Thu 19 Feb 2009
This original anime series of Captain Harlock from the 70s was my first direct contact with Leiji Matsumoto‘s work. Before watching it I was certainly intrigued by glimpses at the well-known creator’s unique style, but couldn’t really figure out which series from his very large and interconnected body of work was the best point to get started.
What ultimately led me to Space Pirate Captain Harlock was the composer of its music – Seiji Yokoyama – whose work I loved from the anime Saint Seiya and I was actively looking for another production that used his talents. I can right away reveal that I wasn’t disappointed by his work here either – a sometimes epic and sometimes nostalgic soundtrack perfect for illustrating the times of great battles, of great heroes and the vastness, beauty, but also loneliness and sadness of space. It really grabs the heart. In addition, the series includes haunting ballads which words bring out many of Matsumoto’s favorite themes. Suffice it to say there’s much talk about important choices, life and death.
The series’ storyline is set in Earth’s future where the human race has become so prolific with acquiring key resources from other planets that life has become easy and cheap to support for everyone. In consequence, people have started to give more an more into a hedonistic lifestyle, letting their intellects and hearts deteriorate. One could say that the human civilization is living a giant party until everyone will starve the moment the nearby planets run out of resources. Humans are no longer capable to think of any new ways of evolving beyond these limitations.
In opposition to this pathetic state the majority has fallen into stands the legendary corsair Captain Harlock – a human rebel, a man of mystery, who along with his 42 crewmen crosses the sea of space in his invincible spaceship “Arcadia” for purposes known only to himself. He also steals the contents of transports to Earth, partially to accumulate some for the bleak future ahead, but also to taunt humanity’s carelessness. In consequence he has become Earth’s number one criminal and constantly runs into conflicts with the planet’s cowardly armies, most of the time easily scaring them off. Yet Earth will soon meet an even greater challenge than Harlock. An ancient race of alien woman prepares an invasion (or return as they called it). Will Harlock decide to protect the planet he himself fights against, or remain neutral? With Harlock all such decisions seem to remain true to a certain, almost instinctive, code of behavior. The code isn’t the least bit transparent though – none knows what to expect.
Well, this is what the main plot is about, but it isn’t really that big part of what the series is really about. Rather it focuses on the backstories of the many characters, building atmosphere, exploiting the charisma and mystery of Harlock and… on long, messy spaceship battles (after all this is an anime for boys and a space opera no less). The more intellectual side of things is rooted in exploring the meaning behind being part of Harlock’s crew, specifically the freedom that it offers. Also, what drives the people aboard to be there – often tragic events or being cast away by others. Even the quirky and full of energy first mate Yattaran who is equipped with an unstoppable passion for putting together models (ships, airplanes etc.) is very lonely deep at heart. And then there’s Harlock…
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