Queen Emeraldas Review
Leiji Matsumoto is one of the most prominent Japanese manga and anime creators, most famous for his Space Battleship Yamato/Star Blazers and Galaxy Express 999 series. Matsumoto also designed the animation for Daft Punk’s stunning series of videos for ‘Discovery’ that combine into the Interstella 5555 series. Characters from the Leijiverse (as it is known) stray from one series to another and are often interlinked, allowing the creator to develop a huge space opera (quite literally, since the entire Harlock Saga is named after Wagner’s ‘Der Ring das Niebelungen’) , focussing on different elements in each series. The Queen Emeraldas two-part OVA mini-series turns the spotlight onto one of the most enigmatic and fascinating characters in the Leijiverse, but doesn’t particularly illuminate or delve to deeply into what motivates her character.
Episode 1: Departure
Hiroshi is a stowaway on-board an intergalactic cargo ship heading for the planet Daibaran, a planet that used to be rich in energy crystals. On its journey, the ship is attacked by Affressian pirates under the command of Commander Eldomain. However an ancient-looking vessel with the hull in the form of an old wooden sailing ship makes an appearance, also bearing the insignia of the skull and crossbones, and saves the cargo ship from either certain death or slavery. The ship belongs to Emeraldas, who informs the Affressians that only her ship, the Queen Emeraldas, and Captain Harlock’s Arcadia may plunder this sector.
Episode 2: Eternal Emblems
Eldomain sets a trap for Emeraldas, distracting her with a dummy pirate raid while he abducts the inhabitants of the small mining town where Hiroshi is staying. In an attempt to rescue them, Emeraldas is drawn into battle with the Affressian ruler, Bararuda.
The Emeraldas of the various anime series differs slightly from the manga creation. There are hints to her background in the anime of a lost love that drives her wanderings through space, but apart from the image of a pair of broken spectacles, there is little detail provided. In the manga, Emeraldas is afflicted by a strange disease that renders her inactive, but the anime character is traditionally more combative and that is the case here in the Queen Emeraldas mini-series as she battles it out in the sword duel finale with Bararuda.
The mini-series presented here is not imaginatively designed and even the character designs lose a lot of the elongated elegance of Matsumoto’s shojo-influenced stylisations. The opening episode abounds in cowboy Western references and the pioneer spirit of discovering a new frontier, which is hardly a new image in space science-fiction. Hiroshi’s past is shown as a montage of mocking heads which flash past as the young man trudges through the rocky desert landscape of the mining planet Daibaran – itself not a terribly original form of exposition either. His arrival at the mining town’s saloon confirms the impression, particularly when the outlaw pirates make their appearance through the swing doors.
The series, lacking anything original in terms of story or characterisation, at least provides some competent action in the form of explosive punch-ups and sword duels, which are all speed-lines and low-angles. Some early CGI rendering of the Queen Emeraldas and other space ships looks a little primitive and poorly integrated into the animation, but it is used sparingly and once to excellent effect in the shoot-out climax of the story.
The picture quality of the two thirty-minute episodes is not particularly outstanding, but there is little either in the way of problems. The original 1.33:1 image is none too sharp, but it’s clear with strong colours. Contrast is a little low though, resulting in blacks lacking depth or solidity. On one or two occasions lines seem to develop into jagged stepping, possibly due to CG rendering, but only for a few seconds and it’s never really an issue. There may be some interlacing of frames, but it is only detectable in fast movements and pans. Otherwise the image and the animation are clean and smooth. English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks are provided. The Japanese voice-casting is somewhat more convincing, but both options are available to suit your own preference. Good yellow English subtitles are provided, which translate properly and are not dubtitles. The audio is clear, fairly low-pitched, but performs adequately well. The DVD is encoded for Regions 1 and 2.
Extra features provide very brief Character Profiles of Hiroshi Umino and Emeraldas, telling us nothing more than can be gleaned from watching the series, a Slide Show of 10 images from the episodes and an ADV Previews promo trailer-reel for the Final Fantasy: Unlimited, Rune Soldier, You’re Under Arrest and Azumanga Daioh series.
The Queen Emeraldas mini-series offers an intriguing and accessible glimpse into the Leijiverse of Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999, but it barely hints at the wealth of characterisation and situations contained therein. As a spin-off from the main story, there are no great expectations for major developments or revelations, but while the mystery and enigma of Emeraldas remains, the story is slight and we don’t really get a sense of the depths of her character here. The series works well though as a standalone piece and is reasonably well-presented here on DVD.