#219 : Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Mystery of the Arcadia

What is it about this beautiful cosmic sailing vessel? Captain Harlock’s ship the Arcadia is more than just a space battleship, it is a symbolic representation of many things. It is a call for freedom, a freedom that is beyond what we believe that definitive concept is. It is also an oasis for those who don’t belong in greater society. It is a symbol of pure moral compassion that is disconnected from profit or power mongering disguised as a fighting machine that stands up for truth, the exact equal to Captain Harlock himself. Yet the Arcadia is also the soul of a man who put his blood, sweat and genius, as well as love, into creating this piece of art, Harlock’s friend and sidekick Tochiro Oyama. All this and more is on display in a miniature feature film released during the original 1978 TV series and four years before the epic Arcadia of My Youth known simply as Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Mystery of the Arcadia.

… that’s a long title? …

H_MotA_1Rather than tell a new story, Mystery of the Arcadia would base its plot on an adaptation of the 13th episode of Space Pirate Captain Harlock known as Witch Castle in the Sea of Death, or The Castle of Evil in the Sea of Death (whichever translation you prefer). This is stated over many areas of the internet and I did check to see if this was true by pulling the TV series DVD set off of my shelf… yes, it is a variation for sure. Harlock is very pensive, unsure what course of action to take next until the distant echoes of an ocarina can be heard from the Earth all the way out in space. I love the imagination of Leiji Matsumoto in how it breaks the so called reality of our universe. The Arcadia seems to know for sure that this ocarina is from young Mayu and alters course immediately on its own accord. Just what is this ship doing? Eventually we meet up with little Mayu on Earth where the appearance of her guardian, Harlock, brings a welcome smile to her face.

H_MotA_2Temporarily Mayu boards the Arcadia bringing a sense of comfort to the great space battleship. Just what is going on with this ship? It’s as if it is tied to Mayu in some way and has a mind of it’s own… a real… mystery. She returns to Earth which leads to the crew of the Arcadia picking up a transmission that looks similar to other Mazone signals that Harlock and crew have been chasing. The Mazone by the way is the alien antagonist regime in the TV series, in case you did not know.. Located in the Sargasso Sea, Bermuda Triangle territory in the Atlantic Ocean, the Arcadia heads out to investigate. During a run in with Commander Kiruta’s forces (main Earth antagonist) the Arcadia comes into contact with a ghost ship as well that fires on both Kiruta and the Arcadia. Now we have another mystery, a third wheel in the equation… ghost ships… WWII battleships in fact (typical of Matsumoto)… this calls for even more investigation in the area.

H_MotA_3Consider this movie as filler if you have already seen the 1978 TV series as this really tells nothing new, but as a die hard Harlock fan I consider it essential watching, though you may disagree. I love the animation style that Toei and director Rintaro created for this rendition of Harlock (both the 1978 TV series and this movie) so I am a little partial towards it. If you have never seen the original TV series this movie would be a good minor introduction, though it does slightly spoil a plot element later revealed in the series (if you can figure it out). Toei used to make many short films based on TV franchises during the 1970s and show these ‘specials’ in theaters, usually in a cornucopia styled grouping. This was of course well before OVAs (home video was in its infancy during this time) and even the internet, so this was an alternative to watching your favorite shows again, except on the BIG screen. Oh how times have changed, but the legacy of Captain Harlock, then or now, stands as eternal.

#199 : Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX

It does not matter what the title says, this is pure Captain Harlock beyond any other name. 1982 would mark a return of anime’s ‘Man in Black’ with the epic film Arcadia of my Youth. Later in the year a TV series would follow detailing the journey towards the mythical paradise of Arcadia with both Harlock and Tochiro aboard their battleship the Arcadia (maybe they are already at home?). And let’s not forget their friend Emeraldas making brief appearances too. Three outlaws according to the status quo, the Illumidas empire, who label the trio as S00998, S00999 and X00001. SSX they would be and with that designation would appear the title of our story, Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX.

AoMYERSSX_1The love I have for any of the animated works featuring Leiji Matsumoto’s iconic steadfast outsider cannot be denied. Captain Harlock is my personal symbol for what it means to be a hero, or perhaps an anti-hero. His appearance alone strikes fear, respect, or joy depending on the individual; a true mark of one who follows their own path outside the limits of society’s expectations. His loyal friendship with the engineer Tochiro Oyama makes these two a strong buddy combination, a dynamic duo beyond compare much like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Joining them is a crew that combines characters from the Arcadia of my Youth movie, the original TV series, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and all new faces. They all travel the stars searching for their legendary paradise of Arcadia while evading the Illumidas Empire, a human sell out ti the Illumidas, Mr. Zone, and a mysterious golden light that seems both dangerous and sometimes helpful.

