Leiji Matsumoto is one of those names that you hear all the time when you start getting into anime and manga, often in sentences that start with “classic authors like…” His most famous works include Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999 and Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and Queen Emeraldas is certainly a lot closer to the latter than the others, though they obviously all share similarities in terms of setting. Emeraldas herself is a Space Pirate (and a Captain, I guess, as she has no crew…) and is in the same universe as Harlock, confirmed by various characters talking about the character.
The stories in this pleasingly hefty and well-crafted book (more on that later!) can be broken down into two categories: stories centred around Hiroshi Umino, a kid who wants nothing more than to travel the stars in a ship he’s built himself, and stories centred around Emeraldas, which is normally her arriving just before or after Umino and gently helping him achieve his goals, as they were goals she had at that age too.
The Umino stories are the heart of the piece, though they are often quite harsh. More often than not, the unpleasant adult types try to kill him for one reason or another, leading to the poor boy having to kill his fair share of people to achieve his goals. It doesn’t seem to bother him too much, and he often justifies these actions by saying he was upholding the “laws of space”. He does meet a few friendly people, though they frequently encounter rather unpleasant fates themselves. Umino is quite hard to like after a while. First you’re happy to see a boy with a presumably unpleasant upbringing chasing his dreams against all odds, but after a while you want him to stop being so cold and stoic and be a bit more… child-like. It probably doesn’t help that Emeraldas is also cold and stoic, so I guess I was expecting a more contrast to the two story types, even if she is following him around because he reminds her of herself.
Having said that, the Emeraldas stories are a bit more varied. Sometimes she just arrives in classic “bad-ass” cloaked fashion, everyone makes fun of her, finds out who she is, regrets their decision and then gets killed in either a fair duel or as they’re running away. There is a story about her background and how she met her faithful ship, the Queen Emeraldas (it has the same name as her, coincidentally… or perhaps not so coincidentally? We don’t know yet) which includes an interesting planet full of huge cities that has been completely abandoned by its natives and is now in the control of a small band of colonists. They refuse to share any of their now ample resources with anyone, despite having literally entire cities that are empty. It’s wandering the deserts of this near-empty world that has her come across the ship and its mysterious owner (who, it seems, gives the ship to Emeraldas as she reminds her of herself…).
The art is an interesting one. Emeraldas and a few soldier types are drawn very realistically, very thin with properly defined features, whereas the kids and some of the more regular people (doctors, mechanics et al) are drawn in a very cartoony style, full of big noses and hair that completely covers characters eyes. It reminded me of the original Gundam series, where the children and a few character looked cartoony, and the rest presented as regular looking people. I assume this isn’t a coincidence and that Gundam was simply using a style that was popular at the time, probably due to Leiji Matsumoto’s earlier work.
The last two stories in the book have never been reprinted before and actually had the original manuscripts lost (they were scanned from the magazine they appeared in), so although they didn’t feel any different to the other stories in this volume, it’s always nice to hear of more material being collected and released rather than being left to fade away. The book itself is of very high quality, hardback with top quality glossy pages. A lot of love and care has gone into this release.
So, overall, do I recommend you pick up Queen Emeraldas Vol. 1? Well, if you’re a fan of sci-fi, particularly more pulpy, 60s sci-fi, then there is a lot to enjoy here, likewise if you’re a fan of vintage manga or Leiji himself (though I imagine if you are, you don’t need to be convinced to buy this!) Otherwise some of the story points do start to wear a bit thin over the 400 odd pages, the amount of times someone dies due to the “harsh laws of space” was starting to grate a bit, and Umino’s custom ship crashing was a bit overused to get the story to a new location. Still though, there are a lot of fun sci-fi ideas, some great art and all collected in a very lovely hardback book. If you’re on the fence, I definitely give this book a high recommendation.