Leiji Matsumoto, Bushido, Manhood, and Womanhood, Part 2

Leiji Matsumoto, Bushido, Manhood, and Womanhood, Part 2

Queen Millennia DVD-small

Floating down from the sky, lovely angel queen it’s you,
Shaken from the long sleep, lovely angel queen it’s you,
Touching others like a child, loving others for a while
Come and take my hand, my heart,
In time we will be together

[Read Part 1 of Leiji Matsumoto, Bushido, Manhood, and Womanhood here.]


Recently, I watched the 1982 film adaptation of Queen Millennia. It was alright, not on the level of Galaxy Express 999 or Arcadia of my Youth. For those of you who don’t know, it is about a race of aliens on the planet La Metal, who, every thousand years, send a queen to secretly rule the Earth. In the far future year of 1999, the aliens are finally going to take our planet, but the current queen, Yayoi, has gone native. Conflict ensues. The movie’s plot is rushed and there are way too many scenes of apocalyptic destruction, to the point it gets boring. On the other hand, it has great sci fi visuals, and the scene where the boy Hajime climbs a skyscraper to rescue Yayoi during an asteroid bombardment is one of the most harrowing things I’ve seen in an anime. The film also has a wonderful soundtrack by Kitaro. There aren’t many things I miss about the 1980s. I distinctly remember being a little kid and wondering why everything was so awful. But I miss the days when bands used to do soundtracks. Tangerine Dream would routinely knock out sixty-minute synth-rock jam sessions that were better than the movies they scored (I’m looking at you, Legend). Toto brought their own brand of spice to Dune. And who can forget Flash Gordon and Highlander, fueled by the power of QUEEN.

But I digress. One thing I noticed is that Queen Millennia, in condensing the plot, loses some of Matsumoto’s themes. This is shown when Yayoi gives her life to stop her people from invading Earth. She gets a Spock-like space funeral to signify how she died with honor. This is not what Matsumoto did with the character in his comics. In fact, a woman making an honorable self-sacrifice is antithetical to the Leijiverse.

That is not to say a woman can’t live with honor in these stories. The Leijiverse is filled with females who follow bushido. But the absolution of sin that comes with death is reserved for male characters. There are many males in the Leijiverse who, if not villains, provide complications for the heroes. Usually they are honorable men who are forced from that path, like Zoll of Tokarga in the Harlock cartoons, who fights alongside the alien invaders so they won’t destroy his homeworld. In every continuity, Zoll makes a heroic self-sacrifice. Matsumoto’s work is replete with these Return of the Jedi-style face turns. Lord Desslar, the villain of the first Yamato series, is trying to take over Earth because his world is dying. Eventually, he sees the error of his ways and joins with the heroes. Villains are often portrayed sympathetically, which is an interesting trend in the anime genre overall.


The female villains are also, often, victims of circumstance. However, this ability to regain lost honor is not open to them. They either die as villains or have to live with the compromises they made. This stems from Matsumoto’s exploration of bushido. He does not present a black-and-white world where honor and duty is easy to maintain. As Maester Aemon said, “We all do our duty when there’s no cost to it. Honor comes easy then.” Yayoi has to choose between her home planet and her adopted planet. In short, there is no way for her to win. On the surface, she makes the right choice by fighting against La Metal. However, she still has to rule that planet, a world that is slowly growing cold. It could be argued that this betrayal of her people to extinction is dishonorable. The Earthlings who she saved certainly give her nothing in return. So she makes questionable choices. The fate of La Metal forms the spine of the Leijiverse, ranging from Yayoi’s story to the climax of Galaxy Express 999, and the kindly heroine of Queen Millennia does not receive absolution in death. Her fate is entirely tragic.

Someone like Captain Harlock can always choose death before dishonor because he is symbolic of ideal manhood.  If he doubts his path for even a second, he ceases to be Harlock. There are male characters who show doubt, but this is a step on their way to becoming men. Not only does Harlock never stray from the path of honor, he is never put in the position where he has to. His crew willingly follows him to death’s door. Since he is a wanted criminal, he doesn’t have to worry about rebuilding Earth after he saves it, thus never having to make political compromise. In the Leijiverse, one does not have to be a man to be honorable, but honor is necessary for manhood. Thus, it is through the female characters that Matsumoto demonstrates the cost of honor. There are five female archetypes in the Leijiverse, all with their own relation to bushido.


