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Famed heroine of "Captain Harlock" returns in her own special
QUEEN EMERALDAS (1998) is a two-part OAV (Original Animated Video) production which spotlights Emeraldas, a lone female pirate captain who once rode with the legendary Captain Harlock and has shared adventures with other characters from the universe of Japanese manga artist Leiji Matsumoto, most notably Tetsuro and Maetel from "Galaxy Express 999." (See GALAXY EXPRESS 999: ETERNAL TRAVELER EMERALDAS, also reviewed on this site.) As always, Emeraldas cuts a striking figure with her super-long blond hair, red pirate outfit, white pants, brown boots and sweeping black cloak.
Like so many of Matsumoto's works, the key character here is a young boy embarking on a quest of self-discovery. In this case, it's adolescent orphan Hiroshi Umino, who lands on the desolate planet Daibaran and works menial jobs in the hopes of one day emulating his hero, Tochiro, a diminutive engineer who built one of the most powerful ships in the galaxy, Captain Harlock's Arcadia, and flew with Harlock on his many adventures. Hiroshi dreams of traveling alone and independent like Emeraldas and Harlock.
The town on Daibaran where Hiroshi ends up is modeled on old western frontier towns and features gunslinging characters in various archaic outfits, including at least one cowboy. Complicating things is the presence of the conquering Arfressian forces, led by the vain Colonel Eldomain who runs things in this part of the galaxy and brooks no resistance. In the first episode, Eldomain brutally beats little Hiroshi after being challenged by him and is then called out by one of the saloon onlookers who turns out to be Emeraldas, hiding under her cloak. The pirate queen stands out in the middle of the street, in time-honored western fashion, and then shoots it out with Eldomain, who, after first fleeing, has returned in his fighter craft to fire blasts at Emeraldas from above while she stands there defiantly aiming her sword-ray gun at his craft.
The second episode involves Eldomain taking all the townsmen hostage, including Hiroshi, in order to lure Emeraldas into battle with his entire fleet. When she arrives in her massive dirigible-shaped ship, the Queen Emeraldas, the fleet fires everything it's got at her. She refuses to fire back until the hostages get word to her that they've successfully escaped. Then all hell breaks loose. The action culminates in a sword duel on board ship between Emeraldas and the Arfressian ruler, Queen Bararuda, to determine the victor.
It's always a treat to see Emeraldas in action, and she is seen to good effect here, but these aren't the best-told stories in the Matsumoto filmography. The older Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express movies, TV episodes and specials were much more compelling and artfully done. The real problem, however, is that this is the first Matsumoto story done entirely in digital animation, as opposed to the exclusively hand-drawn animation that distinguished all the pre-1990s Harlock/GE999 works. The character design here is much too detailed and the line work is too thick. The little circles that used to mark the eyes of little Tetsuro and the thin little lines suggesting a mouth and nose were used to far better effect to convey complex emotions than the thick lines and harsh computer-manipulated expressions of Hiroshi in this production. The colors are all too flat and the lighting way too bright. The clear blue skies over the planet Daibaran are a far cry from the stark, dramatic, overcast skies that Tetsuro and Maetel used to confront on every planet they ever visited. The digital process, at least as executed here, is the wrong style for the Matsumoto universe and something important to the emotional quality of the work has been lost.
This was followed by three more all-digital Matsumoto adaptations, HARLOCK SAGA (1999), MAETEL LEGEND (2000) and COSMO WARRIOR ZERO (2001). Of this entire group, HARLOCK SAGA strived the hardest to recapture the visual artistry of the older works. A one-shot movie, GALAXY EXPRESS 999: ETERNAL FANTASY (1998), preceded this group and was predominantly hand-drawn animation with some computer effects.
Fans of the character of Emeraldas should check out the earlier Captain Harlock movie, ARCADIA OF MY YOUTH (1982), as well as the two GALAXY EXPRESS movies (1979 & 1981), in which she makes cameo appearances, to name three films that are currently in distribution in the United States. The aforementioned ETERNAL TRAVELER EMERALDAS teamed up Maetel and Emeraldas 20 years before MAETEL LEGEND, but is, sadly, not currently available in the U.S.
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