Space Symphony Maetel 13

The last monologue is a repeat of episode 5’s: “I am Maetel.  My voyage has no starting station.  Far away where the ring of time meets (or: the rings of time meet), that is my starting station.”

So, is there a pattern to the monologues, or are they thrown in there without a second thought?  I reckon they must have some significance.  Otherwise, why bother repeating some of them?  Why not have a brand new monologue each week?  I mean, we ended up with seven distinct monologues in all, and I’m confident the writing team was creative enough to come up with six more if they had wanted to.  Then again, maybe Leiji wrote up seven monologues, handed them to the anime staff and it was up to them to use and reuse them for the 13 episodes.

Here’s the sequence of the monologues, from left to right, with each color denoting a distinct monologue script:

There are only three unrepeated monologues.  The first one is the long intro (black here) and it’s no surprise it’s unique considering its role.  The second unique monologue (green) leads off chapter ten, and deals with the impossibility of stopping what must happen.  It’s positioned really well toward the crescendo/climax of the story (or rather, the climax of this particular arc of what ultimately is a never-ending story).  The third unique monologue (pink above) is the next to last one.  Maetel says: “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.”  It’s a rather titillating statement, and in the light of episode 13 we can see it promises too much.  After all, the series ends with Maetel still in the dark about all of these “ends”, though one could argue Nazca’s sacrifice has enlightened her as to how possibly to end it all…

The last episode, as I said earlier, is a repeat of number 5, essentially a factual statement of Maetel’s plight and a more abstract, more universal version of the “red” monologue which crops up 4 times in the series.  If there’s anything more to this issue of the monologue sequence I don’t see it yet…

On to the episode itself.  The first sequence is great, right after the OP, is great.  Let’s break it down:

1. Shot of the Deathshadow, Nazca’s ship and the Queen Emeraldas.

2. Focus on Nazca’s ship as it advances.

3. Shot of the Deathshadow’s bridge with Nazca’s ship visible ahead.

4. Shot of Harlock, Tochiro and Tori (the bird) utterly quite and unmoving.

5. Shot of Harlock deep in thought.

6. Fade to Maetel pledging to sacrifice herself to defeat Promethium.

7. Shot of Harlock and Tochiro listening to Maetel.

8. Shot of a perfectly impassive cat listening to Maetel.

9. Shot of Maetel looking ahead with determination (her declaration from #6 has just finished).

10. Shot of Tochiro banging his fist on the table in frustration and yelling “I…I…”.

11. Shot of Tori crying and hollering.

12. Another shot of Nazca’s ship, at a downward angle.

13. Shot inside Nazca’s ship’s bridge.  We see the mysterious cat on the right, and we get enough visual clues to know Maetel is sitting portside (top of her black hat and a bit of blond hair sticking out).  The camera begins to focus on Maetel’s seat but that’s just a tease as we change to..

14. Shot of the cat sitting near the other seat, and gradually a zooming in on what’s on the seat: nothing but a screw.  The episode title pops up.

This sequence lasts 45 seconds, but it packs so much.

The animals are particularly interesting.  The first time I saw Space Symphony Maetel so many years ago I was obsessed with that cat.  How couldn’t I?!  I felt that the key to the show lay with that feline and I just speculated and speculated and speculated.  This time around, knowing what the cat is, I haven’t even given it a second thought..  Conversely, Tori-san’s crying didn’t perturb me in the least the first time around, but now as a seasoned Leiji Matsumoto fan I can’t help but feel utterly nostalgic at the sight.

I wrote that we have enough clues in this 45-second opener to know that it’s not Maetel, but Nazca, who was “partified”, but I reckon the first time I watched the show I didn’t even notice them…  It’s a nice twist, and it shows Nazca’s knack at barging unwanted into important places at important times (though granted, Destiny always leaves its doors wide open for him to run straight through).

While at first sight Promethium’s taunting of Maetel seems totally reckless, it does kind of make sense.  She thinks she can handle Nazca’s screw [sorry for the wording], and she knows Nazca would make her planet extremely powerful, therefore she wants Maetel to insert it.  In the Queen’s mind it’s not a gamble at all but a sure thing.  Of course she’s setting herself up for a rude awakening.

There’s not much I can say about Maetel’s father, who is revealed to have been controlling the cat.  He’s meant to be a mystery, and so far Matsumoto has resisted the temptation to reveal more about him.  I do have this to say, though.  At the end when Maetel and Emeraldas are at the station, we see Maetel trying to hand their “father” to her sister.  Emeraldas refuses and Maetel gets to keep him.  I think we are supposed to conclude from this that the famous voice in the very first episode/chapter of Galaxy Express 999 belongs most definitely to the same man.  If so, there’s all sorts of interesting things we can derive from the fact.

