By Leiji Matsumoto. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Zack Davisson.
These Emeraldas stories we see in this second omnibus tend to be fairly stand-alone and separate from one another, connected only by the interlocking narration of our titular heroine – indeed, sometimes the narration gets so interlocking it’s hard to tell when the chapter breaks are, which I’ve no doubt is somewhat on purpose. This is a long, endless journey through space. There’s no real destination, there’s no particular character development – Emeraldas is who she was at the start, and Hiroshi Umino may be hiding his identity behind a fake name, but is still essentially the same as well. So what you get in this volume is the delight of the scenery along the way, with Matsumoto’s sparse yet compelling art portraying a vision of space that its readers long to visit, even though they know that, since they aren’t Emeraldas, it’s likely they’ll end up as dead as most of the people in this book.
If you’re wondering where this takes place in the Harlock/Emeraldas/GE999 canon, the answer is “slightly early”, as we get a few shots here of Emeraldas observing (and really, that’s pretty much all she does) a short, teeth-filled man who faithful readers know is Tochiro, who will eventually be the love of her life. For the moment, though, the reader merely observes him dealing with life in a very Wild West-influenced outer space – much as Emeraldas is a grand Wagnerian opera, there’s also a large chunk of Hollywood Western to it as well. Of course, we’re not actually telling the story of Tochiro and Emeraldas yet, so which they interact, they eventually move on, just as everyone else does. Emeraldas is an anthology, and as such rarely stops to take on backstory. Still, it’s great to see him.
The series ends with a few short stories. The second one feels very much like the rest of the book, and is quite poignant. The first one… does not. I’m sure that in a collector’s sense the Matsumoto fan is delighted with its presence in this book, if only for the sake of completeness. As someone who’s read the rest of the series, however, the story of Emeraldas and her goofy female pirate crew running into Harlock and his male crew in an effort to find a treasure map feels like finishing off dinner at a 5-star restaurant with a bag of Doritos. I’m not sure if this story came out well before the rest of the book – I’ve been burned saying things like that before. But it FEELS like an earlier work, and while it’s quite funny in places, and it’s nice to see Harlock, I found its presence in the end simply jarring.
But that does not take away from the grandeur of the main work, and it’s been a treat reading Queen Emeraldas in English. It’s even more of a treat knowing that more is coming, as we have Harlocks both new and classic in the near future. Can a Galaxy Express 999 re-release be far away? (OK, probably, yes, it can.) In any event, classic manga lovers, fans of space opera, or even pirate kids will greatly enjoy this series. Long may she sail through the stars, narrating gravely as she goes.