Aug 18
Robodaz

Available from HobbyLink Japan

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He Who Would Not Sell His Soul to the Devil…

Matsumoto Leiji is a most unusual creator, and though far too few fans of anime and manga know much about his corpus of work, there are very few creators in the modern scene who have not been affected by his unique work.

One of a handful of ‘Comic Gods’ (漫画の神), Matsumoto is perhaps best known for his work on the series Space Battleship Yamato, but he is also the creator of over 400 other titles – from girl’s comics to romantic space opera – including the classic series Galaxy Express 999 and Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Moreover, he has worked as an artistic designer on a number of non-media projects, such as his wife’s line of Licca-chan dolls, Daft Punk’s ‘Interstellar 5555’ music video, and a pair of Tokyo River Bus Company’s boats.

Perhaps the most important aspect of The Master’s creative output for me is the emphasis which he has always seemed to place on the heroic and classical qualities of his stories. As a young man, he seems to have been very critical of manga creators who were not willing to lift their own work beyond simple cartoons and aspired to follow the path being laid out by his contemporary creator, Tezuka Osamu.

What attracted me most powerfully as a young reader in England was The Master’s understanding of classical, heroic myth and the stories of Richard Wagner’s epic operas, as well as the European legends from which they themselves were taken. In all his series the influence of this heroic fiction can readily be seen, rooted in sweeping themes of moral desolation, human hope, and the eternal heroes who represent our own collective consciousness.

This is perhaps best known through the philosophy to be found in the often re-envisaged Harlock and Galaxy Express titles, however it is, in my view, no better exemplified than his series of World War II battlefield manga and anime.

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According to the Master, war tests the very root of all involved, as it asks good men and women to contemplate the selling of one’s soul to the Devil in a bargain that seeks to preserve the well being of one way of life at the utter ruination of another.

There are none who die well that die in a war, but how well one lives in such times defines more than just the person, but also the ‘people.’

In the Battlefield series, this concept is tested again and again, as individual stories are drawn out of the collective and exposed to the world.

In the first part of the OAV Triptych The Cockpit, the story ‘Slipstream’ sees Matsumoto and Kawajiri Yoshikai (Lensman, Ninja Scroll, Metropolis, etc.) creating a tale of a conflicted airman, trying to determine where the line that separates duty to nation from duty to self (or humanity) actually lies.

Luftwaffe Capt. Erhardt Von Rheindar is thrown into disgrace in the latter days of WWII for fleeing from combat after his wingman is downed by enemy fighters in the heat of combat. As a way to exonerate himself, he is assigned a dangerous but crucial escort mission: escorting a captured B17 bomber and its cargo: the prototype of the German Atomic Bomb, as well as its designer and his daughter (who, in a truly Wagnerian spin is the fiancee of Capt. Von Rheindar).

Boarding his Prototype Focke Wulf 152, he remembers the words of his sweetheart: “If we are attacked, let them shoot the bomber down, lest humanity has to sell its soul to the Devil”

As the mission is ambushed by a flight of RAF planes, Von Rheindar makes quick work of the attackers. However, at last what he calls the ‘German within him’ wins out over the ‘Nazi within the nation’ and Von Rheindar allows the final Spitfire to bring the B17 down in a cataclysmic explosion.

The confused British pilot has mere moments to contemplate the situation before Rheindar exherts himself once more, dispatches the enemy and turns his plane for the horizon, asserting that “though it makes him double a coward” he will be “the man who did not sell his soul to the Devil!”

1/32 Focke Wulf Ta152H-1 by Volks

Volks has something of a reputation for taking risks.

When they struck out of the 1/6 scale doll scene with their enormous Super Dollfie line in 1999, it was far from certain that this hybrid between traditional doll collecting and anime figures would be anything other than a flop…

History as already spoken on that one.

Year in and out the company still strives to ‘fill out the voids in the market’ and now, though still a small concern, has put out high-quality products in a number of key, and seemingly diverse, collecting areas – from the usual dolls, through HO scale rail stock to ultra high-grade plastic models…

…most specially in their 1/48 and 1/32 scale Super Wing Series.

