Anime Meta-Review


Captain Harlock


By Date




Title Info

  • seen: 1-10
  • type: TV
  • grade: archaic
  • Series state: Can't find any more to watch.
  • made: 1978
  • Review created: Recently, but I didn't record the date.
  • mod: none

I'm incredibly tempted to move this into competition with far more modern titles...because it's still eminently watchable and the core of the show still works. On the other hand, both in style and technique, it is ancient and many will find this a limitation.

The figure of Captain Harlock, the fearless space pirate, has largely outlived the anime which bears his name. So I had some knowledge of the character before I began. While I was hoping to discover how he came to have a space pirate ship (complete with wood style captains cabin on the back) and be the person he is, such was not going to be the case. Instead we discover that mankind, now able to feast on the resources from robot colonization of other planets, has grown weak of spirit, lazy and incapable of imagining change from their dull but comfortable lives. They would ridicule any who dream of space, and possibly those with any dream at all, and consider Harlock (and his crew) both criminal and insane. Thus harlocks ship, complete with skull and crossbones flag, is actually a powerful symbol for personal freedom. Things might have gone on like this, but unfortunately a powerful alien race has its eye on the wealth of Earth. With Earth's leaders almost criminally negligent, incapable of perceiving a threat (let along giving up golf to deal with it) it falls to captain Harlock and all `true men' to fight the alien menace under the flag of freedom. We largely follow this through the eyes of a new recruit, his father killed by the aliens for trying to understand their plans, as he learns from the Captains words and deeds.

In other words large doses of space opera, action and musing about the true role of a person. Harlock himself is simply too cool for words and his ship is a potent force which allows him to put his ideas into practice. Imagine all the good things about such a person and you've got the idea. Brave, capable, true to his word even at incredible risk to himself, loyal to his friends and both empathic and sympathetic. But at the same time he is a hero of everyones need for freedom and right to self determination. His crew are allowed incredible freedom when not on duty (much to the horror of our new recruit) and he is proud that they fight of their own will and for their own reasons. And as a result he has gathered a very weird group of individuals (both major and minor characters) around himself. In other words there is a sizable human and philosophical element to the story which, while not subtle, has aged better than certain other space opera's of this period. There's also a suprising amount of humor, and some of the scenes involving his adopted daughter are still quite touching. Thus while the style is ancient and seems very unsubtle now, there's some fine moments to be had. This is helped by a brave willingness to take time. The pace of this movie is not fast, quite dreamlike at times, allowing all sorts of things to happen while the main plot unrolls in the background.

However the observant will have noticed that one of the elements I mentioned shows its age. Clearly space combat action was an important part of the show, and time has not been kind to this. While the human stuff is not bad the actual space combat is woeful. I must admit to a fear of this becoming a larger part of the show as the series progresses, because it really has little to offer. The human animation is fine, technically limited and with strange design, but one can quickly adapt to it. What is harder is that many of the minor characters are in what we would now term super deformed mode. Thus while there's a lot of detail in Captain Harlock (how does your cloak flap in space anyway?) and the major characters a lot of lesser participants are only sketched in and pretty weird looking. Apart from this, a generally low frame rate (you can almost hear the animators weep when the ship has to rotate) and lots of weird design the animation is suprisingly bearable and capable of supporting the story and ambiance intended. The voices are quite decent (once again warped or comical for minor characters) and the background music is rousing, deep pitched, male vocals straight out of pirate movies which is corny and cool at the same time.


Words by Andrew Shelton, Web by Ticti, Last Compile: Wed Aug 5 12:39:16 WST 2009