It is 2977 AD and mankind has become stagnant. Robots do all the work, the masses are kept tranquil by subliminal messages, and government officials are lazy, caring only about recreational activities like golf and horse racing. Captain Herlock has defied this insipid mentality, leading a group of like-minded rebels to a more adventurous life aboard the spaceship Arcadia.
A mysterious force known as the Mazone has invaded the Earth, taking the form of mysterious cloaked women that kill anyone who suspect their nefarious doings, such as Tadashi Daiba who is now on their hit-list. After his scientist father is ignored by the government and killed by the Mazone, he joins Captain Herlock and his ragtag group of pirates to assist them as they try to save humanity from the impending alien threat.
There is a reason this is considered to be one of the greatest anime series ever made. Take a healthy dose of outlaw vigilantism from the wild west, combine it with all your favorite pirate fantasy escapades, put it on a vaguely WWII-era stylized battleship, and set it in space. If you replace the six-shooter revolvers with plasma lasers that can double as rapiers, replace the battleship guns with ultra-powerful “pulsar cannons”, and replace the high seas and prevailing winds with gravitational anomalies and solar radiation, what will remain is about what you’ve got with Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Add one of
the most endearing and enduring characters anime ever produced, and this is the series you’ll end up with. It even comes complete with a seemingly-unstoppable alien invasion, a lush back story to fill out the appropriate pacing measures, and a gunfight/dogfight/fistfight in nearly every episode!
The animation is surprisingly good for its time. You can certainly expect reuse of footage, along with sometimes-choppy transitions or movements, but it holds up fine today provided you’ve got an appreciation for older animation. There are some slight errors in how the cells are layered (one of which includes lights illogically going through Harlock’s slightly-transparent chest, for instance), but all of them are minor, brief, and they don’t interrupt the flow/continuity at all.
The story is classic. Perhaps typical of Leiji Matsumoto, the story is a hardcore adventure tale, taking all the aesthetics & themes of the wild west, high seas, and last frontier and blending them together into a wonderful story of loss, vengeance, desperation, and hope.
The directing is well-done for its time as well, though in some ways this shouldn’t be TOO much of a surprise (considering it was directed by none other than Rin Taro, who also directed another one of Matsumoto’s big-titles, the Galaxy Express 999 movie, among others). Framing techniques, contrast, use of forced perspective, and generally well-placed shots are used to wonderful affect; add to the table his proficient editing and it isn’t hard to see why he receives praise.
The soundtrack is easily one of the most memorable to date, bringing the atmosphere, writing, and directing into a cohesive whole with its western-style instrumentation and tone. It uses music to blend together the themes of hopelessness and despair with the constant heroism, lonesomeness, and melancholy that exemplify the tone of the series, as well as the crew of the Arcadia and the oppressors they fight against.
So… why a 9 instead of a 10? To be honest, it was a tough call to make. In fairness, I believe that it deserves the 10 for its time, however, even by today’s somewhat retro-standards, I think there were a few things that it “could have done better”. The characters, while perfectly suited to their setting, atmosphere, and interactions, will fail to live up to many audiences’ ‘modern’ standards of development. The story may come off as contrived to some, possibly two-dimensional with only a few remarkable plot twists to others. The way the narrative takes its time fleshing out its history may cause some to complain about its pace. And of course there are the rather dated issues of character models, backgrounds, and general animation quality. I personally believe that these things are not “faults” or “failings” of the show at all; rather, I think they simply serve to highlight how well the show sculpted an epic narrative out of the varying resources, tools, and ideals it had at its disposal.
The 10 it deserves implies that nearly everyone will enjoy this title, which sadly isn’t true. It’s dated qualities will no doubt turn many away, and it’s superficially two-dimensional story may ward off those unwilling to see some of the more subtle things going on under the surface. It has aged surprisingly well in spite of this, however, or perhaps because of it—Captain Harlock’s determined, stoic, resourceful, courageous, and only slightly brooding character has been impersonated, regurgitated, and repeated many times at this point, but even when this archetype is reiterated well, it always fails to live up to the original. Harlock is one of a kind, and Space Pirate Captain Harlock is similarly one of a kind.
