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Space Captain Harlock Complete TV Series Anime DVD Review

7 min read

Space Captain Harlock
Space Captain Harlock
What They Say:
A society where humanity has entered into sloth, concerned only that its entertainment remain uninterrupted. An enemy capable of masquerading as beautiful women, yet burn like paper, hell-bent on invading Earth. A hero branded an outlaw, boasting a true man’s determination and unwilling to let his beloved planet fall.

When the alien Mazone murder his father, Tadashi Daiba finds himself controlled by a hostile and disbelieving government unwilling to believe his claims, let alone prepare to fight off an alien invasion. His only hope of revenge against this mysterious foe is by joining up with the most famous of all ossible allies: the stoic space pirate Captain Harlock and his eccentric crew of misfits aboard the good ship Arcadia. With the Earth’s military holding Harlock’s final ties to Earth hostage on one side and the Mazone on the other, can the Arcadia’s crew overcome such awesome odds and prevent the invasion?

Space Pirate Captain Harlock was first shown on Japanese TV in 1978 and is one of three flagship works by Leiji Matsumoto (Star Blazers / Space Battleship Yamato, Galaxy Express 999). Directed by Rintaro (Galaxy Express 999 the movie, Metropolis) and broadcast around the world, the series secured Matsumoto’s place as a master of space opera. This collection presents all 42 episodes of the series, uncut and with English subtitles, for the first time on DVD in North America.

The Review:
Audio: 
The Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks came through just fine with no problems here.

Video:
The series was originally broadcast on TV in 1978, and the video converted here for DVD release looks gorgeous except for a couple spots where there’s some sort of interference from original tape source materials most likely. The video quality here is very nice and crisp. The dialogue subtitles are white with black detail for good reading as needed. For the intro and closing themes as well as the background vocals, there are blue subtitles with black trim.

Packaging:
The front of the box shows Captain Harlock steering his classically styled piloting wheel in front of his mighty battleship Arcadia with the Earth displayed prominently in the background, and the masthead at the bottom. The rear shows the main cast off to the left of the text shown in the aforementioned “What They Say” section, with screen shots and technical specifications along the bottom.

Menu:
The menu has the opening theme repeating. There is a picture of Harlock at his steering column on the left of the screen, and list of the seven episode names per disc listed vertically on the right side, with jolly roger next to each one highlighting the episode selection. Options for subtitles appear along the bottom.

Extras:
No extras are included with this release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Man… talk about a series that has a lot of history to it, in both the U.S. and Japan. Originally broadast in 1978, the series opens with an earth military transport carrying grains, jewels, and wine from a colonial farm to Earth. The officers speak about someone who’s been raiding the transports recently. Soon enough, a dark ship appears on their monitors and displays skull and crossbones on its flag. The officers try to fight their fate but their ship is boarded by the crew of Captain Harlock, who interestingly confiscates only the harvest, while dumping all the jewels and wine into space.

Meanwhile, the Prime minister on Earth concerns himself with the daily horse races, even as his military chief commander kiruta appears to tell of Harlock’s raid. Kiruta decides to try and capture Harlock by waiting for him to visit a little girl at the local orphanage named Mayu, whom the Captain has been coming to visit every year.

Meanwhile, a side mystery develops as someone has been blowing up observatories and killing astronomers. Dr. Daiba and his son Tadashi discuss the murders while looking at a circular object heading for Earth. Tadashi blames Harlock, but the Doctor admonishes him, saying Harlock loves the Earth and is incapable of intentionally harming his home world.

