El Calvados Part 1: Hispania and the Black Ships of Nothingness

I’m always on the lookout for any references to Hispania (=Spain, Portugal and their former colonies around the world) in the works of Leiji Matsumoto.  These references are few and far between.  Germany and the USA loom large in Matsumoto manga and anime, and even Britain and France get mentioned more frequently.  But I’ve just run into one interesting example.

Yura in her Latin cell.

On my first post on the manga Black Ships of Nothingness: Crisis III, I wrote about how an anomaly involving time travel and jellyfish had upset Japan’s energy sources and flung the country into a deep crisis.  The heroes Hajime, Meguru, Yura and Mio were working on solutions (the first two without much of a clue as to what they were involved with).

Toward the middle of the manga Yura, a scientist researching energy, is kidnapped by a Latin American country bent on acquiring Japanese plans for energy diversification.  The country’s name is El Calvados, formerly an autonomous region of another (unnamed) country which very recently gained independence.

So, if you think Latin America and you hear El Calvados, what country name does that remind you of?  El Salvador, of course!  Now, when I first heard this name I thought it was Leiji’s random transformation of “El Salvador” for his own purposes.  Still, Calvados sounded like a real word so I decided to look it up.  It turns out Calvados is a type of French brandy.  Pretty silly, right?  Wrong.  It just so happens that this French brandy is named after the region it’s from.  Calvados is in Normandy and guess what the popular story of where that name comes from is?  They say a Spanish vessel called “Salvador” shipwrecked on the coast once, and the name was eventually transformed by the Normans into “Calvados”.  So Calvados = Salvador making El Calvados = El Salvador!!

If you were around in the 1980s then I bet you have a clear image in your head of what El Salvador was known for back then: its devastating civil war between a (vicious) military government and Marxist guerrillas.  And this is exactly how Leiji (writing in 1988-9) portrays El Calvados.  The scientist Yura is captured by a mercenary outfit (oiled by foreign capital) with members in combat fatigues and berets.  When one of the mercenary chiefs makes a lewd remark toward Yura, another one shoots him dead on the spot (barbarism plus chivalry, the Spanish combination).  Yura has been stripped naked for the interrogation (!) but no one is allowed to touch her or be too impolite to her.

The mercenaries in El Calvados know a lot about what’s going on in the world.  They inform Yura, for example, that a Japanese hydrogen-fuel research facility on the Goto Islands is about to be blown up.  And here’s a hidden resonance with Hispania: the Goto Islands in Japan were a refuge for Christian converts and even now many of its residents are Christian.  And the missionaries that converted these Christians were by and large Spanish and Portuguese (during a period, let me note, when Spain and Portugal were united under King Philip II of Spain a.k.a. King Philip I of Portugal, the same King who sent the ship to the English Channel that reputedly later sunk off of France and gave the name to Calvados).

The Goto Islands (in the red circle) are off the coast of Kyushu, Matsumoto's home island.

Yura befriends one of her captors, a young mercenary called Fernando Miguel Albatrós, who attended the Nazca Institute of Technology.  Nazca is one of Leiji’s favorite memes, which makes sense for a writer who’s obviously been strongly influenced by the “ancient astronauts” theories of Erich von Däniken et al.  Fernando tells Yura that his father always said: “lazy people are reborn as pigs and then are swallowed by anacondas.”  It sounds very un-Catholic for Fernando’s father to believe in reincarnation, but the Peruvian Incas did believe in it and the Nazca site is located in Perú too.  El Calvados might be a hodgepodge of Latin countries and not a parody of any single one.

They say they'll throw Yura to the jungle beasts if she doesn't cooperate.

The hapless Hajime and Meguru get sent to El Calvados to rescue Yura, but by the time they arrive here she has already been saved—by Miguel.  It turns out that Miguel is an infiltrator and not an actual member of the group that kidnapped Yura.  In fact, he is a colonel and the son of the leader of the El Dorado faction in El Calvados.  It’s all very fuzzy, but I’m guessing we’re supposed to consider Miguel part of the establishment since he has army rank.  His self-intro to the two would-be rescuers is in actual Spanish.  Look here:

If you know Spanish and are of a lenient cast (like myself) you’ll be pretty happy with this.  The only mistake is “musho” instead of “mucho”.  The phrase is very nice sounding.  Notice the rhyme: “soy el – coronel – Miguel“, with the same “el” sound stressed throughout.  I also love the choice of colonel for Miguel’s rank, because I get the sense it is the quintessential rank in Latin American lore.  You have of course Gabriel García Márquez’s El coronel no tiene quien le escriba and you have the phrase “coronel corrupto” widely used.  I can say in all honesty that whenever I hear someone is a colonel (army or police) I immediately think “corruption, jungle, death”.  Then again, I’m a big fan of the film Apocalypse Now so Col. Kurtz might have a role here too…

~ by Haloed Bane on August 24, 2011.

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