Space Symphony Maetel 12: To Play a Part

New monologue this week!

“I am Maetel.  I could not see it yet.  This star’s future, this star’s end-road, and the final stop of my own journey.”

Japanese, and Matsumoto, often refer to planets as stars.  Maetel is of course talking of LaMetal here.

The word I literally translated as “end-road”, “matsuro”, is usually translated in English as “the end of one’s days”.  It refers to the end of someone’s life, with a sense of decay or deterioration after glory, as if your life hit a pinnacle of greatness and has now come down to this, a sad end.  Maetel’s words hark back to the glory of LaMetal, which is kind of easy for us viewers to forget as we watch this..

Call me crazy but Nazca’s argument totally convinced me: it’d be callous for him to live happily on LaMetal when all of his friends died fighting against Promethium.  Only if he is able to continue the struggle and defeat her will it be fitting for him to live there in peace.  That said, the way Maetel phrases things (a bit later on) is once again inconsistent with Leiji’s on and off message of friendship and unity between flesh and blood and mechanized peoples.  The New LaMetal, she argues, should be for those who suffered at the hands of Promethium’s mechanization program.  The claim implicitly excludes Arina (who luckily is dead by now) and other decent Mechanoids from the old LaMetal.  After all, Arina didn’t suffer from the program, she only survived because of it!!

Harlock’s speech sets up the classic Leijiverse battle scenario: a tiny band of heroes faces off against a huge evil army.  In this case we have merely three ships (Harlock’s, Emeraldas’, Nazca’s) against a mechanical host that, as Tochiro explains, self-replicates at an accelerated rate.  Even worse, the three ships don’t even sail off simultaneously.  The Deathshadow goes first, then the Queen Emeraldas sails, while Nazca is momentarily traveling in the opposite direction!  Mind you, the first two ships are among the four best of all time and space in the Leijiverse, so the situation is not as lopsided as it looks 😉

Speaking of Nazca’s return to pick up Maetel, there is throughout this episode an explicit understanding by the heroes (Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas), revealed rather blatantly in so many words, that Maetel and Nazca are an “item”, a couple.  Everyone hopes they’ll live happily ever after.  Nazca’s about the only one in the dark here, poor child.  It’ an “Only in Japan” kind of script~

The script for the battle is rather outrageous as well.  Maetel procures a ship shield from Heavy Melder just before the fighting begins.  Planet Promethium fires its main cannon at the Deathshadow and Nazca’s ship uses the freshly equipped shield to fend it off.  The cannon has drained so much energy it won’t be able to fire for a while, the shield is consumed.  It’s a straightforward, convenient and facile sequence of events.  Put in a good light, it reminds of the Destiny’s heavy role in the series.

I don’t feel at all bad pointing out the flaws in the script because of how well the episode ends.  What’s been hinted at for so long finally comes to the forefront: to defeat Promethium only a taste of her own medicine will do.  Someone will have to become a “part” of her machine and destroy it from the inside.  But who?  The strength of a machine part is derived from the will of the one that was mechanized.  The stronger the will, the stronger the part.  Immediately we’ll be tempted to think of Harlock, or Tochiro, or maybe Emeraldas as the best bets.  However, right now we’ve only considered willpower in general, in the abstract.  If the task is to destroy Promethium’s machine, then the one with the strongest will to do just that will be the best bet.

Now, Emeraldas and Promethium are both staunchly committed to defeating their mother, and each of them pledges to become the part in turn.  Thus the episode ends.  However, since it is after all their own blood we are talking about, it’s possible that they might hesitate before the end and fail.  We can already tell that the daughters are out, and the only one left with a big enough grudge against Promethium is the boy Nazca, who has come from god knows where just to beat the Machine Queen.  This is not facile scriptwriting here, it’s logical, natural, forceful, and tremendously satisfying for us fans.

Leaving Nazca’s decision for the final episode is great, not because it forces us to wonder whether he will go through with it or not (after all, we’d have to be absolute newbies to the Leijiverse to ignore the fact that Maetel and Emeraldas do not turn into parts but go on to have many more adventures after this series) but because it makes us anticipate the moment and enjoy the heroism of the thing that much more.  I can’t think of a better way for Nazca to match Leopard’s and Oliver’s sacrifice (back in episode 3) than this, with the irony being in the fact that Nazca’s ticket to happiness on New LaMetal, this great sacrifice, will mean that he will not get to redeem his prize.

