Captain Harlock

(Alternate spelling: Captain Herlock)

High-Adventure-Romance in the Inky Black Void

"The Sea of Space is my Sea"

Note: This is not the TV show crud being promoted in the U.S. as "Captain Harlock," which is a mixture of the Captain Harlock TV-series and the 1981 Matsumoto series Millennial Queen. This is the sort of disaster that befell "Voltron," "Robotech," and "Battle of the Planets." Warning: I've also seen a rather frightening American comic book of Harlock that was re-drawn by someone in the 90's.

Also known as "Albator" in French-speaking Europe (and Quebec, apparently).

Harlock: Introduction

Few manga/anime conjure the image of the loner fighting for justice on the frontier more than space pirate Captain Harlock (or Captain Herlock - the Japanese is ambiguous on the English spelling). And few characters are as memorable as he: tall, black-cloaked, face scarred, eyepatch over his right eye, and ever-ready with his saber-rifle. He is the epitome of Leiji (Reiji) Matsumoto's male hero, an SF version of the wild-West lone gunslinger. Ignore Harlock (Matsumoto's) quiet male posturing and male chauvinism, and you have a pretty darn charismatic character.

With the recent release of Harlock Saga and the semi-recent late 80's release of The Arcadia of My Youth, it seems Harlock had a revival of some sort. His manga first ran in Shonen Sunday in the 1970's (I believe), and his animated 42-episode original TV series ran in the very late 70's (and was re-run in '81, when I saw it (just for comparison, it ranked up there with the first Gundam series in my book)). So Harlock has been around for quite a while. The drawing style, by the way, is pure Matsumoto. In fact, the characters are even "squigglier" than, say, the ones in Galaxy Express 999, but the tech art is still there.

This revival is not too surprising, given Matsumoto's talent for painting the grim, harsh, and yet beautiful majesty of the vast final frontier. With other classics like Galaxy Express 999, Matsumoto creates the vision of a world where the strong-willed individual can still triumph over subtle alien invasions and corrupt bureaucracies.

Harlock's flag is the pirate jolly roger flag, and to him it represents freedom and the fighting spirit. Matsumoto says in a video interview that the jolly roger represents not something frightening, but rather a declaration that one will keep fighting on (for what one believes in) even if one is reduced to bones.

Anyway, back to Harlock. Depending on which manga or anime you believe, he has an interesting and mysterious past. If you believe the old Yamato ("Starblazer") stories, he might be Kodai Mamoru, Kodai Susumu's elder long-lost brother. In any case, a wanderer as a young man, Harlock in most stories had a good friend named Oyama Tochiro, a short, stubby engineering genius. Together with Tochiro's girlfriend, pirate queen Emeraldas (who has her own comics and videos Queen Emeraldas - actually pretty good!), they built a fine spaceship (Deathshadow) and sailed the vacuum seas. However, when Tochiro died and was buried on infamous frontier planet Heavy Melder with the ship, Emeraldas went sailing off alone in her sorrow (in her own ship, the Queen Emeraldas), and Harlock was left with Tochiro's legacy: a new ship, larger than the previous one, and the most powerful battleship known to humanity: the Arcadia. Matsumoto's vision of the Arcadia is truly magnificent; it is part historical pirate ship, with deck cannons, and part fantasy machine. And the Arcadia is something more than a ship (at least in the TV series as well as in the new Galaxy Express 999); it contains Tochiro's soul, and the ship is, in some sense, a part of Harlock, and his friend as well.

(Tochiro, by the way, had also crafted four (or five) unequalled (laser?) pistols, which show up in Galaxy Express 999. Oh yes, in the TV-series, he and Emeraldas ("Emerada" on TV) had a young daughter Mayu, who was the focal point of Harlock's concern for the Earth; however the girl doesn't exist in the manga. She added a very interesting sad-sweet note to the TV series).

Among other events that may or may not have happened (depending on which source you believe), Harlock went wandering and came to one planet where the carnivorous plants had nearly wiped out the inhabitants. There, he found and rescued the last survivor of the race: a tall, pale woman named Meeme. She, in return, became his constant companion on their long, lonely journeys. (And on a more humorous note, as an alien that subsists on alcohol, she often caused jaws to drop onboard the Arcadia as she casually tossed down entire bottles of sake wine). However, Harlock's first encounter with Meeme is in a totally different setting in The Arcadia of My Youth, and in the newer Harlock Saga, she has morphed completely into a near-immortal sorceress who has battled the ancient gods for countless years and helped shaped humanity. "Whoakay, whatever."

In the movie The Arcadia of My Youth, Harlock was once in love with a young blond woman who was the radio underground voice of freedom. This is, however, not part of most stories, though since I haven't read the old manga original of Arcadia, I don't really know. (And if you believe the original ancient Yamato stories, Harlock's first love was Sta(r)sha.)

