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Arcadia Of My Youth Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Arcadia of my Youth CoverWhat They Say:
At the end of the journey, all men think their youth was Arcadia. From the mind of the legendary Leiji Matsumoto, as directed by Tomoharu Katsumata.

Returning to Earth from the front lines of an interstellar war, Captain Harlock finds that his home is no longer what he once knew. The Illumidus Empire, aliens from another world, have occupied the planet and oppressed its people. The sole hope that remains for the downtrodden Earthmen is a lone voice known to most only as “The Rose,” yet is known much more intimately to Harlock as his former lover, Maya.

While Maya urges her fellow humans to hold onto their belief in a better tomorrow, Harlock cannot wait for such a day to come. By chance he meets a man named Tochiro Oyama, whom despite having never met before, Harlock feels a sense of brotherhood with. Together with Maya’s voice and others who share their beliefs, Harlock and Tochiro seek to cast off the shackles of the Illumidus.

The Review:
Audio:
We get Japanese Dolby 5.1 HD with nicely separated tracks as well as Japanese 2.0 Dolby. Both played back well with no distortions. The true gem here though was hearing the English track from the 80s English release back when it was entitled My Youth In Arcadia / Vengeance of the Space Pirate. I’ll elaborate more on this track in the content section but it’s nice to hear its return, though the sound mixing makes the Japanese performances resonate better than the American ones to a degree. There’s also another commentary track narrated by expert Mike Toole of Anime News Network fame. As always, he brings the goods when throwing out tons of knowledge on a given film.

Video:
This is honestly the best aspect of the release. The picture is brighter and more defined than any previous releases. The red and green hues are served best here overall. The ships in the final space battle can actually be seen against the dark backgrounds, better than ever. It’s truly like night and day compared to prior ones. Great job here.

Packaging:
There’s a slip sleeve with artwork from the original Japanese movie poster on the front. The back of it has text from the ‘what they say’ section in the middle, with artwork across the top and vertically depicted on the left side. Technical information takes up the lower section. Inside is a standard blu ray plastic case. The insert is reversible. One side has the same imagery as the slip sleeve. The reverse has a different poster on its front side while the rear remains the same as the slip sleeve. There’s also a small pamphlet designed similarly to the Arcadia book from the movie containing a list of disc chapters and some art.

Menu:
There are various clips from the film set in a loop with the instrumental version of the closing theme playing in the background. A small black pirate’s crest section is in the lower right with white text options highlighted by yellow selections. The movie chapters are listed vertically over two pages. Pretty easy to navigate.

Extras:
Well, we get the Japanese trailer and teaser for the film, which are fun to watch considering that neither has any actual footage from the movie itself. There’s also a production art gallery set to background music, and it contains a lot of still shots. There’s also an alternate standard definition version of the movie presented in the 4:3 ratio as opposed to the enhanced 16:9 HD edition in the main feature.

Content:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This film is a long time favorite. For those of you unfamiliar with me, I’m a product of the Robotech era, from the mid-late 80s. I got to learning about Japanese animation when I picked up the book Robotech Art 1, which talked about that TV show but also had a section in the back showing the highlights of anime up to that point. That’s where I learned about the iconic Captain Harlock, depicted on the cover of Fanfare Magazine. This section spoke of Leiji Matsumoto’s work in the space opera genre, specifically Space Cruiser Yamato, Galaxy Express 999 and My Youth In Arcadia. I started attending local anime meetings, a couple people pulled me aside and told me how Arcadia was actually on VHS tapes (hey, it’s what we had back then) at local Blockbuster Video stores, in kids sections, but edited down with the title Vengeance of the Space Pirate.

There were several anime films which had been edited down and released by Celebrity Home Films at that point, including The Dagger of Kamui, Locke The Superman, Dallos and Macross Do You Remember Love. All had footage taken to make the movies more accessible for kids (regardless of how the screenplays resulted afterwards) and usually were given English dubs of …. questionable quality, which was the norm for imported anime back then. However, the Vengeance one, still largely made sense and the performances weren’t too bad, relatively speaking. Celebrity also did releases of the films unedited but still only containing English language tracks. For Vengeance, this meant seeing the unedited tape as My Youth In Arcadia, with a couple songs sung in English that were originally in Japanese. The result wasn’t too bad, considering the norms of the time.

In the late 90s, AnimEigo got hold of the license and did pretty decent releases of the film on VHS and the emerging DVD format, re-doing the Romanization as Arcadia of My Youth. The DVD had extensive liner notes and an interesting filmography section. The Japanese audio was finally released for America, but gone was the English dub. The resulting release was still very enjoyable though.
So now we have this blu-ray released by Discotek Media, and it combines the best of all worlds. No liner notes or filmography are present, but the info from Mike Toole’s commentary does make up for this…. Oh, you’re probably waiting to read what this movie is about. I apologize for taking a bit to get to that, but as you can see, there’s a bit of history getting this film to American shores with varying results.

Prior to this movie hitting theaters in Japan, Captain Harlock had become an iconic anime figure, first by having his own TV series in the late 70s, and then by appearing in the Galaxy Express 999 TV show and movies afterward. Arcadia of My youth serves as an origin story for the character, though it changes up some things from his previous appearances, and, well… requires a good bit of suspension of disbelief to be enjoyable.

