Queen Emeraldas Anime Review
/ OVA / Action / 10-up
Its strengths are also its weaknesses--old school sentiment with loads of modern style and an overdose of cool.
...Leiji Matsumoto does Sol Bianca.
US Release By
Old-School Space Opera
4 approx. 30-minute episodes
1998-06-05 - 1999-12-18
What's In It
- Large Scale Space Battles
- Super Technology
- Blimp-shaped Pirate Ships
- Captain Harlok Cameo
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 0 (none)
- Sex: 0 (none)
- Language: 1 (mild)
The spacelanes are a dangerous place--travelers live in fear of the mighty Afressian empire, ambushing and wreaking havoc on any passing ship that catches their eye. But one captain and one ship have the power and will to stand up to them: Emeraldas and her ship the Queen Emeraldas, one of the mightiest vessels ever built and sister ship to that of the legendary Captain Harlock. They come and go as they please, and none who defy Emeraldas and her ship survive long.
Hiroshi is an orphaned boy full of anger and determined to rely on no one as he travels through space. When he stows away on a freighter that comes under attack, his fate becomes connected to Emeraldas' when she appears and saves the day.
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Part of the vast canvas of Leiji Matsumoto's universe, Queen Emeraldas is archetypal and straightforward enough to stand completely on its own, but also features a number of tie-ins, both explicit and not, for existing fans. Either way, it takes old-school Matsumoto flavor--a story that is sweeping in scale but centered on personal development and character-building, an orphaned boy striking out on his own, and a way-too-cool hero--and updates it with a slick modern visual polish. Its biggest strength is how good it looks; despite some slightly-too-classic moments, it is a retro-future tale loaded with style and quality action. Its biggest weakness is that it is what it is: The story is unashamedly old-fashioned, and Emeraldas is so cool she'll give you an ice-cream headache--she's so cool she doesn't even need to dodge.
If you're a fan of Matsumoto's related stories, I'm guessing you'll like this one, but familiarity with the world isn't a prerequisite and anyone who enjoys a good space pirate tale or heroes so cool they're almost frozen will probably have a blast.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Queen Emeraldas fits into the broad canvas of loosely intertwined stories painted by Leiji Matsumoto, which includes famed series like Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock. As with many of the OAVs tied into the Leiji-verse, Queen Emeraldas is archetypal and straightforward enough to stand completely on its own, but also features a number of tie-ins, both explicit and not, for existing fans.
Not being a particular aficionado of Galaxy Express and its kin, I approached the series as a stand-alone work. From that perspective, Queen Emeraldas is an interesting combination of old-school Matsumoto style and slick modern visuals. For all the polish, it has everything you'd expect from a classic Matsumoto yarn: A story that is sweeping in scale but centered on personal development and character-building, an orphaned boy striking out on his own, and a way-too-cool hero.
The cool overload is actually my main gripe with the series. I've never cared for uber-cool protagonists (I can't stand Golgo 13, for example), and Emeraldas is so cold she's liable to give you an ice cream headache. It's so overboard it occasionally feels like some kind of feature-length Chuck Norris joke.
For example: Emeraldas is so cool she doesn't even have to dodge--she just stands there looking badass and warding off oncoming laser fire with her steely glare. (On two separate occasions, in fact.) Yes, bad guys can't hit the broad side of a barn if the good guys are hiding in it, but that's taking it to another level.
Another: Emeraldas' ship, the narcissistically-named Queen Emeraldas, doesn't get into space battles--it gets into space massacres. At one point an entire fleet sits there blasting away at the Queen Emeraldas for all it's worth until Emeraldas decides to press the "win" button and more or less obliterates everything in all of 30 seconds.
That kind of thing just annoys me--even the most remote pretense of realism is thrown out an airlock in favor of style, and there's no sense of urgency or drama. I'll admit, there's a certain appeal to majorly badass heroes, and some people go for that kind of thing, but Queen Emeraldas takes it way too far for my taste.
Otherwise, the story--more or less a Western in space--captures the "individuals embodying a greater struggle" theme relatively well. Of course, true to the old-school anime feel, it's also heavy-handed with the moral. In this case, it's "no man is an island"--make trustworthy friends, and you'll go places. Well, that and "If you're cool enough you can take out just about anybody without even trying very hard."
The characters are archetypal, but there is some development. Emeraldas, in particular, has that air of deep, suppressed emotion that the best supercool heroes often do. She wasn't always this cold, and there's still something of her old self hidden deep down.
Putting everything else aside, Queen Emeraldas is a visual spectacle--easily the best looking of the Matsumoto-verse stories I've seen. The visuals are steeped in retro-future style with a distinct modern polish.
Loaded with spiffy locales and overdramatic posturing, the art is detailed and attractive and the animation fluid and flashy. The character designs, of course, are vintage Matsumoto--lanky and distinctive. To go with the wild west setting, there's even a backwater town straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie, complete with a shootout between Emeraldas... and a shuttlecraft.
On that note, the gun battles (with the exception of Emeraldas' inability to be shot) are good stuff. I particularly liked the solid feel of the laser blasts--energy weapons are rarely done this well. My only complaint is a classic anime standby that I'm glad has fallen out of fashion: Frequently, during moments of extreme action, a painted freeze frame is substituted for expensive animation. This series obviously had the budget to do without, even if it does add to the retro flavor. There's still plenty of worthwhile action; in addition to the gunfights look for quality space battles, a neat duel, and a surprisingly brutal fistfight.
