On an archaelogical mission to the end of the known universe, Professor Daiba unwitting unleashes an ancient horror from its confines. Five years later the malevolent alien force sets in motion a plan which reunites the various crewmembers of the Arcadia to sail the stars once more as well as bring Tadashi Daiba to meet Harlock for the first time (again).
Captain Harlock/Herlock (Herlock from this point onwards) was a name I'd heard a couple of times before seeing an auction for The Endless Odyssey appear on eBay.co.uk. A popular series from the late 70's that's had many sequels and spin-offs (including this 2002 series), it was hard to resist trying to get my hands on a part of the Herlock saga, and I wasn't able to resist.
The series starts without explaining anything in detail. It's revealed that Herlock and his pirate crew parted ways sometime prior to the story of The Endless Odyssey, Herlock taking his ship (Arcadia) and vanishing into thin air. The old
crew split up after this; some still pirating on other ships, some living a more relaxing life and most in prison.
Of course, the crew soon join back together to fight a new evil, the evil in question being known as Noo. Simply put, Noo is fear itself and it uses fear to takeover the minds of humans, using their bodies as hosts or simply making them kill each other. Noo once ruled the universe (before the laws of physics kicked in), its rule ending when it was sealed away in another dimension; a dimension described as hell by the few who've seen it and lived.
The above two paragraphs pretty much tell you all you need to know: Herlock's crew join back together to save the world from an evil that wishes to destroy it. Although the Noo stuff is very confusing at times, it's far from deep and can be actually quite boring to sit through. The story also progresses at borderline slow pace, leaving you with the feeling that very little happens during most of the episodes.
If I'm being honest, this isn't a series to watch for story, it's a series to watch if you've watched the older series or wish to see what Captain Herlock is all about. There are parts of the story (the last episode in particular) where references are made to what happened in the past and characters who died in the past, without any explanation being given... This series was obviously made with older fans in mind; not new ones.
Captain Herlock is a famous character in the world of anime/manga -- seeing his character was the main reason I watched this series. So, you can imagine how disappointed I was when it became clear I'd learn nothing of any importance about his character in this series, with nothing of his past being shown and there being no attempt at character development. If I want to know anything about him outside of the fact he's emotionless and likes saying, "Join my ship if you wish to become a man." (he clearly knew Johny Terry in another life) I'll have to try to watch the older series he's featured in.
Since Herlock has (presumably) already been developed fully before this series, Tadashi, a young guy who loves fighting on a planet nicknamed the planet of the rubbish heaps (great name) played a key role in the story. His father gets killed during the first episode and, after an invitation from Herlock, he ends up joining the crew of the Arcadia in order to get revenge against the supposed killer of his father: Noo. I didn't really like him and, as a result, his development from thug to...err, less of a thug over the course of the story didn't do much for me. I did like how his story ended after Herlock explained the reasoning behind him inviting him on-board his ship at the end of the series, though.
The only other crew member of the Arcadia worth mentioning is one who appears naked (breasts, nipples and arse) right at the start of the first episode -- Kei. She was on the Arcadia in the past as the second in command, has a crush on Herlock and is the only attractive female lifeform shown in this series...that's pretty much all you need to know about her. Outside of her playing a role in developing Tadashi's character after she saves him, she could've not appeared in the series and there wouldn't have been any real damage, which is something I could say about the vast majority of the cast.
Aside from Tadashi, the ONE character who gets developed to a certain extent (and the last worthy of being mentioned) is Yukihito Ilita, the man in charge of hunting Herlock at the start. He encountered Herlock when he was much younger and has been determined to catch him ever since. The course of events change once Noo make their move, with Ilita ending up in the middle of a space war the Noo created using fear as their weapon, forcing him to evacuate his ship. After this, he starts to question if his choices in life have been wrong, if it was ok for him alone to survive...that sort of thing. Although he's one of the more likeable characters thanks to his development, his character wasn't very important.
It's a shame that Herlock and his crew weren't fleshed out at all in this series. Not many outside of Japan are familiar with Herlock, and it's pretty safe to say that those people would've liked to learn more about the crew. That said, I suppose it wasn't made with people outside of Japan in mind.
Equally disappointingly, the attempted Tadashi/Ilita character development was rather badly done. Both characters were used to avoid there being no character development whatsoever and the attempt at mixing developing characters with non-developing characters didn't really work very well. Tadashi did nothing for me and Ilita also did very little, the main reason being that neither character was truly important to the overall plot.
Moving onto the visual and sound side, the art looks fine, the character design of the main characters being pretty good. It was pretty consistent throughout and there were no problems worth mentioning.
I must admit to finding the animation side rather disappointing, though. Like the story, everything seemed to move too slowly, the movements of the Arcadia in particular seeming way too sluggish during space battles. I was also disappointed by the general lack of action throughout, Herlock not getting into any fast-paced fights, mostly simply shooting his gun and that being that. I expected a lot of action in a series like this, but all I got was sluggish spaceship battles and one-shot kills.
The opening demonstrated the slowness of the series very well. The opening of a series with action is supposed to get you pumped up, yet I found myself skipping the Herlock opening before finishing watching it for the first time due to boredom...
Simply put, the art looked good enough but the sluggish animation let it down.
As for the sound, although I haven't heard any Herlock music outside of The Endless Odyssey, I'm willing to bet music from an old Herlock series was used here in order to make it more enjoyable for older fans. The soundtrack seriously sounded like something from the 70's. But, whatever the reason, I just didn't like the soundtrack very much. Aside from one or two tracks, the music combined with the slow pacing to make the series even more boring during the most uninteresting sections.