However, to return to the main plot of Captain Harlock....

Captain Harlock Manga and Original TV Series (1970's)

The initial protagonist of the most well-known Harlock plot (the TV series and Harlock manga) is a young man named "Daiba Tadashi," the son of two scientists (he's also completely different in Harlock Saga). His mother had been killed in a suspicious accident, and his father is also killed in the early part of the story. Behind the mysterious events, he begins to realize, is a deep, ancient plot by an alien race to take over the Earth. The corrupt, soft (and well-infiltrated) Earth government views him (and all the others who have noticed this invasion) as an annoyance, and Daiba, in disgust, winds up meeting with and joining Captain Harlock on the Arcadia.

Harlock has, at this point, accumulated a crew of about 40 (3 women). They are pirates, but their first love is freedom --- a common denominator that unites the crew. But at first the crew disappoints Daiba. After all, they lounge about, drink alcohol, race vermin, and float toy boats in bathtubs. But at the first emergency, their true natures come out: they are dedicated crewmembers, intense and loyal to the point of death. Besides, "Their home is the Arcadia," Daiba is told. "Why shouldn't they be free to lounge about as they choose in their own home?"

The enemy, they discover, is the Mazone, a race of plant-based humanoids who have taken the form of human women. As the Arcadia crew continues to investigate, they discover connections between the Mazone and ancient sea-bottom pyramids, from the age of the old pre-Western American civilizations. Just how long have the Mazone been infiltrating the Earth, to "turn Earth into our new home"?

Harlock's at first only-vaguely-interested attitude is abruptly transformed into personal interest when the Mazone try to trick him with a lie. The Mazone rig up an old pirate hideout (asteroid) with a fake Emeraldas, who professes to love Harlock. Harlock, knowing Emeraldas loves only Tochiro, recognizes the trickery and destroys the entire hideout-asteroid. When Meeme asks him if such a rash action was wise, given how many memories he had of the place, he replies, "Important memories are best kept in the safest place --- one's heart."

Anyway, this is just the beginning of Harlock's dealings with the Mazone. The Mazone and the humans learn much about each other, one of which is respect. The Mazone queen comes to see Harlock as her worthiest opponent, a representative of the Earth --- in fact, the only one who can save the Earth. This is made all the more ironic because Earth doesn't want Harlock --- it never has --- and would rather see him dead. Harlock himself would almost rather not fight for an Earth that has disowned him, yet he does. For all this and more, the queen admires Harlock. Still, the Mazone need a new home planet, for theirs is no more, and the queen has her heart set on Earth....

The pirates also come to view the Mazone as not just enemies, but as people. In one TV episode, a Mazone spy who has secretly fallen in love with Harlock opts to threaten the Arcadia, causing Harlock to kill her. But she, of course, had wanted that to happen. In the manga, in what I suspect is the original version of the TV episode, a Mazone agent who had befriended Daiba dies willingly, after deciding that she doesn't really want to fight in the war against humanity. The Mazone, Harlock says gravely, have a "soul," too; they are capable of love, sadness, betrayal, and honor. And thus killing them becomes that much worse.

So, beset by inner pain, hated by his home planet, and watching his crew die, Harlock battles on against the Mazone for Earth's sake. Eventually, of course, he wins. In the TV series, he duels the queen of the Mazone herself, and wounds her --- and to his surprise, he sees that she bleeds red blood, the blood of a human. Who and what is she? What is the Mazone's long, sad past? Most of these questions remain unanswered. And so do the deeper questions about Harlock's own past, for soon after the victory, he leaves all of his crew except for Meeme on Earth, and goes sailing off again, into space. Why? "To look for a place to die" --- but knowing Harlock, he'll probably be in many more battles before he finds that place.

As a side note, it could be argued that, judging from Captain Harlock's (and Queen Emeraldas') appearances in Galaxy Express 999, which seems to have a higher tech-level and a much different atmosphere, Captain Harlock and his crew went on to bigger adventures in other galaxies. (The new GE999 also has a very cheerful, talkative Harlock making numerous cameos.) But that's an entirely different story....

Music: The original Captain Harlock TV show had, in my opinion, some of the moodiest, most Romantic music of the era. Here's a sample:

Translated excerpt of Captain Harlock TV Opening Theme Song
(Re-translated 2004)

My sea is the sea of Space;
It is my limitless longing.
My song is the song of Earth
It is my unabandonable homeland....
Oh my dear friend,
even though I know Earth is a world with no tomorrow
nevertheless, I must protect it
and keep fighting on....
I will lay down my life for what I believe; (literally: "Throwing away my life, I live.")
I will lay down my life for what I believe.