Two memorable things about Nazca’s triumphs, besides the obvious fact of the victory itself and how it sets up everything that will occur later: a) his description of Maetel’s mission as forging an alliance between flesh-and-blood humans and Mechanoids, and b) that kiss.  Nazca doesn’t really react to it…  Is it the fact that he can’t really feel it so it doesn’t excite him, or is it that he still really sees Maetel as more of an auntie or role model than a lover??  I don’t know.

Anyway, the good guys win, Promethium will surely return, Maetel figures out what she has to do to stop her mother eventually.  All in all I think the series is very effective in fulfilling its very particular role, and it has plenty of outstanding scenes that make it a worthwhile watch on its own merits.  Thanks for reading!


~ by Haloed Bane on August 19, 2012.

19 Responses to “Space Symphony Maetel 13”

  1. Thanks for the excellent write-up.

    I have often thought about the ethics of these boys being “partified;” (that’s a good word, and I can’t think of any other use for it than here). As far as I can tell, Maetel never tells any of them, not even Tetsuro, what she is up to until the ax drops. So is she behaving any more ethically than her mother? She is just using others to achieve her own goal. In the end she is doing the same thing her mother is doing: she is turning people into parts without their consent, and her mother is turning people into cyborgs without their consent. Further, if Maetel is willing to go to this drastic length to achieve her goal, and she is certainly the heroine to Promethium’s villainess, what does that say about Matsumoto’s ultimate attitude toward the cyborg situation?

    I think a good write-up could be made about all the interconnections between Maetel Legend, Space Symphony Maetel and Galaxy Express 999.

    • I guess the argument would be that what Maetel aims is to stop the whole thing, so yes, right now she’s being unethical, but she’s trying to end the whole mess so nobody will have to be unethical in the future. Hmm, it does kind of seem as if Matsumoto would prefer for humans to be turned into parts, or ship computer systems for that matter, than into androids.

      Anyway, if Maetel went on trial for all the unethical stuff she’s done [which would make a great 999 episode, something like what Seinfeld did for the last episode] and everyone she’s killed unfairly showed up as ghost-witnesses (whole planets in some cases) she’d get the death penalty for sure!

      I think a biography of Maetel could work. You could weave in every show (including fitting in the Galaxy Railways OVA in there) and it’d definitely make for an interesting read.

  2. I don’t know that Matsumoto is saying that it is better to be partified (I really like your word) than to be turned into a cyborg. Rather, I think he is saying that it is better to end the cyborg problem by any means necessary. Maetel’s solution is plainly unethical. She uses small boys who are more easily fooled and doesn’t tell them what she is up to. Tetsuro very plainly did not want to be partified when he found out what the deal was, and he felt betrayed by Maetel (and rightly so) although he forgave her very quickly. Nazca was willing to do it, but that was an informed choice by someone who was essentially a mature individual.

    In fact, there are really serious problems with Maetel’s ethics. In the Galaxy Express 999 tv series she waited until the very end to take some sort of (ineffectual) action, and in the movie she just stood by in shock and did nothing, leaving Tetsuro to resolve the issue. By the end of this whole thing, in fact, it seems to me that she is pretty much all hollowed out as a person: there have just been too many deaths, too many exploding planets (one out of four in Galaxy Express 999, it seems like), too much partification. She rarely smiles, and I can’t recall her ever laughing. (Only potato people seem to do much laughing in Matsumoto.) Maetel waited until episode 113 to even cry, as Tetsuro notes, and she has plenty to cry about. Altogether, she is a very melancholy and depressed person. And to cap it all off, at the end of it all, she ditches poor Tetsuro in both the movie and the tv series, and in the tv series she ditches him for another boy.

    I guess that the reason for all of this is that Matsumoto is not really trying to create realistic people. Rather, he is working with ideal, mythical personality types. I think Matsumoto is quite plain about this. In the final episode of Galaxy Express 999, for instance, Tetsuro ponders on the whole thing, and suspects that his journey had really been solitary, because Maetel had really been a spirit leading him toward manhood rather than a flesh and blood woman. Maetel makes that same sort of statement when we see her with the next boy in the other train. It is interesting to note that I cannot recall a single instance of Maetel interacting with a young girl, only boys. As I have stated, Matsumoto has a limited number of character types and he tends to reuse his character types to fit particular parts. This is the sort of thing you do when you are operating at the mythical level rather the realistic level. In fact, the character designs are more like caricatures than realistic individual characters. That is why potato people exist in his universe and they fit right in. If you are a pirate, then you have to have a big scar and sail around on a space ship that is half a galleon. Partification is obviously not a realistic process, but it makes sense on a mythic level. These people are being used like machine parts (like we all are in modern society), and so they are literally turned into parts, rather than just showing them acting like parts as in the labor scenes in the movie Metropolis.