~ by Haloed Bane on August 12, 2012.

24 Responses to “Space Symphony Maetel 12: To Play a Part”

  1. Potato person (I guess that is Yattaran) is noted in the picture above. This series seems to me to be the direct lead-in to Galaxy Express 999. I notice that Maetel’s clothes remain stylistically the same although the color gets darker with each series she is in as we follow an approximate time line starting with Maetel Legend. In Maetel Legend, she is dressed mainly in white (she changes to black only at the end). In Space Symphony Maetel, she is dressed in purple. By the time of Galaxy Express 999, after having sacrificed many people, she is dressed in black. Her clothes darken as her life darkens. The plot turn about people being turned into machine parts obviously foreshadows Galaxy Express 999.

    I was thinking about the best initial feature to get someone interested in Matsumoto’s work who has a dislike of potato people. I note that while Tetsuro Hoshino is in fact a quintessential potato person, for the Galaxy Express 999 movie he is given a character design remake into a standard Young Harlock character design looking a lot like Nazca. I don’t recall a single potato person throughout the entire movie (although it has been some time since I last saw it). As I have stated, I can’t think of a single major Matsumoto work readily available in English which does not have potato people; the sort of work I would give them to interest them in Matsumoto. Further, I can see why that sort of character design can be bothersome to some; I spent a good part of the time when I was watching the 113 episodes of Galaxy Express 999 trying to figure out where Tetsuro’s forehead left off and his eyes started; after a while you start getting cross-eyed. But that is not a problem with the movie. For my money, I think the movie is the best single thing Matsumoto has done. They even have eight or so statues in Japan commemorating different parts of the movie. So if I had someone whom I wanted to get interested in Matsumoto’s work, I would show him this movie. If this does not do the trick, then they probably need to stick with K-On or something.

    • Darn, either GE 999 or K-On?? That’s a stark choice 🙂 I think they should at least give Evangelion, Bebop and Utena a chance too..

      I can’t remember if there are any potato people in the 999 film, but you’re definitely right that someone turned off by Tetsuro’s design could well appreciate this more. Of course, I imagine most hardcore Leiji fans prefer the original Tetsuro design over the movie one (I sure do).

      About the clothing, I’ve written about this here, more or less along the lines of what you said:

      • I agree with you that that Tetsuro’s original potato person design is better.

        As I see it, Matsumoto has five major character designs that he reuses fairly constantly:
        1) The Harlock: This is the standard design for the heroic male lead.
        2) The Young Harlock: This is a standard design for the heroic younger male lead, i.e. Nazca. Nazca strikes me as being essentially mature and on his own when we first meet him, whereas Tetsuro is still tied to a maternal figure for most of his series. We know Tetsuro has grown up when Maetel is crying and leaning on him for support in the last episode.
        3) The Maetel: This is the standard design for most of his prominent female characters, whether or not they are heroines or villainesses. So Queen Promethium and the Mazone women look pretty much like Maetel and Emeraldas, they just tend to have deeper voices and cackle a lot.
        4) The Plucky Blonde: This is the chracter design for females in supporting roles, such as Kei Yuki. I guess that the more important the woman is to the plot, the longer her hair grows. I would call this Matsumoto’s Scaling Law of Relative Female Character Importance.
        5) Potato People: These are usually sidekicks or characters that have a lot to learn, although they can be any other sort of secondary character.

        Obviously there are other designs, but these are the most common I have seen.

        So as far as the Galaxy Express 999 movie goes, I assume they were going for a more realistic look, so they switched Tetsuro’s design from a Potato Person to a Young Harlock. I did not like the change because I thought the original character design was visually more interesting and more in keeping with his character. He isn’t really a hero at the start but he becomes one. The series has as one of its themes the transition from boyhood to manhood. TV Tetsuro looks like a boy (at least a potato boy), whereas movie Tetsuro already looks like a young man. You can only have so many people who look like Captain Harlock in one picture. When they were making the statues to which I have referred, they went with his movie design, which I thought was a mistake.

