(Electric) Power and Matsumoto: The Case of Planet Ena
Last time I wrote about the OVA Kansai Electric Power company financed with Leiji Matsumoto as overall designer. This post will be about the current campaign Kyushu Electric Power is conducting with him. The project consists of a series of five short animated films featuring Maetel and Tetsuro from Galaxy Express 999. In fact, the title (Galaxy Express 999: Journey with Energy beyond Space and Time) practically proclaims itself as an expansion set / sidestory to the GE 999 story. The format of Leiji’s classic, where each episode one or two planets are visited and lessons are learned, is ideal for this sort of manipulation.
Moreover, the animation here is nice and colorful and the art is pure Matsumoto. The voice acting is well done too. The lessons all have to do with energy concerns, specifically (though this doesn’t jump up at the viewer immediately) with the systematic promotion of nuclear power. The press releases for the statement make this clear so one cannot accuse Kyushu Electric of being devious…
For example, the first planet Lumia relies on a single source of power and while Maetel and Tetsuro are visiting the system short circuits and the entire world is covered in darkness. The lesson is that of diversification. The third episode has the 999 land on a planet which relies purely on energy from its neighboring planet. The problem is that this other planet is constantly in turmoil and the imports are problematic. So the lesson is self-reliance in energy matters. Nothing like nuclear energy has shown up yet, but it is clearly lurking in the background. The shadow lesson, so to speak, is that the use of nuclear power should be developed at home to end dependence on the unstable Middle East.
But it is in the fourth episode where nuclear power makes its triumphant appearance. I suggest you watch it if you haven’t so you can follow my analysis below. Just click [here], choose the second sphere on the lower left (titled これまでの旅) and then choose the “Fourth Story”.
Maetel and Tetsuro reach a planet called Ena. Maetel is very quiet, so much so that Tetsuro notices it. A volcano begins to erupt and a scientist saves the two. The scientist takes them to the power plant he works for. He begins to teach Tetsuro about the hi-tech plant. He then mentions the key energy-yielding element enenium.
As he explains what enenium is all about, we get a close up of Maetel’s inscrutable eyes.
This is replaced by a close up of the scientist’s eyes.
These two shots establish a tension between the two grownups in the room (Tetsuro is in ignorant bliss). After finishing his presentation on the great benefits spawning from the use of enenium, the scientist adds that they must be careful with its use because it is harmful to living things. He develops this line while we get another closeup of his face as he looks to Tetsuro.
All of a sudden we see him break into a smile and comfort Tetsuro: the scientists of planet Ena have developed technologies to control enenium so it will not harm anyone. Tetsuro says “really?” and looks to Maetel, but she remains quiet. The scientist replies that yes, the element is perfectly sealed in storage facilities so there is nothing to worry about.
Tetsuro is pleased with the response, but Maetel decides it’s time to intervene. First she stands up, then she looks at the scientist (well, she probably hasn’t ever taken her eyes from him) and asks:
“Has anyone ever been injured?”
Notice how this is an impossibly difficult question. Usually one would ask something along the lines of “What is your safety record like?” or “Have there been any injured personnel recently?”. The answer to Maetel’s question must surely be “yes”; after all, what major scientific process hasn’t claimed any injuries or deaths along the way? But the scientist himself used the word “perfect”; he himself invited that question. Maetel wants him to “show him the money”, to put up or get out.
The scientist replies with a single word in Japanese as the “camera” closes up on his eyes:
…which in this context is best translated as “Never.”
Maetel sits down and says something to the effect of “I see.” She sounds wary, weary.
Then the scientist puts his happy face on again and expounds on how they are not letting their guard down despite their perfect record and so forth. Maetel and Tetsuro hop on the Express and Maetel and the Conductor discuss the volcano. Then Tetsuro tells the Conductor all about the awesome scientist that works there. Maetel has no comments on this point. The episode ends.
What is the meaning of all these closeup shots? And why are the closeups of the scientist so focused on his eyes?
It is said that you can tell if a person is lying by looking at his eyes. The scientist doesn’t shift his eyes nervously, so at first glance he is being relatively convincing. However, the cinematography here encourages us (almost to the point of forcing us) to question this man precisely by focusing on those motionless eyes. His performance is too good, he’s trying too hard. Alternatively, these closeups of the scientist’s eyes could very well be from Maetel’s point of view: she is scouring him, as it were. Her reaction to his amazing response that there have never been any injuries or accidents in the handling of the dangerous element, a response that she forced him to give, is very telling too.
The way I see it Maetel isn’t buying it and what’s more, the scientist probably knows she isn’t buying it, so he chooses to refocus on Tetsuro and let things be.
But this is an impossible situation to go along with Maetel’s impossibly tough question above. My analysis would imply that the animators behind this episode were sabotaging the pro-nuclear speech (there is no doubt in my mind about this at least: enenium = radioactive energy)! Or even more impossibly, that Maetel herself was the saboteur!! Every time I watch this clip I feel like I’m watching a TV show where the actor isn’t happy with the script. This analogy breaks down (or does it?) when talking about animation in its visual aspect [voice acting is something separate].
I talked about precisely this issue earlier in this post right [here] so I won’t do so now [don’t worry if you don’t know the anime in that post, the point is easy to get without having watched it].
In any case, the 5th and final episode in this mini-series will come out later this month. We’ll see what happens then…