    This is likewise why continuity of detail is sometimes lost among Matsumoto’s various works. If we examine particular myth systems from various cultures, there always tend to be variant tellings of the same basic myth. I think this is why the work of Matsumoto and other artists in science fiction and comic books are important: they are the only makers of myths for the modern world, and this is an important cultural function. We live as much by myths as by reality.

    If all of this is the case, if Maetel and the others are ideal types rather than realistic characters, then realistic questions of morality are not actually an issue here. Maetel does what she does because, being the type of character she is, she doesn’t really have a choice but to do what that sort of character does. If Maetel is the spirit leading young men to manhood, she is not ditching Tetsuro, she is doing what her type is required to do. If she is doing partification, it is because as the heroine she has to do something.

    Likewise, in almost every instance I can recall, becoming a cyborg results in a person either becoming evil or regretting the process. So Queen Promethium was formerly a good person and a responsible ruler. She only became a bad person after she became a cyborg, and the process of becoming evil was rapid and not portrayed realistically as a series of life events after she became a cyborg. I think that Matsumoto is correct when he finds that there are moral problems attached to the loss of the human body, but the problems are portrayed in his work mythically rather than realistically. Ghost in the Shell works with the same sort of material but in a realistic manner. Matsumoto is dealing with ideal cyborgs rather than realistic cyborgs, but regardless of the artistic method, the message is still the same: human beings reject part of what makes them human, their short lives or mortality and human senses and emotions, at a terrible price. The chronological climax of all of the Galaxy Express/Harlock material, in fact the Leijiverse as a whole, is the last episode of Galaxy Express 999, and that episode condemns cyborgization, and Matsumoto states his reasons, but they are abstract and idealistic reasons. (There are a few other works post-Galaxy Express 999, like Adieu Galaxy Express, but they don’t add anything new.)

    So a good article (for somone with a blog) would be to write Maetel’s biography as a mythic character, because there is already plenty of material on line of her chronological life.

    Thanks for raising some interesting questions. I really enjoy your blog.

    • I don’t want to open a can of worms, but I do get the sense that the Japanese have a different sense of ethics than Westerners have, one which to many of us (speaking personally as a Western) is weak or unstable. But I get what you’re saying: the mythological gods of the Greeks, for example, were utterly unethical, and no one batted an eyelid.

      I’ve written on the mythical nature of the Leijiverse before, though I’ve focused more on Harlock and Tochiro, plus on the way in which Leiji repeats certain events over and over (planets colliding, laboratories exploding and leaving kids orphans).

      It’d be interesting to see if one can find a mythological figure similar to Maetel. I can’t think of any.

      I agree that Leiji’s final conclusion is a condemnation of cyborgs BUT for some reason he insists on harping every so often on the ideal of human-cyborg cooperation (notably in the planet of Technologia). Evidently Leiji is torn about the role of technology and how deep we should get into it. He’s got one foot in the 29th century and another in the 19th century, so to speak 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoy the blog. I wish I had more time to write. Recently I’ve got way too much going on besides…

      • I’m not sure he utterly condemns the process of mechanisation… his early manga don’t demonise the “machinners”, and in Galaxy Express 999 we meet as many good, decent cyborgs/mechanoids as we do bad ones – the point always seemed to me to be that people are people, and you can’t always make sweeping generalisations. Marina in the Submarine Super 99 sequel is there to help. The Cyborg/Robot thief in Kaito-M sacrifices herself for others… Harlock himself is mostly machine in short manga “Technologise” (opening a massive chest scar to reveal a mechanical heart) and partly mechanised in “Diver 0” without losing his humanity – making a flippant comment about a wide, dangerous universe where to lose a hand or leg isn’t too big a price to pay…!

        The “Big Bad” in the GE999 universe isn’t mechanisation in itself, but Promethium – someone whose original aim to save her world involved forcible mechanisation of all lifeforms, and who lost the plot so badly she now FORCES that mechanisation on the rest of the universe whether it likes it or not. What Harlock, Maetel, etc al are fighting against is the removal of choice – all of them firmly believe that people have the right to choose their own fate – a message that goes right back to Yamato and Iscander’s passive acceptance of the death of their world, vs Dessler’s refusal to give up even if it destroys another world and it’s people (though of course he does later wise up!). They’re not fight mechanisation per se, but the forcible imposition of it on unwilling people: “Under my flag I live free”

        Along with this there’s the economic divide between rich and poor – once mechanisation is available the rich pounced on it as a form of immortality (and we often see the mechanoids as vain, selfish creatures in the “moral of the week” episode/chapter. The rich have better access to the process, they can afford the better bodies, and frankly they’re often absolute sh*ts – but then, they were when they were flesh and blood – or at least the seeds were there.