Arcadia of My Youth

This ambitious, lengthy movie (128 minutes) from 1982 skims along the brief and early time period in which Harlock pilots his old Deathshadow (?) into the ground (on Earth, not Heavymelder, unlike other settings), meets Tochiro for the first time, loses his right eye, and gets the Arcadia pirate ship. Not to mention Emeraldas gets her facial scar, and Meeme joins the party. In other words, this movie covers almost all the "beginnings" of Matsumoto's favorite trio of pirates, even if it conflicts with the timeline/events of his other works. Well, whatever.

EX has a decent review of this film, but I'll summarize it as follows: ambitious, lengthy, sentimental, Romantic (just a bit romantic), and every inch a Matsumoto propaganda machine for "freedom" "independence" and "manliness/honor." Thankfully, the movie had a good budget: the animation is good (really quite good given the vintage), the music is ok, the acting is good, and the story moves through at least five distinct phases to keep the plot moving.

The surface story involves a tale of 3 worlds: the ruling Illumidus race, an Illumidus-occupied Earth, and the Illumidus-occupied Tokargan home world. The Tokargans had long ago teamed up with the Illumidus as subservient troops, but the Illumidus have decided they'd rather have Earth than Tokarga. Tokarga is set to be destroyed -- and of course this rather forces the ones in the know to rebel. Harlock and his friends, including a Tokargan named Zoll, are torn between wanting to stay on Earth and fight the Illumidus, vs. rushing off to help save Tokarga.

The underlying story focuses on Matsumoto's three central friends: Harlock, Tochiro, and to a lesser extent, Emeraldas. (Zoll plays a capital-F Friend part also, and fans may know that he appeared in the original TV series, though not in the same form.) The story is so unashamedly sentimental and worshipful of the powers of true friendship and manly conduct that ... well, it's a bit overpowering. But that's what makes Matsumoto productions what they are. As a note, I read in the Boston Globe a short quip about (American) film: "But, as NBC producer Terry Schaefer notes, ''Men's movies are about annihilation. Women's movies are about connections.''" (Boston Globe, 6/30/02). Perhaps it's commendable for a film to go overboard in depicting deep male friendship.

The approximate stages of the movie are (SPOILERS INCLUDED):

  1. Flashback to Ye Olde Deutschland and the Harlock Family of Heiligenstadt. Introducing Harlock's spirit of freedom-loving adventure through "flashbacks" to his ancestors from 1000 years in the past (namely: early 20th century aviator Germans). This also serves to introduce us to the ancient friendly relationship between German Harlock and Japanese Tochiro; even these two ancestors became soul-mates of a sort, and their families' eternal friendship is declared in a suitably melodramatic way. And just to show this movie is really Japanese, this is one of the few times you'll ever see a film in which the protagonist flies a Nazi plane that shoots down Allied fighters. Not that this Harlock ancestor is a Nazi -- he doesn't like the war, but he's just doing what a German aviator has to do.
  2. Back in the Future: The Massive Shake-Up. Everyone, from Illumidus to Tokargan to Earthlings such as Harlock and Emeraldas, get sorted out into where they stand on matters of life, death, independence, and subjugation. It helps that the Tokargans discover their home world is about to be destroyed by the Illumidus rulers. As a side plot, we see Harlock desperately trying to reach his girlfriend Maya, who is broadcasting a freedom-promoting illegal program called The Radio Voice of Free Arcadia (the Illumidus occupation forces don't think it's funny), but Harlock loses his eye in the process of trying to reach her (why he doesn't lose his life is not quite explained). Maya, we see, is beautiful, always depicted with a glowing sheen, always leaves behind a fresh rose (who knows where she gets them) and (back to the story) is ill and frail. (The funniest line in the entire movie is probably that of Illumidus commander Zeda asking his subordinate after a failed attempt to capture Maya: "So you have arrested another rose?")
  3. The Quest to Save Tokarga starts, with Harlock and Tochiro going off to help save Tokarga, and Emeraldas and Zoll staying on Earth with Maya to help the remaining Tokargans fight the Illumidus. This Save Tokarga quest of course must raise the Arcadia from its hiding place for its maiden voyage in a most spectacular way (true to Harlock mythology, Tochiro built the ship by himself, though how any one man could build something that gigantic in secret, and also so perfectly that the ship is bug free on its first flight, is beyond me....). The Arcadia crew wait through an Illumidus attempt to execute the captured Emeraldas and Maya (there's no hint of how the two were captured), and then the Arcadia heads over to Tokarga. But Tokarga's already largely wiped out, and soon, thanks to a gravity bomb, it's even obliterated from space.
  4. The Return to Earth features a Science-Fiction replay of deadly challenges that faced Harlock's ancestors. Along the way, the last Tokargan female dies, and then there is an off-screen orgy of Tokargan selfless sacrificial self-immolation to save the Arcadia (I think we see a hint of ancient Shinto beliefs seeping through somewhere in here). At last there is a return to Earth only to find Zoll dead -- and Maya dies gracefully in Harlock's arms. The 3 main characters of Harlock, Tochiro, and Emeraldas (well, 4 with Meeme thrown in) are now firmly united in friendship, exile from Earth, and dedication to the common cause of freedom.
  5. The Salvo of Defiance features long space battles, with Harlock ship-dueling against the honorable Illumidus commander (the lone "decent man" in the bunch of Illumidus bad guys), and a risky but triumphant strike against a giant Illumidus fleet that inexplicably destroys almost all the enemy vessels. And thus we see Harlock firmly on his way to earning the title of the most feared pirate in all of space.
Wow. On the plus side, Tochiro, with his easy laugh and quiet endurance, comes across as one of the most interesting and refreshing characters in a film otherwise populated by stoic strong-and-silent heroes, and mysterious Maya manages to maintain a respectable presence despite her lack of screen time. It's frustrating to know almost nothing about her and her history. At least we find out she can sew a really big pirate flag even while dying of illness and gunshot wounds.