Captain Harlock’s crew is trying to talk him out of visiting Mayu but he can’t bring himself to break his promise on her 7th birthday. As he surprises the child, she cries, trying to get Harlock to leave before he’s captured, but he takes her in his arms and visits a lonely grave with her… just Commander Kiruta appears with his troops to arrest him. However, the crew of the Arcadia is not so easily dissuaded from their Captain, and whisk him away to face off against the mysterious object falling toward the Earth…

Thus the players are set for dramatic adventure series, as Captain Harlock wages war against the alien Mazone, a race of feminine looking humanoids who have an interesting connection to Earth’s plant life as it turns out.  Throughout the 42 episodes the invasion plans take their toll on Harlock and his crew, who have to fight this war pretty much by themselves as Earth’s military remains slow to respond to the threat. Meanwhile, Commander Kiruta keeps looking to use Mayu against him. Still, Harlock and company remain determined to see things to the end, even coming to face the Mazone Queen and her demands for the Earth. Interestingly, both leaders sort of come to see the other’s point of view in some respects but this doesn’t deter events from coming to their inevitable conclusion.

There’s a lot of drama and emotion throughout the series, which director Rin Taro uses masterfully to exploit Leiji Matsumoto’s iconic character to the fullest. All of the elements of the genre known as ‘space opera’ are present here, between the galactic battles, incredibly desperate odds, angst for just about everybody involved and a small bit of romance in a couple places.

Taro’s techniques depicting hard hitting action are very effective, especially in personal combat scenes and assassination sequences with hard impacting sudden death shots combined with slow moving characters and sped up background lines. There are some screenplay elements that could be sped up a bit though, particularly when Kiruta kidnaps Mayu for a while. Still, we do get to see the Arcadia crew develop pretty well with their talents. The “potato heads” as American fans have come to call the hardy, misshapen bunch are a hoot to watch in action. Also, Kei (Harlock’s trusted lieutenant) gets to show how capable she can be, even as she has to teach eventual crew member Tadashi the ropes.

There’s also a motif present throughout in that a song about Captain Harlock plays in the background during the lull in action at times, somewhat similar to an pirate crew singing to motivate themselves while pushing this ship through the seas. Meanwhile, there’s an equally interesting element in that Harlock seems to be talking to the ship and almost expecting an answer. This gets explained more fully in the mini-movie “Mystery of the Arcadia,” an expanded episode which sadly isn’t present on this set.  Still, the show does give us interesting (though brief) first looks at Harlock companions Tochiro and Emeraldas, which help explain some of their connections if you’ve ever seen the Galaxy Express 999 films (also directed by Rin Taro).

Space Pirate Captain Harlock is one anime that has had a turbulent time being brought over intact for American anime fans. It was created ny Leiji Matsumoto and has become the starting point for his universe of central characters who’ve become anime icons over the decades. Previous attempts to import the show have had mixed results. The first company to do so was Ziv International, who released two tapes.  One tape had the first and 8th episodes, with decent English dub performances for the time retaining the flavor of the Japanese script. Their second tape, however had totally different actors and dumbed down scripts, even though it presented episodes 2 and 3.  These materials were released later by Malbu Home Video but with the audio timing off by a couple seconds, yielding even worse products.

A different company known as Harmony Gold (of Robotech fame) acquired the entire TV series which lasted 42 episodes. However 65 episodes were required for American syndication so the show was edited together with another Matsumoto work entitled Queen Millennia: The Queen of 1000 years (which although produced after Captain Harlock, actually took place hundreds of years prior). The American combination was broadcast as Captain Harlock and The Queen of 1000 Years in the mid 80s. After a couple decades of waiting, it really is pretty cool for classic fans to get a chance to experience this series finally in its original state.

In Summary:
Space Pirate Captain Harlock is the kind of show that doesn’t get made anymore. In Harlock, you get a strong, focused adult protagonist who knows right from wrong and will sacrifice himself to preserve this if need be with he and his crew overcoming great odds in the process. I’m very glad to see this series make it to the U.S. intact finally for future American anime fans to experience. Also, there’s actual closure instead 13 episodes and a wait and see if we can catch up to the manga practice prevalent in today’s anime.

Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade:  A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: N/A

Released By: Discotek Media / Eastern Star
Release Date: August 27th, 2013
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 1000 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Marantz stereo receiver

 

 

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