Time again for another look in the rear view mirror of anime to check out another classic from way back in the day… This time it’s going to be another space-based classic that will have you shouting “Hashin!” at the start of each episode as you ride off into new galaxies with Space Pirate Captain Harlock…
Now, having watched most of the spin-offs and related series, I can confidently say that the best series is the original 1978 anime that was broadcast as a stand-alone series and was also done before Leiji Matsumoto (the space opera king) decided to hit everyone with a “Sorry. Not sorry.” when he later changed the storylines, backgrounds, sequences of events and the appearance/look of the characters themselves in later animes. I’m sure that as the series’ creator it is his right to do as he pleases, but for me that only served to strengthen my opinion that the first series was indeed the best. Most of the animes have been handled by Toei animation and while they sometimes (oftentimes?) get a bad rap for the way they handle the adaptations of popular manga titles, e.g. One Piece, they’ve been in the business since 1956 and are still bringing out new titles, like the currently airing Tiger Mask W. So while their animation style might not be on par with companies like Madhouse and Production I.G., you’ve got to hand it to Toei for having remained in the game all these years.
So moving on the premise of the show itself, the plot goes a little something like so: once upon a time, there was a guy who was on earth (by now earth is way into the future here) and being upset with the current government and their handling of things, decides to make his way to the ocean – the ocean of space. However, all is not well because this same guy gets framed for crimes which he didn’t commit and becomes a fugitive. With his desire to leave and his unwanted presence weighing as the two main factors, said man makes his way into space and decides to live up to his name as a renegade and becomes a pirate – stealing what’s needed from the transport ships that make their way back to earth after plundering other planets for their resources. The earth is very resource-poor at this point and there is only one world government in office, but they aren’t interested in anything other than horse racing, playing rounds of golf and living an easy life. In fact, because of the plundering, most of society is just the same, which is why when the aliens (the Mazone) come a calling to invade earth and take back the land they feel is rightfully theirs, no one bats an eye. However, there are some smart cookies around and they can sense that something bad is coming. So why should Harlock be concerned? Well, it’s because he’s got a little 7-year old friend named Mayu living on planet earth and therefore he feels it’s his duty to take care of her…even if it means facing off against the alien race and saving the earth (including the people who also want him dead) in the process with his merry crew of 40.
Now as to why you should be watching this classic, it’s because of the following factors:
As far as the plot goes, it is actually really well thought-out. While the basic formula of visiting various planets and facing various challenges remains intact, the backbone of the story (the fight against the Mazone) gives the plot excellent direction and has a great background story to back it up. If you’re into conspiracy theories of alien races having been on earth during ancient times – like when the Mayans, Incans and Egyptians were at the forefront of civilisation – then you’re in for a treat because the plot revolves around these myths/theories/facts(?) that are well known to us and so builds upon a very stable foundation. This is one of the reasons why I felt that the other spin-offs fell a bit short of the mark because after having a magnificent story such as this to follow, some of the other plots felt a bit aimless, almost.
It goes without saying that Captain Harlock is one of the most iconic figures in anime history and with good reason. He’s a man’s man who commands his ship with confidence. While he does consult with others, his word is essentially law and everyone is expected to follow it. Apart from the main man, there are his crew mates. Initially I found that I wasn’t crazy about these mates of his but as the show progressed, my opinion of them changed and watching the later series made me realise just how much I preferred these characters to their newly imagined forms, especially that of primary characters such as Daiba, Kei and Mime. And at this point I’m convinced that Harlock is the bromance king because that “bond between men” theme is always there in every show.
If you watch the show, you will see the distinction between primary and secondary characters based purely on their physical appearance (which is actually something pointed out in one of the spin-offs). Apart from this obvious differentiation, the quirks have more to do with the personalities and behaviours of the characters themselves, e.g. you could play a drinking game where you take a drink every time Harlock, Mime or the doctor drinks and chances are you would be drunk in 2 episodes tops. Then we also have the magnanimous Captain dish out his version of tough love where he gently smiles at a character before backhanding them to the floor. And then there’s the 1970s music too – a bit on the cheesy side and it sounds like something Tom Jones might sing but it puts you in the right time frame when watching the show. And of course there is the very original naming of planets, e.g. Ice Planet… I wonder what it’s like… could it perhaps be… made of ice? These sorts of random moments make for some quirky but humourous moment (even though I’m not sure it was intended as such) that add to the show.
It’s Leiji Matsumoto:
If you’re looking to get into the space opera genre then you best get acquainted with this man. He has not only made himself a household name in Japan with shows like Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato, but he’s also the mastermind behind Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555 series of music videos, which made him a hit internationally. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then do yourself a favour and check it out. Although Matsumoto has a bad habit of changing storylines with every incarnation of the Captain, he has created some of the most memorable characters in anime so you can’t really go wrong by watching his creations.
While there are plenty (and I mean plenty) of shows and movies (including an up to date 2013 CGI movie) starring the infamous space pirate Captain Harlock, the 1978 version of himself is the best that I’ve encountered thus far. This is also in part thanks to the voice actors that were working around that time. Inoue Makio is by far the most convincing Captain Harlock and will forever remain the voice of the good captain for me. The 1978 Harlock was firm but fair, in control but still had a gentle and understanding side that made him seem more human and relatable. Although the other series try to emulate the sense of that character, it’s never quite as good as the original (although it is aesthetically better).
Even if you’re not interested in watching all of the various series or movies that Captain Harlock has showed up in, watching this first series is well worth it. It will give you the best sense of what the Captain is about: a man that offers anyone a place aboard his ship, as long as you pledge to live under the flag of freedom and remain true to your goals. Sure, the animation could probably have been a bit better (you’ll notice issues with heads being rather disproportionate relative to their bodies – but it’s also because of the character design itself with their messy hair styles) but overall I think Toei did a decent job bringing this story to life and it remains a classic that should be watched by any anime fan. So hop on the good ship Arcadia and set sail through the universe on an endless adventure with Captain Harlock.
Image credits: Toei Animation
End: Space Pirate Captain Harlock Anime Review