GE 999 015-017: Onsen Beethoven / Wrath / Regeneration
In ep 15 the Galaxy Express arrives at a planet called Waterland. There Tetsuro and Maetel stay in an inn with a Japanese-style hot spring bath (onsen). While bathing they’re attacked by an aspiring boy musician who wants to steal their train pass so he can seek fame elsewhere. This boy plays Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata beautifully, but he’s not much of a fighter.
Ep 16 takes us to Firefly Town, whose inhabitants’ bodies light up at night. Since different people have different amounts and patterns of light, and since this is something that gets decided at birth, body light has become the main measure for beauty and likely aristocracy in Firefly Town. People who are bright all over are handsome, those with spotty lighting are hideous and visitors from other planets (who don’t emanate light at all) are considered practically subhuman. It’s interesting that there’s no hint of mechanization in this particular planet.
Tetsuro is outraged by this arbitrary aesthetic, and these Firefly people who discriminate against those with little or no light. He goes so far as to wish that the planet were destroyed and remade again to rid it of its people. Aha! Matsumoto has given us here a lovely psychological moment. Remember that not so long ago our heroes went to the Double Planets which mysteriously (not really) crashed into each other and exploded as soon as the Galaxy Express had left their main city of Complete Mechanization.
The strong implication back then was that Maetel was responsible, and although Tetsuro repressed his awareness of this, here it comes back with a vengeance. That is, Tetsuro is unconsciously voicing his desire that Maetel do the same again and visit her wrath on this planet. Rather than simply thinking about this desire, he actually speaks it out loud but appropriately when he is alone, possibly out of fear of complicity if Maetel were actually to act on it. It ends up sounding more like an evil prayer.
On the other hand, Maetel’s reaction to the cruelty of the Firefly people surprises Tetsuro (and me too!). She shows a lot of pity for them, and she tries to dissuade a beautifully-lit and obviously wealthy young man from boarding the Galaxy Express. She goes so far as to plead with him, telling him that he doesn’t know anything about the universe outside and his naivete will probably prove deadly in short order.
The question is: what is the difference between the darkie-hating Firefly people and the natural-body-hating folk of the Double Planets? Clearly Maetel must think them different because otherwise she wouldn’t have destroyed one race while doing everything in her power to preserve a member of the other. But on the face of it, these attitudes seem to be simply two modes of intolerance. And if you argue that the Firefly people are naive and therefore bound to their social system, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t argue the same for the totally mechanized. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Maetel is simply biased against mechanization and thus guilty of intolerance herself.
Since much of the story of the Leijiverse (or at least the Maetel side of it) relies on this existential question of to be or not to be mechanized, I guess it makes sense for Matsumoto to portray Maetel in this way…
Anyway, next stop is Armored Planet (ep 17) and its twisted and tragic decline. If you visited a planet where every single animal and human being was covered in solid armor, I wouldn’t blame you for suspecting the inhabitants to be warlike and cruel. But in fact the opposite is the case. The armoring of the planet occurred sometime in the past because the humans decided to protect every organism from death. Out of this empathy and kindness comes the death of the planet. Because no one can attack and consume another, the ecological foodchain breaks down and everyone and everything begins to die.
I can hear Nietzsche chuckling in one corner, he who claimed all good things came out of war (or conflict more generally). The inhabitants of Armored Planet have learned too late that Nature dictates that the strong destroy the weak and that to go against this is to court disaster (there are only two humans remaining by the time Tetsuro and Maetel visit). When Maetel communicates this same doctrine to Tetsuro, he wonders if there’s any way to break out of it. Maetel replies she doesn’t know. It’d be nice…
The dramatic tension in this episode comes out of an incident near the beginning: an armored waspy-looking insect pierces Maetel’s chest right down the middle as she uses her body to shield her protege. Tetsuro spends most of the episode frantically trying to find a doctor for her, only to find her completely healed toward the end. Maetel claims the train conductor found her a doctor. The problem is the only doctor in Armored Planet is dying as Tetsuro finds out upon meeting him.
We know better, and finally in this episode Matsumoto lets us in on Maetel’s regeneration process. A manly voice coming from who knows where addresses moribund Maetel and reminds her that her task is to protect Tetsuro at all costs and that she cannot die. More ominously, the voice says he will not let her die, which leads me to believe that Maetel might be tired enough to desire precisely that. The voice tells Maetel to undress (she’s in a carriage in the 999, alone). Then a bright light with spiralling rays begins to emanate from her body and voila, the screen cuts to Tetsuro. But next time we meet her she is healed.
The voice is the same that talked to Maetel in the very first episode of the show, when she was showering before hopping on the 999 with Tetsuro. At that time the voice spoke of the same basic mission of taking Tetsuro to his own desired goal of Andromeda. So is this regeneration spiritual or mechanical? Who exactly are these people? Too soon to tell.
Another issue is that Maetel seems to be sporting a tattoo (look at her back, on the left) and my guess is that it’s a skull. Skull means pirates, which in the Leijiverse means Harlock and Emeraldas. This is a nice, peculiar detail which might require further investigation later on.
The subtitles in the last pic are from Live-eviL subbers, who have one an excellent job with this series. I watch this show and practically all shows subbed, but when choosing pics to post I try to avoid showing the subtitles, purely for aesthetic reasons. In any case, this is as good a chance as any to thank Live-evil and all the great subbers out there who, and this is not at all an overstatement, enrich our lives so much!
Live-eviL is dropping the series following the announcement that Toei Animation is going to run 999 subbed on crunchyroll. Here’s the snag: apparently the video will only be watchable in the U.S./Canada region. Of course I, along with a pretty sizeable majority of the world’s population, live outside of this area. Not good…