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!!

~ by Haloed Bane on May 1, 2012.

17 Responses to “The Looming Economic Collapse of the Machine Empire (Galaxy Express 999)”

  1. That sounds like a hilarious and awesome article, a classic in the annals of over-analysis; any chance of a translation?

  2. Excellent. Have you finished the book yet and will you do a complete synopsis here when you? thx!

    • I’m not nearly finished with it. I’ll definitely be reporting more on it, though. There are more interesting things in it, though the centerpiece is simply a reprint (warts and all) of the very first GE 999 chapter as it appeared in a shonen mag.

  3. I wonder if it has to be human life? But then in most of these types of works, everyone is human or near-human. Even if you have blue skin and pointed ears.
    Thud it wouldn’t matter what inhabited planet they took over, the energy product from the humanoids living there would be the same (if slightly different flavored). And with the way the Galaxy Railways go and how spaceship like the Arcadia have warp engines (Wave Motion Engines for all practical purposes) they can indeed expand to the limits of the Universe…eveentually. If a old model ship like Yamato can travel 168,000 light years and back (in the new series) in less than a year (estimated time was 9 months), and after getting a refit go 400,000 light years in just a few weeks, by the time of the Machine Empire distances are closer. The Galaxy Express 999, which stops at a lot of planets for one planetary day, can make the trip to Andromeda from Earth in a year. And that’s the train. The warships can jump around all over the place since it has been serval hundred years since the time of Yamato.

    • Ultimately it’s hard to estimate because we don’t have enough data to suggest how many humanoids inhabit the galaxies involved (the empire is based in Andromeda/Milky Way). Just judging from the GE 999 episodes though, most planets with humanoids are not well populated at all (many are severely depopulated, and most of the thriving ones are filled with people who have already been mechanized). 3.5 billion folk a year is a heck of a lot, and more factories will be needed as the empire advances. Soon 10-20 billion people will be required per year…

      I’d love to hear what Leiji thinks of this 🙂

  4. Anyway we can ask Leiji?

  5. LOL!!! I would think he would find this fascinating no? I mean he can’t send Queen Emeraldas to fly over and assassinate us right?

    • Hehe. Maybe not the zeppelin, but a Theseus sandborne destroyer or two he can spare…

  6. Well all they need are a few breeding programs…a few “cattle” planets, and they are good to go. Most worlds on the Galaxy Express route seem to be colonies of one sort or another, rather than main homeworlds. But then even Earth seems seriously under populated in most Matsumoto fiction.

    All they need are a few ten thousand worlds with around Earth’s current population, and “harvest” some ever year. The breeding due to wars should fill in the gaps over time. especially if they rotate worlds on a twenty or so year cycle. Since they are in at least two galaxies (and likely more) they should have several million worlds to plunder. Plus they get “freebies” against those that oppose them or at war with them. They problem will be the time it takes to get them back to Andromeda as the Empire epsands into the Universe. This is assuming they can take more than they mechanize per year. And having enemies that don’t wanna gives them more “Flames of Life” to pluck.

    • Ohhh, I like the way you think. I mean, it scares the living daylights out of me, but it does make a lot of sense. Hmmmmm…I wonder if free-range flames of life taste better than captivity flames of life? If they all taste pretty much the same then I’d say your plan is excellent.

      • Perhaps this is partly WHY most planets are depopulated?

        And we do in the series see several severely overpopulated worlds…

        Never bothered re-watching the films often so never gave it much thought before – I prefer both the manga and the series, both in terms of narrative and style – but that whole concept sends chills…

        BTW, the flame of life from this I always thought was drawn from a late story in the GE999 series – where it does seem to be a drug of choice rather than a power source… (rather more mystical in nature IIRC)

        • I’ve only seen/read one third of the original GE 999 manga/TV series (39 episodes plus corresponding chapters) so of course I have some major gaps in my education. I plan to resume watching as soon as I get a freakin’ job…

          But yeah, I only remember the one planet that had a gazillion people. Plus I don’t know anything about that late story, but it definitely sounds relevant.

          The scene in Adieu GE 999 with the two robots is very clear: they really are trembling and stuff like they’re super high. Plus Metalmena oggles the capsule factory like she’s a kid at Willie Wonka’s… It’s definitely a psychological need, and I bet you the upper classes in the Empire are totally hooked..

  7. I can’t take full credit for the idea. I modified a concept from the Alternate History/Science Fiction novel series by William R. Forstchen called “The Lost Regiment”. In that series there is a a large number of different human cultures from Earth displaced from all over time on some other world (Cathage, Rome, 11th century Russia, 17th century pirates…a Union regiment from the American Civil War) that are subject to a larger humanoid species. This species circles the planet every 20 years, taking 10% of the human populations they pass as food and/or labor forces. Usually food. They even call the humans “cattle”. They can do so because they are basically like a larger and stronger Mongel Horde and most civilizations that are there can’t stand of to them in terms of population size, nor technology to compensate for a lack of numbers. Well, until you introduce rifled muskets and cannons that is. Along with trains and industry to make more weapons and techology around the level of the 1860s.

  8. This is the reason I prefer the first TV series to the other incarnations. The TV series M.E. is insidiously evil rather than ludicrously OTT evil.

    On the other hand this did render it basically invincible, so the only way to avoid a rather depressing ending was to have it destroyed by a plot hatched entirely from within its ruling family, and even Tetsuro’s involvment just amounted to compensating for Maetel’s loss of nerve at a crucial moment.

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