The Beautiful, Mysterious Woman is actually the name of a Captain Harlock episode title. Funny, as that could describe almost every woman in the series. It could be applied to Maetel, Emeraldas, La Miime, Princess Starsha, and Yayoi. The Mazone in Captain Harlock are a whole race of them. The beautiful, mysterious woman always seems more than human. Her powers blur the line between science and magic. In Harlock, it is revealed that the Mazone have been on Earth for thousands of years, and are the origin for fairy legends. In Queen Millennia, it turns out that famous queens like Cleopatra were part of the alien race. The feminine becomes mythic. They all seem to be aspects of the same woman, a futuristic Lilith eternally cloned.


Individuals follow their dreams, as symbolized by space travel. In doing so, you will find glory. Terror. Trials. Beautiful and mysterious women! The feminine is used to represent the uncertainty that individuals face when forging their own path. This type of allegory harkens back to the fairy tale. For instance, Maetel is known throughout the planets for taking young men aboard the Galaxy Express, ushering them towards their destiny. She is no less than an intergalactic fairy godmother; a benevolent figure, yet powerful, capable of inspiring fear at times.

The Rapunzel-haired elf-woman synonymous with Matsumoto’s work can be either good or evil, but her intentions are never immediately clear. Matsumoto loves to build up the suspense regarding these characters. It is over a hundred episodes before the audience learns Maetel’s agenda. The poor potato-head male characters are often enamored with these perfect women (save for Harlock, who is above such things). There is, of course, all manner of subtext to be read into a universe where powerful women are alternately worshiped and killed by the thousands like the Mazone. The beautiful, mysterious woman can be your lovely angel queen or your worst enemy. She is what you find when you brave the wild.


The Girl at Home is another archetype. These are characters like Maya and Mira in Arcadia of My Youth, and Mayu in Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Maya in Sanksrit means “Earth,” and these characters are the terrestrial element in the space opera. Maya/u is the one who waits for the hero while he is at war; she represents what he is fighting for, a promise of domesticity once the battle is done. Matsumoto is employing a common archetype used in the propaganda of every country that has ever been at war, equating it with protection of the family. Lord knows the United States has had enough news stories and TV shows about patriotic combat wives over the last thirteen years.

What makes Matsumoto’s use of the archetype interesting, even subversive, is that the girl at home can be a samurai of sorts. Take Maya in Arcadia. She runs a pirate radio station in which she encourages the people of Earth not to surrender. The Illumidus forces are seeking her, and she is just as dangerous to them as Harlock. Maya (who is implied to be Harlock’s wife) is fighting the war at home while he fights it among the stars. Never once does she surrender. In the end, Maya dies for her beliefs. The notion of this frail woman not only being a freedom fighter, but helping Harlock find his calling, is part of Matsumoto’s subversion. The code once reserved for high-class men is now accessible to women. On the inverse, there is a bit of the “women in refrigerators” trope to her death, especially when coupled with that of Mira. The last Tokargan female never gets to be an individual, only a symbol of how her people are extinct by losing their mating capabilities. I understand the sentiment behind it, but the scene in Arcadia where the last Tokargan men mourn her death for this reason always felt creepy and possessive to me.


Another girl at home is Mayu, the daughter of Tochiro and Emeraldas. The ocarina-happy tyke is Harlock’s connection to the Earth. She is innocent, precocious, fun-loving and, in an interesting character beat, a Christian. When Harlock is in danger, Mayu prays for his safety in church, making her one of the few religious people in a very secular universe. Naturally, she gets kidnapped all the time. It makes me wonder why Harlock doesn’t just take her on the Arcadia, which appears to be the safest place around. Her unwavering loyalty to him also has elements of bushido.


