Captain Harlock: "The sea of space is my sea"
February 3, 2013 8:30 PM   Subscribe

"Few characters are as memorable as he: tall, black-cloaked, face scarred, eyepatch over his right eye, and ever-ready with his saber-rifle. He is the epitome of Leiji (Reiji) Matsumoto's male hero, an SF version of the wild-West lone gunslinger." The Space Pirate Captain Harlock is coming back in a new CG movie, a decade since his escapades were last animated, and back with Toei Animation, who first brought his one-eyed scowl to the small screen 35 years ago. If this is all news to you, read on for more of the mysterious man who fight's for no one's sake.

Who is this Captain Harlock? The name may sound German, but in an interview, Akira "Leiji" Matsumoto outlined the origin of the character: the character was originally an English pirate who called himself "Captain Kingston," yet he received secret orders from the Queen of Spain to search for Napoleon's treasure. Mind you, Matsumoto was a kid at this time, and the later name "Harlock" came from "hārokku," a little made-up word that he would chant while he walked home from school.

This rough creation first showed up in Matsumoto's first paid job creating manga, which followed from a contest he entered. At age 15, Mitsubachi no bôken (the adventures of a bee) was published by Manga Shônen, and somewhere in that publication, Harlock appeared in 1953. But it would be another 24 years until he was the star of his own universe.

In 1977, Space Pirate Captain Harlock was first published as a manga, and would run for five volumes. The next year, the story was released as an animated series by Toei, and had a run of 42 episodes, setting Harlock, "a man of passion and activity" against "a corrupt and complacent government." This series is now available on Hulu and Crunchy Roll, but this is relatively recent. Before that, there were various distribution schemes, including a Robotech-like Frankenstein's monster of a show, creating a 65-episode show from Space Pirate Captain Harlock and another Matsumoto creation, Queen Millennia, which had its own 42 episodes, plus a full movie. [See: fansubbed Episode 1]

Next came the movie Arcadia of My Youth, which told of the origins of Harlock, in a time where aliens have invade Earth and Harlock's crew battle against the oppression of the Illumidus. [In parts on DailyMotion: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4] Later in 1982, the movie was followed up with a 22 episode series, Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX, with Harlock and his crew exiled from Earth. The series somewhat segues into Galaxy Express 999 and the original Harlock series, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, except that there are some significant contradictions between the series. [YT: English fansubs of ep 1 part 1, part 2; ep 2 part 1, part 2] There was a US comic adaptation of Captain Harlock that tried to connect these series, but is considered by some to be non-canonical.

It wasn't until the late 1990s that Harlock returned, in an as-of-yet incomplete adaptation of Das Rheingold, titled Harlock Saga. In manga form, there will eventually be 9 volumes, though only 8 are available in Japanese and translated to French, and fewer available in English. Bandai Visual produced 6 episodes in 1999, and US Manga Corps did a less than stellar job translating the series that wasn't even that interesting to begin with. With that, you might not suffer that much by seeing the episodes dubbed in French. [On DailyMotion: episode 1, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, episode 5, and episode 6]

(Space Pirate) Captain Herlock - The Endless Odyssey (yes, Herlock, the spelling of the captain's name changes a bit from translation to translation) finds Earth in a pretty good place, until an ancient civilization that used to rule the universe wants to regain its control. Enter Harlock/Herlock, for 13 episodes of adventures. [Fansubs on Rutube: ep 1, ep 2, ep 3, ep 4, ep 5, ep 6, ep7, ep 8, ep 9, ep 10, ep 11, ep 12, and ep 13] This was the last we saw of the true Harlock, until the teasers and trailers for the forth-coming CG music, but we're getting ahead of ourselves....

In the nebulous world(s) of Captain Harlock, there were a few spin-offs, some with tenuous relationships to the original space pirate. Gun Frontier wasn't a dramatic space opera, but rather a series of comedic western stories, with Harlock and Tochiro Oyama swapping roles of lead and side-kick (or maybe it's a western version of the Space Pirate. The manga came out in the early 1970s, and was turned into a 13 episode anime series in 2002. [The series is on Hulu] There was also the Galaxy Express 999, a rather epic 21 volume manga, and later 113 episode series [on Crunchy Roll, and a few on Hulu] and three subsequent movies (Bonjour Galaxy Express 999 [YT playlist, English subs], Adieu Galaxy Express 999 [review part 1, part 2], and Eternal Fantasy [unsubbed]). Then there was the relatively short manga and series [YT, English subbed, split in parts], Queen Emeraldas, focusing on the privateer Emeraldas, and her ship, Queen Emeraldas.

