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  • "Maetel Legend" (2000) is a two-part made-for-video anime production that retells the origin story of two of Japanese artist-animator Leiji Matsumoto's most memorable heroines, Maetel and Emeraldas. Maetel is known to anime fans as the traveling companion of young Tetsuro in the series, "Galaxy Express 999" and its two movie spin-offs (1979, 1981), while Emeraldas is known for her appearances in the "Captain Harlock" TV series and the movie spin-off, ARCADIA OF MY YOUTH (1982), as well as her own two-part Original Animated Video from 1998, "Queen Emeraldas." The two heroines were also featured together in a GE999 TV special, "Eternal Traveler Emeraldas" (1980), also reviewed on this site, in which the two women fought a duel and we learned that Emeraldas was in love with Maetel.

    "Maetel Legend" reimagines the two women's relationship so that they become sisters on the planet La Metalle (which also figures in Matsumoto's "Queen Millennia" TV series, also reviewed on this site), a planet in the throes of "mechanization," a process in which the human population is pressured by the nefarious Lord Hardgear to convert to machine bodies through the use of an implant which multiplies within the body until all organic parts are replaced by machine parts. The Queen gets the ball rolling by submitting herself to the process and then encouraging the rest of the population to do so. The Queen's daughters, Maetel and Emeraldas, refuse to submit and wind up turning against their mother and Lord Hardgear, setting the stage for a violent clash of humans against machines (a common theme of "Galaxy Express 999" and other Matsumoto works). The Queen eventually regrets her decision as she sees her once beautiful body dotted with mechanical lesions that look like disease spots. Without telling any more of the story, it should be pointed out that the Galaxy Express "Three-nine" makes an important cameo appearance.

    One of the great qualities of previous Matsumoto anime adaptations was the stark, dramatic beauty and overwhelming emotional power of the hand-drawn artwork and painted backgrounds. Matsumoto's touch was evident in every shot, as if he himself had executed all the drawings. In the current age of 2-D digital animation, the process responsible for "Maetel Legend" and other recent Matsumoto adaptations such as "Cosmo Warrior Zero" (also reviewed on this site), the qualities of Matsumoto's artwork are diluted by the computer-created character designs and the computer coloring. The colors are lighter and flatter and the overall look much brighter than it should be. There's little of the atmospheric texture you get from paint-and-ink drawings. In "Maetel Legend," the character design is too rounded and the faces of the two heroines suffer as a result. Their long, flowing hair doesn't move around the way it's supposed to. It just kind of sits there, not quite hanging right, not flapping in the breeze in that attractive way it always used to.

    Still, MAETEL LEGEND does offer an exciting story and an intriguing new take on the legends of both Maetel and Emeraldas, two of the most revered heroines in anime. Overall, despite the limitations of the digital process, the animation and design remain impressive, particularly to fans who may not have seen the original "Galaxy Express" and "Captain Harlock" series. Such settings as the frozen planet, the abandoned underground city, and the sprawling futuristic city are delineated in an especially vivid and detailed manner.

    However, I continue to urge fans to locate "Eternal Traveler Emeraldas" and other Matsumoto works of the 1970s-80s to see for themselves the change in artwork from the hand-drawn to digital eras. Hopefully, an anime distributor in the U.S. will acquire the essential, missing works in the Matsumoto filmography and make them available in bilingual DVD editions.
  • A planet adrift in interstellar space -- dying. This is the story of technological and social evolution gone wrong. With her world no longer able to sustain life, the Queen of the planet LA MAETAL turns to the technician named Hardgear for a way for her people to survive. His solution is a procedure that comes right out of Clarke's novel 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY -- to transform the people of the planet into machines. The Queen, believing this to be the only way, foolishly submits to the procedure and commands all her people to submit to it as well. But it is not as beneficial as she was lead to believe. His techno-conversion technique has driven Hardgear insane. He intends to use the conversion of the people to conquer the Queen and her planet. Soon, the Queen realizes (too late) the horror of what she has done. As the machinery spreads through her (tele-screens popping out all over her like cancers) she feels herself (like her people) slowly loosing her soul and her sanity; even death is no longer an option for a machine. All that remains of her people in the end are her daughters Emeraldis and Maetel. They must escape the technological hell that has become their world -- and the monster that was their mother. They must escape, and warn the other worlds about the machines -- and one-day return.
  • While there is a lot to recommend about Maetel Legend both in concept and finished product, it's ultimately a poor film. Plot wise it's a retelling of Maetel's early life, which is usually unclear; at the same time the writers take the opportunity to tell the story of the Machine Empire. And since Leiji Matsumoto has trouble not including his other work we get a starting point for Emeraldas her sister, Her mother: the Queen of La Metalle and a bit of Galaxy Express 999 to flesh out the film.

    In short Maetel is a princess on the planet La Metalle, a planet with an irregular orbit, thus meaning its cycle around the nearest sun is reaching a cold stage and it's artificial Sun is dying. The Planet grows increasingly colder throughout the story, thus increasing the sense of doom. In order to protect her subjects and family the Queen decides that mechanisation is the only way to ensure survival of La Metalle's people. Enter Lord Hardgear, a robot / cyborg who provides the means for the job. Through the film, the characters are left to question mechanisation, will they still be human? Can Hardgear be trusted? Do souls and hearts remain? So for a fan of Matsumoto's work, there's lots to enjoy, questions to be answered, themes continued, except it's obvious that the film is meant to be an introduction, as well as a fan curiosity. The negatives, foremost the animation, while Galaxy Express 999, a TV series from over 20 years ago has shoddy mouth animation and at times sketchy character design, Maetel Legend has all the worst traits of modern animation and thus earns an air of respectability to Galaxy Express 999. The design is well detailed but unfortunately the animation has suffered leaving well drawn characters that 'slide', as in the backgrounds move or the camera zooms, a quick way of animating. However the few, yes few well animated scenes are re used over and over in dream sequences, repetition and in extra scenes. Anyone who's seem the film will wonder how many times Lord Hardgear can drink the same glass of wine.

    Next the story, While in concept everything sounds great, the finished product is in fact a series of conversations of plot which are repeated over and over to little effect, the number of times the characters encounter the same problems and learn the same things is practically insulting to the audience and the characters, which are seemingly much more articulate in former incarnations. Add to all of that some terrible character design, that seem lifeless, over exaggerated, and the audience is left with a movie so miss handled it might as well have been rewritten as a different film, at least the newcomers wouldn't be left baffled.

    And yet, it really has its moments, the ending at least is surprising. The plight of the citizens of La Metalle was quite affecting and rightly disturbing; I guess I find that whole man-machine theme distressing. It's hard know who to recommend Maetel Legend to, since it's not well animated, written or executed, plus confusing once Leiji Matsumoto's mandatory cross-referencing is introduced. However I can't help but brighten up when the magnificent entrance of Three-Nine occurs, now that's good cinema.

    1/5 stars out of 5, 2 if you're a fan.