        As far as K-On goes, I am also a big fan of that series. But it is like a polar opposite of Matsumoto’s work. It is the least fantastic series you could find with very realistic character designs (at least there are no pototo people). I mention it because one of your correspondents was trying to get someone interested in Matsumoto, so if that doesn’t work maybe she should try the opposite. The only point of contact between the two is that Harlock swills his wine as assiduously as the K-On girls eat their cake and drink their tea. It is amusing to think of Harlock drinking his wine away at one of the girls’ tea parties. (I can’t recall Harlock drinking anything other than red wine.)

        • Leiji’s basic character designs..this is one post I’ve always wanted to write but never had.

          Speaking purely in physical terms, I don’t see much of a difference between a Maetel-type and your plucky blonde..though as you say hair length determines relevance and wisdom.

          As for the potato people, they can be primary characters. Tochiro is arguably the most important character in the whole Leijiverse 😀 I tend to think of potato people as Japanese, the others as foreigners.

          Re: K-On, I figure my correspondent is not interested in introducing just any anime to her partner, but one she actually likes herself, and I don’t think she’s a K-On fan 😀 The only anime I’ve ever gotten my wife to watch is Serial Experiments Lain. She actually saw several episodes. This still amazes me.

          • I think you could write an important article on Matsumoto’s character designs. I have not seen all that much work on this issue. I think he uses them as a type of shorthand for personality type and the role that they play in the story. This is sort of like Osamu Tezuka’s Star System, where he uses the same characters repeatedly in different roles in various anime and manga as though they were an acting troupe. I think Matsumoto does the same sort of thing, but he does it with character designs instead of repeating specific characters in different roles.

            As far as potato people go, it seems to me that while they can be the protagonists, they are not usually the star of the show. For example, it seems to me that Tetsuro is the protagonist of the Galaxy Express 999; we see the events unfolding through his eyes, because Maetel remains largely a mystery throughout the show. (Indeed, in the closing narration of episode 113, it is suggested that she is not a real person at all, but rather an ideal which Tetsuro has been following.) However, it appears to me that Tetsuro is not the star of the show; the star of the show is what the show itself is named for, which is the Galaxy Express 999 itself. The train itself, and the various planets it visits, is what really dominates this show. If you look at the opening animation, Tetsuo and Maetel don’t even appear in it. (!) All it is is shots of the trains. Every episode devotes a good deal of time to lovingly animating the take-offs and landing (my favorite parts). I think Space Battleship Yamato is the same way. Who cares about the characters as long as we get to see the Wave Motion Gun in action?

            While Tochiro is a very important character, I don’t think Matsumoto would sell many copies if he tried to make him the star; and in fact, I can’t recall a single Matsumoto work which had a potato person in the dominant starring role or had the title of the work to himself; it is always someone like Harlock or Emeraldas who gets top billing regardless of their importance to the plot.

            As far as your correspondent goes, the difficulty for her is to find something that both people like. The first problem is to get the other person to be interested in these crazy Japanese cartoons to begin with. So what she needs to do is to find something that she knows he will like even if it is not her cup of tea. Once he understanda that there is more to animation than Bugs Bunny, that there adult story lines that can best be handled through the medium of animation, then it will be easier for her to find material that is mutually agreeable. The first and biggest hurdle is to get him to acknowledge that the medium itself is worthy of respect. So maybe he will like K-On. (Stranger things have happened.) Once he gets his feet wet, her situation should be easier.

            • What you say can be linked to Matsumoto manga, and what gets animated vs what doesn’t. For example, it would be impossible for Otoko Oidon to be billed as anything else but a potato head-centric show, so maybe that has something to do with the fact that it has never been animated….

              I don’t know if K-On is the way you want to go to prove the existence of “adult story lines that can best be handled through the medium of animation”, but I get what you mean 🙂

              • It WAS however given a live-action TV show!

                Matsumoto’s characters designs are often caricatures, so normalising them isn’t too great a stretch.

