please protect the happiness of each world in every dimension.”
Kuima and Zellmate warn Dai and then disappear. When Kitamakura shows up and begins strangling Dai, the kid keeps on praying to the gods to protect his sisters and everyone in the worlds. Japanese nouns don’t make a distinction for number, so in this last case “world” is a possible translation, but in the context of his initial prayer I think the plural is more appropriate.
The Sun shows up, Kitamakura is vanquished and Dai is a hero.
What happened is now clear to me: it was the power of Dai’s prayer that saved the day. Not only that he prayed, but that he prayed for all worlds (he didn’t exclude Deathworld, for example). It was this sacrifice, to pray even as he was dying, that lent the strength to the alliance to win the day. I think there is an uncanny resemblance to Christianity in this manga!
That answers one question. How about the other one, how about Zellmate? My theory is that Zellmate brought out the Sun. This sounds amazing but then again, Zellmate did imply that he was an amazing character and that Dai would find out how in the end. Also, Zellmate is an angel and very white, thus associated with light. Looking back to the first scene when Dai met Zellmate, I notice now that the cat actually shines in the dark. We see him lying on the ceiling (!) with a circular light spot surrounding him. Here:
This image prefigures the Sun that shows up to win the battle 80 pages later, I think. And of course Dai is linked to this. Dai’s prayer has given Zellmate the strength to become, or bring about, that great Sun and get the job done. OK, maybe I don’t have super hard evidence for this interpretation, but I love it and I’m going with it