Released in 1982 the movie starts with early 20th Century aerial explorer Phantom F. Harlock in his single-engine plane over a mountain range in New Guinea. Suddenly he encounters the ghostly Owen Stanley Witch of the mountains (who look awfully similar to those twins in Matrix Reloaded). The ghost laughs at Harlock’s inability to fly over a very high peak so he dumps all but 10 minutes of his fuel to fly off toward the mountain and into (his own) history book.

We flash forward to the future, in which Captain Harlock is losing a battle against The Illumidus, an alien race who has conquered the Earth. At a local base, Harlock meets with alien Supreme Commander Zeda and Zoll, a mercenary from Tokarga (a race the Illumidus have previously conquered.) Zeda shows respect for Harlock’s military record and has his second-in-command Murgison offer him a job, which Harlock promptly rejects. He’s given some food coupons and brusquely told he’ll never fly again.

At dinner, Harlock meets a bespectacled man who he winds up helping in a bar room brawl against some Illumidus officers. The man introduces himself Tochiro, as Harlock notes he’s wearing an Earth military uniform similar to his own. Soon, they’re captured by Zoll and put under a mind scanner to see if they’ve been working on any resistance activities. Instead, the scanner detects something very odd about the pair. It turns out their ancestors shared an experience centuries back during World War II, and Zoll’s machine plays out the incident for them (and the audience) to see.

Later, Harlock and Tochiro are discussing their ancestors when Zeda and Prime Minister Triter, a human liaison with the Illumidas, approach and ask to speak to Harlock. They want him to transport a volunteer army to the conquered planet Tokarga and destroy it since it’s no longer of any value to the Illumidus. Eventually, Harlock meets up with the Voice of Free Arcadia, a female speaker who gives messages of hope to the hapless humans on Earth. This encounter becomes one of the most painful moments of his life, but it leads to him gaining a new sense of purpose, new friends, and even a new battleship from the unlikeliest of places.

Like I said, scenes such as the World War II sequence require a bit of a leap to believe, but they still can be entertaining to the story overall. The space opera genre was very prevalent in the 70s and 80s and tended to taper off in the early 90s a bit. As a sci-fi nerd growing up in this period, I was into Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and similar fare, and so this was the genre that attracted me to anime the most, with serious storytelling and sometimes fantastic elements in the various screenplays. Some like Macross and Votoms had mecha for their weapons, but it was the characters’ situations I wanted to see play out. Like I said there were tons of such titles back in those decades, as opposed to the current scene where we get occasionally stuff like Knights of Sidonia, Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and the eternally present Mobile Suit Gundam franchise.

In the midst of the genre’s heyday, Arcadia of My Youth stood out as a major work. We get space battles, tragedy, heroism, emerging characters and many other elements from this storytelling style. It has a slow pace to let events unfold, but this was the norm as story and character development took as much precedence as action did in these films. Screenwriter Yooichi Onaka drew on some of the more interesting elements of manga creator Leiji Matsumoto’s script concepts and changed much of the characterizations which were last seen in the ’77 Harlock TV show for a fresh interpretation of events. This kind of became a norm for later Matsumoto related works with re-designs and origin stories always changing. An example of this is a character we’re introduced here known as The Pirate Queen Emeraldas, a red-headed warrior who gets a facial injury during this film, yet gets it in a completely different way during a later OAV series. Another example is Harlock’s battleship the Arcadia, which got a totally different re-design in the GE999 films and this movie than courtesy of Studio Nue, as opposed to the Harlock TV show.

Director Katsumata Tomoharu weaves a lot together here in the era of the cel paints and pencil sketches. His use of art director Iwamitsu Itoo is good on many scenes where characters and ships needed extra detail and shading. He wasn’t into a lot of movement the way his contemporary Rin Taro was back then, but he could arrange a good battle scene and compose some excellent battle scene when it really counted. If you ever see his later work on Final Yamato, you will see some of the best of both elements from the 80s decade. On Arcadia, though, he kept a good balance of all the elements and his use of classical music by the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra added a certain literary spirit of sorts to the overall feature. The scene where the Arcadia launches for the first times is one of the most awesome examples of rising music moods outside of the baptism scene in The Godfather. Also, it’s perfect for the ambiance as Harlock and Tochiro and company experience their highs and lows throughout the film, as planned by Leiji Matsumoto and his subordinates here.
In Summary:

I had a wonderful time re-visiting the classic piece with the enhancements Discotek Media has provided. I cracked it open during Anime Boston (thanks to Mike Lee) and have been giddy to find time to write this review ever since. There have been cool Captain Harlock projects in the years since such as the 2013 CG movie and the Captain Herlock: Endless Odyssey limited series, but I always come back to this movie. The visual improvement is truly stellar and it was fun to take a trip on nostalgia lane with the English dub. Though it’s not had as many features as other Discotek remasters, this is very much a purchase I’d recommend to avid collectors looking to understand which people track and revere classic anime movies to this day.

Features
Vintage “Vengeance of the Space Pirate” English dub, 4:3 Full Screen Aspect Ratio Version in Standard Definition, Feature Commentary with Anime News Network’s Mike Toole, Production Art Gallery, Theatrical Teaser and Trailer.

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

Released By: Eastern Star / Discotek Media
Release Date: May 30th, 2017
MSRP: $29.95
Running Time: 130 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment: Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3

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