        And of course, the system by now is utterly corrupt and venal – colony worlds are depopulated (speculation in other threads suggests the “harvesting” of humans for both parts and “flame of life” might be partly responsible here…) very few show signs of vitality, and the few rebels (Harlock, Emeraldas, Antares) are few and far between: determined but isolated individualists who appear to be fighting a losing battle in a world where to live free is to be lonely, largely despised and hunted just for daring to exist!

        Backing up a bit: I said unwilling conversions… and often it seems most people are unable to maintain their integrity. Not everyone is capable of maintaining their humanity – which, of course, Tetsuro often reminds them of from time to time. (Le Ryusu in “Jikan Joo no Kaizoku” both in the manga and the series rediscovers her moral event horizon and stops her fake-Harlock lover – but still decides to die with him…). It’s another point Leiji-san makes again and again. Mechanisation doesn’t take away the abilty to love, to feel, to be human – but it seems to make it so much harder. Our heroes inevitably choose a short, mortal life and the immortality of generations (Harlock’s comment to Tetsuro at the end of the 2nd film IIRC about having children being the only true immortality).

        Maetel however seems to have taken a different path – bound to the straight rails of the Galaxy Railway, endlessly travelling and returning to her beginning and her end – possibly (though never actually stated) to be either spirit or mechanoid herself, tied to an endless battle against her mother in order to give humanity that fundamental choice which Promethium would take away. In some ways it’s the ultimate sacrifice, even harder than Tochiro’s…

        It’s a bit like the many myths we have of deities locked in eternal conflict – from which neither can ever yield – it takes an exceptional child to come along and jolt Maetel out of this endless, destructive cycle (in all three versions of the end she lacks the strength to throw Ban into the heart of the machine – the final – and yet perhaps the FIRST iron-willed “part” that completes the destruction of this cycle. )

        I remember reading the manga of GE999 for the first time, and it’s radically different ending – along with that tower showing the two faces of Promethium – mechanised and the Maetel/Yayoi face on the reverse. Inseperable – but forever at war. Brilliant.

        And it seemed it would never be over – at least in the 70’s and 80’s. Maetel leaves, another child in tow, another turn of the gears of fate… Until Eternity-hen came along and everything changed! A new (well, re-tasked from Diver Zero!) greater enemy, and Maetel’s battle against Promethium seems over… But I wonder about the true nature of the Dark Queen… I really do! 😉

        So do I think Matsumoto condemns mechanisation? No. Condemns Cyborgs? Only on a case by case basis. Condemns the removal of choice and freedom to live as you please, even if that’s a short, mortal life of pain? Absolutely!

        • As I see it, if you say Leiji condemns mechanization,you’re right. If you say he doesn’t, you’re right. This is simply because it depends on what point of which series you’re talking about. But let me put it this way: does Leiji’s work suggest that it would be better for humanity if the technology for bodily mechanization had never existed? I think the answer is yes.

          Promethium is the ultimate evil, but why did she become evil? Ay, there’s the rub. You could come with a psychological theory (torment at her responsiblities, seeing no way out of her predicament, nervous breakdown) or you could simply say: because Hardgear turned her into a cold machine. I guess both answers are true in their own way. (I’m very partial to Pico della Mirandola and that’d be his answer to everything).

          I think the idea of devastated colonies due to harvesting is spot on. It’s ironic how this mechanization cure turns out, isn’t it? Leiji really came up with a great storyline here.

          Promethium and Maetel locked in a battle to protect or deny man’s free will… That’s a good way to put it. Emeraldas ends up kind of redundant in this scheme, unless her role is simply to live that freedom that Maetel’s struggle has given space for (though it seems to me her life is terribly boring and a bit of a waste the way she spends it. Guess that’s her choice though!!).

          • Ahhh… I just remembered that practically the entire main cast of Starzinger are cyborgs! Guess I’ve got a viewing marathon ahead of me to see how THAT fits into the picture!

