The Condor Flies Not
Della’s Website Comics is a Japanese site that has reviews for practically every Leiji Matsumoto manga ever written, plus they’re all rated (from 2 to 5 stars; for some reason none of the works get just the 1 star). Tale of a Time Gone by, a 2-volume collection of short stories (1978-9) garners 5 stars and the review simply reads:
THE GREATEST MASTERPIECE IN LEIJI’S ŒUVRE!
I will personally go so far as to say that it’s the best collection of Matsumoto short stories I’ve ever read. You could make a selection of these tales, strip them of the images and release them as a general fiction book, and you’d get a solid piece of work. The motif these stories share is the perennial confrontations between the past and the future, the native and the stranger and their intersection.
I want to introduce one such story in this collection, where the storytelling is wonderful and Leiji’s art just makes the whole soar to the skies. It’s called The Condor Flies Not and it was originally penned in 1975.
The story takes place on the high seas. An old Japanese man and his grandson are aboard a tattered ship waiting to die. Suddenly they see an enormous condor alight on the mast. It has a necklace. The boy tries to shoot the condor for food but the bird stares at him and a flash of light knocks him down. The old man takes out a book and reads a passage about a legendary condor with a golden necklace, an emissary of the holy queen, whose stare will make the victim a prisoner for all eternity.
The old man explains he received the book from a Christian missionary from Spain. [the word here is “Isupania”, which is what the Japanese called Spain before the modern era; nowadays they call it “Supein” in imitation of the English]
After 10 days the condor remains perched on the mast, and the old man finds a passage in his book that says that the condor will wait as long as it takes for “the seed that has vowed to avenge the blood” to arrive. Then they notice a great number of corpses drifting beside the ship, with land [the South American coast] in the distance.
A beautiful woman, the sole survivor of the battle or massacre, drags herself onto the ship. She has the same necklace as the condor. She speaks in a foreign language, and the only intelligible words are “Spain” and “Francisco Pizarro”. The old man tells his kid to unclothe and warm the woman up. The boy is shy but the man encourages him and the boy ends up doing much more than warming her up.
Now we get to listen to the woman’s thoughts: she calls to Miyu, her guardian spirit, and says that the seed of her ancestors, who descended onto Machu Picchu on a golden bird with a tail of fire, will not be wiped off the face of Earth. [Miyu is an important word in LaMetalian culture…] Her seed with this lad will exterminate the Spanish race, which trod on the Inca Empire, the throne of the bird people. And eventually she will return to the land of her ancestors across the sea of stars.
The last thought we hear from her is: I shall be Inca Queen until the moment I return to that green planet beyond the sky.
We get a shot at the end of the ship: the condor and the old man are a pile of bones, while the woman and the lad still look fresh and strong. The caption gives us the historical background: The Inca Empire extended over a million square kilometers, but it was annihilated by Francisco Pizarro’s troops in 1532. Since then the condor flies not.
This is more of a vignette than a story with a proper plot, but it’s great nonetheless. There is a lyrical quality to the Queen’s thoughts and the narrator’s words, contrasting sharply with the Japanese men’s rough and clueless dialogue. The attention to historical detail is impressive and the art is fantastic, I can’t remember a sexier Matsumoto character design than this Inca Queen (and that’s saying a lot!), though she herself reminds me of Brigitte Bardot more than anything.
For what it’s worth, there is an excellent candidate for this queen in Inca history. Manco Inca’s queen, Cura Ocllo, was famous for her beauty and her courage. There are a many stories surrounding her, but the important point is she refused to flee the Spanish out of spite for her husband (who had killed her relatives). The Pizarros were elated to capture her (some say Gonzalo Pizarro lusted after her) and she was executed after suffering all sorts of abuse. So this could be taken as a “what if Cura Ocllo had escaped and Däniken’s theories were right all along” scenario!
[Thanks, iskra, for leading me here!!]