© 1999 Leiji Matsumoto - Kodunsha
For Love. For Honor. For Vengeance.
These powerful words, which emblazon the box cover of Queen Emeraldas, reflect the overriding themes of Leiji Matsumoto's envisioned universe. Unfortunately, this recent entry into the Matsumoto collection is lacking in love, short on honor, and contains superficial vengeance. It's certainly not a complete waste of time, but is missing the dramatic punch and tension that made previous Matsumoto works compelling to watch.
The story begins with a young boy named Hiroshi Umino stowing away on an inter-steller space craft bound for the planet Diabaran. Hiroshi has a fiercely independent spirit and dreams of one day building his own grand space craft so he can travel the stars. But first, he must reach Diabaran, a plan more dangerous than he anticipated. While enroute to Diabaran, the cargo ship is assaulted by a fleet of Afressian ships. But before the Afressians can finish their task, they are interrupted by Emeraldas, who does not take kindly to their actions. She proceeds to eviscerate the entire fleet, leaving just its commander to run home with his tail between his legs.
Hiroshi, having survived this ordeal, eventually makes it to Diabaran, but is quickly disillusioned. Hiroshi came to the planet to find energy crystals to use in his future space craft, yet discovers that Diabaran has been mined clean. Befriended by a fellow stowaway, Hiroshi makes it to one of only three towns left on the planet, where he finds work in a saloon.
Meanwhile, the Afressians are stinging from their loss to Emeraldas. They head to Diabaran, where again they confront her and again are defeated. With another humiliating loss on the scoresheet, the Afressian queen, Bararuda, makes it a personal vendetta to eliminate Emeraldas. "Space has no need of two Queens", she bitterly remarks.
Given the title character of this two-parter, it might be surprising that Hiroshi is the focus of the story, rather than Emeraldas. Hiroshi begins as a brash, stubborn individual who believes he can achieve his dreams without any help. The word "friend" seems lost on him. But as the conflict between Emeraldas and the Afressians escalates, Hiroshi and the others from the saloon on Diabaran are inevitably caught up in it (more to the point, they're used as bait to trap Emeraldas). It is during this ordeal that Hiroshi learns the benefits of companionship, and his wall of pride begins to break down.
As for Emeraldas, very little is done to expand on her character, beyond her already mysterious, brooding exterior. The conflict between between her and the Afressian empire seems like a good vehicle to explore some aspects of her personality, but it accomplishes nothing of the sort. Battles are ridiculously one-sided, with Emeraldas plowing through everything the Afressians throw at her, while passively reclining in her captain's chair and looking bored. There are also a few brief monologues at the beginning and ending of the two episodes, with Emeraldas spouting vacuous prose about being adrift in the Sea of Stars. Talk about stating the obvious. Overall, aside from a brief flashback, her character is regulated to little more than a set piece.
While Queen Emeraldas is a relatively recent work (produced in 1998), it manages to keep the retro feel of Matsumoto's earlier creations. The character designs contribute heavily to this and do justice to Matsumoto's style. In fact, aside from a handful of obvious computer effects, this production wouldn't look out of place along side other late-70's and 80's anime.
Queen Emeraldas is at best a pleasant diversion for Leiji Matsumoto fans. While Emeraldas herself is little more than window dressing, Hiroshi's coming-of-age story saves the production from being a total loss. And I admit, there was a certain sardonic pleasure in watching Emeraldas mop up an entire civilization's fleet of space craft, if only for a short while.
The Verdict: * * * (average)
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