            …and I’d better dig out all the ‘Machinners’ manga and shorts! Ugh. Poor quality paper and scaled down page sizes make the kanji barely legible on some of these… I may be a while! 😉

  3. I don’t know that the Japanese sense of ethics is really all that different from the western sense of ethics. First, I would note that they in fact do have a sense of ethics, like every other known society. You can’t exist as an organized society at all if you cannot regulate social conduct. The basis for the regulation of social conduct seems to be the law of nature: those thing which a society must do in order to survive at all. Since man is a single species, it seems to me that the law of nature is the same for every society. I visualize the general ethical code of man as a whole as being in the form of a bell curve: certain central traits are very common, and rarer traits are less common toward the fringes. The sort of moral code you see in a particular society in relation to the available ethical behaviors along the bell curve tends to depend on where that society exists in relation to the historical cycle: is it a society at the subsistence level, a society in a state of expansion, or a society in a state of contraction and dissolution. If I were to analyze where I think Japan exists in the historical cycle, it seems to me that it is a society which, starting from its medieval period, entered a state of expansion which was cut short by its collision with the West, first due to World War II and then with the collapse of the economic bubble. I would note further that their social organization is essentially tribal and which, a short time ago, was in a medieval period. The result is that they would tend to emphasize certain ethical traits and de-emphasize certain other ethical traits in comparison with the West. In keeping with their tribal organization, therefore, they would tend to emphasize group loyalty, and in accordance with their recent medieval experience, they would emphasize the values that go with a hierarchical social strucure, like respect for superiors. It is not for nothing that two of the most famous stories that have come out of Japan are the stories of the 47 ronin and of Hachiko the dog (and both are in fact the same story).

    But it seems to me that the central point is this: I do not seem to have any problem understanding the ethical structure of the Japanese. They may not do things the way I would do them, but the way they do things appears to me to be perfectly understandable. I think I can understand very well why the Japanese people admire the ronin and Hachiko. To be faithful unto death appears to me to be a good, or at least, an understandable quality. I wish we had a lot more of it here in the West. I have seen a ton of anime and read a cartload of manga over the years, but it never occurred to me that what I was reading was essentially incomprehensible: they were just emphasizing different parts of the ethical bell curve. This is not to say that ethics are relative, just that different societies emphasize different parts of the spectrum at different times in their development. Bushido does not seem to me to be all that different from from the knightly code of chivalry in the West. It’s just that we don’t emphasize it as much in the West any more. We prefer to kill our enemies with drones instead of coming to grips with them man to man.

    It would seem to me that formal religion is somewhat downplayed in Japan, but it appears to me that there are mechanisms that compensate for that: a strong social structure and an aesthetic sense. If I had a dime for every anime opening that has a montage of the characters going through the four seasons, I would be a wealthy man. It has always seemed to me that the Japanese animators devote more time and love to the backgrounds in the series than on the characters. You can almost always tell what season the characters are in. But it does not seem to me that there is anything strange about this. The love of nature and the attempt to draw ethical values from it can also be found in the West, most recently with the Romantic poets. We don’t seem to be doing much of that lately, but that is merely a shifting of the cycle.

    Finally, I note that the crime rate and the illegitimacy rates are very low in Japan. I don’t think that would be possible in a society which did not have a strong ethical system in place.If they don’t do everything we might like, well that is just our preference and they are not required to.

    Moving onward, the, the question is what are the ethics of Matsumoto and how does he display them in his work? As we go through Galaxy Express 999 (which is a long work and provides us with the most material) I think it is plain that he has avery definite code of ethics and uses the show to demonstrate it. In fact, each planetary stop is presented in the form of a parable, and Tetsuro learns a ethical lesson on each one of them. For instance, on the planet of the gluttons, the people eat so much that they grow as big as their houses and then explode. Obviously, this is highly unrealitic; he is giving us a parable or myth instead of a real instance. Nonetheless, it is a highly graphic way of teaching us an important lesson: that gluttony is bad. But this is the same as in the West, where gluttony is counted as one of the seven deadly sins. But I guess we don’t pay much attention to the seven deadly sins any more. Matsumoto is using the animation medium to its best advantage here: it would be difficult to show people exploding realistically. One would have wished that Wall Street had seen this episode prior to the crash of 2008; but after all, that is exactly what they did do, they ate till they exploded.

    Likewise, every time that Tetsuro gets standed on a planet, the first thing he does is to find work. Even if the chance for easy money comes along, as it often does in the form of the vampire ladies he so often encounters, he always rejects it, and prefers to work hard to support himself. Self-reliance and industriousness are constantly presented as virtues.

    Further, if any value is emphasized, it is the value of liberty. In the episode with Antares, Tetsuro admires him even though he is a bandit because he lives free. Harlock, another of his heroes, is a space pirate because he wants to live free.

    The upshot of it all is that Matsumoto seems to me to have a very definite moral code and he did not get it from nowhere; he developed it in the course of his life experiences within a particular culture. I would have to say that I find his code to be both understandable and often admirable.

