Leiji Matsumoto’s Götterdämmerung (2 of 2)
My interpretation of the final arc of The Ring of the Nibelung is based on the supposition that the events here replace those of the first arc. The way I see it the manga flows like this:
a) 1st arc: In the present time, Alberich attempts to steal gold, Harlock thwarts him and shames Wotan in the process.
b) 2nd arc: Wotan tries to kill a young Harlock (through time travel) to erase his shame.
c) 3rd arc: Wotan continues his attempt.
d) 4th arc [first part: 220 pages]: [End of the story of the 2nd and 3rd arcs with Wotan’s failure to kill young Harlock.]
e) 4th arc [second part: 160 pages, unfinished]: Back in the present time, Wotan’s meddling with Harlock’s past ironically triggers the Captain’s decision to obliterate Valhalla once and for all.
So this last section obliterates the first arc (e replaces a). I see evidence for this from a scene where Alberich attempts to steal the gold (again!) and the Rhinemaidens stop and kill him. Tochiro comments that they had no mercy for the Nibelung because he had tried to steal the gold twice before. Now for us manga readers this is the 4th and not the 3rd time Alberich is doing this, so the only possibility is that the first attempt (at the beginning of the manga) simply didn’t happen on this modified timeline.
The odd thing here is that Daiba Jr. is part of the crew. In the first arc he joins the Arcadia to atone for his forging of the Ring for Alberich, so I guess here there must be some other reason.
I don’t really get this in any reasonable detail, but it gets revealed that there is a galaxy called Valhalla very near the center of the universe. A long time ago, a Sword of Heaven (coming from where and wielded by whom is left a mystery) pierced through the galaxy and caused a great cataclysm. Wotan’s planet (named Valhalla after the galaxy) was half-destroyed though it stayed in orbit. The planet Rhine was almost wholly destroyed and the fragment remaining was sent flying through the universe (this is the Rhine we’re familiar with in the manga). Miime mentions at one point here that her planet Nibelung was totally destroyed. I’m tempted to conclude that this means Nibelung was in the same galaxy and solar system, but she might just be comparing the fate of Valhalla (losing half of the planet due to the Sword) to the fate of her own planet (total annihilation, not because of the Sword, but because of Valhallan machinations).
The critical point now is that the planet Rhine is racing toward the center of the galaxy (in Valhalla, where it used to be) and that when this happens the fate of the gods and Valhalla will be sealed. And of course Miime and Capt. Harlock are going to make it happen.
I imagine Matsumoto intended to explain the Sword of Heaven deal in the remainder. As things stand, I feel like Wotan in this manga who is constantly being told: “You just don’t have a clue!”
The manga ends as the Arcadia is racing toward Valhalla with destruction on its (and the crew’s) mind.
Robbing Brünnhilde to pay Harlock
I could go on and on about the Ring legend and this version of it, but I’ll stick to the most striking aspect of Leiji’s venture. I have to preface my criticism by explaining that the Ring legend is not monolithic in any way. Quite the contrary, it’s an extremely open-ended set of stories told over hundreds of years in a wide swathe across Europe. We don’t have anything evenremotely resembling an authoritative version of the legend. This is great because it means each writer has a lot of freedom to develop his or her own version.
There are of course some elements that are common to practically every tale. One of them is the significant role of the women. Brünnhilde and Gutrune (I’m using the Wagnerian version of the names) are fundamental to the story, although some versions focus on one or the other (or more interestingly to me, on the conflict between the two). In fact, one of the main historical inspirations for the legend is the career of Brunhilda of Austrasia!!
Wagner is one of those who emphasizes Brünnhilde and deëmphasizes Gutrune. Now, on the surface it would seem that Leiji follows him here. Brünnhilde features prominently in the manga. The problem is that the essence of this character (from the original historical figure, through the Norse Brynhildr all the way to Wagner’s valkyrie) is all about passion and inner struggle. And the turbulence comes out of her relationship with Siegmund’s son Siegfried. (Wagner complicates matters by having her interact and feel awe toward Siegmund, thus preparing her to love the son). The problem is that Siegfried in Leiji’s version is none other than Captain Harlock, and since Harlock is (in every single Leijiversal timeline) destined for one woman going by the name of Maya, Brünnhilde is bound to be disappointed. And Great Harlock (=Siegmund) is just as monogamous as his son so nothing can come from that either. Because of the Harlocks, the heroine comes off as a critically underwhelming companion to her counterparts in the Ring legend.
If I had to point to an Achilles heel to this manga, it’s this. Brünnhilde makes for one too many stoic, boring characters in this manga. Gutrune doesn’t even show up (though oddly enough her mother, who Wagner only alludes to, does). You don’t have to know or like the Ring legend to appreciate what I’m saying: think about how much cooler the manga would be if there was a stormy relationship between Harlock (Great or Little, either one) and Brünnhilde!!!
I see a criticism to my criticism: “This is the Leijiverse! This is ultimately about Harlock and Tochiro and Emeraldas and Maetel!!” Fine, but then Matsumoto had a way out: instead of having a fiery Brünnhilde show up and steal his characters’ thunder, he could have made one of his standard characters a de facto Brünnhilde. Emeraldas as Brünnhilde, or Maetel. That could have worked 😀
[My apologies for this imageless post: I’m too tired today~]