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The mysterious Captain Harlock

Red cape, Jolly Roger on the black shirt, sounds of spurs, loose hair, eyepatch, long scar across the cheek, deep voice – all the trappings of an all-powerful, unbreakable hero straight out of legend, but who is Harlock as a man? What is the thing he is looking for? Some episodes make daring attempt at answering this question. Despite being imposing, strong and seemingly fearless Harlock is not your typical older brother type hero. Sometimes he gets things wrong. Sometimes accepts chaos and defeat. Other, although rare, times he shows signs of vulnerability, especially when it concerns Mayu the young daughter of his late friend Tochiro – who he swore to protect.

Harlock has also a strange relationship with Mime – a alien female character of remarkable voice (nothing like the stereotypical female voices in most new anime). She often descibes herself as “a woman who has given her life to Harlock” and remains his close companion often remaining with him alone when the captain sinks into deep thought. Yet there is never any warm exchange between them. Many such scenes just show Harlock looking silently and reflectively at space through a wine filled glass while the ship is being shaken, creaking and moaning under pressure like wooden ships from pirate movies crossing a real sea. Among other things this is a hero that can spend long times just thinking thoughts none ever learns.

Rintaro‘s style of directing, while often criticized for way too much style over substance, in this – an early and modest budget effort of his – pushes up the boundaries of TV anime of its day with impressive results even for today. It merges brilliantly with Yokoyama’s music creating action scenes with kinetic energy and stylized animated poems in the moments of prolonged peace or tension.

Not only Mime’s, but all the voice work is superb. Harlock has a great, deep, hypnotic voice for which seiyuu (voice talent) he shares with most incarnations of the very popular Goemon Ishikawa from Lupin III. I guess that voice is a big part of what makes him such a larger than life character.

During dialogues between characters the term “a true man” appears prominently, especially in conversations between Harlock and the new, young crew member Daiba. I think a lot of Japanese romanticism shows through that expression – the desire to embrace doing what is honest, right and beautiful as one’s permanent nature – but also it seems to harken back to Once Upon a Time in The West and westerns in general.

What’s also worth mentioning, the aliens angle in Captain Harlock is strongly influenced by Erich von Däniken and the ancient astronaut hypotheses. Unfortunately, these elements don’t get really developed despite evident potential. Also some very effective symbols of plant-life, blooming, and rebirth are considerably underused other than in a few scenes. My most serious gripe about the 42-episode  series though is that the story uses out all its greatest secrets early on and the finale is a bit too foreseeable with few surprises left. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t various universal and complex ideas left for the viewer to ponder over after watching it all through.

Despite a few shortcomings Captain Harlock delivers in bounds what is the most desired element of a Matsumoto creation – an incredibly rich world of unique and powerful experiences to lose oneself in, a world that inspires you to truly feel and think and and to create unique memories that will stay with you for a long time.

My Score: 5/5 starps


Note: If you wish to watch this series legally and free of charge read where you can find it here.

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