To me, 1978 is a special year in anime. We got so many good anime; I just have to watch them all. Of course, when someone says there is an anime about space pirates and by Leiji Matsumoto (Yamato series), shut up and take my money. It was also directed by Rin Taro, whom has directed many shows from Astro Boy Brave in Space to the 1999 X Movie. Basically, his stuff is a coin flip. Luckily this anime did not disappoint.
Set in 2977, this is a world where technology does most of the work like in The Jetsons, and humans have become so lazy
and relaxed like in Disney’s Wall-E. However, when a foreign “blue” alien invading race is bent on conquering Earth for their own reasons (sounds familiar), there stands only one man and his crew... Captain Harlock with his “strange” crew on the massive battleship Arcadia.
Much like in Yamato, the alien invader is incredibly interesting. However, unlike in Yamato, the characters are also fairly interesting with some development and decent enough back stories. However, when it came to deep explanations, deep back stories, deep anything, this is where the anime lacked the most. The viewer always felt like some episodes that became “destroy the alien ship of week” could have easily been replaced with more explanations towards almost anything or just left out completely. This was a real shame, but still manages to not take too much away from the action and story progression. One example of this is Harlock’s closest companion, the alien Miime. We are shown in one episode of Miime’s total backstory that tries to explain everything. It feels rushed and you want more. This is how the anime works. You will get answers, but they are extremely simplistic and are never touched on again.
The artwork, writing, story, and more are very similar to Yamato with some improvement, but there is no problem there and to be expected in Matsumoto’s work. Be prepared. This show has multiple side stories, a sequel that came out 20 years later, and a 2013 movie. This is a slower paced 42 episode anime. There are the occasional deep-gripping moments which were a real surprise, and had me fall in love with the show more. All-in-all, give the Space Pirate a try and if the first six or so episodes don’t convince you, then maybe it just isn’t for you.
"UNDER THIS FLAG WE SHALL LIVE IN ULTIMATE FREEDOM!"
"Only real men can understand stuff like this."
Ah yes, the reason why I tend to watch ANYTHING with the name Leiji Matsumoto attached. Let me first say that my five star rating is biased as I have happy childhood memories attached to this property and it was great to finish it after 30 years. What more could we want than the stoic badass known as Captain Harlock sailing the sea of stars fight evil and injustice with only his guts, moxie, and wits. For 36 years the space pirate has inspired hope and instilled fear in a
universe corrupt with hedonism and sloth. And here is where you get to see the birth of it all, this is what inspired sequel and spinoff after sequel and spin off and rightly so! How could this series end, and not leave you wanting more? Has any show been more inspirational to anime than Harlock? When I watch this show, I'm five years old again watching my dream unfold. So much so I can barely write a coherent review. I want to put, "WATCH IT IT'S GREAT!!! WATCH IT IT'S GREAT!!!" a thousand times and call it a review. but for the benefit of those who've never encountered Harlock I'll try harder.
It's about fighting with honor and conviction, for what you believe in; about taking up the reins of destiny yourself, answering to no one. Yes, I love it so much because I dream of being Captain Harlock. I wish for such as his. Now excuse me while I sip some (beer) and stare longingly at the sea of stars. "The sea of stars shall be our home, our only home!"
The seemingly endless afternoon I spent reading an Anime encyclopedia a few months ago did not only provide me with more insight on glorified child pornography than I would have ever imagined: it also displayed a mysterious picture of a woman under the title "Queen Emeraldas." Somehow fascinated by a few passages describing the Leijiverse, I spent some time researching Leiji Matsumoto on the internet and eventually ended up seeing Captain Harlock. I approached this, by comparison to most other anime, antiquity with high expectations. It turned out to differ quite fundamentally from my personal vision of warfare and human drama, but by no means
did it disappoint me. In this review I explain why.
After a quick narration that introduces earth, which has developed for 900 years from our time into a state of apathy and corruption, the story initiates with a form of episodic nature. The protagonist captain Harlock finds himself in trouble every time he visits Mayu, the daughter of one of his past comrades. As he is an outlaw, the prime minister on earth is determined to use Mayu in order to trap the infamous space pirate, but fails each time. Meanwhile we're introduced to other characters who eventually come to complement the crew on Arcadia; Harlock's space ship.
