Black Ships of Nothingness

I have written elsewhere about Matsumoto’s manga V2 Panzer and how much I enjoyed it.  The manga I am writing about today is just as enjoyable, and it just so happens to have been published during the same couple of years (1988 to 1989).  I’m starting to think Leiji was particularly inspired in this era, when the long Showa reign ended and the new (and current) Heisei reign began.

The full title of this manga is Black Ships of Nothingness: Crisis III.

Meguru and Hajime

Meaning of the Title

The “Black Ships” in this title go straight to the incident in 1854, when four American warships entered Japanese waters and ushered/forced Japanese modernization under Meiji rule.  Consider this Crisis I.  (By the way, the American ships weren’t black, but the term “black ship” was used by the Japanese for foreign vessels since the first Portuguese ships that visited centuries ago did have black hulls)

The nature of next two crises is explained in the manga jacket blurb.  Crisis II refers to the Japanese defeat in World War Two.  The Black Ships must be the American invasion force that hammered Okinawa etc.  Once again, this ushered/forced Japanese modernization under “democracy”.  Finally, Crisis III is the subject of this manga.  The year is 1999 (10 years into the future when the manga was penned) and we are told energy sources have disappeared and a new fleet of black ships is about to arrive in Japan.

A Quartet of Characters

The protagonists are two men and two women.  The men are Meguru Ashita and Hajime Shimai.  In visual terms, Meguru is a Tetsuro clone (but older than Tetsuro…more precisely he looks just like Amamori in Millennial Queen).  Hajime is your classic Tochiro Oyama clone, complete with glasses.  The names are puns: Meguru Ashita can translate as “travel in the future” and Hajime Shimai as “beginning and end”.  In terms of temperament, Meguru is the more serious, sedate character while Hajime is easygoing, spunky and absolutely penniless.

The women are sisters.  The eldest is Yura Hirata, a Matsumoto good girl (or goddess), looking much like Maetel (with same hat and everything)  but sporting dark hair.  The youngest is Mio Hirata, as naughty as they come.  Mio has blond hair and is very similar in behavior to Shizuko Hirata of Drifting Express 000.

The Opening

Friends Meguru and Hajime have come to Florida to see the latest space shuttle launch.  They watch the event, then head back on their rented car and immediately get lost near the beach.  Here they run into a troop of soldiers from a submarine.  The weird thing is that the sub is Japanese, and as far as its crew is concerned the year is 1944.

The rising sun surveyed by a stealth bomber.

The Japanese soldiers assume that our heroes must be Japanese spies inside America.  They are stunned by the rented car, which happens to be made in Japan.  The soldiers can’t believe this is so and end up confiscating it for further analysis.  For their part, Meguru and Hajime conclude that the soldiers must be actors in some Hollywood film.

The sub departs and is spotted by an American stealth bomber.  Neither side can comprehend what they are seeing: the bomber crew is shocked that a World War Two Japanese sub would be near Florida waters, while the Japanese have never seen a bomber this advanced.  Suddenly, the bomber disappears from the Japanese view and the sub vanishes from the American radar.  The years 1945 and 1999 are no longer entangled.  However, the bomber crew sees a swirling “rising sun” pattern in the spot where the sub was.  And the pattern is formed by jellyfish.

Meguru and Hajime end up on a Japanese cruiseship called the Nerima Swan where they meet a lovely lady called Mio Hirata.  The cruiseship is torpedoed by a WW2 American warship, proving that this entanglement wasn’t a one-off thing.  The two men end up investigating these phenomena along with Mio, who clearly know much more than she’s letting on.  Jellyfish begin to gather in large numbers, huge power outages ensue, and Mio’s big sister Yura joins the scene…

Mio and Yura

Complexity of the Work

The Japanese owner of Della’s Website has practically read every Matsumoto manga in existence (allow me to kowtow) and yet this person actually admits to having trouble understanding the manga.  The reason, as stated in the review, is that Japan’s most eminent geophysicist, Hitoshi Takeuchi, supervised the story.  Evidently Leiji was trying to present the scientific elements of the plot as accurately as possible.

In addition, the manga has tons of abrupt transitions…things moving as fast as they do in Leiji’s famous Millennial Queen.

What’s the Crisis??

The new breed of jellyfish that appears around the mysterious temporal anomalies has liquid that is highly corrosive, so much so that it can destroy any metal almost instantly.  Japanese nuclear reactors rely on water processed from nearby oceans to cool themselves.  The jellyfish multiply to such an extent the cooling is not possible, and thus the reactors can no longer function.  Japan is in a severe energy crisis.  Are the jellyfish the new black ships?  What does this have to do with time travel and World War Two?  A third of the way into reading this manga, I have absolutely no idea!!!

~ by Haloed Bane on August 16, 2011.

4 Responses to “Black Ships of Nothingness”

  1. As accurate as possible… and killer jellyfish?

  2. That’s interesting about the dark-haired “Maetel”. Just the other day I was musing that while there were several Harlocks and seemingly endless Oyamas hanging around, three or four versions of Miime, and even Emeraldas coming in a set of two, Earthling vs. LaMetalian, Maetel seems to be unique – and bound to her route and destination tighter than any other character.

    P.S.: oh, and i’ll believe any evil thing about jellyfish 🙂

    • I can say that Yura is the closest to Maetel that I have seen without her being Maetel. Although she lacks all those supernatural abilities and is quite weak as an actual fighter (her sister does the dirty work for her).

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