    On the one hand, I could be fooling myself because I have have never met a Japanese person or been to Japan. On the other hand, I do not seem to experience any cognitive dissonance when I review their cultural products, so maybe I am right. But it would not seem to me that I am not incorrect, because anime and manga have a world-wide audience, and no one complains about an inability to understand them. I would also note that a lot of the cultural material used by Japan originated in the West, so we have a reference point for a lot of it. After all, the steam engine and train, and animation itself are western inventions.

    As far as Maetel goes, I think we understand the point I was making about ethics and myths. When Pluto, for instance, grabs Proserpina and forces her to become the queen of the underworld, we do not look on it as a story about a kidnapping; the Greeks needed to explain seasonal change and this is what they came up with.

    Looking at Maetel as a mythical figure, therefore, I note that she has two aspects to her character. The first aspect is that she is a maternal figure. Even the name “maetel” is connected with the word “mother.” Further, she looks just like Tetsuro’s mother, which is explained by the fact that she is a clone of his mother. Also, she teaches and protects him. She is the one who guides him to manhood.

    The second aspect of Maetel’s character is that she is the last and the most devious of the many vampire ladies that Tetsuro encounters. I did not count them all, but he seems to meet one every fourth episode. These vampire ladies generally attempt to use Tetsuro for their own purposes. Maetel is just the same. Her entire purpose throughout the series was to use him for her purposes. Her ultimate goal may have been noble, but the end doen not justify the means.

    So what we have is a mother with two faces. After doing some Wiki crawling, I came up with Kali, who is a Hindu goddess with both good and bad (or at least destructive) aspects. I am sure that there is a lot more to be learned under this topic, but I guess I have gone on enough.

    • There’s a very interesting (and controversial) article in this connection, which even includes the 47 ronin, here:


      IMHO Judeo-Christian ethics always aims to be abstract, whereas Japanese ethics is more concrete, and as you say, oriented toward the group, loyalty toward the group and it hinges on one’s place within the group. We could get all 19th century European in here and claim that Japan is at an earlier stage of development in its ethics but I’m not European and I don’t live in the 19th century so… But gah I hate talking about ethics (I know, I know, I brought it up!) 😀

      Kali can be very destructive, but I don’t know that she is known for guiding boys on the path to adulthood. I wonder if such a feminine deity exists anywhere..

      One thing I might do is pick up the 999 tv series again. I’ve only watched the first 3 cours, so I’ve got lots to go.

  4. I have to admit that you did bring it up.

    I would not say that Japan is an earlier stage of development per se. I think that societies do move through stages of development. For instance, Western civilization has been through the social cycle three times: its ancient, medieval and modern phases. I think that Japan has also been through this cycle. Heian civilization was highly developed, but then disintegrated, and then it entered a feudal period from which it has recently emerged. So when yoy say that Matsumoto has one foot in the nineteenth century and one foot in the twenty-first century, I think that that is the case to a large degree, but he is not the only one like that. That seems to me to be the general state for Japan as a whole. But the existence of the past within the present in a society is, I think, the general situation for every society. As Faulkner says, the past is not dead, it isn’t even past. When I look at a penny, I see the Lincoln Memorial, which is architecturally ancient Greek in form, I see the statement “e pluribus unum” which is Latin from ancient Rome, I see the phrase “in God we trust,” which represents our medieval Christian heritage, and I see the phrase “Liberty” which represents our heritage from the Enlightenment when the U.S. was born. No one planned the penny to be so representative of our cultural and historical development, but all of these elements are present in solution in our culture all the same, and it is the same for Japan. To some extent, then, every society has one foot in the past and one foot in the present.

    As far as the comparison of Western and Japanese philosophical and ethical systems go, I note that there seems to me to be an important difference: Western thought from ancient to modern times is really one huge developmental stream with medieval thought having been influenced by ancient thought, and modern thought having been influenced by both ancient and medival thought. Further, the Western mind abhors inconsistencies in its thought, so we have invented all these huge philosophical systems, which we strive to make self-consistent. See, for instance, Kant or Hegel. We don’t seem to see this sort of system building in Japanese thought, which seems to be able to tolerate inconsistencies due to its modular structure. One system is neither superior or inferior, they are just different, but the differences have consequences.

    As far as Kali goes, Wikipedia states that by some she is considered the ultimate mother as well as a destructive figure. I don’t think you will come up with a mythic figure exactly like Maetel, but Kali strikes me as being close enough for government work.

    As far as Galaxy Express 999 goes, it is on my top five anime list, and it had a huge impact on me. I saw part of the tv anime long ago and saw the whole thing on the Funimation channel a while ago. I saw the movie long ago, and it blew me away. But I think it blows everyone away. It is a rare anime that is commemorated by a series of 7 or 8 statutes which depict various scenes from the movie. There are pictures of the statues on line. In some ways I think this series is the culmination of his work and everything else has been backfilling.