The story takes its time to pick up, but by the time you grow attached to the characters and the real point of the narration reveals itself, watching the show turns into an addiction. As an extraterrestrial race attempts to invade earth, Harlock and his crew sets out to protect the very planet they've abandoned. Known as the Mazone, their enemies engage in psychological and biological warfare in the name of their beloved but merciless queen Rafflesia. Turbulent space battles are combined with a profound sense of melancholia in an epic adventure that reaches admirable heights of quality. It relies more heavily on characterization than plot progression, but with plenty of twists up its sleeve, the story of Captain Harlock quickly leaves behind its initially boring episodes and blasts off towards awesomeness.
Though not below standard for its time, Captain Harlock is still unable to reach equal heights of splendor when it comes to animation that contemporary contestants like Rose of Versailles and Mobile Suit Gundam did. Movement tends to be awkward and the numbers of mistakes you find throughout the series are far too many to list. Admittedly though, the character designs of Leiji Matsumoto are what make the show stand out. Minor characters are usually subdued to a state of cartoonism but Harlock and other various noble characters we meet later on are somewhat detailed and well made. Women tend to have long beautiful hair and slender bodies and overall there's something unique over the proportions and the eyes of the characters that the otherwise poor animation benefits heavily from.
Unfortunately, the space battles are unable to reach compelling levels as the animation does not allow that to happen. This is not a particularly big loss as the primary focus on the show lies within the characters and dialogue. It might put some people off though.
The soundtrack is equipped with a large variety of instruments and several songs designed specifically to fit the content of the story. As such, the opening theme is a direct reference to Harlock's dedication to protect earth despite its corrupted state.
A usual occurrence is that the characters themselves grab an instrument to play in a sudden state of melancholia. Whether it's Mayu playing on her ocarina or the mysterious extraterrestrial female Miime diligently using her harp, it's an interesting thing to see such a large portion of the soundtrack comprised of their melodies. Another memorable scene is when Harlock and his crew (SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER) face to face. Mysterious voices that reminded me of Suspiria dominated the soundtrack at that moment and truly emphasized what mysterious creatures the Mazone are.
Voice acting deserves some praise as well, in particular that of Captain Harlock.
I realized it sooner than I thought, but during the 42 episodes I fell in love with the characters. Somewhat detailed characterization is a very big priority in the show, and most of the crewmembers aboard the Arcadia get their moments under the spotlight in the form of monologues or flashbacks. United by their inability to find their places in life on earth, as well as their common enemy, they all have harrowing stories of sorrow and agony to tell. Perhaps most memorable among the crewmembers is the mysterious and melancholic Miime. As the sole survivor of her kind she suffers from a grand feeling of alienation and loneliness. She swears to follow the man who saved her (Harlock) whether he chooses to roam the sea of space throughout the remainder of his life or venture deep into the pits of hell.
Even amongst the vicious Mazone there are several interesting characters to follow; Queen Rafflesia being the most prominent one. Bewildered over Harlock's dedication to protect the very earth he despises she tries hard to understand her enemy. We also get to witness her initially prideful and strong persona undergo a gruesome metamorphosis to the point of desperation and cruelty. The one thing that's for sure though is that Leiji Matsumoto remains somewhat neutral in his depiction of humans and the Mazone. He makes sure to emphasize both virtues and corruption on both opposing sides, and even though the Mazone in general are depicted as malicious, their actions and feelings succeed at generating sympathy.
It only hints the grandeur within the Leijiverse, but Captain Harlock is a rewarding experience not only because of the excellent and loveable characters, but also thanks to its well applied soundtrack and narration. It also introduces a character whom I know little of, but who I find absolutely fascinating, a woman named Emeraldas who seems to be a female equivalent of Harlock. There's still a long way to go but I plan to continue exploring the Leijiverse, and hopefully I'll have the time and energy to review other titles as well.
We all enjoy looking up at the night sky, and watching the stars. And quite often we wonder what exactly is going on...out there in deep space. Fortunately, there's a ton of excellent space anime which will clue us in and make our imaginations run wild!