So, you're generally up to speed with Captain Harlock, and you might realize there were a few ... conflicts. You're looking for continuity in the Harlock Universe. Here's the short version: forget it.
There shall be no schizophrenic doubling back here. I'm here to tell you that any exercise in trying to fit all the Harlock stories under one umbrella is rather like trying to fit all the penguins in Antarctica under one umbrella, which is to say 1. futile, and 2. pointless.
Or, it's all part of Matsumoto's plan.
Matsumoto stated in an interview that he thinks of the universe as a sphere, or a ball, where time overlaps. He regards the past as the distant future — which is to say that if you keep going forward eventually you'll come back to the beginning again, meeting your deceased friends along the way. It's a lovely concept, and it goes a long way towards explaining the worlds he has created, and the world that Harlock lives in.
However it runs, all roads lead to Harlock (source: Animerica Magazine July 1996 Volume 4, Issue 7). Even Danzig was a fan, telling Narduar that his look is not based on Captain Harlock, but he did make his own Space Pirate shirt, as seen on the cover of Walk Among Us, and later Rob Zombie was seen sporting Harlock's skull and crossed bones.

Not much is known about the forthcoming Captain Harlock movie, except budgeted at $30 million, the most expensive ever in Toei Animation, a vague Fall 2013 release date for Japan, and a few of the people slated to be involved. The 45 second teaser trailer is the first official public clip, though clips from a 2010 pilot were shown first at Tokyo's International Anime Fair in 2010, which has a strict no photo policy. A 3:22 long camera recorded trailer clip was posted online in 2010, which might have been (one of) the clip(s) shown at early previews. Leiji Matsumoto's official Japanese website is dated, and the most recent Harlock press release from Toei Animation is from 2010, so the future of Harlock is fairly vague at the moment.

Until then, there are volumes of manga and hours of anime, plus the TV Tropes page for Captain Harlock
posted by filthy light thief (20 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

Captain Harlock was introduced to me as a movie playing in the background of a dive bar. After some searching I found the original series on Hulu but, like many Anime tropes, there's a deep deep universe I could never quite find every bit of. So thanks for gathering everything for me to click through.
posted by hellojed at 8:59 PM on February 3, 2013

Someone whose mefi username is my old LJ username just said exactly what I was going to say...that's spooky like the whistle of a steam train that flies off a ramp into space.
posted by trackofalljades at 9:03 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the wikipedia link:
In Japanese culture, the number 42 is associated with death (the numbers, pronounced separately as "four two", sound like the words "shi ni"—meaning "to death").
Interesting. I have been planning for a long time to paint "42" as a racing number on my only recently completed cyclekart -- but for completely different reasons -- obviously "42" is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything -- and my painted 42 on my ridiculous vehicle is meant to remind me not to take life so seriously.

This new information only makes it more clear that it is indeed the correct number, and that I should be very serious about not taking life too seriously.
posted by smcameron at 9:14 PM on February 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

When Matsumoto was working on Space Battleship Yamato, he entertained the idea of having Captain Harlock join the cast, but later dropped it as he didn't want to lose the rights to the character to Yamato's executive producer. It's probably for the best, the already packed show probably wouldn't have room to contain all of Harlock's awesome.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:15 PM on February 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Harlock's design is great and I've enjoyed a vast number of things inspired by him, as well as some of Matsumoto's other stuff, so I was very hopeful when I sat down with Arcadia of My Youth on my last birthday. I did make it to the end, but I found it a jumbled mess that wasn't even amusing in its awfulness. Was I missing something, or has it aged poorly?
posted by 23 at 9:48 PM on February 3, 2013

So it's about 1979 or 1980, and I'm changing channels on the old Electrohome (which means actually turning the dial), when suddenly this cartoon appears on the French CBC. Cool, I love Disney and stuff like that. But this is no Disney hero. He has long hair and an eyepatch and a crazy collar and likes to drink, and he commands a... ship? A space sailing ship, loaded with guns, engaging in crazy battles that fill the sky with explosions? This is awesome! And such is my introduction to Captain Harlock, who I thought was French for a couple years, because I'd never heard of Japanese anime.