    If you are looking for a new blogging project, this could be it. I understand what happens when real life calls and that one blogs when one can.

    • Great idea on the penny. I never thought of that.

      The irony is that although the West abhors inconsistencies (I totally agree with you), the systems that it builds up to expel these inconsistencies end up being rather inconsistent with each other. I mean, even Hegel, coming on the heels of Kant, is violently opposed to him. On the other hand, in a country like Japan where the law of contradiction is de-emphasized and inconsistencies are accepted, you can have something of a consistent message across the board in Shinto, Confucian, Zen writings etc.

      I might pick up 999 again soon, we’ll see. ep 40 would be next.

  5. The problem with avoiding ethical questions in a blog that headlines the work of Matsumoto is that he is one of the few manga artists who makes moral questions the core of his work. He has an explicit ethical code and he uses his art to present it. When Harlock gets drunk, he does not start talking about the big cannons on his ship, instead he gives us another lecture on the theory and practice of manhood.

    As far as Galaxy Express 999 goes, there is one thing I noticed: if you see the first four episodes and the last four episodes, you will still come away with a pretty good idea of what the series is about. This is because there is very little ongoing plot development from episode to episode. Each planetary stopover is really a stand alone episode. The main thing that holds it together is the consistency of the philosophy Matsumoto is trying to present. The problem with just looking at the eight episodes is that the climax loses some of the power that the cumulative weight of the entire journey gives it. By the time you come to the end of the whole series, you will have examined this cyborg issue from every angle. The problem with blogging this series is the plots are fairly straightforward and the morals are plain, so there doesn’t seem to be all that much to blog about.

    • I wrote this before:

      “But seriously, how can you identify with Harlock??? We tend to identify with fictional characters that share at least some of our qualities. That way, we can at least pretend to hope that we have a chance to do whatever awesome thing the character ends up accomplishing. Harlock is put on such a high pedestal that this becomes really difficult. (How can one ever reach Arcadia?) There’s no way I could have the poise (my god, what poise!), the coolness, the gravitas!!!

      And yet, there’s no one else. It’s just us, standing beside Daiba, staring at this monster of a man. I think this is what Leiji wants. He doesn’t want Daiba to be too cool because then we’ll end up being Harlock’s apprentices, his emulators, and this isn’t what he wants. He wants the impossible. He wants us to identify with Harlock!

      Why would Matsumoto want that? Well, that question at least is simply answered: because he honestly feared 1977 was already well on its way to being 2977, and he thinks pirates will be needed.

      The burden is partly on him, then, to keep Harlock on the pedestal while at the same time making him accessible to us in some form. And so another burden will be on us to make this connection happen. It’s a superhuman effort, literally, [just as is the case with Maetel] but I think it’s part of what makes the idea behind Matsumoto shows so alluring. It’s also the reason why the crew of the Arcadia seems to be so free and independent: they’re all little Harlocks in their own way.”

      When writing that, I didn’t think of it in terms of ethics at all, but now reading your comment I find that it is very ethical. Leiji’s set up on Megalopolis or 30th century Earth, and the contrast with Maetel and Harlock, can easily be read as a guide to ethical behavior of a certain kind. But god I don’t like to talk about ethics 😉

      Re: blogging 999, I hear you. I’ve given up on blogging the episodes with the intention of substantially contributing to the understanding of the Leijiverse. Instead, when I blog 999 I do it because each episode is neat and interesting, and I can knock around some private thoughts and see what each planet’s treatment chimes in with this or that thinker or book or TV series I’ve enjoyed…It’s quite stimulating in that way..kind of like an extended (massively extended) St. Exupery’s Little Prince.

  6. If you go back through all of your posts, I am willing to bet that you will find that almost all of them turn on some ethical issue: what is the right or wrong course action, how should we conduct ourselves in adverse circumstances, when is it right to oppose the government, what does it mean to reach maturity, etc. These are all ethical questions and you really can’t escape them when you deal with Matsumoto because I think that that is what he is really interested in. But I don’t think you need to really think about them as ethical issues; that is just a fancy word. I think we are just looking at what motivates these characters and whether there are regular patterns in thir conduct. I think Space Symphony Maetel had lots of these points of interest.