                Look up a photo of Shintani Kaoru (manga-ka and plastic model enthusiast and former assistant to Leiji san). Then compare to Yattaran (who is acknowledged to be based on him!)… 😉

                • The Japanese characters are caricatures. Try finding a real-live Harlock or Maetel though. That’s tough.

                  • If I could find a photo of my father at 28-29 (coincidentally around 1978! ) before he had his hair cut, the similarity is uncanny – especially to the Endless Odyssey version with the tip-tilted long nose! 6foot tall, slim & lanky (pipe cleaner legs DO exist, people!! Some men should NEVER wear jodhpurs!), black collar length hair and it being the 70’s and he and my mother being exhibition level ballroom and latin dancers, a wardrobe of tight black catsuits and a cloak! Also found of the western scene and could have doubled for Jnr from GF in that guise! 😉

                    Sadly my mother took all the photo books and I’ve no idea where she is now! I do have a pastel portrait of him from around ’81 but he’d already started to smarten his hair up by then so the full effect isn’t there! I keep badgering him to find a profile piccy from that era though!

                    • The hunt for English Harlock is on!!
                      Actually, my dad when he was younger actually looked a lot like Captain Bentselle in SSX. Hey! We should get all our dads to do a Leijiverse cosplay photoshoot!! Pappy Leiji can be Tetsuro~

          • The young blonde and Maetel type are one and the same..Manga versions of Lisa Kirino (Danguard), Kei Yuuki (and I guess I have to add Yuki Mori) and Maetel (at the start of the manga GE999 – her design rapidly ages up) are identical. He doesn’t even TRY to differentiate! (It’s harder to spot in the anime – character designs are all over the place!)

            Hair length as indicator of importance?…hmmmm tough call – in the manga version of SPCH Kei’s varies from page to page from shoulder length bob to waist length! In the Galaxy Railways arc of GE999 it’s back to short bob (but I guess she’s younger…) Personally I’d always assumed it was just inconsistent artwork (and he went on record saying he used to use it as a way of getting nudity past the censors!)

            My favourite part of this episode however is the stonking big ret-con that explains why there’s a “brain emailer” (as one online wit once described it!) on board the Deathshadow… then stand back and watch the scene unfold:

            Harlock doesn’t volunteer, but is in favour of one of them going through with it (oh, the irony… THAT part makes me teary…talk about coming back to bite you on the ass…) Tochiro seems dead set against it (watch the irony mount up here….) not sure where this puts the set up in Nibelung no Yubiwa where Harlock and Tochir already have this planned for one or the other…

            Harlock and Emeraldas – one doesn’t even stick his hand up, Emeraldas does, but is told no. This leaves Tochiro and Maetel (who we KNOW are possibly the two strongest wills) and the sacrificial lamb who’s death foreshadows Maetel’s long, lonely fate.

            Yep. I sniffle through the whole scene!

            • Yes, as we’ve had to conclude time and time again, the Ring manga doesn’t exactly blend in well with the other stuff. It is interesting that Harlock doesn’t even seem to consider the possibility of volunteering. I guess ultimately it’s not his fight, now is it.. That’s why it’s left to the sisters and Nazca.. In a perverse way, the choice of Nazca makes perfect strategic sense. We know that if Maetel gets partified and somehow fails, Promethium will claim eternal victory. However, if Nazca gets partified and he fails to stop her, there’s still Maetel to take care of business (and let’s be frank: in a manner of speaking Nazca does fail, as true success should mean the destruction of Promethium).

          • Heh. Missed this part earlier!
            [quote]Re: K-On, I figure my correspondent is not interested in introducing just any anime to her partner, but one she actually likes herself, and I don’t think she’s a K-On fan [quote]

            Never heard of it in fact! I think you’ve worked out my tastes by now though!

            In breaking news he HAS stopped at the door to ogle at Space Adventure Cobra (Oh, Dezaki… why couldn’t HE have ever worked on Harlock??!), so we’re onto a possible winner with scantily clad babes bursting out of small strips of fabric (the irony here is they almost always dress like Serazard from V2 Panzer and have Kei’s hairstyle 😉 ). Might be that Terasawa’s the way to go – he likes Ninja Scroll so Kurasu Tengu Kabuto might be a hit…!