AoMYERSSX_2Arcadia SSX is almost perfect par for one minor issue. Compared to the AArcadia of my Youth movie this TV series feels a little more juvenile, just a little. Not a bad thing mind you, but that film was such a grand epic of seriousness and romanticism. Perhaps they tried to appeal to as wide an audience as possible? This could be Harlock’s version of Galaxy Express 999, another Matasumoto iconic series, in that he plays steward to a young boy learning the ways of growing up. You know Tadashi (Arcadia SSX) looks a little like the movie version of Tetsuro (GE999). Then again wasn’t Harlock in the GE999 movies? (YES!) Now as an action sci-fi series it is maybe one of the best in all the Harlock stories I have seen. Harlock is not as stiff, quiet, or detached as in other portrayals. And as a Toei animated show it is maybe one of the best looking, or well polished in their catalog from the era. Occasionally a scene, or two is pulled from the movie from time to time which explains a need to keep the consistent detail high.

AoMYERSSX_3And yet with all these positives in place there was sadly a lack in popularity. By 1982 Harlock was on the way out and this show would be cancelled early leaving the episode count to only 22. Not fair! In the new world of the early 1980s Macross, Gundam and Ususei Yatsura had the limelight, while the old Matsumoto influenced Yamato and Harlock were beginning to fade away. And how many reboots of Harlock and Yamato have there been since nostalgia came around a few years later? Many. Fickle as some fans are in the current zeitgeists of fashion, this was a missed opportunity that needed more time to flush out the larger plotline. Even Tochiro’s eventually demise, which has been shown in several iterations of Harlock, was rushed too soon. We miss you my friend.

AoMYERSSX_4Many across the world define their passion, or nostalgia for Captain Harlock with this show. How many times do I bump into the name Albator 84, the French version of Arcadia SSX whenever I do general searches online? Many. I really like this show, but my go to will always be the original 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Just know that Arcadia SSX is a very close second and I wish you could have hung on a little longer because I was having way too much fun trekking trough the stars with my heroes Harlock and Tochiro. And that SSX designation also has another significance in this show beyond the wanted numbers, but I’ll let you find that one out. Raise a toast for this one! Gohrum!

… Now in my silly moments I often joke about the SSX designation because it is so close to S…E…X. Immature perhaps, but it’s so true.

#31 : Arcadia of My Youth

aomy_1“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?” The Dude of course has his response. I can’t say for sure what makes a man as gender is a difficult thing to define. It is always a personal expression and definition. But what I can say, is who defines to me to be the architypal symbol of THE man. Not some loud mouth, ultra macho bravado type. Someone strong, determined, honorable and humane and yet a total individual willing to go his own way. That man, to me, is the stoic space pirate, the rebel of the establishment, the only person I know who can rock a facial scar and eyepatch like no one else. Captain Harlock. Leiji Matsumoto’s quintessential hero has been a part of many stories, but one stands out above the rest, the 1982 film Arcadia of my Youth.

aomy_2Being a man of mystery and one of few words, finding the origins of Captain Harlock can be a difficult task. And of course every story that Harlock has been a part of in the vastness of the Leijiverse is always a little different. In Arcadia of my Youth we get the closest to who this man is. Harlock though a strong presence on whatever screen he presents on has his ghosts and skeletons that haunt him. Though he may meet friends and has one he loves, in the end he is alone, on the run, or if he does win in some ways he is defeated. Such is the beginning of the film where we find Harlock aboard his battered ship the Deathshadow after a bitter defeat against the Illumidas Empire, a race of humanoid aliens who have taken over the Earth. Fighting for the Earth and it’s people has become a lost venture and the only thing Harlock can do to is to crash his ship and destroy a runway to leave the message saying you may have beaten me, but I will take something of yours in return.

aomy_3As a film, Arcadia of my Youth feels old fashioned and that is not such a bad thing. It feels like an homage to classic black and white films of yore that made impacts on Leiji Matsumoto youth… his Arcadia. One such example is Marianne of my Youth, a french film which features an actress that left her impact on many of Matsumoto’s famous designs. And much like classic films this is a slow paced affair. The action and battles are present, but the real drama is the slow building between the interactions of the characters themselves. And from these interactions and scenes we see the cast of the ‘Leijiverse’ (Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas, etc.) meeting themselves for the first time as well as interpretations of Harlock’s reason for wearing the eyepatch and the scar wounding on Emeraldas face.

aomy_4The film also puts a lot of things into perspective as well, at least for me. Particular are the flashback scenes during World War II. Growing up in America the easy answer was always we were the good guys and the Germans, the bad. Well not always the case. As the 20th century Harlock said in the film, his military service was because he was “paying his rent.” Brilliant writing, but very true, as many soldiers in war serve for their countries because that is where those individuals had lived irregardless if you believed in the politics of a particular leader. Harlock never believed in the politics of anyone besides his own, he had to do what he had to to survive in a time of insanity. Very similar is the Slipstream segment from another Matsumoto production, The Cockpit. The true enemy is not those we see on the other side, but those who make both sides fight in the first place.

In the end Arcadia of my Youth is an homage to a great character. No, a great man. A bit long in the tooth due to the length and the melodrama, the film still stands strong as a portrait of a man of intrigue and fierce independence. Compared to the CGI adaptation of more recent release, Captain Harlock (I couldn’t get through ten minutes) this is the real deal of pure Matsumoto brooding emotions. The most Harlock of Harlock? I salute this movie that allows ‘those who follow it, will live free’.