Genre: Sci-Fi/Space Opera
Year Released: 1999
Distributor: Unlicensed (DVD formally available from ADV Films)
Running Time: OVA, 4 Episodes, 30 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: Galaxy Express 999, Captain Harlock, Cosmo Warrior Zero, Maetel Legend, the “Leijiverse”, etc.
For Fans Of: Galaxy Express 999, Firefly, Crest of the Stars , Star Wars, Hakugei: Legend of the Moby Dick, Outlaw Star
-This OVA series takes place after various events in Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock.
-Only the first two episodes were released in America.
-To those of you not familiar with Leiji Matsumoto’s other works, this is the same guy responsible for the Daft Punk music videos for the Discovery album (One More Time being the most famous one) and Interstella 5555.
I’ve heard of this anime a while back during my otaku days. I remember seeing the trailer for this short series on one of ADV Film’s releases. It looked very interesting even with all the retro designs that I wasn’t used to at the time. My only other experiences to Leiji Matsumoto’s works years ago were the first five episodes of Galaxy Railways and the One More Time music video by Daft Punk. Matsumoto does have a unique art style which is totally his and I do appreciate that. Once I watched Queen Emeraldas, I admit that I was underwhelmed.
Watching the opening credits made me feel ambivalent. The opening song was epic and had grand instrumentation that demanded my attention. However, what really distracted me was the dated CGI used for the ships. The spaceships have great designs especially the titular Queen Emeraldas ship looking like something a space pirate would ride, but they were hampered by obsolete computer graphics.
For the story proper, it deals with the unintentional main character Hiroshi Umino. He’s a boy who’s trying to survive on his own in this galaxy. He tries to go on a ship that’s bound for Earth, but he ends up working at a saloon despite being way too young to work in one just so he can prove that he’s a strong individual. Not surprisingly, some trouble shows up with the Alfressian Empire wreaking havoc and one of their officers by the name of Captain Eldomain who begins shooting up the place until he’s confronted by Emeraldas. She’s a tough pirate queen with a scar on her face who doesn’t take crap from anyone. She’s furious at Eldomain and the Alfessian empire for daring to have the skull and crossbones on their ship’s insignia because only two people in the universe are “allowed” to have it: Emeraldas herself and Captain Harlock (who makes a very brief cameo in the first episode). The first two episodes deal with the Alfessian Empire while the last two involve one shot adventures against other villains.
Hiroshi is a bit stereotypical and would fit in a bunch of other shonen series, but there’s something likable about him wanting to be stronger and braver even when the odds are stacked against him. I was also surprised to find out that his voice actor was none other than Megumi Hayashibara (Lina Inverse from Slayers, Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Atsuko “Paprika” Chiba from Paprika, among many more). She usually doesn’t play male characters, so this was totally against type, but she nailed it in portraying this character.
Emeraldas should’ve had a much larger role since her name is in the title. Then again, that’s saying nothing about how her spaceship is named after her. Huge ego, much? She is the most competent fighter compared to all of the other heroes in this OVA, but while I wanted to like her more, she comes across as way too powerful. Emeraldas easily shoots or stabs anyone who opposes her and she never loses any of the fights she’s in. I know I’m going to get crap for saying this, but she’s an invincible hero which is a big turn off for me. Maybe she’s different in other parts of the vast Leijiverse, but if this was one’s only exposure to the character, someone could make a legitimate argument that she would be a Mary Sue.
The world building used is good though. I like the space western aesthetics with the desert planet towns, the saloons, and retro-futuristic designs of the weapons and ships. The animation for the most part does give life to the characters and scenery. The hand drawn aspect works great and Leiji Matsumoto’s designs work really well especially in the first half of the series. With that being said, the quality can be mixed to positive. The regular two-dimensional animation is fine, but the CGI is dated and the computer-enhanced backgrounds are incongruent like some scenes where Emeraldas is inside her ship. She stands out way too much there. Also, there were two animation studios responsible for the OVA. OLM did the first two episodes while MAC (Multi Access Company, not the cosmetic company or Apple Computers) did the last two episodes. Both do a decent job in animating, but I feel that MAC’s animation involving Matsumoto’s characters made them look less Matsumoto-esque.
Speaking of the character designs, Leiji Matsumoto’s art style has it’s own pros and cons. He has a striking look with several different characters with the hair styles, eyebrows, and facial features. The male characters do have their own unique looks more or less, but several female characters have the same willowy body, flowing hair, ridiculously long eyelashes, and the same facial features. Not to mention that this is one of the few “retro-looking” shows in the nineties that retain that signature look instead of being modernized. The only other exceptions I can think of that came out that same decade that still looked retro would be Giant Robo and the Jungle Emperor Leo movie.
As for the content of the OVA series it really depends on how knowledgeable one is about the Leijiverse. If you have seen other things like Galaxy Express 999 or Captain Harlock, then you would have no qualms about watching this series given Emeraldas’s connections with other characters like Maetel, Harlock, and Tochiro. However, if you have little to no experience in viewing anything involving the greater Leijiverse paracosm (Interstella 5555 isn’t part of this canon), then you will be confused. There are a few cameos and flashbacks regarding some of the other characters, but someone uninformed would be scratching their heads while wondering why they should care.
Queen Emeraldas is an alright OVA if anyone wants some anime sci-fi action. There are good things like the space battles, Hiroshi’s character arc, and the designs of the technology used in this futuristic space western series. However, the pure untouchable nature of Emeraldas, some storyline aspects, and the disjointed nature of the last two episodes do hamper it a bit. Any Leiji Matsumoto fans should check this out, but anyone else may need some extra context before really diving in.
-Great world building. It feels and looks epic .
-Splendid scoring and theme songs
-Good action and fight scenes
-Hard for non-Leijiverse fans to get into
-Emeraldas’s invincibility in the OVA
-Dated CGI and some inconsistent animation
Adjustable Score Options:
Add 2-4 points if you’re a fan of Leiji Matsumoto
Subtract 1 point if you want your sci-fi to be more straightforward
Final Score: 5/10 points
Content Warnings: Definitely teens and up. Some violence is there and people die, but it’s on par with the more recent Star Wars movies. There’s some language and some fan service involving some of the female characters. Also, kids wouldn’t get some of the themes of war and sacrifice.
Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.