Queen Emeraldas, Vol. 2

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.

Queen Emeraldas, Vol. 1

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.

Sometimes you don’t read a manga for its plot, or characters, or artwork. Sometimes you read a manga because of its mood. You need something that’s evocative, that’s lyrical, that takes you into a different headspace – that of pirate ships in space, and betrayal and heartache, and the repeated narration of a gorgeous scar-faced woman who seems to know she’s speaking to the reader. If you need this, I have good news for you, as Queen Emeraldas is all this and more, and it’s in an omnibus hardcover edition to book, with expensive paper stock. Of course, don’t just get it as a collector’s item. Get it because it’s Leiji Matsumoto at the height of his powers.


The Japanese audience, of course, is familiar with Emeraldas by the time this manga first appeared in the late 1970s. Matsumoto had carved out worlds for everyone – Galaxy Express 999, Space Battleship Yamoto, Captain Harlock – and she was part of the extended cast that flit through these worlds. Let’s just say if she reminds you of Maetel, that’s not an accident. No worries about being lost here, though, as this is her own self-contained title, where she plays a mentor role to a young, driven boy – Hiroshi Umino – who wants to build his own spaceship and go to space. These aren’t just hollow words, either. He does so twice during the course of this volume, though his drive is perhaps somewhat better than his spaceship-building capability. He keeps running into Emeraldas, who stops what she’s doing to prevent him getting killed by the many people and creatures that try to stop him. And along the way, we even get a bit of her own backstory.

Harlock was once rewritten to fit in with Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and reading this it’s not surprising that the two would intermesh – this is not so much a story as it is high opera, with Emeraldas functioning both as the title character and as the chorus. The manga definitely feels like a weekly title, and unlike similar titles the narrative makes no effort to smooth out the constant repetition of who Emeraldas is and why she travels the stars. But she’s not the only one. Characters expound upon their hopes and dreams, and except for Hiroshi, these dreams are mostly shattered or abandoned for various reasons. But their stories also serve to inspire and educate. There’s also some bad guys as well, and the manga does not shirk on the violence – one spoiled rich daughter who tries to have Hiroshi murdered is shot by a firing squad organized by her own father.

There’s not much ongoing plot to follow here, and the characters are mostly static throughout the book. You don’t care, though, because the book is thrilling, and moody, and shows you how cold and vast space really is, and how this can make many people as cool as Emeraldas is. It’s not so much a manga as it is a song. But you’ll want to listen to it again and again.