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Queen Emeraldas, Vol. 1

Queen Emeraldas, Vol. 1Queen Emeraldas, Vol. 1
by Leiji Matsumoto, translated by Zack Davisson
Kodansha Comics
Rating: Older Teen (16 +)

In the future mankind has taken to the stars, colonized other worlds and explored the vast reaches of space. There are few names known throughout the cosmos, but Emeraldas is one of them. A mysterious woman, alone aboard her massive ship The Queen Emeraldas, she eternally travels the sea of stars for reasons known only to herself. Created by the legendary Leiji Matsumoto, Queen Emeraldas, Vol. 1 represents one of the rare instance of his work coming to the U.S. thanks to translator Zack Davisson and the fine folks at Kodansha Comics.

Throughout the volume Emeraldas is portrayed as a mysterious and tragic figure, compelled by an unknown event in her past to travel the space ways in search of something. She presents a fairly compelling and almost otherworldly figure, one who’s shown to be capable of nearly anything and whose mere name is enough to send people running. She’s deeply intriguing and I immediately wanted to know more about her, so you can imagine my dismay when I discovered that the first volume is only partially about her.

Page from Queen Emeraldas, Vol. 1

Her eyes…!

For much of the book we’re stuck with a far less likable figure in the form of Hiroshi Umino, a young boy with dreams of traveling through space. That might make him sound like a plucky underdog who we can get behind and it’s clearly what Matsumoto wanted, but sadly that isn’t the case. Umino comes off as an unlikeable jack rude and also someone we’re clearly supposed to sympathize with despite his being a complete jerk. He treats everyone he encounters horribly and is hardheaded to the point where he’d be dead if it wasn’t for the unearned generosity of others. It’s one of the more baffling aspects of the volume. Nearly everyone he encounters ends up liking him despite his dickish attitude and they do so to absolutely ludicrous extremes. He’s clearly the weakest link in the series, but it seems like we’re stuck with him for the foreseeable future.

The artwork is lovely and Matsumoto’s layouts are surprisingly dense and do a fantastic job at ramping up tension and conveying a sense of disorientation that verges on the dreamlike at times. This is reinforced by Davisson’s translation which, as many others have pointed out, feels almost lyrical or musical at times. The artwork is clearly aged, but it holds up pretty well and Emeraldas’ character design and ship design are both memorable and instantly recognizable. Matsuomoto’s imbue’s Emeraldas’ eyes with powerful emotions that resonate despite the series age and the older looking artwork. At times her gaze is almost breathtaking.

Queen Emeraldas, Vol. 1 is a rare glimpse at the work of a classic manga creator who isn’t Tezuka. Those with an interest in the history of the medium owe it to themselves to pick this up. Even those who might not necessarily enjoy classic works may find themselves drawn in by the amazing mood and atmosphere that Davisson’s translation and Matsumoto’s artwork help build. It’d be nearly perfect if it wasn’t for that Umino. One can only hope that he won’t stick around for much longer.

Queen Emeralds, Vol. 1 is available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copiy provided by the publisher.

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