Not only can the girl at home be a little girl, she can also be an old woman. This applies to Tochiro’s mother in Galaxy Express 999. While waiting for her pirate son to return, she gives Tetsuro the galaxy gun and cloak that make him resemble Tochiro. In her way, she continues the thread of reincarnation by passing the mantle from one hero to another. Like many of the mothers who Matsumoto grew up around, her son would never return from the battlefield. But there is strength in her perseverance.


A more prominent female role is the comrade. This includes Yuki Mori from Yamato, Kei Yuki from Harlock, and, more recently, Louise Fort Drake in Galaxy Railways. She is the girl who does not stay home, but follows her dreams to outer space. Unlike the beautiful, mysterious woman, the comrade is defined by how ordinary she is. Kei Yuki, for example, comes across as a regular Japanese girl: calm, respectful, feminine in speech and action. She talks in -desu/-masu terms and refers to her friends with the –kun suffix, a term of endearment commonly used by girls. Before she donned a sci fi jumpsuit, she wore a kimono. This doesn’t change the fact that she is a chief officer on a space pirate ship. She keeps her cool, and does not have a regular crisis of faith like her male counterpart, Tadashi Daiba. Kei is right at Harlock’s side in every battle. In short, she is the ultimate samurai.

Once again, Matsumoto redefines bushido for the modern era. Women’s liberation affected Japan as much as it did western countries, leading to an increase of women in the workforce. The world of 1970s anime/manga had female creators such as Matsumoto’s own wife Miyako Maki, as well as up-and-comers like Akimi Yoshida and Rumiko Takahashi. The World War-era girl at home was now the comrade of the 1970s. With the aforementioned archetypes, Matsumoto develops a feminine bushido. The women of his stories exude femininity, combining the socially designated traits of Japanese women with the bravery of science fiction heroes. As I said, Matsumoto is primarily interested in creating a sense of manhood in postwar Japan. Still, his work goes beyond this, opening the space for intellectuals, women, even children to live according to the warrior code. Not all of his women follow this code. Like Yayoi, some of them fail, and that failure brings the Leijiverse to its most complicated themes.

Continued in Part III here; and read Futuristic Myth: The Space Opera of Leiji Matsumoto here.

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[…] [Read Part 1 of Leiji Matsumoto, Bushido, Manhood, and Womanhood here, and Part II here.] […]


Your analysis of Mr. Matsumoto’s work was excellent. Thank you for the Leiji Matsumoto, Bushido, Manhood, and Womanhood article series, as well as the article Futuristic Myth: The Space Opera of Leiji Matsumoto; it was a real pleasure reading all of them.

If I may, allow me to disagree with you on your analysis of Mira’s death. I can understand why the scene in Arcadia of My Youth may seem a bit creepy and possessive to some, but I think you missed the mark when it came to analyzing the significance of her death and the reason Matsumoto crafted this scene into his timeless film.

To understand where I am coming from, allow me to begin by pointing out that throughout the film Arcadia of My Youth, a touch of the sublime continually drifts from Phantom F. Harlock I & II toward Captain Harlock, the 99th link in an unending chain of Pirate-Knight ancestors and descendants forever rooted in their homeland of Heiligenstadt, Germany. Bound by both blood and soil, this vertical chain of ancestors and descendants contains both a past and future, a Jungian collective memory of Arcadia reappearing in every reincarnation of the Harlock bloodline.

For Mira and the courageous Tokargan freedom fighters however, the great Tokargan chain of ancestors and descendants has broken loose; the death of Mira and the destruction of their homeland of planet Tokarga has reduced the remaining Tokargan men to nothing more than components without a past or a future, rootless, and without a purpose.

There are many reasons why Matsumoto may of included the tragic fate of Mira, her race, and her homeland in Arcadia of My Youth. Was it to make the Tokargan resistance fighters seem creepy and possessive? Probably not. I’m inclined to think it may serve as a critique to the modern-postwar zeitgeist in some way. While individuals are important, for some, its not me, its not you, its the chain that’s important; the ability for misty antiquity to lend its golden glow to each new generation of the different peoples on the planet, be they Germans like Harlock or Japanese like Toshiro.

Toshiro: “Harlock! So long as the blood of my descendants continues to flow, our friendship will not be forgotten!”

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