Friday, April 21, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Alternatives to Star Wars - The Leijiverse

Leiji Matsumoto is one of the great anime legends of Japan. In addition to his role in contribute to Space Battleship Yamato, he went on to create other classics of Space Opera that (like Yamato) exerted great influence across the world ever since. Rather than give each work its own entry, I'm grouping them together under their fan-created collective name: the Leijiverse.

Captain Harlock is the most well-known entry in this shared universe. (And I say "universe" because the man doesn't give a damn about continuity, so don't even bother trying to keep it all straight- it ain't.) Here's a manly hero, often accompanied by other manly heroes, fighting many a wicked villain out of Romantic notions of duty, obligation, and a clear sense that This Has To Stop. The women in his life are willowly, feminine ladies- some combat-capable, some not, none to be taken lightly. The "opera" is almost literal at times, and there's star-faring for days.

Galaxy Express 999 is the second-best known and it borders on Fairy Tale at times, but this is very much a Boy's Own Adventure done as a Space Opera.

The hero is a boy out to turn himself into a full-conversion cyborg, but to do that he needs to ride on the titular space train to go to the planet where that happens. A mysterious woman hooks him up, on the condition that they travel together, and Adventure Ensues.

This is far more about the moral level of conflict than anything else, and what our boy hero goes through dramatically changes him. You see this clearly in the sequel, where our boy edges into adolescence, and he goes on another star-faring adventure that (again) changes how he sees himself and the universe. Later entries build upon this foundation, and we often have appearances by Harlock and Esmeraldas at critical points in the narrative.

Queen Esmeraldas focuses on one of the recurring heroines of the Leijiverse, Harlock's peer and counterpart, and as close to a tomboy as Matsumoto gets in most of his works. As with 999 this is a Boy's Own Adventure with the title character playing the mysterious woman role. The relationship is not the same, but similar enough; this is meant to follow 999 and its sequels so it falters a bit as a stand-alone story, but if you're watching this then you're likely already a fan.

The Leijiverse here has its share of action, adventure, and romance. No lightsabers as such, but you'll get your swashbuckling itches scratched here. The heroes are heroic, sometimes even when serving villainous masters, and the heroines are (even when they're Esmeraldas) feminine and make no excuses for it. If anime isn't your thing, try tracking down the manga versions instead.

Either way, this a treat and you should indulge in some of the best Space Operas to come out of Japan. They're not that hard to find at Amazon, but the prices vary by the product due to licensing issues; the streaming sites usually have the essentials, but I have yet to find one that has everything ever animated. Nonetheless, the Leijiverse is fantastic- just ask Daft Punk, who are a part of it now:

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