            • “scantily clad babes bursting out of small strips of fabric”.. Sirens, luring the amateur anime watcher into the depths of the medium. Good 🙂

        • I’m no longer sure which post I’m replying to in this chain. That in mind on the topic on Movie Tetsuro vs the classic one, I’ve always had the assumption that the one in the movie is a bit older than is TV/manga counter part. If i recall correctly in the flashback he has to his mother’s death he’s a potato head. The beginning of the movie always leads me to think he’s spent some time living with all those other kids.

          • I think you’re right. The manga Tetsuro is supposed to be 4-5 years younger than movie Tetsuro, but obviously the stories still take place in separate universes and not one after another.

            I can’t be sure either, but I do remember Tetsuro either in a flashback or in an old picture in the film (or both?) looking like his potato self..

            • Yep – the pendant has a “photo” in it of Tetsuro with his mother, looking just like the 10 year old version in the TV series/manga, and ISTR there was a talk about the fact he’d made it to Megalopolis and had been living on the streets for a few years after his mother died.

              Keisuke Masunaga, the new character designer of choice who draws him for games and did the GR 4 part OAV ages him up to about 13, somewhere in between TV potato head and movie youth, which actually works quite well! Seems he’ll grow up to be normal looking!

  2. [quote] Hey! We should get all our dads to do a Leijiverse cosplay photoshoot!![quote]

    Not a father (unless he’s got offspring reading this blog!) but I’d pay to see Sam Elliott (long hair and tache’d as he usually is) play Captain Dan/Ichimonji Dantetsu… He’s even got the gravelly voice! (30 years ago oh *mama* did he ever had the build as well!) Born. To. Play.

    … hmmm. long tache, naval uniform… Eeek. My great-grandfather (Merchant navy steamship engineer torpedoed off Scapa Floe in WW1) was the absolute spitting image of my dad, and by extension I get a multigenerational Harlock-lookalike!! Yay!

    • Woow, that’s nice. I mean, I hope he survived the torpedo and all. My grandpa looks like Bentselle too, so I have a multigenerational Bentselle-lookalike going. Hmmm, somehow that’s kind of lame compared to multigen Harlock.

      • Awww… I LIKED Bentselle!

        Yep! He survived! Family legend has it he only got hurt (a broken ankle IIRC) going back for his HAT… (Apparently vanity also runs in that male line!)

        On that side we’re a family of seafarers – we’re from the Isle of Man, which not only had a strong civil (kippers!) marine tradition, but also we have distant family connections listed at the battle of Trafalger (a lot of Manxmen on English ships!) and according to my grandfather’s researches into the family history, Fletcher Christian married into one family branch!

        Oh, and the island was until recently a pretty unadulterated blend of Celtic/Viking stock – hence my interest in all things mythic which got me into Harlock in the first place!

        • I love Manx cats!! I currently live in a place where cats are allowed, and it seems like every other apartment has a cat. Look at the windows and all you see is cats on the ledge staring back at you. The patios are full of marauding cats. It’s weird. Sadly we don’t have the time to take care of a cat properly right now…

          Have you visited the Isle of Man? It looks lovely. And it’s not in the EU!! That’s very interesting. So I guess immigrants from elsewhere in Europe can’t go there freely to work.. It’s like a whole other country really..

          Trafalgar is overrated. Lepanto is where it’s at!! (kidding, they’re both terribly important).

  3. Thanks for your thoughts on this anime, because I ended up rethinking what I first saw as flaws in show.
    I do have to say that during the whole show I always thought Nazca was more into Maetel than she was into him until the end. I recall the part where his robot buddy was getting on his case for a fast heart rate and high temp after Maetel complemented him and also where he was hurt and bleeding in his ship and then she put her hand on his and then he said “now i feel much better”.
    I also found the end open up to thrm maybe bring Nazca back if need be. When Maetel talked to jis Ghost he said “we’ll see each other again somewhere in the universe.” Then again I only watched the fan sub so there is a lot to be lost in translation :/

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