OK, so what IS the Queen Millennial story? Our story follows the adventures of a young boy named Amamori ("rain-forest") Hajime (yes, a characteristic squash-faced kid who looks just like Hoshino Tetsuro from Galaxy Express 999) who becomes, oddly enough, one of the major players in a bizarre struggle between two planets. Our squash-faced hero of course must play opposite a Matsumoto Classic: a tall, gorgeous, long-haired woman: in this case, the mysterious Yukino ("snow-field") Yayoi, who is (of course) the Millennial Queen. If you've seen Maetel (Galaxy Express 999), you've seen Yayoi. (Of course, it turns out that Yayoi is Maetel's mother.)
(Actually, there is a very interesting analysis of Matsumoto's women in the version of these manga that I have. Not quite human, not quite machine, immortal yet motherly, human yet not human, they are (Sekikawa Natsuo writes) like prophetesses that link humanity with technology. An interesting thought.)
The history behind the Millennial Queen story is fairly complex. The key point of it is the Planet Rametal (Larmetal?), a planet within the solar system whose odd orbit brings it close to Earth once every 1000 years. Every passage has brought some kind of destruction to Earth, and the newest passage --- slated for Sept(9) 9, 1999, 9:09:09, is supposedly going to be one of the worst planetary encounters to date.
(Side note: Rametal/Larmetal is the first stop in the 1981(?) film "Adieu Galaxy Express 999," though it's much different!)
But Rametal is inhabited. More, it is inhabited by a signficantly advanced human-like race. Every 1000 years, for longer than recorded human history, Rametal has been sending a woman to Earth to "run" the planet and prepare it for the close-encounters between Rametal and Earth. She is the Millennial Queen, a queen-bee-like agent of Rametal who has significal power over Earth history. Cleopatra, for instance, was supposedly one of these Millennial Queens. The Japanese fairy tale about a little girl found in a bamboo, who later returns to her royal family on the Moon, is supposedly another example (in fact, this entire manga series might have been inspired by that legend). Unfortunately, this past-history aspect of the story is not deeply developed, and these little references are all that the reader really gets to see.
In any case, our hero finds himself in the midst of this bizarre history. Yayoi, the current Earth Millennial Queen Ra Andromeda Promethium, has seemingly come to love the people of Earth more than the people of Rametal. She has (it seems) decided to try to preserve the Earth people from the coming Rametal disaster by sending them to Rametal in huge space ships. As the story progresses, her once-secret organizations and plans rapidly become public. But her sister, leader of an anti-Millennial Queen movement called the Millennial Robbers (in fact, the sister winds up looking like pirate queen Emeraldas (see Captain Harlock)), seems to have other ideas. She (it turns out) believes that something else is occurring, and that people should not be moved off of Earth. She fights to keep people on Earth, instead of following Yayoi's plans to remove the population to Rametal. In the meantime, their home planet of Rametal is also in motion, and what might be called the Ueber Queen --- Yayoi's mysterious creator --- is manipulating things in the background. The series follows Hajime's story as he tags along with Yayoi --- who often seems more victim than queen, and oddly frail despite her super-human powers --- out to Planet Rametal with the Queen's convoy of human beings.
Unfortunately, the characters are not completely convincing. Yayoi herself does not quite strike one as the person responsible for a thousand years of human misery (though, as with Maetel, she wins the usual points for being mysterious, remote, yet accessible, strong yet frail, etc.). Our young hero Hajime, subject as he is to multiple brain-improvements (force fed knowledge via Rametal technology), grows somewhat distant from the reader; however, he also retains his Tetsuro-style innocence and indomitable spirit. The Ueber Queen of Rametal remains shallow, petty, and ultimately more like a spoiled child than like a real, complex character, much less a feared and tragic enemy. Much that is mysterious is explained away too easily, and much that needs explanation doesn't get the full treatment deserved. Even the dreaded deepest plot of the series, the double-cross underlying everything, is pretty tame, predictable, and not completely well-handled.
All that said, however, the characters are still memorable, even if they largely stay within the bounds of traditional Matsumoto archetypes. And of the characters, perhaps Yamori ("night-forest") is most memorable. A handsome Rametal agent in love with the Queen, he at first reviles Hajime and then comes to grudgingly respect him. If anyone has changed through the course of the story, it is Yamori. His unfortunate disappearance toward the end of the series is partially rectified by the bizarre ending of his story at the very end of the last book, but one feels the timing could have been handled better. His story might be the saddest of them all --- in some strange way.
(Actually, if one knows Yayoi turns into the evil villain in the original Galaxy Express 999, perhaps a bit like Darth Vader, then I suppose her story also has a deep tragedy to it as well -- but that is not even hinted at here.)
Perhaps the biggest flaw of the series is (as with some American SF novels I've read) its tendency to take the reader on an increasingly fantastic ride to the far edges of believability, without making sure the reader is firmly strapped in for the rough spots. In one particular American novel I'm thinking of, the triteness of some details, combined with the sheer magnitude of the ideas presented and a less-than-convincing presentation, worked out to equal a fun read that left an aftertaste of saccharin. So, the same with Sen-nen Jyo-ou, the Millennial Queen. Classic Matsumoto styling and flavor, but somehow missing a little bit of the depth and desperation that his older works had --- a spark perhaps unequaled since the original Galaxy Express 999.
Note: The story of Yayoi continues (and the story of Maetel and presumably Emeraldas begins) at Maetel Legend.
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