The long war between the planet Earth and the machine men is finally over, resulting in a peace that is more a victory for the machine men than the Earth. Warrius Zero lost his family in the war to the machine men but despite this he is still is a member of the Earth fleet that is now working in concert with the machine men. His ship, made up of both humans and machine men, has been given a near impossible task: capture the space pirate Captain Harlock. While Zero struggles to accomplish this task, evidence begins to surface that the peace between machine men and Earth may not be as it seems...
Cosmo Warrior Zero is a 2001 television series and yet another entry in the long, turbulent history of the anime Leijiverse - the animated productions based off of the stories and characters of legendary mangaka, Leiji Matsumoto.
To be perfectly honest, I expected absolutely nothing from this series. Most Leijiverse anime released after 1983's "Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX" have wildly varied in quality, with the late 90s Queen Emeraldas OVA being, in my opinion, the only series that has come close to being as good as earlier Leijiverse anime.
Cosmo Warrior Zero is a decent watch, but it spends the entirety of
its runtime retreading the themes of golden age Leijiverse anime, elements of Galaxy Express, Space Battleship Yamato, and Captain Harlock (of course) all show up in the series' plot and characters. It touches upon all of these themes, but never focuses on a single one for a substantial amount of time.
The main overarching plot of Cosmo Warrior Zero is the conflict between humans and mechanized humans. The series never tells us much about the mechanical men, just that there was a war, and afterwards a truce was established, however a large scale conflict is slowly brewing. The less significant plot, but also the one that takes up the majority of the series follows Captain Warrius Zero and his crew as they attempt to track down the space pirate, Captain Harlock (who has both eyes, and a green version of the Arcadia from the 1978 Harlock series, called the "Deathshadow" here just to make things extra confusing).
Neither plot is well developed, and Harlock's role in the series is nowhere near as exciting as a synopsis would suggest. There are one or two great moments with Harlock, but overall it's not worth watching just for him. Other Leijiverse characters show up, and play even smaller parts in the story. This brings us back to what is certainly Cosmo Warrior Zero's biggest problem as its own series, and also what makes it a great entry point. All the hallmarks of the Leijiverse are touched upon here. The conflict between man and machine and the presence of the Galaxy Railways from Galaxy Express. The theme of honor, and respect for the enemy. Even one of Yamato's defining themes, hope and the will to live even in the bleakest of situations is here.
Technically, Cosmo Warrior Zero is abysmal. The animation is very limited, even more than say, Yamato or the original Captain Harlock series. Space battles are frequently stuffed with PS2-esque cel shaded CGI, ships are often animated by cut and pasting, resizing, and rotating the same image, most scenes only show the characters moving from the waist up, and while the character designs aren't as off model as they could be, there will always be a lot of times in any given episode where the characters look completely off. The very few action scenes involving human characters are very poorly animated.
The sound in Cosmo Warrior Zero is just there. Nothing stands out as being bad, but there's also not a single memorable song on the OST. The opening theme in particular doesn't fit the show at all, making it rather strange when it appears as an insert song. I watched the show in Japanese, and all the characters had appropriate voices, no one sounded particularly bad. The English dub is, at least from the few scenes I'd watched with it on, a fairly embarrassing memory to everyone who "acted" in it.
Cosmo Warrior Zero is a good series despite its familiarity, it's competently written, there's some exciting moments, and the characters are fairly likable. It's a bit of everything from the Leijiverse wrapped in a perfectly enjoyable short 13 episode series. It's not as good as its inspirations, but it's also far better than the majority of Leijiverse anime since Endless Orbit SSX, including the more well known Harlock: Endless Odyssey series and it's certainly better than Harlock Saga or Gun Frontier. If you're looking for a decent little slice of space opera, or another box to tick on the seemingly endless list of Leijiverse anime, you could do much, much worse.