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 had heard only a couple of times before coming across 'The Endless Odyssey'. A popular series from the late 70's that has had numerous sequels and spin-offs, and it proved too hard to resist getting my first taste of what this old school space piracy classic had to offer... albeit in the form of a 2002 OVA series.
Unfortuantely for newcomers such as myself, it starts without explaining anything in detail. It is revealed that Herlock and his pirate crew parted ways sometime prior to the story beginning; Herlock taking his ship (Arcadia) and
seemongly vanishing into thin air. The 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'. Noo is fear itself--using fear to take over the minds of humans and using their bodies as hosts... or simply making them kill each other. Apparently, Noo once ruled the universe (before the laws of physics kicked in) until - OF COURSE - it was sealed away in another dimension; a dimension described as hell by the few who have seen it and somehow lived. Lovely.
And that is pretty much all you need to know: Herlock's crew join back together to save the world from an evil that wishes to destroy it. It does not go any deeper tan that. Although the Noo stuff confused me at times, it was actually quite boring to sit through. The story also progresses at a borderline slow pace, leaving you with the feeling that very little happens during most of the episodes. Hardly thrill-a-minute viewing!
Honestly though, this is not a series to watch for plot: it is a series to watch if you have watched the prequels or are curious to see what Captain Herlock is all about. There are parts (the last episode in particular) where references are made to what happened in the past and characters that died prior to this series, without any explanation being given. This was clearly made with older fans in mind; not new ones.
As mentioned, seeing the character behind Captain Herlock's famous name was why I watched this. So, you can imagine just how disappointed I was when it became clear I would learn absolutely nothing of any importance about his character; 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 that he is emotionless and likes saying, "Join my ship if you wish to become a man." I will have to try to watch the older series he has featured in...
Since Herlock has (presumably) already been developed fully before this series, Tadashi, a rebellious young guy that loves fighting on a planet nicknamed - seriously - 'the planet of the rubbish heaps' was the lead instead. Following tragedy in the first episode, he receives an invitation from Herlock and ends up joining the crew of the Arcadia in order to get revenge. I did not really like him and, as a result, his development from thug to...err, less of a thug over the course of the story did little for me. I did like how his arc ended after Herlock explained the reasoning behind him inviting him on-board his ship at the end of the series, if nothing else.
The only other crew member of the Arcadia worth mentioning is the one that appears naked (breasts, nipples and arse, fyi) right at the start: 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... and that is it, really. Outside of her playing a role in developing Tadashi's character after she saves him, she could have not appeared again and there would not have been any real damage, which - disappointingly - is something I could say about the vast majority of the cast.
Aside from Tadashi, the ONE character to get developed to a certain extent (and the last worthy of being mentioned) is Yukihito Ilita; the man in charge of hunting Herlock. He encountered Herlock when he was 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. He starts to question if his choices in life have been wrong... that sort of thing. Although he is one of the more likeable characters thanks to his development, his character was not very important.
Honestly, it is a pity that Herlock and his crew were not fleshed out at all here. Not many outside of Japan are familiar with Herlock, and it is safe to say that those people would have liked to learn more.
Also disappointingly, the attempted Tadashi/Ilita character development was rather badly done. Both characters were used to avoid there being no development whatsoever, and the attempt at mixing developing characters with non-developing characters did not work very well. Tadashi did nothing for me and Ilita also did very little, the main reason being that neither was held much significance to the plot.
Moving onto the visual and sound side, the art looks fine, with the character design of the main characters being decent. It was consistent throughout. I must admit to finding the animation shoddy, though. Like the story, everything seemed to move too slowly; the movements of the Arcadia in particular being waaaay 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 but all I got were sluggish spaceship battles and one-shot kills.
The opening demonstrated the slowness of the series very well. Instead of getting me pumped up, I found myself skipping it before finishing watching it for the first time due to boredom...
As for the sound, although I haven't heard any Herlock music outside of The Endless Odyssey, I am willing to bet music from an old Herlock series was used here in order to make it more enjoyable for older fans. The soundtrack 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 did not blow me away in any way. It was clearly aimed at established fans over newer ones, so you will probably walk away disappointed going into it blindly. Only watch if you want to see part of a famous, decades old anime 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.