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Maetel Legend
 Dave Merrill  rates it:    

Being a Matsumoto fan from way back, let me just say that I'm prepared to cut the famous manga artist, and the animated works based on his manga, some serious slack. Sure, Harlock didn't do too much in Harlock Saga. Okay, so DNA Sights 999.9 didn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. I'm still ready to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when gems like Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy come along.

And then along trots Maetel Legend and suddenly the slack starts getting cut in smaller and smaller pieces.

It's not that Maetel Legendhas one serious fault. It has several serious faults, all of which combine to contribute to a lot of eye-rolling and nervous coughing among the Old Fart Anime Fan contingent. Sure, we like Matsumoto's work, but Maetel Legend isn't really the best to start with-- it's not representative of his work as a whole-- well, nobody bats a thousand-- in short, guys such as myself who grew up on Starblazers and the bad Roger Corman Galaxy Express dub and Harmony Gold's mutation Captain Harlock and the Queen of 1000 Years, and lived long enough to see the Yamato films and Arcadia of My Youth subtitled, we're doing some serious spin doctoring whenever the subject of Maetel Legend comes up.

Because Maetel Legend is pretty lame. The animation is dodgy. The script is iffy. The character designs are wonky. Even the music -well, especially the music - is sub-par. In short, it's not going to satisfy the long-time Matsumoto fan, and it's certainly not going to impress those who haven't yet been exposed to his work.

So let me cut to the chase. Maetel Legend is the story of Galaxy Express 999's mysterious beauty Maetel and Captain Harlock's mysterious beauty Emeraldas, and how they are actually sisters. It's also about how Yukino Yayoi, the eponymous Queen Millennia, is their mother, and how the planet LaMetal survived the cold of deep space after being thrown off into galactic emptiness at the end of the Queen Millennia film.

And let me just interject here how stupid it is that Queen Millennia, a film of intelligence and beauty, languishes in Copyright Hell without a legitimate American release. In a perfect world, you would have seen Queen Millennia, preferably in a theater with Dolby surround in order to fully enjoy the Kitaro soundtrack, and you'd know that LaMetal is a planet that passes by the Earth every thousand years, and the Queen of LaMetal resides on Earth and gets things ready for the conjunction, and the last Queen, Yukino Yayoi, thwarted her own planet's plans to conquer the Earth and instead returned to LaMetal to join it on its trip to the frozen reaches of the galaxy. You see, LaMetal's orbit had been altered and it wasn't ever going to come back to Earth.

So, as Maetel Legend opens, it's obviously several years after the end of Queen Millennia because Yukino has two teenaged daughters. LaMetal's artifical sun is going out and the planet is slowly freezing to death, and the chief scientist Hardgear has decided that the only way LaMetal's citizens are going to survive the cold is to become mechanized - to transfer the consciousness of every citizen into new machine bodies that will live forever. Naturally, because they are Matsumoto heroines, Maetel and Emeraldas are against such things, but Mom feels it's best for her subjects, and gets the treatment. Hardgear deposits a nanotechnological capsule in Mom's brain and it begins to replicate itself, in a very David Cronenbergian fashion.

Strangely enough, Queen Mom begins to exhibit uncharacteristically evil behavior. She orders full mechanization for all the citizens! Disturbed, Emeraldas and Maetel refuse mechanization and try to find out the strange secret behind Hardgear. Hardgear, the blood-drinking (yes, it's blood, and yes, he drinks it. I know, because the same shot of him drinking blood is used on four different occasions) evil robot guy, is going to mechanize the universe. Newly mechanized people are his evil slaves, because of the Evil Chip (insert Pentium joke here) he's inserted into everybody. This of course begs the question - where did Hardgear's evil chip come from? Who's pulling his strings? - not that the issue is ever addressed.