Anyway, long movie, many scenes, and a lot of the rich red-blooded macho philosophy that is Matsumoto's trademark. There's a bit (OK, a lot) too much smugness about the special Tochiro-Harlock friendship, but at the same time, knowing that the fictitious pair is based on Matsumoto's lifelong friendship with his own "taller and more handsome" friend, one can't help but envy them their deep and profound friendship. If it's half as good as the on-screen friendship, they are truly blessed to have each other's company. I just hope they aren't plagued with dying girlfriends, blown-up planets, and exile from their home lands -- and later on (according to the Harlock storyline), Matsumoto's own death and the subsequent haunting of his self-made space ship by his still-adventurous soul, with his wife/lover eternally looking for him in her own ship. No, let's hope that doesn't happen.

Harlock Saga or Great Harlock: Goetterdaemmerung

(Apparently based on Der Ring Des Niebelungen)

Meeme has disappeared. Emeraldas and Tochiro go off looking for her, and they unravel a big deep problem involving the center of the universe and the possible destruction thereof. Eventually Meeme and Tochiro return to the Arcadia, and Emeraldas ends her cameo.

Basically, Meeme's brother Alberich has stolen a special nugget of gold that was found "at the center of the universe," and which had been guarded on planet "Rhine." With this gold, which can control space-time, he gets Daiba Tadashi, son of a famous engineer, to craft a ring (yes, an alternate version of Daiba Tadashi, who gets on the Arcadia through this adventure, rather than the Mazone story).

It turns out Meeme (Miime or Mime) and Alberich are the last of the Nibelung (or Niebelung), a race related to but oppressed by the "gods" of the universe, as represented by Wotan (aka Odin). The "gods" live at the center of the universe, on a planet called Valhalla. With the ring, Alberich plans on wreaking revenge on the gods and taking their place.

Meeme and look-alike Freya (or Freia) are divine maidens who can play special pipe-organs that control time through the cosmos. They know that destroying Valhalla would mean destroying the universe, so that must be avoided.

Yes, right, so, of course now Harlock winds up involved in all this, going up against Valhalla and Alberich both. Wotan is even building a floating fortress that looks a lot like the Death Star -- but then, the actual myth this is based on does call for a floating castle (Valhalla), so I guess it's OK. Wotan has even promised the two builders of the fortress the woman Freya as payment, as in the original myth. Either way it goes, Freya (in this movie) winds up violated (if I recall correctly), and there is a somewhat cheesy/hollow redemption scene for the two criminals.

The DVD Harlock Saga differs from the manga (Great Harlock: Goetterdaemmerung) in many ways, it seems, which is not surprising given how much both of them seem to differ from previous versions of Harlock series. Note that in the manga, Alberich himself returns the ring to Rhine and is then taken down by the three guardian spirits (a la Hagen's ending later in the real Goetterdaemerung); also, the Valkyries have a role too.

Great Harlock: Goetterdaemmerung manga is in part online, which is what I've seen of it. Link to back issues of Great Harlock: Goetterdaemmerung comic previews (Japanese). "Great Harlock" refers to Harlock's father. English version .

Frankly, the Harlock Saga anime might make a lot more sense if you know the story of Das Rhinegold, but otherwise, the story is a bit hard to swallow whole, and the animation quality leaves something to be desired occasionally -- such as one scene where the Arcadia's movement toward and past the camera is irregular and warped. (There's some mixtures of CG with the animation, and unfortunately both are wanting at times.) Finally, it seems like Maetel (from Galaxy Express 999) is just thrown in for all of 5 minutes just to boost sales, and why did they recycle Daiba Tadashi's character this way anyway? I suppose the author is free to revise his stories any way he wants, but if you are a fan of the old series, don't expect continuity in the newer works. If you've never seen the old series, this might be a lot less frustrating. Still, this is definitely not Harlock at his best.

Other interesting side notes:

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