It has been with immense joy that I have noticed more vintage manga getting licensed for the North American market. Most recently, Kodansha has offered up Leiji Matsumoto’s Queen Emeraldas, in English (legally) for the very first time. I’m a couple weeks behind on my review of it, but I just knew I had to say a few words about what it means to me, and what I think it means for manga publishing in general.
Though I am familiar with Matsumoto by name and reputation, I had never had the pleasure of reading one of his manga. I knew Queen Emeraldas would be a little dated, having originally been published in 1978; and I know that I’m not easily impressed by science-fiction manga for whatever reason. But I love pirates - and more than that, I love lady pirates. I was so immensely thrilled for this book, and I’m glad that it met my high expectations.
Queen Emeraldas follows Hiroshi Umino, a young man who has escaped earth in his own hastily-built spaceship. He crash-lands on Mars and has a run-in with Emeraldas, the notorious and mysterious pirate. Emeraldas resolves to help the boy from afar, giving him advice but then disappearing with the promise that they will meet again someday. Meanwhile, Emeraldas keeps watch over him, while also pursuing her own, unknown-to-the-reader, goals.
The segments that tell Emeraldas’s story are my favorite. We learn of her own flight from earth many years prior, and of meeting her ship, the aptly named Queen Emeraldas, whom Emeraldas refers to as her life partner. These glimpses into her solitary life are such a boon to me as a woman reader; Emeraldas is allowed to be the stoic, serious, brooding loner with enigmatic goals and motivations - a role that is typically reserved for men. She is feared and respected, and she never gives in to “feminine sentimentality”; she kills if killing is necessary, stating that it is the law of space to do so.
I have only two complaints about this book, and they are minor. The first is that Matsumoto has a tendency to draw his women nearly identically, but this is old news, considering his lengthy career. The other is that I question the wisdom of printing a black-and-white book on glossy paper. While it lends a certain kind of prestige to a tome and really makes color pages pop, glossy pages tend to make black-and-white imagery appear flat, as well as increase the physical weight of the volume. Every time one of my fingers touched a large swath of black, a fingerprint was left behind.
Regardless of these minor setbacks, Queen Emeraldas is an absolute delight, and I’m looking forward to future volumes. Zack Davisson, who seems to be translating every book I’m looking forward to lately, has done a great job once again of taking old material and making it timeless instead of either too old-fashioned or too ultra-modern. He is able, with dialogue, to breathe mystery into Emeraldas, to accentuate Mastumoto’s dreamy illustrations of her.
I find it impressive, and perhaps telling, that Emeraldas has existed as a character since the 70s, but that until now, she has mostly been known to Western audiences as a sort of “female Captain Harlock,” if, indeed, people are familiar with Harlock at all. As a character, she stands on her own, and I look forward to recommending her series to women who are looking for a space opera that recognizes the multiplicity of womanhood.
(If you're interested in a glimpse of this manga before going and buying it, it appears that Kodansha is offering the first chapter for free on their website: http://kodanshacomics.com/series/queen-emeraldas/ )