What They Say
A classic legend of honor among warriors by Leiji Matsumoto (Galaxy Express 999, Harlock Saga)!
The time of lawlessness in deep space is coming to a close. Warrius Zero, a battle-weary admiral now serving the mechanized victors, is commanded to travel to the farthest reaches of the universe to hunt down a single wanted man… the mysterious space pirate once known as Captain Harlock!
This collection includes the 13 original and two special episodes, plus the extra “Marina’s Special” episode.
I opted for the Japanese track for this release, having already heard the English dub from the single disc versions and wanting to see how the show played out in subtitled form. The audio is a nice, clear stereo mix–for the first two discs. Yes, it seems that Media Blasters did not fix the problem of having the Japanese track in mono on the last two discs. Considering how prevalent this issue was, it’s disappointing to see that Media Blasters didn’t address it–especially since the episodes on the last two discs are the most active in terms of sound effects. But for all of the English track and the first eight episodes in Japanese, the show sounds pretty good, not going out of its way for directionality but using the left and right speakers when it needs to, with the English track throwing voices to the sides a bit more often. The music in particular has a good wide sound that fits the space opera setting very well and the opening and ending themes (the latter in remarkably good English) sound lovely.
The animation is really a mixed bag here. It ranges anywhere from fairly good to servicable to really cheap-looking–sometimes all in the course of a couple of minutes. Some shots look a bit too dark, and others aren’t as clear as they could be, but everything points to these being production problems rather than issues with the transfer. The majority of the show has a nice sharp look with good colours; there aren’t a whole lot of really vibrant moments due to the story taking place almost entirely in space aboard a starship, but when the bright colours do come along, say in an occasional blue sky or Emeraldas’ red uniform, they look really sharp and clear without bleeding. And the transfer itself does a fine job: only a few minor instances of rainbowing and shimmering lines, and, if you sit close and look very carefully, a tiny bit of noise around the opening and ending credits.
The show comes packaged in a four-disc brick case that feels sturdy enough and makes good use of the cover art from the singles. The front does a nice job of visually setting up the characters, what with the two protagonists/antagonists squared off in the center and the supporting cast almost literally revolving around them. But the back is even better. It finds just the right point between giving you a lot to look at and being cluttered. There’s no dead space at all: we get a few shot from the show in filmstrip style, sandwiched between some nice character art (especially Emeraldas looking her very best), and the tech-specs laid out clearly in a grid just under the credits. And all on a delicately coloured starfield. Even the marketing copy on the back is better than usual.
Menu design is simple, but good-looking and easy to use. The main menu is a static screen with 5 ships from the series corresponding to the five menu options. It and the submenus are easy to navigate and load very quickly. It also scores points with me by playing something other than the opening theme for the main menu–in this case, a clip of background music with a strong martial feel to it.
There are quite a few good extras here for such a short series. Of course we have the always welcome credit-free opening and closing animations. The character bios are short but well-written and spoiler free, so I recommend reading them before the episodes on their respective discs, especially if you’re a bit new to the whole Matsumoto universe. Next we come to something I really applaud Media Blasters for including on their releases when not many other companies will: the outtakes. As usual we get a mix of flubbed lines and adlibs. The flubs are for the most part nothing special, though there are a few good ones, mainly on the last disc; it’s the adlibs that really shine. There are some real gems here, from Marina going “Whee!” when she falls into the snow with Zero to Harlock delivering his macho lines in a sissy voice. This is the funniest collection of outtakes I can remember hearing, and it’s something I’m very, very glad to have.
I’m going to deal with the two special episodes here, even though they aren’t on the extras section of the disc, because they really don’t fit into the series at all, beyond using the same characters in a completely different context. They begin wierdly with more blood and brutality than we get in the main show, then shift into something in a similar spirit to the Gun Frontier episodes mid-way through the series. The story begins with Zero being held hostage by the “amigo” pirate from episode three. Once he escapes and goes to Harlock’s hideout, things start getting daft. It seems Harlock’s hideout is on a planet that is not only shaped like a mushroom, but is actually made of mushrooms. (I know it’s made of mushrooms because that’s actually part of the plot towards the end. Don’t ask.) From there on it’s mostly surreal comedy. It’s kind of fun to see Sylviana show up (still infected with Tochiro’s laugh) and have a really bad day, getting everybody on her bad side including the pirates. But the real fun for Matsumoto fans is the chance to see the great man himself in a cameo appearance, complete with pirate skullcap and apparently working on Galaxy Express 999! Oh, and you’ll also get a quick look at Tochiro’s secret lab where he’s building the Arcadia–something mentioned but not actually seen in the series. The Marina special is a good character piece more in line with the regular show. It borrows and reuses a fair bit of animation, but adds some new scenes dealing with her childhood on Earth and so forth, to help flesh out her backstory and explore in a little more depth how her past and her hybrid nature have influenced her personality, and also, how she came to be part of the Karyu. I really liked it for having a good mood to it and adding a little something more to the background against which the series played out.
This series is a Matsumoto fan’s dream come true. The whole gang’s here: Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas – we even get glimpses of Maetel and the Galaxy Express. And of course, there’s a new character as well: Warrius Zero.
Zero as we first meet him is a man weighed down with the burdens of the past. A new race of Mechanized Men has waged war on humanity and devastated the Earth in the course of the conflict. The defeat was a heavy blow to Zero for two reasons: first, he was in a position of importance on the losing side, and second, his family died in the battle. He’s apparently been demoted as well because his new assignment isn’t the kind of mission you’d give to a high-ranking officer. In short, he’s going to hunt down a pirate. You see, humanity has been able to forge an uneasy peace with the Mechanized Men, but certain factions of humanity are continuing the fight in their own way, against the wishes of the governing body. And the biggest current threat to peace right now is a seemingly invincible space pirate named Harlock. At least, that’s the official story. And as if the mission isn’t hard enough already, Zero’s got to carry it out with a half human, half Mechanized Men crew. There’s plenty of bad blood – or oil, as the case may be – on both sides. Zero soon finds himself faced with a mutiny; but paradoxically, the challenge is just the thing he needs to shake himself back to reality. The mutiny is what sets the plot and characterization moving. Zero really comes to life in these scenes, bringing his personality and force of will to bear on the situation and it turns out to be a blessing in disguise, forcing the crew to earn each other’s trust in a way that would have been difficult otherwise. And in doing so he learns that his first officer might not be what she seems.
Watching the crew of the Karyu congeals into a fighting unit makes for good viewing and gets the show off to a pretty good start during the first three episodes. But the episode that really made me sit up and take notice was episode four. The Karyu stumbles across the planet of a man named Grenadier, who is operating as a one-man resistance force against the Mechanized Men who are running the place. Zero has gotten a bit of his old confidence back by this time and decides that anybody who can take on a planet single-handed might come in useful, so he heads out into the desert alone to talk things over. I won’t go into detail and spoil it, but the way he faces off with Grenadier, and then reads the whole situation with the Mechanized Men and works it to everyone’s advantage is great to watch. It shows you that Zero has shaken himself out of his despondency and is getting back to his old form. (And possibly, we’re lead to think, stronger than ever for overcoming the shadows of the past.)
And yet the show manages to get even better. Now that the crew is complete with the addition of Grenadier and both human and machine able to at least tolerate each other, the hunt for Harlock can begin in earnest. That takes the Karyu to a planet where Harlock is reputed to have a hideout. The mood lightens a bit for the next couple of episodes as a team of Zero’s men investigates matters in the free township of Gun Frontier. Through a series of events to complicated to explain here (they involve the glamourous bounty-hunter Silviana, Tochiro, a giant cow, a bazooka, and spilled whiskey) Harlock is forced to appear and save Tochiro from a hanging. Then comes my favourite scene in the show. It doesn’t sound like much on paper. Zero and Harlock have a man-to-man talk in a bar. That’s it. But in its own way, it’s as exciting as a swordfight. Each character lays all the cards on the table. We hear the thoughts, dreams, ambitions and wills of these two great men. And more than that, we feel their deep love for the Earth and their desire to see it restored. But at the same time there’s a note of tragedy. The two men have almost identical ideals, but very different ways of living those ideals out, and they can’t come to an agreement on the way to go about things. It’s one of the most powerful dialogue scenes I’ve ever experienced. And the effect lasts. Afterward, the characters seem to move in a larger world.
After this it’s all red meat and potatoes. Unfortunately for my purposes here the second half consists mainly of revelations, which are impossible to go into without spoiling them. Let’s just say that there’s more than the peace in danger, and Zero has to evaluate if the side he’s bound to as a soldier is the right side, and if not, where he stands. Getting to the bottom of the mysteries hinted at early on is a rewarding process, and even though at one point I was afraid the story was heading toward a cliched ending, it worked out in a really satisfying way. Again, not going into too much detail, we get to see the characters we’ve come to love all get a chance to shine together in the spotlight. The final scene leaves us looking right where we need to look: toward tomorrow.
Before I wrap up I want to get in a few comments on the two language options. This is one of those great cases where you can’t go wrong either way. The dub cast is really excellent all around and you get to hear Crispin Freeman in the lead role. On the subtitled end, I’d have to say that the space opera romanticism (for lack of a better word) comes through a bit better in the subtitled script. But there are no major changes; and in light of the mono audio issue on the Japanese track, I can easily recommend the English version as the better choice. Besides, the outtakes are even funnier when you’re used to hearing the English cast.
Cosmo Warrior Zero is a show that has the courage of its convictions, a story not only with heart but muscle and bone and brains. It’s passionate about its ideals, and yet accepting of different ways those ideals can be carried out. What sticks in my mind is not so much what happens in the plot, or even so much what the characters say and do; it’s the composite personality, if you will, that comes from the characters as a whole–from seeing a soldier, a pirate, a samurai, a cyborg, all with the same fire in their souls. The sense of a shared will move me in a way that few other stories have: to know it is to have walked among giants. For a Matsumoto fan, this is fascinating as a more complete look at his universe than we’ve had so far. And for the viewer who has yet to discover him, this is probably as good a place to start as any. What are you waiting for?
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean opening and closing sequences, Character Bios, Outtakes, “Follow Young Harlock,” Parts One and Two Special Episodes, “Marina’s Special” Bonus Episode
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A-
Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: September 30th, 2003
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony 35″ KV-35XBR88 SDTV, Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player (via generic component), Yamaha RX-V550 DD/DTS Receiver, Infinity Primus C25 and 150 speakers.