Notably, the Queen Emeraldas is computer-rendered, and while the technology used is now a little antiquated, it fits in well enough. That said, for those unfamiliar with this series' kin, she's a funny looking spaceship: Sort of like a giant blimp with an old-fashioned sailing ship for the gondola. Whether that's unusual in a good or a bad way depends on your taste in spacefaring vessels, but it's certainly memorable. The other ships are more conventional and nicely designed, as are the costumes and other hardware. A few of the guns, including nifty energized rapier/laser pistol combo deals, have an old-fashioned look that adds to the setting without getting too silly (which is to say they are actually effective weapons).
The background music is an orchestral mix of sweeping themes and Old West flavor; both styles fit well and sound good. The opening and end themes are also quite nice. The former in particular sets the tone and is a proper theme for Emeraldas herself.
The Japanese voice acting is mostly quite good. The supporting cast is distinctive, and Hiroshi--an unusual male role by Megumi Hayashibara--sounds about right. Emeraldas is voiced, as usual, by Reiko Tajima, who is a perfect fit for the role and gives a standout performance--cold, hard, and withering.
The English acting is passable but less impressive. Hiroshi (Martin Burke) and the crew are cast and acted quite well. Ruth E. Heyman is almost as good as Emeraldas; she handles the drama well, although she sounds too old and growls a bit much for the role (Emeraldas is supposed to be more icy than angry). The military fellows, unfortunately, are cast and acted rather poorly. I also took a listen to the French dub ADV includes, though all I can say for sure is that Emeraldas sounds good.
Summing up, Queen Emeraldas is old-school anime given a modern polish, but is still very much old-school anime, with all the trimmings. The character designs, the broad story, and the blatant message are a little too old-fashioned for my taste, and Emeraldas' way-too-coolness got on my nerves. On the other hand, it looks great, is generally an interesting story, and the characters have a bit of depth. If you're a fan of the Matsumoto's Leiji-verse stories, I'm guessing you'll like this one, but familiarity with the world isn't a prerequisite--anyone who enjoys a good space pirate tale or heroes so cool they're almost frozen will probably have a blast.
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If you liked this, you should of course check out the rest of Leiji Matsumoto's many related series. You might also have a look at Sol Bianca for spunky kid on an overpowered pirate ship and Space Adventure Cobra for seriously old-school (and incredibly campy) space opera with a bit of modern polish.
Notes and Trivia
Queen Emeraldas fits in Leiji Matsumoto's vast anime universe; often called the Leiji-verse (though I think Matsumoto-verse sounds better), it encompasses Galaxy Express 999 and the Captain Harlock franchise. Emeraldas and several of her acquaintances are ongoing characters in the assortment of stories, and Emeraldas plays a pivotal role in another of the newer spin-off OAV series, Maetel Legend.
Although there are actually four episodes in the series, ADV's 1999 release came before the second two parts were completed. While commendable for a timely US release, as of a decade later no one has ever bothered to release the other half, and even the first part quickly went out of print.
Although in the original TV series Emeraldas was voiced by Ikuko Tani, Reika Tajima has handled the role in most of the spin-off movies and OVAs. Tajima is a veteran TV actress with a huge list of live-action credits to her name, although she also, notably, voiced Oscar in the seminal shoujo series The Rose of Versailles.
A totally random note: In the little-known, very early CD-ROM game Spaceship Warlock (released in 1990 for the Mac and several years later for Windows), the titular pirate ship is vaguely reminiscent of the Queen Emeraldas. This was probably an in-joke by the creators of the game, referencing Captain Harlock's ship.
US DVD Review
ADV's DVD is quite nice, but as with most of their early DVD efforts, they missed the mark by a little. The video and audio transfers are nearly flawless to be sure--particularly good given the vintage--and the disc includes English, Japanese, and French dialogue tracks, as well as subtitles in English and Spanish. It has animated menus complete with music, an animated track index, and some short character bios.
The biggest problem with the disc is that it only includes the first two episodes of the series, and while it doesn't end on a cliffhanger (you might not even realize there isn't more to it), ADV never got around to releasing the second two.
Additionally, a few glitches--small, but severe even for the era--mar the disc. For one thing, they neglect to include the Japanese cast (ADV was usually good about that, too). Second, at least on my player, when I was watching in Japanese it suddenly cut to the French soundtrack a couple of times--weird. Third, (and this affects everybody), the theme songs are subtitled in English first, then Japanese (so you can sing along) on the second episode, as ADV usually does. But apparently the end theme was subtitled from another verse or something, because the words on the screen have almost nothing to do with what is being sung. Go figure. A final nit-pick, the subtitles at the very end of the last episode are mistimed, popping up well before they're supposed to.
Violent, but not extreme; probably 10-up, though some parents might find the violence more objectionable than others.
Violence: 3 - Violent, but usually detached (spaceships and such), with the exception of one particularly brutal fist fight.
Nudity: 0 - Nothing.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - None.
Language: 1 - Not noteworthy.
Formerly available in North America from AD Vision on a trilingual DVD (English, Japanese, and French) that includes the first two episodes (with no indication that there are two more), long out of print. The same was also simultaneously released on subtitled and dubbed VHS, now out of print. ADV never released the last two episodes in the series.
Used copies are available and relatively affordable at Amazon: Queen Emeraldas DVD.
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