Riding the coat tails of Tamiya and Trumpeter to a degree, Volks has, since 2010, been using their command of rapid prototyping and short-run molding technology to put out a series of plane kits which seem to be more works of art than simple models. However, according to Shigeta Hiroyuki of Volks’ Zoukei Mura, the differences between the Tamiya and Volks approach are critical. Tamiya has to calculate for a long-term run of kits and be assured of massive sales before being able to commit to a kit. This rather limits the sort of kits which can be produced, and the larger company has eaten a number of high-profile flops in the past. This makes bigger model companies cautious and conservative with regard to design and concept: consider how long the 1/32 scale Tamiya Mosquito took to get past the idea stage, despite the fearsome lust of the fans.

Volks, however, seems to live as a good pilot flies – by the seat of its pants.

Each time an SWS kit has come forth, it has hit a real notch in the market, seemingly rooted in nothing more than the desire of a fan out there to have a detailed kit of the plane in question. Perhaps it is a matter of Geekdom? I do not know for sure.

I do know, though, that my experience at the Tamiya design studio was overshadowed completely by the sheer power of the passion of the chaps working on the Zoukei Mura masters.

‘Going beyond the blueprints’ seems to be the ethos in this little group of fans/designers and I can well believe it. Kit parts litter the place, old photos and scans are strewn across desks, and heated debates over the most trivial details spread out to occupy entire work days.

The end result over the years has been but a small number of kits, especially in the 1/32 scale – each one, however unique in its own way.

However, let’s leave the assessment for the actual review, and content ourselves at the moment with a glance at the actual parts.

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This kit tickles my fancy in two ways – it comes right out of the Matsumoto Legacy and that appeals to the romantic in me. However it also re-awakens little boy in me, who gummed up large parts of an oak kitchen table, trying to put his first Airfix fighter together.

Let’s see how time has honed those skills… If at all!

Dr. Robodaz.
 

Comments

  1. I like the fact the head tittles in the manual are in fact in German.
    Always wondered what the attraction between the Japanese imagination, if you will, and the German language is? To me, as my sort of third native tongue, it’s not romantic at all, like say French, but more of a stark one.
    But in the Gundam universe it is all over the place, sometimes straight in your face and sometimes, what I fancy more, very subtle.
    A good example: in one Gundam universe there is a character called Lacus Cline (ラクス・クライン), which when heard in Japanese is pronounced as “Lachs”, at least to me it sounds like that. And in German it means salmon. When looking at the figure in question one can see the similarity as a metaphor, not literally like a fish….
    Is there any way you could clarify what this affiliation with the German language is?
    Thanks Dr. Robodaz

  2. I’m not a linguist, you understand… That being said, I do note a real uptake in use of German in Japanese society from the beginning of the Meiji period (along with French and, naturally English).

    I see this as marking the influence which a number of societies had on the rapid transformation of society – in education, industry and culture.

    Austrian and Ultimately Germany became known for supplying ‘New Japan’ with medical practitioners, engineers and music (Wagner was all the rage for decades).

    Remember that as Japan was looking out at a developed World in the 1870s, they had a choice of options, so they sought out the best that each country could offer.

    England for law, trains, ethnology and cars. France for law, science and literature and Germany for the education system (hence the sailor suits, even today), medicine and so on.

    This affinity is not a product of WWII, it is just part of that great cultural importation that took Japan from ancient Feudalism, to a more modern variety…

    The ghost of that passion still clings on in the language, as well as Matsumoto’s Wagnerian heroes….

    😀

  3. Dear Dr. Robodaz,
    Thank you so much for your clarification! I find it really intriguing how the German language came to be a part of the Japanese culture (for lack of better words).
    Yet another aspect of history learned from a great nation that always seems to grasp me with her myths, historical facts and folklore.
    Thanks again for your great wisdom and explanations of all the, at least for me, unknown facts

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