And I never did hear him speak in English, except for a brief appearance in "Bonjour Galaxy Express 999," so this post is just amazing and will probably consume the entire night. Merci, filthy light thief! Merci beaucoup!
posted by Kevin Street at 9:55 PM on February 3, 2013

This post is much more substantial than I figured from the part that appeared above the fold. Thanks! I will dig into its meatiness when it isn't quite so late.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:11 PM on February 3, 2013

Epic post is epic. Did not expect the meat, got the bone. Well done.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 10:51 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Galaxy Express 999 led to the collaboration between Matsumoto and Daft Punk: Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
posted by gen at 11:28 PM on February 3, 2013

Ha, there was a skull painted on the front of his ship! Forgot about that.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:52 PM on February 3, 2013

I somehow read this as Space Pirate Captain Haddock, rather a strange mental image.

With anime series I often find it hard to get a foot in the door. Thanks for the battering ram.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:53 PM on February 3, 2013

As a kid I dearly, dearly wanted to see me some Space Pirate Captain Harlock. I had seen the video tempting me in the cataloge but somehow it never translated to being a physical object,
Somehow, in the late '80s and early 1990s when people were getting into Anime (Ranma 1/2 and Legend of the Overfiend) I never found any.
Then I got sidetracked by Cowboy Beebop and Vampire Hunter D and Lain.

Now, in 2013, as god as my witness, I will watch Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and I will do so without the pre-conceptions that kinda ruined the Star Blazers movie for me.

Also, this post scares me in its complexity.
posted by Mezentian at 12:20 AM on February 4, 2013

Wow, I think I've seen an image, never knew about this, hoping it grabs me as I could use some good space sailing about now.
posted by sammyo at 4:50 AM on February 4, 2013

This news came just as I was starting to watch fansubs of Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Which has turned out to be quite excellent, aside from a few out-of-place fanservice moments.

I grew up with Star Blazers though and I still prefer that translation's versions of the Gamilas names. Desslok vs. Dessler, etc. And who would take "Admiral Ditz" seriously, anyway?

I've only seen bits of Arcadia of My Youth but I had a friend in the early 90s who was a big Harlock fan.
posted by Foosnark at 5:26 AM on February 4, 2013

I love and hate Harlock in equal amounts. I love the weird, convoluted story lines, the characters who are just doomed with no sense of self pity, the way that you are watching and it's like "oh, the Ring Cycle... in space! OK!" I hate the way that none of the stories ever make a lick of sense (although they cohere emotionally). And... I can't stay away from them! Every time I get a chance to watch some piece of Harlock, I am "fool me 9-15 times, Matsumoto, shame on... well, all of us, I suppose...." but I always watch! I suppose this is my Harlockian destiny, to always watch and never manage to come to peace with the lack of sense of the whole thing. Perhaps if I had an eye patch and a rad collar things would go better.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:51 AM on February 4, 2013

We just need a Crisis on Infinite Arcadias, followed up by New 999, and then continuity is all sorted, plus we can have Ultimate Harlock to tell edgier stories in their own universe.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

The stories are certainly scattered but eventually they all start to make sense even as Matsumoto likes to play with continuity and even the circumstances behind certain plot elements in the stories. But there is a LOT of piecing together involved, which took me (as a fan) a decade or so of watching and reading. As a basic example, the first Captain Harlock TV series (which aired in the 70s) is supposed to take place years after a pivotal event that occurs in both Endless Orbit SSX AND Galaxy Express 999. The interpretations of and circumstance behind this event are different and obviously contradict each other in both cases the outcome is the same (I won't spoil it for you).
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:38 AM on February 4, 2013

Beautiful. Captain Harlock has been a hero since those halcyon days watching him wail "MAYAAAAAA!" every afternoon at four on channel 36.

I have My Youth in Arcadia, along with the Ring Cycle one. And a couple of Galaxy Express VHS tapes I can't bear to part with.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:36 PM on February 4, 2013

I've only seen the original series (Space Pirate Captain Harlock), but it's a masterpiece. It's one of those series where, by the end of it, you feel like you've been taken on a great journey. Lots of pathos in Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999. Many is the time I'd wipe a tear from my eye at the end of an episode. Harlock is an awesome character, but his nemesis, the Mazone Lafresia, is equally awesome. I love those scenes when her hands shake and she shouts out "Damn you, Harlock! Damn you!" Favorite quote: when Lafresia is listening in on Harlock through a spy, trying to suss out his motivation for fighting for Earth, which hates and fears him. He says, "I have no philosophy, and I certainly have no faith. I'm simply looking for my final resting place, and the Mazone happened to get in my way."
posted by jabah at 6:43 AM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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