Okay, so if you ever saw the Galaxy Express 999 movie, you know where this is leading. LaMetal is none other than Planet Promethium, the Mechanization Planet, the planet that Tetsuro is heading towards aboard the Galaxy Express to get his mechanical body so he can destroy Count Mecha, etc, etc. So I don't think I'm going to be spoiling anything by telling you that, as things wind up, the planet goes all-electric and Maetel and Emeraldas swear to do what they can to battle the Mechanoids and their plot to mechanize all life.

Which kind of begs the question - who is supposed to be watching this thing? Fans of Matsumoto's universe already know how this ends, and fans who don't are not going to be impressed enough by this video to care.

Maetel Legend is sloppy. The animation is surprisingly bad, especially in part two; characters run in place, scenes are used and re-used and re-used, and there are sequences that literally make no sense - things appear out of nowhere, characters are on the ground one moment and flying in a jet car the next, with nothing to show how they got there. There are a few scenes with some badly-animated dogs that rank right down there with Diatron Five or Goldwing in the cheap-animation department. The first episode has the thick-line fake manga character designs seen in Harlock Saga and The Cockpit, but that's abandoned for the second episode, which at times resembles bad fan art. There's a certain stock 3/4 shot of Emeraldas that every fan artist - myself included - has failed to master. You know how the hair always looks too flat and the high collar simply doesn't work? Well, Maetel Legend can't get it right, either. The teenaged Maetel and Emeraldas have gigantic eyes and heads a size larger than normal- larger than the normal Japanese animation proportions, which means they look positively freakish at times. And don't even get me started on the noses.

The script is a mess, too. It's depressing enough to see the Millennial Queen get all funkified and machined-up, but eighty minutes just isn't long enough for a character to go from Martyr to Machine - not in a logical fashion, anyway. There's your typical the-bad-guy's-dead-or-is-he business towards the end of the first part, and a subplot involving the only two supporting characters and how they - surprise! get turned into machines. You know, I never minded the spear-carriers getting mechanized in Galaxy Express 999 - it meant you were going to learn an Important Moral Lesson about how you should Value Life. Well, in Maetel Legend getting mechanized means you become evil, and that's all there is to it, end of story.

Probably the most grating aspect of Maetel Legend is the music. The music is rotten. It's bad video-game music, performed by robots (well, that's kind of fitting) and inappropriately placed, and it makes getting through this video a distinct chore. By the third or fourth time you see Headgear huff down that glass of blood, the finger starts moving towards the fast-forward button all by itself.

I would give this thing the benefit of the doubt and just say "Well, it's nice they did a little video to fill in the gap between Queen Millennia and Galaxy Express 999," except they already filled in this gap at the end of Adieu Galaxy Express 999. This is a story they really didn't need to tell, told in an inept, half-hearted fashion. Heck, at the very least they could have shown us the origins of the feud between Maetel and Emeraldas - the duel we saw in the Galaxy Express 999 "Emeraldas" TV special, back in '79. Did they disagree over how best to stop the Mechanized Empire? Fight over who had to handle Mom over the holidays? Was it over a guy? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Not that I'm suggesting they make any sequels to Maetel Legend, mind you.

Actually the best part of Maetel Legend is the dubbing. Yeah, that's right, the dubbing. Everybody does a swell job - even Jam, the requisite chubby potato-head kid, is aptly voiced by Jimmy Zoppi. Lisa Ortiz makes a great Maetel, and believe me, I've heard some bad ones. Neil Nadelman's translation and ADR adaptation even includes a scene where one of the evil robots screams "EXTERMINATE!" and Rachel Lillis' Millennial Queen puts Harmony Gold's "Olivia" to shame. (Though I will say that my favorite Emeraldas voice is still the nameless actress from New World's Galaxy Express dub -an absolutely menacing performance.)

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So let's not say that Maetel Legend is without its charms. Even I have to admit that the idea of a cutesy teenage Emeraldas running around blowing stuff up isn't entirely a bad one. Not bad in concept, perhaps, but certainly problematic in execution. Maybe there's a good bit of anime to be wrenched out of the space between Queen Millennia and Galaxy Express 999. Maybe - but Maetel Legend isn't it.


Added:  Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Related Link:  U.S. Manga Corps.
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