The Real Author of Drifting Express 000 (Happy Birthday Sensei)
[Today is Leiji Matsumoto’s birthday. All hail!]
I imagine one of the fun things about being a science fiction writer is you get to criticize history. The way many SF stories work goes something like this: the story takes place in the year 2500, the author gets to make up a more or less detailed background of events between our now (2011) and this fictional future 500 years later. As to events before our now, most of it will be left just as is. It’d be too much trouble to actively start changing historical events in our past, and it could confuse the readers as well. So I think SF readers assume the past in the story is more or less the same as ours, unless the contrary is stated explicitly. Thus, in Star Trek, we assume that Napoleon fought and lost at Waterloo.
And it’s here that things get fun: the writer can have future characters reflect on historical events, indicate how certain historical figures have come to be viewed differently etc. And of course fiction itself is part of our history, so the author can comment on his favorite fiction and manipulate it. An example from Star Trek is the seemingly countless episodes involving Sherlock Holmes (they really overdid it).
Now, the writer can have even more fun if he references him or herself, as after all his or her existence is likely implicit in the past of his own made-up future. I figure many readers will think this self-allusion to be in bad taste, and this fact will probably deter many an author, but not Leiji Matsumoto!
In the Galaxy Express 999 anime, Tetsuro and Maetel go to the Comet Library, which is full of old books from Earth. They find and discuss Leiji’s Cockpit manga series. Clearly then, Leiji Matsumoto exists within the Leijiverse (or at least, in the GE 999 version of the Leijiverse) as a manga author. Cockpit is an easy choice because it deals with World War II. That is, the existence of Cockpit as a work of fiction in the Comet Library is not a threat to the cohesion of the Leijiverse*. This book doesn’t bring into question the veracity of the Galaxy Express and all the tales surrounding it. On the other hand, it would be very different if they found a DVD of Space Symphony Maetel in the library. The futuristic Leijiverse would become a fictional piece even on its own terms, and the “reality” would be lost. In the context of Galaxy Express 999, Matsumoto can be the author of WWII manga but not the creator of Maetel!
Now, what does all of this have to do with Drifting Express 000? Well, first let me introduce this work and its very interesting background.
When in 1981 Leiji finished the Galaxy Express 999 series in Shonen King Weekly magazine, he decided that he wanted to focus on Millennial Queen, which had been running in another publication since 1980. The problem was that Shonen King was in a bad state, and with the end of 999 its publishers started to panic. Eventually Matsumoto agreed to do another 999esque series for the magazine. And this is how we get 000.
My own guess is that Leiji was a bit peeved about having to do this, and so he decided to have fun with it out of (playful) spite. For example, Dai Oyama’s address as seen in his 000 pass is Kokono Machi 5-26-7. Kokono Machi, written in different characters, means “This Town” and the numbers 5-26-7 are exactly those of Leiji Matsumoto’s residence in Tokyo. Dai’s birthday is on January 25th and Leiji’s birthday is on January 25th, etc.
The structure of the tale is similar to 999 indeed: there is a space train that only a few can board called the 000. There is a boy called Dai Oyama who gets invited by a beautiful, mysterious blonde called Moebius to board the 000 every Saturday. So on each appointed day they travel to a strange new land together, and then come back to Dai’s hometown by midnight.
However, Leiji throws not one, but two Molotov cocktails at this structure. The first one has to do with this Moebius. Yes, she is essentially a Maetel clone, but she is not alone. There is also Dai’s teacher at school, Hirata, who looks exactly like Moebius (the latter claims the two are related). Hirata ends up getting involved in Dai’s adventures, and she is a very funny character. If Moebius seems to be more distant than Maetel, her doppelgänger Hirata is too close for comfort. She is a very naughty teacher.
Hirata, to put it frankly, loves her male students. Loves. She likes to undress in front of her class. Since Dai is her favorite, she offers to kiss him multiple times. She likes to grab him by the arm and walk with him outside of school. When Dai complains that people will misunderstand, she says she doesn’t mind. Sure enough, a group of men gawk at the couple and gossip. And she shouts back at them “Shut up, old men!” and walks on. One of the men in the crowd is a Leiji clone with skull beret! Later on when Hirata is under pressure at the school for her antics, a crowd of supporters gathers with “Leiji” right up front.
So Hirata likes middle school boys, and “Leiji” is head over heels for her, but she’s not interested. By splitting Maetel into two halves (Moebius and Hirata) Matsumoto puts into relief a notorious aspect of the original character. Tetsuro himself is obviously split into Dai and “Leiji”; the boy who becomes involved with older, beautiful women and the man who longs to be that boy. The “confessions” involved in these splits are pretty subversive for an author who was making a living out of penning these stories for boy’s magazines!!
The second Molotov cocktail gets hurled right at the very beginning on page 15. Dai steps out onto the balcony and reports hearing something like a train in the sky. His caretaker says:
“The ’999’ is more than enough for flying trains. Get a hold of yourself!”
Just in case we’re in doubt, the number 999 is written out like this 「999」 in the original, which means he is referring to the title of a work. He is not talking about a real train, but about the fictional series 999. So clearly Drifting Express 000 (which came out in 1983) is referencing Galaxy Railways 999.
Dai sets out on his journey in the year 1983. Tetsuro sets out on his journey in the year 2221. In the world of Drifting Express 000, Tetsuro and Maetel are fictional characters. Which means that in terms of the “reality” of the Galaxy Express 999 universe, 000 must itself be fiction. The problem now is easy to see: if the world of 000 is fiction, how come the characters make reference to a fictional work dealing with the 999, especially considering that neither the 999 itself nor the Galaxy Railways company behind it were anywhere near beginning operations in 1983?
There can be only one solution. This work cannot have been written in the 1980s. Drifting Express 000 must have been penned by someone who lived at a time when the Galaxy Express 999 was running, either that or in a time after that. It must be a person who decided to create a period piece taking place in the distant year of 1983. It must have been a clever and playful human being who enjoyed making the entire Galaxy Railways system to be a lie, and this means someone mighty enough to know lots about the GR and to dare make fun of such a powerful institution. And because we know the main character of this fictional work is called Dai Oyama, we already have a prime candidate.
Who else but Toshiro Oyama?
* – This is a lie. I haven’t read the Cockpit series, but I’ll wager anything Harlock, Tochiro and Yattaran clones show up by the droves…I don’t know that the manga is a threat, but I’m sure it is.