The voice acting was rather average. There were no performances that stuck in my mind as being bad or brilliant. Herlock's deep and emotionless voice fitted his character well, but apart from that...
Overall, this series didn't blow me away. It was clearly aimed at fans of the older series, so you'll probably walk away disappointed if you expect something amazing. Only watch it if you want to see part of a famous anime/manga series or if you're a fan of the Herlock saga.
First of all. This is not an entry point into the series. If you want to get started on Captain Harlock then look elsewhere. Oh yeah. There was one other thing. Endless Odyssey is also shockingly bad. Most of the pieces are there. But they've all been assembled incorrectly.
Here's how I think the pitch meeting went down. In 2002 Madhouse presumably thought that anime fans wouldn't be interested in going back to watch a series that was over 20 years old at the time, if such a thing was even available to find at the time that is. I'd say that was a correct assumption.
Especially considering the negative attitude most current anime fans has against pre-2000's shows. Instead this series is squarely aimed at people who had seen the original 1978 Captain Harlock series. Not a bad idea I suppose. Make a bit of money of some nostalgia. I'm sure Leiji Matsumoto wouldn't mind some licencing money so he could buy a ship in a bottle or some hair extensions for his wife. So what could go wrong?
I can only presume that whoever wrote this had never actually seen the original series. But instead had a drunken friend describe the show for him. Everything is explained to him in a series of half remembered plot points, vague explanations of the majority of the cast, a need to stress that manliness is one of the core aspects of the show and an extremely enthusiastic need to emphasize that Captain Harlock is a pretty cool guy. When the writer presses him for more information about Harlock and what makes him such a cool guy he had already passed out.
Endless Odyssey would claim to be a sequel to the original show. The Mazone invasion and the ending is referenced. Despite this Tadashi is not a former crew member. His father Professor Daiba is still alive somehow too. So it's kind of a continuity snarl I guess. But that's not exactly a deal breaker. On the surface everything looks like it checks out. A darker take on the original to reflect the fact that whoever caught the show when it originally aired was around their mid to late 20's when this came out. A pinch of horror atmosphere to go with that nostalgia. It's just a shame the plot is really dumb. The Earth is stolen(?!) by Cthulhu-esque horrors. None of that can faze Captain Harlock of course. He can just stare them down or whatever since he's such a cool guy. You're kind of pushing it here guys. The supernatural twist isn't really working.
But hey. What would a captain be without his crew? Well. Unfortunately they get the short end of the stick. Because all of the lovably crew of the Arcadia are criminally mishandled and underused. They're used for cheap nostalgia moments or callbacks. When they show up for the first time you're supposed to go "yaaaay!" ( Ok maybe I did get a bit excited when Miime first showed up. ) and then? They do pretty much nothing. None of them have any impact on the plot at all. A great supporting cast just squandered. And before you ask. No, Captain Harlock isn't bringing his A-game to carry the show. At best he's on auto-pilot. At the very worst he's grossly mischaracterized perhaps to make him seem more "cool". You're not expected to follow orders? Yeah it's not like he's the captain of the ship or anything. Fuck off. Yeah he let the crew do what they want when they were off-duty in the original. But they were all expected to follow his orders when it was go-time. Get this personality-free body snatcher off my screen and bring back the real captain. Even the voice actor for him is totally wrong. Sorry. Makio Inoue is the definitive Harlock. Anyone else just sounds like a pale imitation.
I will give Madhouse some credit though. The art is just wonderful. It is very faithful to the original work and lovingly rendered although with that modern shininess of course. The cast has never looked better though! Quirks of the original show such as the tall, slender women with long hair and the cartoonishly deformed small people are all accounted for. The Arcadia also looks great which is obviously of huge importance. I have no doubt that whoever drew this was a big fan. So I can only hope he never actually watched this. To match the "darker" tone and horror posturing the art is suitably dark. But good art can only get you so far. And for being an OVA the animation is nothing special. Pretty much just TV quality. Still I would call this show a visual treat. So it has something going for it.
I will also give it credit for a kind of interesting ending. And a relatively understated sense of masculinity. A breath of fresh air in an era where manliness is relegated to a post-ironic and over the top sideshow in anime. Don't think I need to name any examples there. You know what I'm talking about.
If you want to get into Harlock I'd suggest starting with the lavishly produced Arcadia Of My Youth movie and go from there. Endless Odyssey is for completionists only.
At some point, a show along the lines of Harlock has to come around. It doesn't shake anything up. It doesn't really do much new. Hell, it's the 90's sequel/reboot/alternate universe canon to a show that came out before Gundam. Even so, the elements of what make it great come from something more than something like originality. It even basically proves that just because the ideas presented have been in works that have come out before it, the compilation of such ideas, as well as amazing characters, atmosphere, and theming can allow even a remake like this to shine.
The characters of Harlock are beautifully designed
with a semi-sloppy art style that flows well into the atmosphere of the show. It's a show about a universe where nothing new happens. All of the space pirates are gone. No new planets are being discovered. However, it's still a manly man's world with plenty out there, but everyone is in an eternal rut, until a scene of some old men in a bar decide to go pirating again in a scene beautifully directed in that the lights in the bar are stage lights that go on suddenly, and go out smoothly for whichever character is talking. It cut to Daiba, our main character, beating the crap out of two guys. Then his dad dies. Harlock appears out of nowhere with an ultimatum off manly destiny. He tells Daiba that real men hang out on space ships and explore doing what they want. Then, EARTH IS STOLEN!
In the end, this is the best Harlock rendition yet. It's great. Watch it, whether you're a Harlock fan or not.