The Looming Economic Collapse of the Machine Empire (Galaxy Express 999)
This post will contain generally mild spoilers with regards to the Galaxy Express 999 franchise, and specific ones concerning Adieu Galaxy Express 999.
I’ve been reading the book Maetel: The mysterious beauty of eternity very slowly ever since I got it for Christmas. There’s a great little article by one Akira Senda, who I believe is an author who writes on such things as war simulations (Japan vs. North Korea, say) and the manga/anime Zipang. We know that Maetel and Tetsuro battle the Machine Empire because of its injustice, but Senda argues the empire would probably collapse on its own anyway for economic reasons.
Senda analyzes the scene toward the end of the Adieu Galaxy Express 999 film, where Tetsuro, Maetel, the conductor and Metalmena are welcome to Great Andromeda by the Black Knight Faust. The visitors notice that people are taking “energy capsules” and Faust explains these are the foundation of the Empire’s power.
As Maetel explains, these capsules encase something she calls “flame of life”. This flame of life is released when human bodies are “processed” and their souls (or soul rings) extracted to be implanted in mechanical bodies. I personally think this flame of life is something like the vital substance called ch’i in Chinese thought (Japanese ki).
To the machinemen or Mechanoids, these energy capsules function as something between a vitamin and a drug. Senda makes a great case for discarding the idea that these capsules are necessary for mechanized beings to function. He points out that there are many robots in the Leijiverse and never a hint that they take these capsules. In addition, it’s pretty clear that not all mechanized people take them, but they are truly coveted and Faust boasts of the massive exports being arranged throughout the universe. The flame of life seems to be more a psychological need than a physiological one. We even see two machinemen getting “high” in this scene from it.
Senda now focuses on the factory where these capsules are created. He counts 18 production lines in the scene. There are 2 bodies per pallet, and 3 pallets are disposed of per second. This comes out to 6 bodies per second per production line. Since there are 18 of those, the grand total is 108 bodies disposed of in a single second. This factory can thus consume, assuming it runs at full capacity without any breaks whatsoever, close to 3.5 billion human beings per year.
Senda also notes that 15 capsules are produced every second, thus 180 in a minute. He extrapolates from these figures that every human body yields enough flame of life material for approximately 1.7 capsules.
Consider the implications of all of this!! Consider how many inhabited planets the Machine Empire must conquer to maintain these production levels. And of course the irony is that, if the empire continues to mechanize people in other planets, this only increases demand for the capsules, thus necessitating further expansion. There’s one point that I want to make regarding Senda’s analysis. He observes without much comment that every pallet has 2 bodies. I find this untidy. Why not make one pallet per body? For a cold, methodical race like the LaMetalians to do this must, I think, mean only one thing: the use of 2 bodies per pallet is a very recent (and temporary) improvisation to keep up with demand. The factory was originally designed to handle half its current output.
The situation is simply unsustainable. And once it breaks down, Faust’s words, that these capsules are the foundation of imperial power, will come back to haunt LaMetal. I can see turmoil and even rebellions spreading. Perhaps it’s poetic justice. Perhaps this mechanical addiction is a yearning for the flame of life that these beings once had. Nature avenges itself. Unless Maetel does the job first!!