The Secret History of Darkwood (Interstella 5555)
Take everything I have to say with several grains of salt (though the sea wouldn’t be enough for the task).
Who is the Earl de Darkwood? He’s the villain in Interstella 5555, yes. But who is he really? I went on a fact-finding mission and this is what I uncovered.
Let’s start with the basics. Earl de Darkwood. This story was scripted by three Frenchment (including the Daft Punk duo) but even in the French sources the nobleman’s title is “Earl”. This is huge because “earl” is an exclusively British title (the continental equivalent is “count”, French = “comte”). In Japanese, for example, both “count” and earl” are translated by the same word “hakushaku”. Count Mecha in Galaxy Express 999 is a “hakushaku”, the Earl de Darkwood is a “hakushaku”. The default translation of “hakushaku” in English is “count” because, as I’ve said “earl” is only used for British peers. What this means is that Darkwood is undeniably British. That’s the first clue. [Of course, the word “Darkwood” itself kinda makes it obvious too]
The second clue is right here too, even though it’s not a really helpful one. Notice he isn’t the Earl of Darkwood but the Earl de Darkwood. This indicates a French origin, and the reason I say this isn’t very helpful is because so much of the British aristocracy traces its descent from the Normans in France. Still, it’s good to keep it in mind.
By the way, the story gives a really funny confirmation that the Earl’s home base is Britain. There’s a football game toward the end where France and Japan are playing. Anyone who’s watched this film immediately realizes its an homage to the countries that produced it, since this is essentially a Franco-Japanese project. But have you noticed that the first time we see the game on TV the score is tied, and when France scores a goal and goes up 2-1, one of the security guards is dismayed? The other one consoles him. These people are rooting for Japan and against France. It’d be the British thing to do I think!
What happened in the Earl’s childhood is really not very clear, and there’s a good number of theories, but let me mention three:
1) The Earl’s father was a sorcerer. He was killed under mysterious circumstances. The Earl grew up as a sorcerer, invented space travel etc etc. [See here]
2) The Earl’s father was an alchemist. He summoned a (magical) meteor but messed up and was killed. The Earl studied the meteor, invented space travel etc etc. [See here]
3) The Earl’s father was killed by a crashed spacecraft. The Earl studied the spacecraft, learned to use it for travel etc etc. [Leijiverse Integrated Timeline: year 333]
Any of these could be right. I definitely like the idea that the falling object (which does look like a meteor) could have been a ship of some sort, since we see this in the Leijiverse all the time (e.g. the “pirate island” employed by Great Harlock in Ring of Nibelung, the Comet Empire in Yamato). At the same time, I like the idea that the Earl’s father’s death was not accidental and that he somehow summoned the thing through the magical arts. So I tend to integrate all of these theories in my mind.
One key thing we must realize is that however this happened, the Earl is a powerful entity and has been one for a long time. He must have influenced history even before he started abducting musical prodigies (the first one we see is Mozart in the 18th century).
In the film, the Crescendolls escape from Darkwood’s grasp but decide to head to his estate and thwart him, in revenge for the death of their countryman Shep.
We get this scene:
Darkwood is the destination, and naturally it’s a fictional name. Still we have a hint in Ridell.
If you look up Ridell in a British context, you’ll find that it’s a variant for the name Riddell. There is a clan of that name in Scotland. Originally the Riddells were settled in Northumberland (just south of the Scottish border) and there is a locality called Riddell just north of that in the Scottish Borders region.
With this information in hand I tried to track down a real-life equivalent to Darkwood. Since this is the Anglo-Scottish border we’re talking about, chances were good that they were either driving north to south or south to north. It made more sense to me that they would be leaving England and heading north to Scotland, simply because I believe that London and surrounding areas is the center of British show biz industry and the Crescendolls were probably based there.
So I began to look for a place that fit all of these requirements:
1) 120 km from a road intersection that was itself 60 km from Riddell in Scotland.
2) roughly east or northeast from that road intersection (judging from the arrows)
3) an important power center historically that could measure up with the long-held power of Darkwood.
If the place looks familiar to you that’s because it’s the castle used for the Harry Potter films! There is a road intersection just south of the Anglo-Scottish border from where you can head north to Riddell (67 km away):
Or you can head east to Alnwick, where Alnwick Castle is located (124 km).
