Is there a man in anime a big enough hero to take on a full serve of operatic angst? A story full of gods, demons and the world rushing toward extinction? Well, I've got to admit that Captain Harlock, cool and fearless as he is, is probably a rather good choice. He's always had a bit of a flair for the dramatic.
This title credits the opera "The ring of Nibelung", which I believe is also called the "ring cycle" and is written by Wagner. The basis of the story being that there exists a rather powerful relic which has been a closely guarded secret since time began. Needless to say that peace has been broken, with a powerful and evil force claiming the relic for the sake of revenge for his disgraced clan. And the ones who disgraced his clan are none other than the gods themselves, long dormant, but now stirring from their sleep.
And in the middle of this conflict is, well, everyone whether they know it or not. Should the home of the gods be destroyed the universe comes to an end. Should it be defeated then a new and twisted god will rise in the universe. The power level is immense and most races of the universe have no idea of the danger they face. Thankfully Captain Harlock, through his links to a mysterious woman he has met in his travels, becomes involved. And he fears neither god nor demon in defending the innocent and defenseless.
I assume there is some sort of `retro' trend going on in Japan at the moment. Because while the original Harlock stories are ancient this is actually a much more modern production, sporting 1999 on the copyright notices. And I must admit I'm happy with that concept. Harlock, and some of his associates, were surprisingly good characters. Cool in a dark and mysterious way, a space pirate and yet a truly heroic character, compassionate yet completely fearless and willing to face death to live out his beliefs. Many elements of his character still fit comfortably with the modern take on anime characters. This is not a guy being re-invented, he's just having another adventure.
And the story is likewise big enough. I don't know how much is taken from the actual opera, just bits and pieces I suspect and perhaps a bit of atmosphere, but it works well. It's a huge story, with a nice opening as the mystery is revealed and the full scope of the conflict made clear. There are many characters, powerful motivations and impressive forces being brought to bear. There's drama, betrayal, action and all sorts of dark and brooding interactions. It's really rather good.
At the same time it does have a serious flaw. And that is that the story is simply way too big to be contained within the environment available. For one thing it's too big in terms of time, covering such a huge sequence of events in two hours leads to a lot of story compression, especially in the conclusion. And some story elements have to be `fixed', in other words skirt the edges of believability, in order to move the story along. Then again, fitting the characters from the Harlock world into the structure of the story may have needed some quite drastic compromises on both sides.
It is also too big in terms of power and scope. Harlock's a great guy, no doubt about it, but he's not really on the level of `god'. His cool pirate ship is little better than a passenger liner at this level of power. Meanwhile his personal power is little better. When he is given the opportunity to go hand to hand with one of the majors, and wins incredibly easy, it just seems like a bit of a cheat. The major problem, however, is that Harlock is still more interesting than most of the other characters. So while I'd rather be focusing on him the story keeps sidelining him and focusing on a bunch of fat and grumpy `god' things. And, of course, they're not really gods because such a thing would invalidate Harlock's whole personal philosophy.
Still, it's good fun, especially at the start. The characters are pretty damn cool and this sort of epic space adventure fits them quite well. The story does manage some nice atmosphere, and a real sense of pace, that will keep you watching and happy. While I may feel they've been over-ambitious there's some good stuff in here. It's a shame we don't get more of Harlock, and the popular Emeraldas and Maetel get only token appearances, but I'm still happy for the experience to see more of them.
The production is, um, slightly odd. Whether to be true to the appearance of the original, or because they didn't actually have much of a budget, it's not overly impressive. There's a bit more detail in the characters, the occasional computer effect and the hardware moves a bit smoother but the feel is still very old-style. Ships blow up into either huge chunks or `clouds of smoke', space combat feels like a bunch of firing and dying sequences stuck together, and effects have a real `splash of paint' feel about them. If you wanted to see how the Harlock team look with cutting edge animation you're going to have to keep waiting. It's a good thing the team, and show, has atmosphere because it's not going to thrill with the quality of the animation. Voices are good and the music, especially the stuff borrowed from the operate, is very fitting to the feel.