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.