    When I think of manga and anime artists who deal with these things, I get the impression that they seem to be mainly centered on the generation who came of age during World War II: Osamu Tezuka, Shotaro Ishinomori, and Yoshiyuki Tomino in particular. (I don’t think I would include Go Nagai in this group!) I guess nothing makes you reflect on life quite so much as getting pulverized in a war. What bothers me is that I don’t seem to see much of this sort of reflection in modern anime, which seems to be more entertainment oriented. Just about the only newer manga artist I can think of who deals with this kind of material is Koji Kumeta, although he does it through comedy. I guess that is why I spend at least as much time watching the old anime as I do watching the new anime. A long time ago I saw a Galaxy Express 999 episode about the people on a planet who decided to sell it off piece by piece because the soil was so tasty. In the end they have sold off everything and the planet diappears. The whole idea is really grotesque when you think about it (tasty edible soil being gathered up in giant scoops!), but I have never been able to come up with a better image of greed than that episode and it has stuck with me for a long time. I have been trying to think of a modern equivalent for this episode, but I have not come up with anything yet.

    • There’s a story (Gogol?) about a man who gets told he will be given as much land as he can run through in a day. So he starts running and never stops and then when the time is finished he stops, looks at the huge amount of ground that will be his, collapses and dies. That’s another good image of greed for you.

    • [quote] I get the impression that they seem to be mainly centered on the generation who came of age during World War II: Osamu Tezuka, Shotaro Ishinomori, and Yoshiyuki Tomino in particular. (I don’t think I would include Go Nagai in this group!) [quote]

      Have to ask – why not? Nagai Go’s work plugs into a lot of the same themes as Matsumoto – a couple of examples: childhood abandonment or abuse (Kabuto Kenzo and Ichimonji Dantetsu – yes, I’m looking at *you*…)[1] are regular themes for both men, as are the issues of transformation/combination with machines (Like Promethium, Hell forces his minions into cyborg bodies and wants to control the world – just has a smaller stage!) Mao Dante and Devilman use literal demons to get the point across, but like Tochiro (and perhaps Ban, and Nazca) Both Ryu and Akira survive a process that should have destroyed their souls and maintain their humanity, becoming greater for it… Kouji (dear gods, how cool is he?!) succeeds not always because of his machine, but because he’s just as friggin’ unstoppable as Harlock (andyoud have to fear for ANYONE who ever had to face the pair together if Super Robto Wars ever added the Arcadia… !!)

      Japan/Earth is always under threat from significantly more advanced societies terrestrial or otherwise (the American occupation left a big mark – unless everyone was watching Gojira movies…!) Orphans, missing family members in disguise, mad scientists, absurdly badass-cool rebels with bad haircuts… 😉

      The similarities are more apparant in Matsumoto’s earlier work which although they don’t match the sheer obscene body-horror Nagai subjects readers to, are often just as freakish and cover similar ground more often than you’d think!

      Oddly though, Matsumoto was less comfortable treading on Nagai Go’s territory than Nagai was the other way around – Danguard Ace is a super robot show that frequently only chucked the robot into the fray as an after thought (it doesn’t see proper use until about 13 episodes in – most of the action being handled by Captain Dan in an ordinary fighter!) and often seems a bit embarrassed about using it or the mecha-satans (fighter planes abound doing just as much damage! (the manga goes one better and doesn’t even show the damn thing until the last page where it gets left behind as a monument to peace and bravery! And mecha-satans? What are they then?!)

      Nagai Go however gleefully plunders Matsumoto’s tropes with abandon in “X Bomber” – mysterious princess with a destiny – check. Need we even go into the Dokuro-go (“The Skull”) galleon shaped ship and her mysterious Captain Halley? 😉 (All floppy hair, cloak, and get-the-f*ck-out of my face attitude?) Then there’s the entire episode ripped off “Sands of El Alamein” from GE999 with the “sleeping” war machines and the lonely female chatelaine of the planet… (OK it owes as much to Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica…)


      [1] They share the same voice actor for crying out loud – could you GET a bigger shout-out?! (Also narrated SPCH , played Kiruta, and was the male half of Ashura!). Porn star taches, facial scars, parenting skills guaranteed to put their sons (and proteges…) in therapy until they’re 30… 😉 [2]


      [2] Dantetsu goes one better and manages to get one pilot killed and one sent home in a wheelchair before the 10th episode! And a later recruit also fails to survive past a couple of episodes (though when your VA is Kei Tomiyama, at least you get to meet your fate with quiet dignity 😉 )

  7. As far as Harlock goes, you are right; he is impossibly cool. I always like it when his cape blows at just the right dramatic angle on a spaceship where presumably there is no wind. (I am quoting from someone, but I can’t remember who.) But Harlock is like Maetel, a mythic figure. It was not for nothing that Matsumoto did Harlock Saga, which is his version of the myth of the Ring of the Nibelung. He is more an ideal to attempt to emulate than a flesh and blood man.

  8. I have been looking over your old reviews of Galaxy Express 999 (which I just noticed) and it seems to me that most of them reference some sort of ethical issue (cf. episode 28 on the issue of what constitutes “human”), an ethical question if ever there was one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: