Back then, anime was still for kids, both in the public’s mind and in anime’s content. That attitude was beginning to change as shows like Mazinger Z and Galaxy Express 999 introduced bloodier violence, occasional fanservice, and the death of named characters.
So, Captain Harlock has a low sheet count. All shows of that time had the same problem, and the sheet count increases as the series progresses. Characters are often
The director, Rintaro, compensates for this lackluster animation quality with an artistic approach to many shots. He also directed the anime film Metropolis, which features a similarly artistic visual style.
I’ll demonstrate this style with one moment early in the series. A
The screen then divides into four uneven columns, the borders angled like rays from the sun, and each one shows a slightly different moment of the doctor falling backwards. Then he hits the ground, still
This was in a kids’ action show.
I must warn you about one thing about the story: the first few episodes focus on a side story: a young girl that Harlock protects. It felt like a strange place to start: Captain Harlock, the big action hero and wanted pirate, keeps returning to earth to stop the bullying of a small child. She becomes more important later in the show; I just wish it hadn’t started with quite so much focus on her.
The story progresses into a big space opera action/adventure story of pirate ships,
Even though Harlock is an action story, each major character except Harlock himself gets one episode of backstory, extending them beyond
The eclectic cast of characters deserves this attention. We have Harlock, a stoic and trusting leader with an unknown past. Miime, an alien woman with no mouth, acts as Harlock’s confidante now that she’s “pledged her life to Harlock.” Yuki, the navigator, is a very young woman who seems
Then there’s Daiba, a 15-
This highlights an interesting aspect of Harlock: the contrast between Daiba and Harlock himself. Harlock appears to be in his 30′s, and has the wisdom of an experienced adult. He often councils patience–and just as often charges into impossible situations because he has a strategy. The plot is all about outwitting one’s opponent, and finding the right balance between action and observation.
Speaking of the opponents: two aspects of the series’ primary villains deserve mention. The
Secondly, when a Mazone dies, she immediately catches fire, screams like a banshee, and collapses in a heap of blue flame, burnt to ashes in seconds. I use the banshee cliché deliberately; not only did the sound editor use the same scream whenever a Mazone dies, it is pitched high, loud, and agonizing. It jangles the nerves.
Mazone do not get mowed down in droves; they scream as though they’re being tortured. It adds weight to the action.
The voices fit their characters well; not surprising, considering this is a classic series. Harlock’s deep voice sounds grand and gritty; Yuki sounds young and lush; Miime is lilting, quiet, and mysterious. This is important; the show features a wide emotional range from quiet conversations between characters, tense negotations with alien infiltrators, and
I also sing the praises of Harlock‘s music: a full orchestral soundtrack that’s big, bold, and brassy. A perfect compliment to the series, the music fully deserves a separate listen.
Overall, Space Pirate Captain Harlock was an unusual experience. The villains’ mystery kept shifting just enough to keep me intrigued, and the characters’ personalities bounced off each other in interesting ways. The art and story had all the drawbacks of the show’s era. I kept looking forward to the occasional artistic flourish.
It’s a classic, and deserves to be treated as one, flaws and all.