Ultimate Time Sweeper Mahoroba
We just had our New Year holidays over here, and I spent most of my time doing one of two things: 1) following and fretting over the current political situation and 2) catching up on a lot of Leiji Matsumoto manga. In the case of one particular title, Yojigen Tokei (=Four-dimensional Watch), I really didn’t feel I had anything to say or remark so I’ll just pass that one up. Otherwise I’ve taken down notes, raves and rants on each of the works I read and so I’ll be posting on these titles in the coming days. With longer and/or more important series, I’m filing pages under my Alberich’s Dream page in the sidebar, so be sure to check that out if you’re interested. Today’s featured manga series is:
Ultimate Time Sweeper Mahoroba
This is the official translation, read literally it’d be “Ultimate Spacetime Battleship Mahoroba”. This comic book series by L. Matsumoto came out irregularly over a 5 year period (1993-1998). It has since been compiled in two (bunkobon) volumes. Leiji aficionados should know that the Mahoroba is considered one of the 4 most powerful ships in the universe. So what happens in this story?
“Revenge of Earth” is the name of a new state-of-the-art pleasure cruise ship, but its employment has to be the weirdest yet: the ship is a battleground for people and nations that have “issues” with World War II and its conclusion. In short: the War isn’t over, it continues to be waged aboard this ship. The rules stress that not weaponry more advanced than that of WWII be used, but rules are meant to be broken, right? All sorts of weapons are to be found in here.
Toshiro Oyama, a photographer and son of a WWII photographer, is contacted by Yo Haguro, the Japanese crew’s secretary. He ends up working on the ship, his job being to record history as it is being made. But before he ever heard of this ship, he had become aware of the existence of another: Battleship Mahoroba. A highly secret project of the Japanese Navy during the war known to only a very few, Nippon’s last battleship escaped the wrath of the Americans in battle and after it [look at what they did to the Nagato!] and is at present…where?
Toshiro soon finds out. The Revenge of Earth is tracked down by the Mahoroba itself, a ghostly ship which appears and disappears at will. The Mahoroba announces that it will destroy the cruise ship because what it’s doing is cruel and useless. Yo Haguro helps Toshiro escape and then goes back into the Revenge in order to make sure none of the main crew escape. This is because in truth Yo works for the Mahoroba! Toshiro takes several pictures of the action as he flees and passes out. He awakens at home, and his landlady hands him a letter: a thank you note signed Mahoroba.
After the incident, Toshiro becomes a member of the Mahoroba crew. One of the ship’s many mysteries is the fact that several women on board look exactly like Yo Haguro [I know Leiji’s ladies look alike anyway, but this time it’s actually part of the plot!].
Another mystery is the supership’s connection with the Musashi. The Musashi was a [really real] Yamato-class battleship sunk in Leyte in 1944. In the series, the sunken bodies of Musashi’s crews reside in a hallowed chamber within the Mahoroba, and one of the first scenes where we see the Mahoroba in action is when it warns a vessel in the vicinity of the Musashi wreck not to disturb it…
Besides being the official photographer, Toshiro is also charged with surveillance and given special film to be used with his camera: when some intelligence is received to the effect that impostors are a board the vessel, it is Toshiro that realizes one of the crew, Izumimori, is the chief infiltrator. He takes her photo and she is blinded, though she somehow escapes to fight another day. There are hints throughout the first volume that the Mahoroba does not consider anyone on Earth as an enemy. When discussing threats, the captain goes so far as to point to the sky…
Japan does have an enemy, named Ire Land (Ire Land, as in the land of angry people, 怒国 in Japanese), a large and powerful group of artificial islands in the South Pacific. This is obviously Leiji’s Nineties version of the Mu Federation, another Pacific island superpower hellbent on terrorizing a weaker Japan, that appeared in his Seventies series Sexaroid.
One of Ire Land’s ships has a run-in with the Mahoroba and it immediately assumes Japan is behind it. The saber-rattling begins…Ire Land will invade unless the captain of the Mahoroba is delivered to them. The Mahoroba sends Toshiro, Yo and a fellow Toshiro just met, looking suspiciously like himself and named…Oyama. “Irates” decide to execute all three, but this new Oyama shows several bombs he’s strapped to his chest: “I’m very good at blowing myself up, unlike the Japanese of today!”. The shock gives Yo and Toshiro time to escape by helicopter. The irate officer orders his sailors to aim for Oyama’s head. He jumps off the ship and detonates his bombs at the same time. His arm remains hanging off the side of the ship. The Irates do a fingerprint analysis, and it reveals Mr. Oyama was born in 1920 and died in 1944, after the Battle of Leyte. Oyama, in short, was Toshiro’s “dead” grandfather. Yo and the doctor on board discuss how technology allows one to take a small amount of DNA and recreate a personality. The Irate ship then bursts into flames, probably a delayed result of Oyama’s explosion coming into contact with its heavy armament.
The standard Mahoroba procedure on meeting other vessels is disarming the crews and warning them not to ever approach or dare attack it again. Documents captured from an Irate submarine reveal that Ire Land is a fully Mobile Empire, its “islands” can travel on and under water. Its military strength is 3 times America’s, its economy the size of Japan’s and America’s combined.
Leiji contrasts the power of Ire Land with the weakness of Japan: its dwindling population, its people’s aversion to self-sacrifice…Toshiro Oyama’s landlords discuss these issues often: the landlord is a veteran of Guadalcanal, and he and his wife are constantly talking about Japan’s decline. The very reason Toshiro was unemployed and ready for action in the first place was his laying off as part of the massive “restructuring” done by Japanese companies in the Nineties. This decline permeates the whole series.
Alas, the promise of the title was never realized…the work is unfinished. When the Mahoroba is totally cornered by Irate vessels, it flies off into space. And so it is barely 50 pages from the end of the second volume [at the very end of the next to last chapter we have] that the captain informs Toshiro about the Mahoroba’s main activity: to travel through space and time in search of a powerful enemy [we never get told anything about its identity]. Of course, we’ve had hints before, but one gets the impression that Leiji only really managed to come up with a prologue to the real action (the series could have easily extended 5-7 volumes).
The final chapter shows us Ire Land president Hellghost being very irate indeed. He’s just witnessed the Mahoroba fly off to space and calls in his Navy officers to get more information. The connection with the Musashi is raised. Hellghost orders his men to do precisely what the Mahoroba warned against: to investigate and disturb the wreck of the Musashi.
The move puts Ire Land on a direct collision course with the Mahoroba, which is intent on visiting the “holy grave” one last time before embarking permanently for space. The Mahoroba sees lights flickering around the Musashi and its captain threatens President Hellghost, who’s overseeing the operation. The chapter ends like this, with a cliffhanger.
For what it’s worth, my suspicion is that the Mahoroba uses DNA technology to clone Musashi’s crew (and who knows what other crews) in its quest for justice. Toshiro’s grandpa was one of these clones. The multiple women on board seem to be mostly clones as well. But that’s just my speculation…
All in all my judgment is that Leiji was on his way to making an epic tale weaving his concern for Japan’s future (underpopulation, egocentrism) with elements of the past (Musashi) through the use of powerful imagery (the Revenge set-up, Oyama’s suicide, the concept of the Mahoroba being a shhrine for the Musashi, hints of time travel) but for some reason he just stopped!
Finally, I’d like to add that in my opinion the concept of Revenge of Earth that appears in the first chapter would have made for as good of a series than this! Battle Royale meets WWII armament! Egad!