Captain Harlock TV
Captain Harlock is a legend. Through countless series, manga, movies, and side stories of creator Leiji Matsumoto, Harlock has proven to be the stoic face of personal sacrifice for the cause of freedom...even while keeping up appearances as a ruthless pirate. Harlock is the grand gentleman of the anime world. Lupin may be the gentleman thief and Kenshin the gentleman samurai, but Harlock trumps them all with his overarching depth and noble dignity. Although the most famous variation of his story is found in the film Arcadia Of My Youth, the original manga was quite different. The closest animated version to Matsumoto's first take on Harlock is found in the Captain Harlock TV series, broadcast in 1978. I previously recommended the aforementioned Arcadia despite its older look and melodrama because the core of the film is still intact--and still wonderful. Unfortunately, modern eyes cannot be nearly so kind to the TV series, which simply no longer works (particularly in its English adaptations).
The earth has become desolate as the oceans dried up and crops no longer grew. However, the government in 2977 doesn't care, as they now import food from distant starfarms and keep the populace happy through mind control and satiation. Harlock is disgusted by the corruption, and he deliberately destroys food stocks headed to Earth to try and bring the people to some point of rebellion. However, far worse threats--alien conquerors--are on the way, and thus the people of Earth will fight a battle for freedom on multiple fronts. In the midst of it all, the authorities blame Harlock. To attempt to capture him, they exploit his one weakness: a pledge to a young girl named Miya, the daughter of his dead friend and crewmate Tochiro. Harlock and his friends may have to sacrifice all they hold dear to keep their promises to Miya, the earth, and its inhabitants.
I want to be quite clear that I have not seen all of the Harlock TV series. Far from it, as a matter of fact. Part of the problem lies in that no one is currently publishing any versions of it in the U.S., and those that are available in the bargain bins are frankly awful. Back in the mid-80s, high off the success of Robotech, Harmony Gold slapped footage from this show together with that of another Matsumoto show, Queen Millenia, and labeled it Captain Harlock and the Queen of 1000 Years. This destroyed massive amounts of the continuity of both shows, and it was a failure when shown in limited markets around the country.
Malibu Comics picked up the license to Captain Harlock and published a few dubbed videos in the early 1990s, which is what my review is based on. Despite that the show was finally allowed to stand on its own without the footage from Millenia, it didn't catch on, and only a few episodes ever became available. Part of this was due to a terrible dub job. The first episode is dubbed badly, but it's at least passable. However, the second episode has completely different voice actors, and the writer decided to make the show a virtual self-parody ripe with puns. Combined with atrocious acting that has to be heard to be believed along with cracked, washed-out footage, it's a mess.
But is it worth tracking down? A number of sources would have you believe so, particularly fans who saw the show in their youth. (A number of English-speaking North Americans saw it when it showed under the name Albator in Canada with a French dub, so there are more out there than I initially realized.) For those who saw it 25 years ago and want to revisit their childhoods, I say sure. The rest of us can probably skip it.
The animation is at a level one step away from unwatchable at times, and the spaceships that look majestic in Harlock Saga and Arcadia just look like boats you'd have played with in the bathtub when your mother still washed behind your ears for you. The battles between them look no better. There's also the problem of these ridiculous characters around for comic relief. The crew of the Arcadia are mostly short madmen, at least in this variation, and the government officials that scheme against Harlock are little better. Miya, the young girl that plays as Harlock's Achilles heel, isn't a part of the manga, and she would have been better off left out of the story.
This doesn't mean that it's wholly a loss. Harlock is Harlock, and he's always a interesting character study. Seeing some of this stuff in its first incarnation is fascinating for those of us who have liked Harlock over the years. Seeing through all the problems of the dubbed version, there's still the old Harlock heart beating here. I just don't see the modern fan who didn't watch it eons ago being willing to bother--and after seeing what's available in English, I know I'm not.
My best recommendation for the new anime fan is to take my word that there are better places to get a good Harlock fix. Check out Arcadia Of My Youth or Harlock Saga first. With those two shows, as well as the Captain Harlock: Endless Odyssey series coming out in Japan as we speak, you'll only need pursue the TV series if you find yourself a rabid fan.
Captain Harlock TV -- violence -- C