Heroic, enigmatic stoics are the bread and butter of Leiji Matsumoto's work. Known for creating the now-monumental Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express universes, he has mastered telling stories of brave souls we know little about but appreciate because of their loyalty to the truth and to others. In Maetel Legend, two heroines from two very different places in Matsumoto's universe--Maetel and Emeraldas--get a back-story that indelibly links them and reveals some of the motivations that have driven them through over 25 years worth of stories. As a fan, I enjoyed revisiting these characters and learning more about them. As a critic, though, I found that Maetel Legend doesn't work well split as it is into two episodes. What could have been one great hour-long show sours as the same notes get hit over and over again.
We are introduced to the planet La Metalla, which orbits around the Earth and Sol once every thousand years. Due to cosmic circumstances, the planet has pulled away from its closest sun, becoming a barren, frozen wasteland. As the show starts, several key leaders of the world have become mechanized, trading in their fleshly bodies for ones made completely of metal. Ostensibly, this should relieve them of any worries about starvation or exposure to the elements, and it could very well lead to immortality.
Emeraldas and Maetel's mother, Queen La Andromeda Prometheum, decides to undergo the process as well to see if it is suitable for her people. What her evil counselor Hardgear has failed to mention is that the process robs people of their souls as their parts become android-kind. Torn between their love for their mother and the desire to escape before they are forced to become automatons themselves, Maetel and Emeraldas do everything in their power to stop Hardgear before being forced to abandon their home and becoming exiles aboard Three-Nine, the galactic train that connects virtually all ports in the universe.
As someone who has followed with great interest the many and varied versions of the Harlock and 999 stories over the years, I enjoyed understanding more of the history behind these two characters. Events within the show make it a lot clearer why these two are roaming the cosmos and act the way they do. Matsumoto has promoted what I call "the cause of the human soul", elevating sacrifice, humility, heroism, and humanity in all of his work. He is very effective here in that concept, making the transition from human to machine a dark and disturbing process that brings up countless other arguments about how we treat human life in the modern age. Matsumoto also brings an artistic style and retro kitsch that is simply unseen in modern settings except for in his new anime, which makes me smile.
But before I make it sound like I love all things Matsumoto, I need to state for the record that Maetel Legend is one of the least important and least impressive entries in his canon to date. This sucker is flawed big time. In fairness, the first episode almost achieves everything it sets out to do. It clearly establishes the characters, the story, the ethic, and the inevitable outcome. I thought it was great. But what a piece of crap the second episode is! It adds nothing to the first episode and attempts to suck what life was there away.
It's in the second episode that internal inconsistencies come blazing at us. For example, Maetel has a gun that stops automatons by means of an electromagnetic pulse. When her weapon is lost and turned on her, she reacts as if she's in danger. Problem is, an EMP only works on machines--it couldn't do a thing to Maetel. There are several other massive blemishes like this on the story's fundamental points. It's in the second episode that we see footage from the first episode reused time and time again, smacking us with platitudes like an Advil headache in the back of the skull. And it's in the second episode that Queen Mom becomes the anime equivalent of Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction--why the heck won't she just die already? The last ten minutes of the second episode could simply have been attached to the first and made for a pretty fine show. Instead, the second episode almost ruins the whole experience.
I still love Leiji Matsumoto's work, and as his new shows get released in America, I know I'll take each new DVD for a spin. I can't help it; his shows touch me. And in the end, I can't be overwhelmingly harsh on Maetel Legend because it fills in some gaps. It will please many a fan. But the newcomer to the Harlock world should first go check out the classics like Arcadia Of My Youth. Frankly, this is just filler until the next great Harlock chapter comes out.
Maetel Legend -- some disturbing imagery, violence -- C