GE 999 eps 007-010: Marx, Shinto and the Zero Warrior
Shinto is alive and well in the 23rd century, as shown here:
What you see is a wedding reception and the banner reads: Amaterasu Omikami. Amaterasu is the Sun Goddess, the greatest deity in Shinto and the ancestress of the Japanese Imperial Family. The setting is this: little Tetsuro has been kidnapped by a desperate (and currently unemployed ) waitress on the planet Trader and presented to her parents as her chosen husband. Her parents have completely lost their marbles: not only do they accept the 10-year old as a son-in-law but they immediately invite a dozen guests who turn out to be imaginary (thus the vacant tables around Dad). By the way, the location of the scene is Nanaboshi Star, a local spacetrain ride away from Trader. But I should really start at the beginning.
By which I mean this:
Visiting planet Trader, Maetel and Tetsuro go to eat at a fancy ramen restaurant. Trader is prosperous, but there are roving bands of unemployed, mostly people from nearby planets who upon spending all of their money on the train ride to Trader fail to find a job there and are stuck. Tetsuro loses his appetite (I would’ve sat further away from the window, but hey) and eventually buys a bowl of ramen for the waitress from Nanaboshi Star, who abuses his kindness by taking him to her home planet and passing him off for her fiance.
These two episodes (9-10) are ready-made for a Marxist interpretation. Capitalism is alive and well in the future and while some folk get to live forever, the poor workers suffer alienation as true aliens in a foreign planet. The wage-labor system is worse than ever. And back in the village home planet the elderly parents cling to religious superstition as they lose all grip on reality. Now, I think that the interpretation stands on its own merit, but the author likely doesn’t share it (for an animated discussion touching on the relevance of the author to a work’s interpretation, here, especially in the comments). Matsumoto portrays the reception in a very loving way, and the fact that the whole plot revolves around Japanese oodles points to conservatism. To display the name of the Sun Goddess so prominently smacks even of old expansionist dreams (what is Shinto doing outside of the Solar System?)
There’s also the question of Leiji Matsumoto’s penname. Akira Matsumoto was born in 1938, and his father was an Imperial Air Force officer in the War. In 1968 (when Japanese Marxist students were every bit as vocal as their counterparts in France) Akira began to use the name Leiji (零士), which in usual romanization is written “Reiji”. “Rei” means zero and ji means warrior. Put 2 and 2 together: son of a Japanese Air Force officer + chosen name “zero warrior” = reference to the Zero jetfighter in World War 2. In the supercharged environment of the Sixties this reference shows Matsumoto squarely in the traditionalist camp. Not to mention his taste for things German, “his flagrant love for German culture” as Matsumoto fan René-Gilles Deberdt writes (website here). The Harlock clan, the use of the Ring Cycle in the Harlock Saga OVA, everywhere Germanica.
However, the Leiji Matsumoto article at Japanese Wikipedia cites three etymologies for the penname, all of which contradict the one I’ve just given (and each other, btw). 1) Matsumoto’s Muse usually activates itself after midnight and that’s when he does his best work so he’s a “zero warrior” (as in 00:00); 2) Matsumoto chose the name to remind himself of the spirit of an infant, zero years of age; 3) “Rei” stands for infinity, so Matsumoto wants to call himself “warrior of infinity”. This third solution to the problem Matsumoto gave in an interview this year (2008), and it’s especially dubious because the actual kanji for “rei” as in “infinity” although similar is not at all the same as the “zero” kanji that Leiji has used for the last 40 years. I think the interpretation I gave is the one that most fans naturally come up with, and is probably the right one, by which I mean the one that led him to choose that name in the first place.
This is not to say that Matsumoto is a fascist. He has always been a committed pacifist and his recent collaboration with Daft Punk is just one of example of his cosmopolitan outlook. Galaxy Express 999 hones in on the plight of the working classes more than any other anime that I have seen. At the same time, he does possess a romantic view of the warrior (Japanese and Prussian/German values) and seems to revere religion/s. Like The Animanachronism found out with the alternate history of Code Geass, the creative minds of postwar Japan are never uncomplicated. Mixed signals are everywhere.
More and more Matsumoto reminds me of Dostoyevsky, who in his writings and life idolized the Tsar (fountain of tradition) and the common folk (root of the nation) while criticizing and spitting at everyone in between (any other artist but himself, the bourgeoisie, Westernizing reformers). This love-hate configuration itself strikes me as an artistic tendency. It was also shared by quite a few middle-ranking officers in the Imperial Japanese Army, who wanted to destroy the business conglomerates that stood between the poor and the Emperor. This tendency was all but annihilated after a failed coup attempt in 1936, thus adding to the treasure house of heroes for many a Japanese thinker, possibly including Matsumoto…
NOTE: Eps 7 and 8 deal with time, and as I’m still sorting out Matsumoto’s time theory I’ll pass them over for the moment.