The castle belongs to the House of Percy, Dukes of Northumberland. These are the most prestigious and historically powerful folk in the area. If Darkwood in the film lives anywhere near Ridell/Riddell it makes sense for him to live right here. The distances match quite well, I think.
The Dukes of Northumberland were, before they acquired that title, Earls of Northumberland for almost three hundred years (1377-1766). The founder of the House of Percy was one William de Percy who came from France during the Norman conquest.
Let’s assume that Darkwood is to be associated with the Percys. One of the Earl of Darkwood’s powers seems to be immortality. He’s been around for hundreds of years. In a real world scenario this would mean that he would have to pretend to die and come back as his own child, set up proxies for certain periods, etc. This means that it’s really difficult to determine which historical Percy is the original Earl of Darkwood, and which ones have subsequently either been him or his children and/or minions.
Since the Earl of Darkwood’s abilities would have been chronicled as magic throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, I decided to research whether anyone in the House of Percy was linked to magic in any way. And Shakespeare had the answer. Thus says Hotspur in Henry IV part 1:
I cannot choose: sometime he angers me
With telling me of the mouldwarp and the ant,
Of the dreamer Merlin and his prophecies,
And of a dragon and a finless fish,
A clip-wing’d griffin and a moulten raven,
A couching lion and a ramping cat,
And such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff
As puts me from my faith.
The story is historical and the context is this: Harry “Hotspur” Percy and two other noblemen in Britain were conspiring to take the country from the king and split it between the three of them. One of the conspirators, the Welsh Owen Glendower, was very superstitious and apparently relied on prophecies from Merlin to the effect that the conspiracy would succeed. In Shakespeare’s account, Hotspur is impatient with this superstition and mocks it, as you can see from the speech above. Scholars believe he was probably as superstitious as Owen and in any case, the prophecies floating around were very useful to his designs.
This is a significant find! Hotspur is one of the most famous members of the House of Percy (the Premier League Tottenham Hotspur is named after him because of the Percy presence in Tottenham) and we find him trying to set himself up as King of Northern England and employing Merlin’s prophecies to do so.
The rebellion failed and Hotspur was killed. He was buried. Days later rumors surfaced that he was alive and well, so much so that the king disinterred him and cut his body up. Glendower, by the way, disappeared and was never caught. The House of Percy was allowed to stay in place partly because Hotspur himself was not the Duke but the Duke’s son.
If we accept that Darkwood = House of Percy, then there’s no doubt that Hotspur must have been the Earl himself. He made his bid for the kingdom, failed, faked his death, and then began to look for other ways to achieve his goal, eventually hitting on Music. Notice I am not saying that Hotspur was the first Percy to be Darkwood!! I imagine William de Percy himself might have been the Earl, and even people prior to him.
Merlin. Of course once this name comes up I can’t just leave it alone. Many fans believe that the Earl of Darkwood’s father was a great sorcerer or alchemist. Could Merlin be the Earl of Darkwood’s father?
The ability that Merlin was best known for was shapeshifting. This would definitely explain how the Earl de Darkwood could maintain his presence in England for so many centuries without being detected as such.
The fact that Hotspur benefited from Merlin’s prophecies could be explained by this as well. Either the prophecies were real, and his long gone father made them; or the prophecies were late forgeries (as scholars believe today) and then it was probably Darkwood/Hotspur himself that wrote them. I love Shakespeare’s Hotspur here because it would be just like a great mastermind to come up with prophecies to promote his ambitions, feed them to his friends and then disparage them out loud!
I can imagine Merlin dying in Britain, his son (the Earl de Darkwood) fleeing to the continent and then centuries later coming back as William de Percy and so on and so on.
Finally, there’s the creepiest coincidence of them all. I’ve had opportunity on this blog before to talk about the Spitfire, Britain’s most successful fighter in World War Two. Leiji Matsumoto hates this plane, and he never misses a chance to put it down and explain its success away.
There’s something really funny about the Spitfire. It was equipped with an engine built by Rolls-Royce, and the name of that particular type was Merlin.
That in itself is nothing of course. But the wacky thing is this: the engine was very successful so Rolls-Royce decided to modify it for use in tanks. This new engine, a modified Merlin, was named Meteor. Remember the film. The Earl’s father is killed by a meteor, and succeeded by a more powerful Earl. Merlin replaced by way of a Meteor.
Now someone needs to find out if the Duke of Northumberland was involved in the production of these engines😀